The Joy Of… Body Horror

2014 Artwork Joy Of Body Horror sketch

Well, since I can’t think of any good advice about writing or art today, I thought that I’d write about one of my favourite horror sub-genres and why it is such a divinely beautiful type of fiction.

I am, of course, talking about body horror. This essay might get a little bit philosophical and introspective, but I hope that it is interesting nonetheless.

If you’re a fan of the horror genre, then you’ve probably heard of “body horror” before – but, if you haven’t, then I should probably explain it briefly. As the name suggests, traditional “body horror” stories revolve around strange things happening to either the main character’s body or the bodies of other characters.

For example, traditional “body horror” stories can involve things like someone mysteriously growing an extra arm or someone slowly mutating into an alien creature etc…

However, I’d argue that “body horror” also includes stories where the main character’s body remains intact, but they discover something “strange” about themselves.

A good example of this would be in a TV show like “Battlestar Galactica“, where several of the human characters suddenly learn that they are actually cylons (a race of human-like robots that the humans are at war with) and they have to come to terms with this fact.

Not only is body horror one of the most theatrical and surreal types of horror fiction, but it is also one of the most introspective types of horror fiction too.

Whilst most other types of horror fiction focus on the main character encountering terrifying and strange things in the outside world, body horror places all of that strangeness firmly within the main character.

In other words, body horror stories are essentially stories about self-discovery, self-loathing and/or self-knowledge.

Often, in body horror stories, there is a strong contrast between the “normal” main character and the “unusual” thing that they discover that they actually are.

Usually, this contrast is intended to scare and unsettle the “ordinary” members of the audience. But, if you’re someone who is already slightly “interesting”, then “body horror” stories can take on a very different – and much more cathartic and educational – tone.

Why?

If – for example – you’re LGBT, then you’ve probably had a moment in the earlier parts of your life when you’ve suddenly realised that you’re slightly different to all or most of the people that you know. Maybe you were lucky enough to fully understand it at the time or to discover all (or part) of it gradually, but maybe you weren’t.

Maybe the first signs of who you are suddenly seemed to come out of the blue, like a dramatic plot twist – leaving you reeling with puzzled incomprehension at yourself and with no-one to explain it to you.

And, emotionally, an experience like this can be very similar to a “body horror” story. After all, in that moment, you’ve seemingly gone from someone you saw as “ordinary” to being someone you (depending on how liberal your surroundings were when you were younger) might see as “strange” or “unusual”.

Of course, this can also be true for any other form of sudden self-discovery too. But, regardless of what it is, reading body horror stories or watching body horror movies can be a wonderfully cathartic experience.

After all, seeing someone else going through something emotionally similar to what you’re going through (or have gone through) can help you feel less alone in the world.

Not only that, “body horror” stories can also be wonderfully educational in a strange way too. Seeing how fictional characters react to strange things happening to them can help you think about how you should react to it. Stories where the main character finds a way to draw strength from their strangeness, can help you to draw strength from your own “strangeness”.

And, even stories where the main character finds a way to hide their “strangeness” can give you a few pointers about how to hide your own “strangeness” if you fear that it won’t be accepted by the people around you. Yes, this isn’t ideal – but if you’re in an enviroment where you feel that your “strangeness” is unlikely to be accepted, then it can be a matter of emotional and social survival at the very least.

It should be obvious, but don’t take any pointers from “body” stories where either the main character’s “strangeness” turns out to be fatal (in any way) or where the main character somehow manages to return to “normal”. As for the first one, the world needs more interesting people like you (seriously, it’d be hell on earth if everyone was *ugh* “normal”) and, as for the second one, you are what you are – trying to turn yourself into something you’re not in order to “fit in” will just bring you nothing but misery.

I guess that what I’m trying to say here is that body horror is such a wonderful genre because it can take on a totally different meaning depending on the type of person you are.

If you’re a “normal” person, then it is just a wonderfully unsettling type of horror fiction – but if you aren’t a “normal” person, then it can be a beautiful – and almost spiritual– genre of fiction.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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