Why? After all, horror is just scary stuff, right?
At the recent Authors’ Festival in the Forest of Dean, I spoke to many people about my books. What surprised me was the number of people who said “Oh, I don’t like blood and guts”, before hearing what either The Tor or The Soul Bazaar were really about. Granted, there are some gory scenes in The Tor. But plenty of non-horror books contain bloody scenes.
Gore and horror are not interchangeable.
Horror, for me, is not about the blood. It’s not about the gore. Anybody can write an over-the-top description of, say, a torture scene. Anyone can describe the victim’s physical pain, the sound of limbs twisting and bones splintering, the screams echoing around the abandoned warehouse.... but that is not horror.
When I’m not writing, and often when I am, I spend as much time as I can listening to music. I love rock, I love metal, and I love Metallica.
In general, when I say I listen to Metallica I get two reactions. Sometimes people will tell me their favourite song or album. Sometimes people will dismiss them as ‘just noise’. I can guarantee that those offering the second reaction have never listened to them.
You see, Metallica’s first album was a punk-metal, Motorhead inspired debut. By the second album, Ride The Lightning, both the songwriting and playing had improved. The songs were heavier and faster. Thrash had arrived. Master Of Puppets was heavier still, with more classical influences. ...And Justice For All had song structures labyrinthine enough to qualify the album as a prog metal endeavour. With Bob Rock producing, their untitled black album retained their heaviness, but with enough sheen to break the band into radio and MTV. Load was a much more textured affair, grounded in their 70s influences. It’s their most underrated album.
You get the picture. Every Metallica album is different, every album is heavy. Heavy is not noise.
Horror is not gore. Take Robert Rodriguez’s ‘From Dusk Till Dawn’ film. Yes, it has gore. Plenty of it. It also has some dark humour. But more than anything it is an action film.
Horror is not sitting back and watching bad things happen, even when they are happening to good people.
Horror is the revulsion you feel at these things, yes. But it is more than that. It is the fear you feel on the character’s behalf. It is the creeping tension that builds throughout the story. It is the sense of inevitability that things are going to get much worse and may not get any better.
Horror is as much psychological as it is reliant on gore. It’s maintaining a sense of unease. It’s taking a competent person, and feeling their helplessness when they find themselves in a situation in which that competence counts for nothing. It’s when faith deserts you. It’s loss, and powerlessness. It’s a slippery descent into hell-knows-what.
There is so much more to Metallica than noise. There is so much more to metal than Metallica. And there is so much more to horror than just ‘blood and guts’.