back to list

Terror, Horror, and Revulsion, courtesy of the King

Banes at 12:00AM, Oct. 15, 2015

Apparently the difference between “terror” and “horror” was first expressed by writer Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823), who said that Terror is the dread and apprehension about something happening, while Horror is the actual encountering the frightening thing.
Maybe this is what they mean when they talk about “suspense” vs. “horror”. Have you noticed that? How actors never want to admit they're in a horror movie, and say it's “more of a suspense” movie? Yeesh. Actors.

But back to the point: there's TERROR, and there's HORROR.
I first read about this concept in Stephen King's great non-fiction study of horror genre, Danse Macabre. It's a fantastic read, and the idea of the three types has stayed with me over the years.
Ol' Stevie adds a third category, though: Terror is the suspense/dread when you KNOW something is out there, behind the door, Horror is encountering the scary thing, and Revulsion is the gross part: the mucus that drips on your arm, or the blood and guts of it all.

He says that Terror is the most lofty of the three, and what he always shoots for in his writing. The sense of dread or doom, when our imaginations run wild, is the highest ambition of a scary story. Ann Radcliffe described it this way:

“(Terror) expands the soul and awakens the faculties to a high degree of life.”
That's beautiful to me. I get it. I've felt this way about scary fiction: that it sharpens our instincts and makes our senses…more sensitive.

Horror on the other hand (when we open the door and the monster is revealed), “freezes and nearly annihilates them.”
So after the tension of Terror, Horror is the release - but maybe not in a good way, according to Radcliffe. That sublime level of imagination and dread is brought down when you open the door and it's some mutant hillbilly, or a grody bug of some kind. Horror is considered a “lower level” emotion.

The Revulsion part, added by Stephen King, is the physical grossness, and I suppose, the cheapest of the three types. The severed head falling into your lap, or the mucus dripping on your shoulder (have I already referred to mucus? Okay, that's the last time).
All three types of fear can show up in one story of course, or even in a single scene.

One of my favorite scary scenes ever is the “Tarman” sequence from Return of the Living Dead:
1. Tina, looking for her boyfriend, goes down to the funeral home's basement. It's deathly quiet but we know SOMETHING is there (Terror).
2. The Tarman, a dripping wet skeleton with eyeballs and a tongue, steps out, saying “Brains!” (Horror).
3. When Tina's friends come to save her, Tarman takes a bite out of one of their skulls (Revulsion)

After rereading about terror, horror and revulsion, I realized that I LOVE Terror. I love the anticipation. I also dig the horror; never revealing the source of the fear just wouldn't work. Maybe for some stories, but overall, we need to get a look at SOMETHING.

The gross stuff? Not my favorite. If there's a generous helping of Terror and Horror, I can handle a little Revulsion. It can give an immediacy and a grittiness to the horror. It has its place! But it's WAY down the list of what I want out of my creepy stories.

Or as Stephen King says:
I recognize terror as the finest emotion so I will try and terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I'll go for the gross-out. I'm not proud."
Hey, whatever gets the job done!

Terror-centric works: Blair Witch Project, Rosemary's Baby, The Innkeepers, The House of the Devil, The Monkey's Paw, The Haunting of Hill House, JAWS
Horror-centric works: Night of the Living Dead, Halloween, Dracula
Revulsion-centric works: Evil Dead, The Thing, The Fly

Do you dig suspense? Or do you like seeing the monsters? Or…are you a gorehound? C'mon, you can admit it! There's no shame in it! Well, maybe a little.



KimLuster at 5:36AM, Oct. 18, 2015

Haha yeah I suppose it is - I even incorporated it (Godstrain p.262)! I guess in the movie I movie (and I cannot remember the name - not a Saw movie, it was Japanese..) it was the psychological horror combined with the gore (having to slowly pull out your own intestines..) that got to me. The Saw movies do this too (I've only watched the first one).

bravo1102 at 6:11AM, Oct. 16, 2015

The intestine thing is almost a cliche now. It goes back to the Icelandic Sagas where it was known as the "walk" Ithe was pretty good in Dead Snow when the Nazi zombie gets stopped because his intestine was caught on a tree branch.

Banes at 5:12PM, Oct. 15, 2015

@KimLuster - EWWW! One of the Saw movies, maybe? I'm with you on that. Terror and Horror and minimal Gore for me.

Banes at 5:11PM, Oct. 15, 2015

@bravo - I didn't list Lovecraft as I should have; his stories were the ultimate in Terror, and not showing us the things that were out there. Letting our imaginations run wild!

Banes at 5:10PM, Oct. 15, 2015

@tupapayon - Haha! Of course, always the boobs get a mention...@bravo - Ah! Really? I wouldn't have guessed that actually! @kawaii - Hahaha! You know, when I found those pictures (especially the third) I got a little creeped out, too...

KimLuster at 1:59PM, Oct. 15, 2015

Good stuff once more, Banes...! I like all three when done well, but Gore probably makes me twist and squirm more than anything... I saw this movie a few years ago where this mad doctor forced this guy to go across the room in order to save his girl from a death trap... Problem was Doc had cut a slice in the guy's abdomen and attached his intestine to a hook, so as the Guy struggled to his girl, more and more of his intestines got pulled out...! Ghhhaaaahhhh!!

bravo1102 at 8:05AM, Oct. 15, 2015

I've had too many real life frights for a movie or book to chill me. The last time was Lovecraft.

kawaiidaigakusei at 7:43AM, Oct. 15, 2015

So. Much. Mucus. Banes!!! Imagine reading this article in the middle of the night and scrolling through the images. That was me a few hours ago. As soon as I saw the first and third pictures, I thought, "Gotta save this one for the morning!"

bravo1102 at 4:46AM, Oct. 15, 2015

Gore hound pure and simple. There are also the Japanese gore movies and the Rock and Roll gore movie The Wall.

tupapayon at 4:13AM, Oct. 15, 2015

terror, definitely... most times I prefer not to know what's behind the door, under the bed... when done effectively, you don't wanna turn off the lights at night... that, and boobs...

Forgot Password
©2011 WOWIO, Inc. All Rights Reserved Google+