Modern Horror

Hello my Freaky Darlings,

Last week we discussed the history of horror, today we’ll be chatting about modern horror.

‘Apart from the often head-on, graphic quality of today’s horror, there’s not much difference between the works of the ‘old guard’ and those of the new blood. All horror is a journey into darkness – as writers, we make this journey alone first, to be followed only later by our readers. Other than stylistic modernisations and the distance into taboo territory we’re prepared to push these days, the nature of horror itself remains unchanged. Only the faces and names we give it have altered, enabling us to summon that same darkness into our time – otherwise how could our readers recognise it and hold it in their hearts?’ – Joseph D’Lacey, author of Meat. 

Once again Stephen King is not the be all and end all of modern horror fiction. You’ve also got Dean Koontz, James Herbert, Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell, Neil Gaiman, and all the authors that are quoted during the course of this series of posts.

Modern horror fiction has grown from its Gothic roots; it’s no longer just about witches, werewolves, vampires, and ghosts. Granted they are still very much a part of today’s horror scene and are being reworked by modern authors. Vampires and werewolves have unfortunately lost their bite. They have become sex symbols for teenagers. Witches have become the heroines. Monsters have become the complicated anti-hero’s of our time.

Times have changed and horror has evolved. It is no longer just the other worldly that scares us, but our neighbours, our inner demons, technology run rampant, science gone wrong (although the latter two were also themes in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein). It’s the boy in your high school English class who inexplicably goes on a killing spree, butchering everybody who stands in his way. It’s the serial killer who silently stalks you day and night. It’s your own mind playing tricks on you.

We also now have man eating aliens invading our world and other planets. Orson Welles was probably one of the first writers to use the threat of alien invasion in his radio play, War of the Worlds, in 1938. It caused panic in the streets, because people really thought aliens were invading. Since then alien invasion has become a staple in the horror arsenal.

Today’s audience is also different to the readers of yesteryear. Modern readers are more demanding. They’re harder to scare. The written horror word has to compete with movies, TV, and video games. Our audience wants instant gratification. This is the world of twitter, where you only have 140 characters to get someone interested. The days of long flowery prose have gone the way of the Dodo.

A popular trend that seems to have developed over the last few years is combining classics like Jane Austen’s books with Zombies or other monsters. Seth Grahame-Smith took Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and injected zombies. It doesn’t seem like a likely match but it struck a chord and found an audience.

Many modern horror writers are breathing life into old monsters instead of creating and inventing new ones. If you’re going to do this you need to know your monster inside and out. You have to know what the original myth was. Do your homework and then rework it. Don’t just rehash what’s already been done. Change things up a little, but make it plausible and make sure the changes you make to the myth are used throughout your story. If a cross has no effect on a vampire at the beginning of your tale then a priest can’t use one to fight off the vampire later on. If your vampire has a reflection in a mirror at the beginning, he has to have it at the end and you need to be able to explain why he has one. Your readers will, no doubt, know your monster intimately from all the other books they’ve read by other authors, so the changes you make have to be believable or your audience will cry foul. Horror fans know their monsters and so should you.

The mad scientist is a character that modern horror writers can use to far better advantage than any other generation before us. Advances in science and technology have opened up so many horrific scenarios that should scare us silly as normal ordinary citizens but should make us rub our hands together with glee as horror writers.

Get your hands on a recent science journal and look at some of the headlines, or read an essay written by a biology or science student from any university and then tell me you can’t find something scary there. If science geeks in Turkey can make a bunny glow in the dark just for shits and giggles (, imagine what else they can do. Now, are you scared or are you rubbing your hands together and laughing like a mad scientist should?

The modern world has so many possibilities for the adventurous horror writer; you don’t just have to look to the past and what’s already been done. Look at the list you wrote earlier, are there Vampires and Werewolves on that list or have you got something more inventive, something new and interesting, and something we haven’t seen before? Go on, be brave. Step out onto the road less travelled.

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  1. Pingback: Women in horror | Joan De La Haye

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