Horror stories are arguably some of the most popular tales in all of fiction. Regardless of the format, the feeling of sheer terror in the face of zombies, vampires, or other people can be a lot of fun. However, the overall execution can cause a film or book to collapse like a house of cards. With that in mind, it’s time to take a look at the many ways that our nightmare scenarios can turn into a laughable disaster.
1. Invincible Villains.
It has often been said that a hero is only as great as his greatest villain, but it is important to realize that it is hard to translate that to horror. While heroes may be sympathetic and intriguing, villains in the genre are often defined by one or two characteristics that turn make the entire situation into a ridiculous farce. The most dangerous example out there is when the villain is effectively invincible.
Why? There is no tension to be had in a story like that.
Good storytelling usually holds up a mirror to our own world, so wins and losses are a fact of life. If there is a chance that the villain can lose, it allows a writer to build suspense and can give the audience a chance to invest in the heroes of the story. If they score a win, we can cheer for them. If they survive through multiple movies, we can look forward to their return. None of that is possible if the villains are unstoppable menaces that just slash through the cast like a soft stick of butter.
And speaking of slashing stuff…
2. If You’re Rooting For The Villain, It’s Not Horror.
It’s important to talk about where horror actually comes from in a story. When we talk about the genre, the first act is perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle. While the ideas and themes may vary, the three most important factors are a sense of atmosphere, a pinch of dread, and genuine sympathy for the protagonists. If an audience can see all three of these in a story, it is the best possible lead-in to the craziness that is to come.
But with that said, what if all of the supposed heroes are unlikable to the point that you want them to be killed off? It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that you are watching a rather grotesque comedy. This is one of the issues that bogs down slasher flicks and keeps them from actually being scary. Well, that and lazy writing that relies on a monster jumping out of a closet and yelling, “REEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!”
3. A Lack Of Creativity.
Many horror stories seems to use the same old monsters for the same old reasons. Nowadays, we’ve got a choice of ghosts, demons, humans, vampires, werewolves, aliens, or zombies. Where are the new things that go bump in the night? Why can’t we see those ideas up on the big screen?
And even if we solved the problem of the antagonist, there isn’t a solid way to fix the problem of formula. Just look at The Walking Dead. Every single season revolves around sending the cast to a supposed safe harbor, destroying that sense of safety with various threats, and forcing them to escape after one or two cast members bite it in the season finale.
Where are the interesting storylines? Why should we get invested in the characters if they are in a never-ending struggle? I’d love to tell you, but that’s the problem with this genre.
4. Gore Is Not Horror.
A reliance on gore is perhaps one of its’ biggest problems in horror. Why? It relies on making people squirm instead of actually scaring them. It may be effective when creators use it once or twice, but it can easily turn into something that is either eye-rollingly stupid or unintentionally funny. Even with all that in mind, we see it time and again in horror stories. It is getting to the point where it has become a cliche.
So, what is the solution?
I submit to you that a plot that plays on imagination and fear is more effective than most. If the audience doesn’t see a monster all that often, it starts to force the player/viewer/reader to fill in the gaps with their own mind. And when you empower your audience with that concept, it starts to mess with their perceptions because they don’t want to turn the camera around and see their worst nightmare hankering to claw the protagonist’s face off.
If I had to sum this one up, it would be with the idea that horror writers can do so much better. Monsters, the apocalypse, and scary things that go bump in the night have been conceptualized for as long as we have been able to speak and write as a species. Would it kill us to be a little more versatile in our approach to these stories? I don’t think so!
What do you think the horror genre needs in the modern era? Let us know in the comments!
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