On the Horror Genre

halloween“I met him, fifteen years ago; I was told there was nothing left; no reason, no conscience, no understanding; and even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, of good or evil, right or wrong. I met this six-year-old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face, and the blackest eyes… the devil’s eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized that what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply… evil.”
–Dr. Loomis, Halloween

The horror genre has long been a major part of my life.  Long before other mediums, film and television were my gateway into the land of horror.  While my friends shielded their eyes from the likes of Michael Meyers, Linda Blair’s portrayal of Regan, Mr. Barlow, and Pennywise the Clown, I was positioned in front of the television watching these horrors come to life before me.  My mother likes to tell people–in fact, she just told this to my fiancé two days ago that The Leprechaun was one of my favorite movies growing up, and I would watch it over and over again.

What we know we have learned from those before us.  My parents knew horror, so I did too.  When I mention that my parents let me watch movies like The Shining, Psycho, and A Nightmare on Elm Street at such an early age, it was surprising to me just how many people take offense to it.  Especially other parents.  They believed that my parents were horrible people for exposing me to such terror.  To these people, gruesome images and ghastly premises had an age limit to them.  Maybe they were right?  What kind of long-lasting emotional scarring did watching David transform into his beastly form in An American Werewolf in London have on me?  I think I learned two important lessons from these movies.  The first, the things which go bump in the night are usually nothing more than made up ideas from the minds of men.  The second, life is valuable.  Survival is what we do.  In the face of all the odds, Laurie Strode refuses to back down from her murderous older brother.  People do not give up.  We keep fighting against the evils of the world until our very last breath.  Perhaps watching all those horror movies was not that bad after all.

salems-lot-new-cover

“Alone. Yes, that’s the key word, the most awful word in the English tongue. Murder doesn’t hold a candle to it and hell is only a poor synonym.”
― Stephen King, Salem’s Lot

Then, the summer before my freshmen year of high school, my grandfather passed away.  After cleaning out his house, my mom gave me his record/tape/cd player as well as all of his music.  Most of the records were of old country singers, the same with the cds.  One night–probably a school night–I found myself staring at the wall, unable to sleep.  I made my way over to the player.  Even though we did not share the same taste in music, I still liked to play some of it because it reminded me of him.  While searching through one of the drawers in the stand it sat upon, I found a cassette tape titled “Graveyard Shift and Other Stories from Night Shift.”  The name on the front was Stephen King.  I had, of course, heard the name before, but I knew little else.  I did not know that he had penned many of the stories some of my favorite movies were based off upon.  That night, I listened to “Graveyard Shift,” “The Man Who Loved Flowers,” and “The Last Rung on the Ladder.”  These three haunting stories began my life-long quest into the world of Stephen King, and I have my grandfather to thank for it.

LockeKey_CrownHC_Cover“Don’t ever have children, Tyler, unless you’re ready to be afraid everyday for the rest of your life.” ― Joe Hill, Locke & Key, Vol. 3: Crown of Shadows

When I first started reading comics, my love of horror on the screen and from the pages of various horror writers (King, Richard Matheson, Edgar Allan Poe, etc.) welcomed, whole-heartedly, horror in the panels.  Sandman snared me in its grasp right away, for all reasons I need not explain for they are the same for most.  Various Alan Moore works have done the same, especially his run on Swamp Thing, a personal favorite for many on this site.  The Walking Dead was the first monthly comic I started buying after I dropped out for a while.  DC characters found on the dark side such as Constantine, Swamp Thing, Frankenstein, Deadman, and The Spectre quickly became some of my favorites.  Then came Scott Synder’s Severed and, thanks to Patrick, Joe Hill’s Locke & Key.  Movies can be easily ruined when the budget is low and they cannot afford to create the right atmosphere with the set or the costumes look like they were bought at Party City.  Comics books do not have this problem.  Monsters and scenery are brought to life with the stroke of a pencil.  Edges of rubber masks are non-existent in comics.  However, despite the “unlimited budget,” movies, in my opinion, are able to tell a better horror story than comics.  But in the end, it depends on the creative team’s storytelling ability. This is the first time I have given this idea much thought, but my love of comics is deeply rooted in my love for horror.  Everything felt in place in the world of comics.  The genre, themes, and motifs were the same, but I now had a new medium to explore.

33 thoughts on “On the Horror Genre”

  1. Salem’s Lot is my all time favorite horror novel. that book drips with such energy and passion – King was writing in a fever pitch for that one. It was King writing for King, back before he was all famous and shit. It shows. It is a remarkable display of terror.

    1. I agree, ‘Salem’s Lot is fantastic. I’m currently on a major Stephen King kick, so far I’ve tore through ‘Salem’s, Dark Tower I-IV, and am currently reading IT, with The Green Mile in waiting. I really enjoy his writing style, I often don’t feel like I’m reading, but just being told a story.

      Have you read any of The Dark Tower Ghostmann? You seem to be a “Constant Reader”–as they are known–so I’m curious as to your opinion on it if you’ve read it.

