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Classics of Horror. Mr. Glisch Room 120. Appeal of Horror. Journal: Why do people read horror and watch horror films? What makes people enjoy being scared?. Responses. Responses of various literary critics:

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classics of horror

Classics of Horror

Mr. Glisch

Room 120

appeal of horror
Appeal of Horror

Journal: Why do people read horror and watch

horror films? What makes people enjoy

being scared?


Responses of various literary critics:

  • June Michele Pulliam: "Life is scary and uncertain, and horror at least allows us to experience the emotion of fear in a controlled setting.”
  • William Patrick Day: “People are simply repulsed and attracted to horror.”
  • Terry Heller: “Horror gives people a safe adrenaline rush…and, in a sense, to come face-to-face with mortality and walk away.”

Carol J. Clover: “In slasher films, audience members are at various times encouraged to view the world from the perspective of both the monster and the victim…[thus giving] the horror fan the chance to experience fear vicariously from different points of view, and to emerge unscathed from the theater.”

  • Others: It “entertains and teaches.”
definition of horror
Definition of Horror
  • The word monster stems from the Latin words monstrum—meaning, “a portent or omen, often a divine warning”--and monere—meaning, “to warn.” Thus, on the most basic level, a horror text is one that contains a monster, whether it is supernatural, human, or a metaphor for the psychological torment of a guilt-ridden human. The monsters, of course, can take on various forms:

snapshot: the walking dead, the living-impaired who stumble around aimlessly chanting, “Brains! Brains,” and snacking on anyone in heels who has the misfortune to trip on the terrain.

  • snapshot: the vengeful ghost of a child molester, horribly disfigured through the vigilante justice of outraged parents, and fully equipped with twelve-inch razors for fingernails and the ability to invade his victims’ dreams, cracking jokes as he slaughters the innocent.
  • snapshot: the angry strippers, the once abused wives and mothers, who will now rid the world of men who would batter those they should protect.

snapshot: the hideous and therefore unlovable creations of mad scientists who fancied themselves greater than God, but are nothing more than deadbeat dads creating beautiful immortals who are physically, emotionally, and intellectually superior to the envious humans among whom they live, but who must nevertheless drink the blood of their admirers for survival.

  • In essence, horror fiction is difficult to define because it is not all of one type.
personal definitions
Personal Definitions
  • Douglas E. Winter: “Horror is not a genre, like the mystery or science fiction or the western. It is not a kind of fiction meant to be confined to the ghetto of a special shelf in the ghetto of libraries or bookstores…[H]orror is an emotion.”
  • June Michele Pulliam: “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall down the sewer and die. Horror is when you return from the dead and haunt me for laughing at your nasty trip down that sewer.”
history of horror
History of Horror

1764: The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole is considered the

first horror novel

--about a family curse, a damsel in distress and a giant

helmet that crushes humans

1796: The Monk by Matthew Lewis

--about a well-respected clergyman tempted by Satan; a

chilling character study of the degeneration of a

human being and his soul

Early 1800s: some American gothic authors:

Charles Brockden Brown

Washington Irving

1817: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley


Mid 1800s: emergence of two American authors considered the “literary ancestors” of today’s horror fiction:

      • Edgar Allan Poe
      • Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • 1897: Dracula by Bram Stoker serves as the “mother of all vampire texts”
  • 1930s: resurgence of horror fiction comes from pulp magazine publications. Two authors emerge:
      • H.P. Lovecraft
      • Arthur Machen
ghosts and haunted houses
Ghosts and Haunted Houses
  • Most sightings, if not all, are the result of an overactive imagination
  • Haunted houses may be interpreted as symbols of the mind
  • Usually the ghost functions as a warning to the living
  • Haunted houses are usually victims
          • Something happened in the house
          • Something happened on the site on which the house is built
golems mummies reanimated stalkers
Golems, Mummies, Reanimated Stalkers
  • Golem:
  • a being without a soul, made into human form from clay
  • a parallel to God’s creation of Adam
  • original golem is from medieval Jewish folklore
  • most famous golem is in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
  • golems often seek to destroy their maker
  • the creator is punished for trying to do what only God can
*The dead, in fiction, usually rise to take revenge upon the living
  • *The dead come back (usually) in 2 ways
  • 1) They are purposefully reanimated
  • 2) reanimated accidentally
  • *When the dead rise, they are (usually) dangerous
  • *Psychologically speaking, people raise the dead because they can’t accept death
vampires and werewolves
Vampires and Werewolves
  • Werewolves come from traditional vampire folklore (vampires could take the form of wolves)
  • The werewolf is the alter-ego of the suave, sophisticated vampire
  • Werewolves represent our bestial desires (food, sex, violence, etc)


