Written by: Matthew J. Barbour
Every genre needs new and exciting stories. Recently, we have seen an explosion in vampire and zombie literature; splatterpunk, once regarded as smut by some of the most diehard horror aficionados, has gone main stream; and nowadays, it seems everyone is influenced by H.P. Lovecraft and constructing their own cosmic horror tales. Truth be told, these trends are beginning to wear a little thin. Here are five things I hope to see more of in horror literature in the future.
The Ghost Story
A ghost is to horror like a knight is to fantasy. It isn’t required of the genre, but it is fundamental. The first thing that comes to mind when speaking of the horror is the ghost story. The roots of these stories intertwine with folk tales and legends as old as the earth itself. However, their height in popularity appears to have risen out of the Gothic Literature movement of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Through time, a plethora of great stories have been written. In the 20th century, many notable horror greats, such as Shirley Jackson, Ramsey Campbell, Stephen King, Richard Matheson, and Thomas Liggotti, have all tackled the traditional ghost story. However, few in the 21st century have tried. This is a shame given the importance of the ghost story to the genre as a whole and the flexibility of the ghost story to explore almost an unlimited number of themes and settings.
Recommended Ghost Story: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.
Real Monsters/Historical Horror
Horror does not need to have a supernatural edge. The real world is plenty scary. Some of the most horrific stories are based in reality. Think Psycho by Robert Bloch and The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum, but also of works by historians and journalists, such as The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson or Death in the City of Light by David King.
There is any number of serial killers or madmen whose stories are ripe for plunder. Why haven’t we seen a story on David Parker Ray, the toy box killer? Hell, the guy had a $100,000 torture chamber where the women were strapped to a table and forced to watch atrocities performed on them through a mirror mounted on the ceiling. How about a horror story set in the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia? They killed people by the thousands. The atrocities found in reality certainly have as much, if not more, horror as can be found in the minds of even the most imaginative writers.
Recommended Historical Horror: A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies by Bartolome de las Casas.
In recent years, creature features have started to re-enter mainstream culture. Sometimes, like in Stephen King’s Cujo, they are the neighbor’s pet, but more often than not they are cloned or mutated super creatures with a hankering for human blood. These stories often get a bum rap as being campy and over-the-top, but they needn’t be and of course being a bit campy isn’t always a bad thing.
In the end, all a creature feature needs to do is show us the power and destructive wonder of Mother Nature, a force we can never fully control. Whether it is a 100 foot tall Godzilla or a microscopic flesh eating bacteria, creature features offer a sense of wonder that most other sub-genres of horror never obtain. Done right, the creature or creatures will be remembered for generations to come.
Recommended Creature Feature: Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton.
Often time, horror is about raw emotion. No style of literature captures raw emotion better than poetry. It can be humorous or shocking. It can rhyme or hit hard. It can be accessible or avant-garde. Almost all early horror writers –Poe, Tennyson, and Yeats- wrote poetry. Even the father of modern horror, H. P. Lovecraft wrote poetry. Today, some 21st century authors still continue in this tradition, but not enough. It has become something of a lost art.
The true tragedy is poetry reaches out to audiences which may at first glance disregard horror. These include all subsets of the population from literary geeks to women to parents with small children. This last group is particularly important. Poetry has the potential to connect with kids in a way so few things can. It needn’t be scary. If done well, poetry can expose children to horror at an early age, thus instilling a life time of love and support for the genre.
Recommend Poetry: Nightmares: Poems to Trouble your Sleep by Jack Prelutsky.
Triumph of Good over Evil
In a world of anti-heroes and the perception that evil begets evil, where are all the good guys? Whatever happened to the happy ending? Whatever happened to the logic that if you do the right thing that somehow things will work out in the end? Are we really that nihilistic of a society?
Life is bleak. Horror taps into this realization. It feeds upon it, but in the end, shouldn’t we strive for something better? The triumph of good over evil is the notion that one can overcome life’s challenges. In the past, our hero or heroes would face off against great evil and insurmountable odds. They almost always pulled through. There would be a cost, but good would triumph over evil. It is a positive viewpoint. It is the thought that for as much evil as there is in the world, there will always be a Van Helsing (Dracula), Sheriff Brody (Jaws), or Elvis (Bubba Ho-Tep) to stop it.
Recommended Triumph of Good over Evil: It by Steven King.