What is horror?

The_ScreamNot long ago I got an email from an author who was upset with me because I had talked about one of her books on this blog; and I had said her writing combines horror and mystery. In her email she said that she does not write horror. She continued to say that horror is all about blood and guts and shocking people and she doesn’t do that, what she writes is paranormal mystery. I replied to her that to me, paranormal falls into the horror genre and horror can be a lot of different things, not just blood and guts.

This lady’s email really got me thinking, What is horror? I asked people in the horroraddicts.net facebook group and several people responded. One of the people who commented was Chantal Boudreau who said horror is about a lot more than gore. Chantal wrote her own blog post on what horror is which you can read here. Most of the other responses on what horror is, said that it’s a broad topic that can  be a lot of different things but basically horror is anything that scares you.

John_Henry_Fuseli_-_The_NightmareSo even though one author sees paranormal mystery as not being horror, other people say paranormal does fit into the horror genre. Paranormal includes anything that doesn’t have a scientific explanation such as ghosts, psychic powers or extrasensory perception. People are scared of what they do not understand, and since paranormal deals with the unknown, I think its horror.

I would even go a little farther with this and say there are a lot of different sub genres to horror. Comedy such as The Addams Family or The Munsters fit into the horror genre. A lot of science fiction can also be classified as horror such as Alien or The Terminator. For me personally, I think hospitals can be scary places, so a show like ER can fit into the horror category for me. Even police dramas such as Criminal Minds or The Following can be horror because these shows deal with serial killers and that definitely fills most people with a sense of fear.

To me  even though I would consider the Friday the 13th movies, which I never liked, and The Nightmare On Elm Street movies, which I loved, horror; I didn’t find them very scary. So to me something doesn’t have to be scary to be considered horror. As I’ve gotten older I find movies don’t scare me anymore but books still do. That being said I still enjoy watching horror movies but I look at them as more funny than scary. I would still throw them into the horror category though.

So to me horror just describes something that is dark, different or misunderstood, not necessarily shocking or scary. So to everyone out there, what do you consider horror? What scares you? Do you consider something horror if it doesn’t scare you? Can scary sounding music fit into the horror genre? Also what makes you love horror? Leave a comment and tell me what you think.

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13 thoughts on “What is horror?

  1. Good article. People asked me why I put ‘Jaws’ on my horror list – to me it is horror even though it doesn’t have all the horror clichés 🙂 and it is more frightening than most ‘horror’ films.

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  6. I agree, David, with the points you raise. The problem is that horror, and fear, is subjective. The author in question is right when she said her book was not horror if she didn’t intend it to be horror. I agree with you that the paranormal is a common trope in horror, but that doesn’t *make* it horror. For example, there are supernatural/paranormal elements in The Man Of Steel, the latest Superman reboot.There are even some scary scenes in the movie. That doesn’t make it a horror flick. Also, just because there’s a vampire in a book, for example, that does not make it a horror story.

    Perhaps the distinction also lies in asking, “where we I find it in the bookstore”. Before books like Laurell K Hamilton’s became popular, it was hard to find a “Paranormal Mystery” section. You’d probably find such a book then in the “Horror” section because there wasn’t otherwise such a place to shelve it.

    On TV for example, I consider Bates Motel and Hannibal to be horror, because they are psychological thrillers with killers. Dexter on the other hand dances a finer line. I see Dexter as more of a police procedural with a serial killer, but I’m not usually frightened when I watch the show. This is where it gets subjective. By the same token, I would say that a TV show like Dark Shadows was horror, but not Forever Knight, The Vampire Diaries, etc. True Blood is another tricky one. I personally am not scared when I watch the show, but I get the feeling the show is meant to be horror.

    I say as long as you can find what you are looking for, it doesn’t matter how it is classified.

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    • I agree with what you said, horror is subjective. I like the shows that you brought up. they all could fit in the horror genre but aren’t necessarily scary. I’ve seen some episodes of Criminal Minds that to me could pass as horror but the show is definitely not a horror show.

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