  • Vampires are probably the most popular of all monsters
  • Vampires range from bestial murderers to suave, sophisticated, intelligent superhumans
  • Most famous vampires:
      • Nosferatu from Varney the Vampire
      • Dracula from Dracula (by Bram Stoker)
  • Vampirism is often seen as a sort of dark godhood because of their potential immortality

Vampires often possess extraordinary powers:

      • Hypnotize victims
      • Control the weather
      • Shapeshift (bats and wolves usually)
      • Super strength and speed
      • Fly
  • Vampires appeal to audiences in two ways:
      • Strength and invulnerability
      • Weakness and vulnerability
  • Vampires are almost always suggestive of the erotic
  • Vampires are unholy
      • They are repulsed by crosses and holy water
      • Vampires use blood in a completely different way than Jesus
        • Jesus gives his blood
        • The vampire takes it
      • Holiness = light
        • Vampires cannot stand light


Dracula was inspired by a real-life prince

- VladTepes – a Romanian known as Vlad the


The name Dracula comes from “Dracul” which means “dragon” (the dragon was Vlad the Impaler’s insignia)

Horror Writers are constantly rewriting the vampire myth

demonic possession black magic and witches and warlocks
Demonic Possession, Black Magic, and Witches and Warlocks
  • Arguably the oldest horror subgenre
  • Tales of demonic possession go as far back as the Bible
  • Most famous novels of demonic possession:
      • The Monk, M.G. Lewis
      • The Exorcist, William Peter Blatty
  • Most possession tales involve the possession of an innocent person (that’s what makes them scary)
  • The possessed characters are forgivable because they were not responsible for their actions while possessed
mythological monsters and the old ones
Mythological Monsters and “The Old Ones”
  • Nearly every religion and mythology has its monsters or evil gods
      • Examples: Kali the Destroyer (India), Medusa & Cyclops (Greece), Lucifer (Christianity)
  • Most cultures have in their belief systems a humanoid being that is monstrous and destructive
  • These mythologies are essentially the basis for modern horror fiction
  • The monsters of the old stories are divine warnings about the consequences of human action

Monsters are symbols of what we all fear, whether it is the monster within us or some mystery of the outer world

  • Many authors write about mythological monsters from ancient religions and cultures
  • H.P. Lovecraft (an American writer of the 20th century) created a mythology populated by horrifying cosmic gods
      • Called the Cthulhu mythos
  • In many horror stories, the old gods are ever present and can be summoned any time, even accidentally.
maniacs and sociopaths
Maniacs and Sociopaths

Sociopath – a person whose criminal behavior is shaped by social forces and is the result of a dysfunctional environment

Psychopath – a person suffering from mental disorders, especially one who perceives reality clearly except for his/her own social and moral obligations

-generally not the result of upbringing or environment


Common features of socio & psychopathic behavior:

-often charming

-manipulative (con others)

-pathological liars

-lack of remorse, shame, or guilt

-incapable of love

-unable to feel for the victims

-unable to control their behavior

-create hopelessness in their victim

-believe they are all-powerful and all knowing

-don’t accept blame

-histories of sexual abuse



-tend to look normal

-ultimate goal is the creation of a willing victim

rampant animals and other eco monsters
Rampant Animals and Other Eco-Monsters
  • Humans usually believe we have mastery over the animal kingdom.
  • From Genesis:
  • 26 And God said, Let usmake man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
  • 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
  • 28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

