Daniel I. Russell is the author of Entertaining Demons, Samhane, Retard, Come Into Darkness, Critique, The Collector Book 1: Mana Leak, Mother's Boys and the huge collection Tricks, Mischief and Mayhem. Daniel is a HWA active member and represented by the Tobias Literary Agency, NYC. Daniel has also been the vice-president of the Australian Horror Writers' Association, special guest editor of Midnight Echo, associate and technical editor for Necrotic Tissue, and Shadow Awards judge.
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Monday, August 26, 2013Part 5: HORROR, OR A CONTEMPORARY PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLER WITH A DARK FANTASY-SCIENCE FICTION TONE WHICH IS ALSO A ROMANCE
So welcome to Dan’s book shop. This is your first day as book dogsbody.
Here is the new Edward Lee novel! In it, a young man falls madly in love with his neighbour. While she ignores his advances, the young man realises that it’s fate for them to be together, so kidnaps the girl and keeps her locked in his basement where torture and systematic rape abounds. In the finale, the neighbour gets loose and during the struggle, hacks off her tormentor’s head with a machete.
Okay, young whippersnapper! Where are we going to put this book?
Horror would be the obvious choice. Its aim is to make the reader uncomfortable by placing a character in a prolonged dangerous situation. While other considered horror elements are there, such as the rape and the gore, it’s the core drive of the book, once again to cause a feeling of shock or revolt, that for me would make it a fine addition to any horror shelf.
Where did you put it?
Romance? What the hell?
Okay, I know the main character is in love and he does some pretty romantic things before going bat shit crazy…but I wouldn’t call this a romance book. The aims of a romance book and a horror book are extremely different by their nature. This not to say that a horror novel cannot have touching, romantic scenes, nor a romance novel have its fair share of darker moments.
I am not for the straight forward labelling of all fiction, nor against the blending off different generic themes. Some of my all time favourite books, the Dark Tower series for example, are all over the show in terms of genre.
Looking at movies like A Nightmare on Elm Street and Child’s Play, the originals turned heads and unsettled movie goers. At the time, these were terrifying films that caught the public’s imagination. As the sequels rolled out, the emphasis of each film changed, moving away from terror and shock to entertainment and one liners. I love all the movies, but for different reasons. In editions like Seed of Chucky, it’s quite clear that this is a comedy movie with horror elements, as opposed to the vice versa of say, Child’s Play 2. No matter how many characters are set on fire or dissolved by acid, the dread isn’t there anymore and we have a different kind of atmosphere all together. Yet, this movie is still classed as horror.
The point I’m trying to make is this. Certain aspects could be considered as horror elements. For example, we could have a graveyard, a vampire and a stormy night. Straight away, we’re picturing the scene and thinking horror. However, any kind of story could be derived from this simple set up. Is the vampire waiting for its lost love? Perhaps the vampire is trying to find the vampire dentist as one of his fangs has a cavity. Without considering what you intend to put your reader through, you might not hit that horrific level, no matter how many traditional elements you throw into a story.
The word hybrid is thrown around when discussing these mash ups of genre, and when sci fi-horror comes along, I can think of one movie in particular that nearly, oh so nearly, balances these genres perfectly: Ridley Scott’s ALIEN from 1979.
I say nearly balances, as I feel this movie is about 60% horror and 40% science fiction.
The crew of an industrial ship are awoken from stasis by a distress beacon from a small planet, and being required to investigate, accidently bring a hostile alien life form on board that threatens the lives of the entire crew.
While we have the more traditional horror elements far gone from this movie, this is without doubt one of the most successful horror movies ever made. The dread is generated in spades using pregnant, over-weighted build ups, creepy surroundings and keeping the stalker in the shadows for most of the screen time (although one thing I adore in horror movies is when a rewatch reveals that the killer is actually on screen a lot more then you’d think but you never noticed the first time!).
The science fiction elements are certainly there: the spaceship, the planet, the robot, etc.
Yet when you sit back and compare the two genres in this movie, ALIEN is, at its core, a horror story within a science fiction setting.
The movie, while certainly to a lesser effect, could be played out with the crew of a usual ship finding a small island. Specific plot points would need to be written around (I don’t think ships have self destruct settings), but the story could fit this setting with a little wiggling. Likewise, the basic story could be set within an office block, a haunted mansion, a sewer network and still play out as it currently stands. This is by removing the science fiction elements from the story. The movie would be weaker in any other form, certainly, but the story would still work to some degree.
Now take out the horror and keep the science fiction. With no threat, danger, suspense or that word again, dread, this would be a whole new movie altogether.
I see genres like college/university courses. You can do a straight horror degree, or you can major in horror with a science fiction minor, and vice versa.Next time: We're going to be killing off your friends, family and yes, even your enemies! Stay tuned.