Horror Movies Vs. Horror Novels – A Ramble

Well, since I seem to be going through more of a horror genre phase than usual, I thought that I’d compare horror movies and horror novels today (albeit with more of a focus on books, because this is what I’ve had more recent experience with and am more interested in at the moment).

I ended up thinking about this topic because, after spending quite a few months reading novels and watching very few films, I finally watched another horror movie (which I probably won’t review fully) the night before I prepared this article.

What can I say? I’d had an extremely stressful day and needed to relax, it was also technically Halloween (yes, I write the first drafts of these articles very far in advance) and the book I’m planning to review tomorrow is a short horror novella. So, for the first time in many months, I watched a horror movie.

If anyone is curious, the film in question was a fairly good one from 2011 called “The Cabin In The Woods“. It’s a clever twist on the monster/slasher genre, which contains a lot of comedy and also stars Chris Hemsworth and Bradley Whitford too. For a modern film, it’s also refreshingly short at an efficient 91-5 minutes in length too. Despite some of the criticisms I’ll make in this article, it’s still a fairly good film. I should probably also point out that this article may contain some SPOILERS for it (and for “Relics” by Shaun Hutson) though.

Anyway, the first thing I noticed after reading several horror novels during the past year is that the film was a bit “lighter” that I’d expected. Everything seemed to lack the intensity that I’d come to expect from a horror novel. The characters seemed more stylised than I’d expected, the moments of gruesome horror seemed more brief and tame than I’d expected and the story also lacked some of the depth/immersion that I’d come to expect from reading horror novels.

So, if you want really intense visceral horror, then horror novels have the advantage here. Not only do horror novels have a lot more space to develop their characters (which makes the audience care about them more), but they also have the space to focus a lot more on things like atmosphere and descriptions too. They also don’t have to pass a film censor either. As such, moments of horror can be more intense and more prolonged than in a horror movie.

Add to this the fact that monster-based scenes and gruesome scenes in horror novels don’t have to rely on special effects (and even the best effects in horror movies often only “work” when shown relatively briefly) and the score at the moment is: Horror novels 1 – Horror movies 0.

However, the film did do something that books can’t always do, it was relaxing. It was a way for me to turn off my brain for about 90 minutes and forget my troubles. Not only that, the general “lightness” of the film when compared to books was also a bonus for the simple reason that it made the film’s moments of dark comedy even funnier. In addition to all of this, some types of dark comedy – such as slapstick humour and rapid-fire dialogue – work better on the screen too. So, the score is one all at the moment.

But, one area where horror novels are way ahead of horror movies is originality. When “The Cabin In The Woods” was released, it was touted as a radically original twist on a stale genre. And, yes, it does do some fairly clever and original stuff. But, the film’s “surprising” ending is the type of thing that was done in a much more effective (and scary) way in a a 1980s Shaun Hutson novel I’d re-read recently.

Not to mention that this level of originality seems to be a lot more common in horror novels than it does in horror movies. Even just looking at horror novels from this decade, you can see this fairly easily.

Whether it’s S.L.Grey’s “The Mall“, a 2011 novel that blends “Silent Hill”-style horror and hilarious dystopian fiction in a South African shopping centre. Whether it’s Edgar Cantero’s 2018 novel “Meddling Kids“, which is a Lovecraftian parody of “Scooby Doo”.

Whether it’s Robert Brockway’s 2015 novel “The Unnoticeables“, which is a punk novel with some really innovative monsters. Whether it is Dana Fredsti’s “Ashley Parker” trilogy (2012-13), which are like “Buffy The Vampire Slayer, but with zombies“. I could go on for a while, but horror novels are more original more often than horror movies usually are.

So, Horror novels 2 – Horror movies 1.

On the other hand, horror movies get all of the fame. If you talk about a well-known horror movie, people will usually know what you are talking about. Likewise, since they tend to get advertised a lot more heavily than horror novels do, it’s easier to find horror movies than it is to find horror novels.

Add to this the fact that, these days, the horror genre is probably in better health on the screen than it is on the page (yes, modern horror novels do exist, but horror novels are nowhere near as popular as they apparently were in the 1980s) and it’s two all at the moment.

I could go on for a while, but I guess that they are both very different things with very different goals and sets of conventions, techniques etc… So, I guess that it’s best to say that if you want originality, depth and intensity, then read a horror novel. But, if you want to relax and to enjoy something that you can easily have conversations with other people about, then watch a horror movie.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

The Joy Of…. Non-Scary Horror

2014 Artwork Non-Scary Horror article sketch

Ok, I have a bit of a confession to make – as much as I absolutely love the horror genre, I often tend to prefer non-scary horror to genuinely scary horror. And, yes, there are a few interesting reasons for this that I’ll explain a bit later.

For example, I’ll gladly play a horror-themed FPS game like “Doom II” or “Left 4 Dead 2”, a gothic horror-themed Hidden Object Game or even a mildly scary vintage survival horror game from the 90s/early 00s (except the “Project Zero”/ “Fatal Frame” games, they’re too terrifying) but I only usually tend to play genuinely scary games about once or twice before giving up in sheer terror.

Likewise, I love gruesome and melodramatic splatterpunk novels but I tend to give “realistic” horror stories a miss. I’ll gladly watch gory zombie movies, over-the-top splatter movies or melodramatic movies with monsters in them but I’ll avoid realistic “psychological” or “supernatural” horror movies like the plague most of the time.

So, why is non-scary horror so great? I mean, surely it should be viewed in the same disdainful way that decaffeinated coffee should be, right?

Wrong.

One of the great things about non-scary horror is that it makes the audience feel like they’re absolute badasses. Yes, even a perpetually-nervous coward like myself can feel like they have nerves of steel when they watch a “horror” movie that isn’t genuinely scary or plays a horror-themed computer game where the protagonist has even more guns than the average American “Tea Party” member does.

As many people have said before, true horror is all about vulnerability, hopelessness and helplessness. Whether it’s someone at the mercy of ghostly forces they don’t understand or someone who isn’t quite alone in the dark, true horror plays on the idea that death (or worse) is around every corner and there is nothing that anyone can do about it.

True horror reminds the audience that they’re insignificant beings on a small planet in a giant universe and that they will all eventually die in one way or another.

Another reason why non-scary horror is better than scary horror is because it focuses more on aesthetics and philosophy. In other words, it provides a “safe” way for us to think about “edgy” topics, watch lots of well-made special effects, read lots of beautifully morbid descriptions and/or look at cool computer graphics.

Basically, non-scary horror is imaginative, exaggerated and fantastical – and it’s really cool as a result of this. Non-scary horror is strange, dream-like and dramatic- it fuels our imaginations rather than haunts them.

Genuinely scary horror on the other hand tends to be as starkly “realistic” as possible – whether in terms of it’s settings or the psychology of it’s characters. It provides us with a nightmarish glimpse at a world that we can all recognise and relate to.

And, when it is at it’s best (or worst, depending on how you look at it) genuinely scary horror movies/novels/games can even temporarily alter how we see the world around us.

If you don’t believe me, try watching a “supernatural” Japanese horror movie alone in the dark – then try walking around the room for a bit. I can almost guarantee that you’ll be scared that something might be lurking in the reflections of every mirror and window nearby.

What I’m trying to say here is that genuinely scary horror adds more fear to our everyday lives, whereas non-scary horror just makes us think “Wow! That movie was cool“.

So, yes, these are just two reasons why horror can sometimes be best when it isn’t actually that scary. But, saying all of this, I can still appreciate genuinely scary horror sometimes – even just because it’s a testament to the power of the written word, computer code and/or film.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