As a result of our belief that we master nature, we often destroy nature in the process

  • Mother Nature’s vengeance reminds us that we must face the consequences of our harming nature
  • Usually killer animals act (attack) out of revenge
  • Sometimes animals just attack because it’s in their nature to do so, such as in Jaws
  • Sometimes the animals are endowed with supernatural qualities, as in “The Hound” by H.P. Lovecraft
  • Horror authors like to remind readers that humans are perhaps NOT the ultimate, supreme hunters that we think we are

Most famous novels in this subgenre:

  • Jaws by Peter Benchley
  • Cujo by Stephen King
  • The Birds by Daphne du Maurier
psychological horror
Psychological Horror
  • Psychological horror stories usually deal with mental torment, emotional instability and mental illness
  • These stories challenge the fictional “reality” that the writers create
  • In other words, the horror is often only in the character’s head
  • The characters often suffer in hells of their own making
  • Sometimes characters are unable to break away from a harmful situation because they are unwilling to do so
  • Characters often have their deepest, darkest desires and fears come to life 
  • Almost all horror tales contain some element of psychological horror
small town horror
Small-Town Horror
  • These tales scare the reader into the realization that there are places where “normal” civilization does not rule
  • There are isolated communities and individuals that are untouched by modern values, technology, and logic
  • The isolation of these places makes them a perfect setting for horrific events because “no one can hear you scream”
  • These stories remind us of our powerlessness within society and of our dependence upon the others who make up the community
  • Small-town horror reminds us that small towns sometimes (always?) have deep, dark secrets
  • Technohorror questions the worlds of science (including space travel), medicine, the government, and the military by exposing their dark sides
  • Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is one of the first examples of the subgenre

--Victor Frankenstein plays God by creating a man/golem

--his experiment backfires, unleashing a horror into the world

  • Some popular Technohorror subtopics:

--weird science

--medical horror

--military experimentation horror

--technology-gone-destructive horror

  • Technohorror taps into modern-age fears

Potentially positive discoveries can easily be transformed into means for destruction

  • (example: Einstein’s theory of relativity, which eventually led to atomic bombs)
  • These tales often play on the modern fear of technology dehumanizing the world

Famous Technohorror novels:

Farenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton

Firestarter, Stephen King

Boys From Brazil, Ira Levin

telekinesis and hypnosis
Telekinesis and Hypnosis
  • Hypnotism is when someone can get others to do something through mind control
  • Hypnotism used to be called mesmerism because it was popularized by Dr. Anton Mesmer
  • Horror stories of hypnotism are often about evil people using their mental powers to control others
  • One of the 1st fictional examples of this is Count Dracula, who could hypnotize his victims
  • Through hypnosis, hypnotists have access to one’s unconscious mind…
  • …this can be helpful in curing psychological problems, but it can also do great harm if the hypnotist has evil intentions

Telekinesis is another type of mental control

  • Someone with telekinetic abilities can move objects with his or her mind
  • Stephen King’s Carrie is an excellent example. When her classmates play too many jokes on her, Carrie uses her telekinesis to destroy most of the town and its citizens
  • Horror tales about mental control remind us that the loss of our free will is always possible, sometimes with catastrophic results
  • Also known as “extreme horror”
  • Graphic sex and violence extremely common
      • Normally due to the indulgences of bored mortals and immortals, not excesses of monsters that must be stopped.
  • Often use punk, alternative, and heavy metal music in the background
comic horror
Comic Horror
  •  Humor and horror often go hand in hand
  •  Laughing at our fears goes back to very early horror texts (example: the Old English epic Beowulf)
  •  Even Poe, the father of modern horror, wrote several comic horror tales
  •  Some horror writers choose parody (making fun of someone or something) as their mode of expression
  •  Often, authors (and especially film makers) use a funny character(s) for comic relief to break up the seriousness of the story’s tone