Three Ways To Make Familiar Horror Monsters Scarier

Well, since I’m reading a surprisingly creepy vampire novel (“The Hunger” by Whitley Strieber) at the time of writing this article, I thought that I’d talk about the horror genre again.

In particular, I thought that I’d talk about how writers can turn the familiar monsters of the genre (eg: vampires, werewolves, zombies etc..) into something a lot scarier and more disturbing. So, here are a few tips.

1) Parallels: One of the creepy things about Strieber’s “The Hunger” is that the opening scene of the novel actually plays out more like something from a slasher movie or a crime thriller. In essence, the novel portrays vampires as serial killers and this makes them even creepier.

By drawing a parallel between these two types of monsters, the story is able to create twice the horror that you would expect because it messes with the reader’s expectations. After all, “The Hunger” is clearly labelled as a vampire novel, so the reader isn’t expecting to read something that seems to fit more into the slasher genre. Yet, because the two types of monsters have some similarities with each other, the difference isn’t large enough to make the reader feel cheated.

Good horror is all about subverting expectations and lulling the audience into a false sense of security. So, finding parallels between different types of monsters and using these in unexpected ways can be a great way to add some extra fear to your story.

2) Sympathy and revulsion: Although making the monster the protagonist is hardly a new technique, the trick to making this genuinely disturbing to read is to find exactly the right balance between sympathy and revulsion.

For example, in Strieber’s “The Hunger”, one of the main characters (Miriam) is a vampire. She is also utterly amoral, cruel and sociopathic. But, whilst this alone would make her a really creepy character, the novel takes it a step further by including several dream sequences that show tragic episodes of Miriam’s past, in addition to several descriptions of how lonely and empty the life of a vampire can be.

This means that the reader is torn between feeling sorry for Miriam and fearing her. Because the balance between these two things is so carefully handled, the reader ends up feeling freaked out at themselves that they are actually feeling sympathy for a character like this. This is a difficult balance to get right but, when it works, it works!

For a contrasting example, take a look at Clive Barker’s “Cabal“. Whilst “Cabal” is probably one of the best monster novels ever written, the main character (Boone) is presented in a much more clearly sympathetic way and is also contrasted with a “100% evil” villain too. As such, whilst he is a well-written character, he isn’t really a source of horror in the way that Miriam from “The Hunger” is because the reader doesn’t really feel torn between sympathy and revulsion.

3) Other types of horror: I’ve mentioned this at least a couple of times before, but it’s always important to remember that good horror stories will often contain multiple types of horror.

In other words, if you want to make your story’s monster scary, then you can’t just rely on “Aaargh! A monster!” style horror. After all, this gets old fairly quickly.

So, look for ways to include other types of horror. These can include things like suspense, psychological horror, gory horror, scientific/medical horror, character-based horror etc… There are lots of different types of horror out there and, the more of them you include in your story, the less predictable (and more scary) it will be.

Seriously, if you look at pretty much any well-known horror novel, it will usually contain several different types of horror. So, be sure to do this too.

—————-

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Reasons Why The Monster Genre Is Brilliant

Well, during one of my 1990s film reviews a few days ago, I was reminded of how much fun the monster genre is. Seriously, as horror sub-genres go, it’s certainly one of my favourites.

So, I thought that I’d list a few of the many reasons why the monster genre is such a fun, interesting and distinctive part of the horror genre.

1) Non-scary horror: Simply put, monsters aren’t scary. Like zombies and vampires, they don’t actually exist in real life.

What this means is that when you watch a monster movie or read a monster-themed horror novel, then you get to see all of the techniques, features and tropes of the horror genre (eg: suspense, gore, melodrama etc..) but without any of the lingering fear that accompanies more “realistic” or more psychological horror stories.

I’ve written about non-scary horror before, but some of the reasons why this is such a fun type of horror include the fact that it makes the audience feel like they’re really “tough” (since they’re experiencing something in the horror genre, but aren’t terrified by it) and the fact that it can often turn into an absolutely brilliant type of horror-themed comedy. After all, if you’re seeing all of the tropes and features of the horror genre in a context that isn’t scary, then they can come across as hilariously melodramatic.

In addition to this, the monster genre is also a “safe” way to experience something in the horror genre. One of the problems with more “serious” horror is that it can often leave you feeling nervous and/or miserable for hours or days afterwards. The monster genre has none of that. Even if a monster story ends with the monster eating the main characters or wiping out civilisation, then it’s still funny rather than scary because of the unrealistic silliness of it all. So, it’s a way to enjoy the horror genre without any negative emotional side-effects.

2) Disaster without the disaster: Another cool thing about the monster genre is that it allows the audience to experience all of the thrilling elements of the disaster genre, without any of the real-world “it could happen” seriousness that accompanies things in this genre.

Although some things in the monster genre are supposed to be metaphors for real-world threats (eg: Godzilla was originally meant to be a metaphor for the atom bomb), this subtext often doesn’t appear in the monster genre.

Even so, the monster genre has a lot in common with the disaster genre. Whether it is an intrepid band of survivors trying to survive against all odds, or a group of experts trying to contain a disease-like group of creatures or the military/emergency services doing their job in a spectacular way, the monster and disaster genres are very similar. But, since the monster genre involves hilariously unrealistic giant creatures, all of these elements become joyously thrilling rather than dramatically serious.

In addition to this, monster stories often end with the monster being defeated or scared away. Given that the news is often filled with terrible events that we have no control over, seeing a story where some kind of calamity or catastrophe is defeated through ingenuity, courage and/or strength can be fairly satisfying on an emotional level.

3) No pretentiousness: Yet another awesome thing about the monster genre is that it knows that it is meant to be silly fun. It isn’t trying to win awards or impress pretentious critics, it exists purely to entertain. And it is so much better as a result!

Because it isn’t looking for formal mainstream recognition, the monster genre has a lot more room to be inventive, silly and fun. It’s like American horror comics during the 1940s-50s or computer games during the 1990s. This generally results in a much more light-hearted tone, an emphasis on fun and a lot more creativity.

The low filming budgets and/or lack of bestseller status mean that works in the monster genre have to find more creative ways to intrigue or entertain the audience. It also means that they can be a bit more fun or light-hearted, since their target audience consists of fans of the genre.

This lack of pretentiousness also extends to a lack of obsession about celebrity too, which is very refreshing when compared to mainstream culture. Things in the monster genre will often be by lesser-known authors (with a dedicated fan-base) or they’ll include unknown actors and/or actors who are less famous than they used to be. And, in a world that is obsessed with fame, this can be extremely refreshing.

————

Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