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Horror is Small

Banes at 12:00AM, Oct. 26, 2023

Horror is Small

I think horror is better and more effective when it's small.

A dark hallway with one person nervously tiptoeing through it…a creepy phone call or knock on the door in the middle of the night…the demented, sinister weirdness of someone's new step parent, or girlfriend or boyfriend, or boss or teacher…or the body horror that we experience through one victim (or one at a time anyway, or one changing person and one other person to be afraid of what's happening.

Granted, there are plenty of stories where groups of people are threatened by the scary thing - and some all-time favorites of mine like Tremors, or the best of the Friday the 13th sequels, or Return of the Living Dead…but the scariest moments are generally focused on one person's experience of the fearful.

When things get bigger, it gets less personal and less scary.

On the other hand…

Horror is BIG

I've had a fearful reaction several times to something, where the sheer SCALE of something is terrifying.
The giant aliens at a few points in War of the Worlds, The massive otherworldly scale of Lovecraft (or Lovecraftian) stories, and the world being swallowed up by some kind of horror so there's literally nowhere to go to escape and be safe…that can be terrifying.

But it's still the reaction of the single person, the moments of anxiety, fear and dread…one person getting sick, or being stalked…one life falling apart. Or if there are a few lives, the more focus we have on the small stuff, the more effective it'll be.

Or so I'm gonna claim, anyway…maybe I'm wrong. What do you think?

Happy Autumn (for those on my side of the globe), and Happy Halloween!

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EssayBee at 1:30PM, Oct. 26, 2023

One of my favorite "big" horror novels is "Edge," by Koji Suzuki. Not particularly scary, but a terrifying concept that all begins with people disappearing and supercomputers around the world discovering that the value of pi has changed. This all heralds a reset of the universe.

KAM at 1:27PM, Oct. 26, 2023

Years ago I at a birthday party and I was pretending to be a dinosaur growling at the kids, and one kid, giggling, went and hid under a table and I crouched down and started walking under the table, and the look on her face went from "This is fun!" to "OMG, the monster can shrink!!!" I hope she didn't have any nightmares because of that. It's all fun and games until the child gets scared for real. Whoops!

PaulEberhardt at 3:47AM, Oct. 26, 2023

Franz Kafka's way of using as a source of fear the labyrinth of bureaucracy taken somewhat literally in "Der Prozess" (I think the translation's title is "The Trial") may be worth considering, too. It's certainly set on a small scale but the horror - if we read the book as such - builds on the impersonal way Josef K. is treated by the literally inapproachable judges, whoever they are, in fact how nobody in that whole world really gives a damn about him and what he has to say. Of course you could read this whole indifference thing as a stand-in for the feeling of being powerless in a world overrun by World War 1, when the book was written. Of course you could read the novel as many other things. The thing with Kafka is that everything he left us is multi-layered surrealist fiction notoriously hard to get a grip on, rather than horror in the usual sense.

PaulEberhardt at 3:47AM, Oct. 26, 2023

Horror in small settings is much more immediate and relatable, so I think you're on to something there. The large-scale ones... I don't know. I read the War of the Worlds as plain SciFi, despite its terrifying aspects and Lovecraftian mythos stories are almost a genre of their own. The thing is, it is much harder to imagine the immense scales on which they happen, both in time and space, and writers' senses of scale are often shaky anyway. Impersonal horror is great - I'll second that it works - but the more you bring into focus the cosmic scales on which the evil (or rather indifferent) thing operates, the harder it gets to make it believable. Lovecraft was a genius at circumventing that problem by focusing on the characters and mostly just hinting at how the horrors they encounter are part of a hostile universe too vast to comprehend. It probably worked even better back in the day when you couldn't just google what Antarctica is really like, and so on.

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