Why does horror compel us so?

The other day, I posted a little game in the Crone Girls Press Facebook group. Those who answered a question would be eligible for a paperback copy of our anthology. I invited our FB members to share their favorite character from a horror novel or movie, and why. Then, using a super secret and completely arbitrary algorithm*, I would pick my favorite answer and award the prize.

I got two answers, the first of which referenced the Phantom of the Opera. While I, too, harbor an affection for the Ghost of the Paris Opera House, it was the second answer that caught my eye and made me think more deeply about the horror genre in general. This respondent shared that as a child she read a story in which a guard (or concentration camp attendant, etc.) went home after a day of committing his duties. There, he found his son abusing a cat. With an earnest look, he told the youth, “Son, it is wrong to be cruel to animals.”

For me, this speaks to a lot of why the horror genre is compelling and fascinating for me. While I love a good creature feature, for me, the best horror are those stories that confront the banality of evil, that show that it’s not the monster under the bed that we have to fear, but the weakness inside ourselves that says, Don’t take me, take him! Or that falls sway to those influences who would set us on a path of being cruel to our fellow human beings by whispering that they are less than human, that they deserve the treatment they receive–whether those forces dress us in a uniform on the way or not.

I do believe that evil exists in the world, and the worst sort is the evil that dresses up in nice clothes and sees itself as righteous and moral. That relies on the banality of the slow-creeping transgression of virtue to get us from being persons who know what is right and think of ourselves as righteous, to those who would deny shelter or human rights or just the basic respect due another human being, simply because they have been labeled as “other” or “unworthy.”

This is why horror, for me, is compelling. Because the best horror shows us the worst that can happen, flashing its Cassandra warning over and over, trying to pull us back from the brink and, as we head blink in the light, trying to get our bearings, turns us toward the better path.

Today, I’m participating in an online party, hosted by Christy Mann, whose flash fiction story “Uncle Charlie” appears in the Crone Girls Press anthology, Stories We Tell After Midnight. I encourage y’all to come on over and hang out with some horror authors, artists, and readers. Should be a lot of fun, good discussions, BYOB, and you don’t even need to put on pants. See you there!

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