The Ogmios Genre Guide
Part IV - Heterogeneity of Horror
horror \hor'ror\ n.
c : A painful emotion of fear, dread, and abhorrence; a shuddering with terror and detestation; the feeling inspired by something frightful and shocking.
(Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary)
Almost all fantastic horrors take place in our world or in it's recognizable historical one. Likeable, ordinary, people who always have deep emotional commitments or loved ones confront supernatural powers that threaten those commitments or loved ones. Whatever the character cherished most is destroyed, corrupted, or lost to the darkness.
Thing Lurk in the Dark that Can Destroy Us
Sometime these are physical beings such as vampires, werewolves or ancient monsters, and sometimes these are merely insane thoughts that drive us to lunacy. In any case, they are repulsive and must never be allowed into the light.
Anyone Can Die at Anytime
In this subgenre, unlike any genre of fantasy, the fact the a character is a hero, an important supporting character or the romantic interest of one of the above will not save it from an untimely death. In fact, this is convention is usually used just when everyone starts to think the danger is over as a plot device.
If People Truly Understand Reality, They May Go Crazy
Our lives are a blissful ignorance. We think we are safe in our illusions of normality and comfort, but we are not. A single supernatural event may burst our bubble, and we will see the horrible reality as it really is.
Magic (and other knowledge essential for battling the darkness) Has the Same Effect
Whatever you do - you loose. If you stand back and do nothing, you will inevitably see everything you cherish being destroyed. In order to battle the dark forces, you must gain knowledge about it, and delve into it yourself, often risking your own sanity.
Actually hostile. The heroes' best plans go astray producing horrible effects. Humanity's place in the universe remains tenuous, and many enemy forces would just like to see it go away.
The roots of this genre can be traced back to the Greek and Renaissance tragedy, including Sophocles' Oedipus Rex
and William Shakespeare's Hamlet
and King Lear
. In the nineteenth century writers like Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, M. R. James, William Hope Hodgson, A. Merit and Bram Stoker dominated the field. In the pulp era writers like H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert W. Chambers, August Derleth, and early Robert Bloch took over. More recent examples include writers like Stephen King, Peter Straub, Harlan Elison, Charles L. Grant, Brian Lumley, Ramsey Campbell and many others. There are movie adaptations to the works of most of the above, but we can also add to the list movies like The Exorcist
HORRORIFIC SCIENCE FICTION
Man has been led astray by technology, to the point he feels he has transcended his mundane existence and is now free to play with powers that should have never been at his disposal. At the beginning, all is well, but eventually, man's greed, vanity or hubris will overcome him and bring to catastrophic results.
Some Things Are Best Left Untouched
Man's science has conquered the secret's of the universe, life and death. But mere mortals were never meant to wield such powers.
Humans Are Less Than Perfect
Even though man wields the power thought to be god's, he is but a mortal, and plagued with mortal's flaws. His own greed, hatred, vanity or hubris will eventually bring to his downfall.
Heroes are Born in the Darkest Places
The main hero in this genre will almost always come from within the organization responsible for the catastrophe the is in the center of the story. Sometimes, he is even one of the scientist responsible for it.
Actually hostile, although it doesn't seem that way at first glance. All seems well until some catastrophe erupts, and the world is displayed in its hostile, corrupt nakedness.
The movies from the Alien
series. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
. To some extend the Resident Evil
movies. A few of Stephen King's and Harlan Elison's books.
No blood-sucking aliens here. Nor any supernatural monsters. That does not mean there aren't any monsters in this genre, there most certainly are. But they are as mundane and mortal as you or me. The monsters of this genre are people so demented, so twisted, so despicable, that they barely deserve being called humans any longer.
The chief villain of this genre is a mortal man so demented by some past trauma that he goes on a reckless killing spree (which may sometimes be revenge oriented, and sometimes just random), until his eventual demise.
The universe seems to act according to a strict conservative moral code. Characters performing sexual acts, drinking, smoking or taking drugs are likely to be the first to be killed.
Heroic behavior and attitude usually leads to the untimely death of a character (the famous "I'll be right back"). The true hero of the story usually is the character that seemed the most un-heroic in the beginning.
Slightly hostile. It seems as the universe has some moral code of its own (which is usually overly strict and conservative). Characters that don't follow it usually get killed, although the heroes that eventually emerge in this genre are often also that type of character.
Movies like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
, Silence of the Lambs
, I Know What You Did Last Summer
and all of their sequences.
SELF AWARE HORROR
This genre is the basted brother of Mundane Horror born in recent years. Yes, this is a horror tale (or movie, more usually), but the characters participating in it are aware of that fact. They know the genre, its rules, its do's and its don'ts. Unfortunately for them, so does the killer stalking them.
All Rules of Mundane Horror Apply
Despite its sophisticated disguise, this is still mundane horror. All the rules and conventions of the genre apply, sometimes to the extent of being over-done.
And the Characters Know It
At some point during the plot, the characters will understand that they are acting in the boundaries of a horror novel (or, more often, a horror movie) and start acting according to their literary and filmographic knowledge in order to survive.
But So Does the Killer
Not only is the killer aware of the rules of the genre, he is the one who creates the situations that bring them into being, for his own demented reasons.
Not as hostile as in other subgenres of horror. In this genre, the universe itself actually seems slightly benevolent, but it becomes artificially hostile due to the actions of the story's villain. Once he is defeated, this benevolent attitude is restored.
Movies like the Scream
series and Urban Legend
. Cherry Falls
also falls into this category, but much more subtly than the previous examples.
"Be afraid! Be Very Afraid!". Although this genre is listed as a subgenre of Horror, it isn't actually scary. A group of easily recognizable caricatures of known horror figures act out ridiculous scenes which might have been scary if they weren't so over done.
Anything for a Laugh
No situation is too contrived if it leads to a nice pun, usually involving anachronism and private jokes of those who know the genre well.
Characters are Exaggerated Stereotypes
No real characters exist in this genre, only exaggerated stereotypes of a race, profession, social concept or a known character from another work of horror.
No Real Bad Characters
The villains of this genre can't really be described as bad. They are either too pathetic, too likable or too ridiculous to actually be considered evil.
Quite strongly benevolent, at least for the main characters. Supporting characters will usually drop like flies, but the main characters will survive to defeat the villain.
Movies like the Scary Movie
series and Dracula: Dead and Loving It
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Image by Joseph Barnhard