      1. you know bluth The Dark Tower series is the one thing I never got into from King. I tried believe me but it just never took with me. I keep opening up the Gunslinger and thinking, “okay, this time I’m going to finish this,” but I only get half way through before I drift off to other things. Perhaps I will try again.

        But hey, I did just start reading Doctor Sleep, the sequel to The Shining and holy shit is it fucking good!!!

        1. I started reading Dark Tower but couldn’t get through the first book. I’ve heard the rest of the series is better than the first though.
          I think I will order a used copy of Salem’s to read!

  2. Nice article. I haven’t read many “horror” comics but Lock and Key is one I have been wanting to check out.

    “Don’t ever have children, Tyler, unless you’re ready to be afraid everyday for the rest of your life.” ― Joe Hill, Locke & Key, Vol. 3: Crown of Shadows

    Wow, what a great quote. The girl and I bought a house earlier this year and got married this month so kids are probably the next thing (I can’t get away with less than 1 at this point), but reading a line like that kind of summarizes my hesitation and cautious approach to starting a family. Anyway, that quote is deep and more scary to me than any horror movie could hope to be.

    1. Man adulthood mile stones just keep getting scarier and scarier right? Were close to kids to. I get these random what if panic attacks about it all the time.

      1. I can relate to that. Sometimes I think how great it would be and other times I hyperventilate when the subject is brought up. How about you go first and let me know how it goes?

        1. Hahaha I’m sure. I’m already practicing with Dogs sort of. One thing I’ll say is if you think home ownership is expensive just you wait.

      1. Horns is at best pretty good. You won’t hate it but It’s no Locke and Key. It will entertain but their are better books out there. Heart Shaped box was a little better as was 20th Century Ghosts (a pair of dogs play a prominent role in heart shaped box in case you’re interested). Nos4a2 is the first one I’ve read of his that I’ll never forget though. That’s the one I would recommend and it’s not about vampires. Nos4a2 is a personalized car plate in the book.

        1. I do love me some dogs. I have Horns more because I picked it up at a used book sale from church in my neighborhood. When I saw pics of Daniel Radcliffe in the movie adaptation it kind of made me skeptical.

  3. Great post! I agree with the LOCKE & KEY, SEVERED, and SWAMP THING recommendations. My favorite horror comics are HELLBLAZER issues 245 and 246, by Jason Aaron and Sean Murphy. Those two issues really creeped me out, and I’ve read a lot of creepy HELLBLAZER comics.

  4. Excellent post! I am the same way, fell in love with horror through movies as a kid. I really got attached to the psychology of a killer/monster which turned into a fascination with certain crime shows like criminal mind which I take as horror stories as well. I am now on search for great horror comics to really explore the genre. Locke and key is such a fantastic lovecraftian horror, it is simply one of the best books out there. And y’all know I love me some traveling salesman.

  5. Great article Ukerupp, Locke and Key is such an engrossing read. I was also a kid who loved Horror flicks, but I was not as brave, I usually had a pillow firmly in front of my face 🙂 but the feeling of fear, and the “rush” was too much for me to resist, so I just kept at it.

    Sometimes it backfired on me though, I can remember seeing “Silence of the Lambs” when I was only about 10, and that was WAY too early to see that shit; I got over it, but it definitely left a scar for a few years.

    1. Thanks, TOB. I have never been THAT messed up from a movie. However, I have felt fright…I just always thought that the stuff I made up in my mind was scarier. I did a better job scaring myself than the movies did. Even though the inspiration came from them.

    2. Here’s an embarrising story, when I was like 7-8 I thought I really liked scary movies. I liked all those weird ghost stories books with the weird illustrations and all that and thought I could handle it. So that summer I stay with my cousins in Des Moines Iowa and we watch IT. Now this wasn’t at the same time at John Wayne Gacy who had already been tried over a decade prior but because of John Wayne Gacy kids in the inner city in the Midwest would always talk about this “killer clown” that would kidnap kids in ice cream trucks and kill them. As with most things it starts in Chicago and filters out to the smaller cities like St Paul/ Minneapolis or Des Moines. Anyway at my cousins they pull out IT and I’m like “whatev’s I can handle this” not so much. Become scared shitless, can’t sleep that night and when I do I piss myself on there couch. I guess we all have different thresholds. On a related note I saw IT on Spike a couple nights ago. That movie does not hold up.

    3. I had the same experience with “The Thing” with Kurt Russel when I was 8 or 9. I have this image of a severed head growing spider legs out of the side of it that will stay with me til I die. And I still won’t watch….that shit fucked me up. I love Freddy and Mike Myers and all of that but The Thing? Nope.

  6. The films I remember most from being a child are An American Werewolf in London and The Silence of the Lambs, my parents fast forwarded past most of the Buffalo Bill stuff when they finally let me watch it.

    Great piece Ukerupp! Really want to watch Halloween Resurrection now 😛

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