Horror writers made a late night attempt Friday to determine “What Makes a Horror Story?” moderated by author/editor Eric Griffin. They also debated the classification of horror as a genre versus the appearance of dark fantasy and horror elements in the broader category of speculative fiction.
Cherie Priest suggested that the difference between a horror story and a thriller is the supernatural element of suspense yet horror, as H.P. Lovecraft demonstrated, should also be grounded in reality. Eugie Foster, an author with over ninety short story sales, said she found horror to be a metaphor for life. Spiderwick Chronicles author Holly Black noted a mood distinction between horror and dark fantasy; in horror the specter is frightening, but in fantasy it’s majestic and scary. Comic book writer and publisher Steve Antczak said that horror is emotionally based, science fiction is intellectually based, and fantasy is wish fulfillment complete with heroes and all of the trappings.
When the inevitable, “What scares you?” question arose, surprisingly the panelists cited that bastion of privacy, the bathroom. What other place can you truly find tranquility and solace while sitting in the most vulnerable of positions? From classics like Psycho to newcomers like Snakes on a Plane, movies have capitalized on the symbolism of the bathroom. Horror guru Sherrilyn Kenyon stated that one of her scariest memories was of her five-foot mom who always wore pink and read horror tales. Ms. Black, like Kenyon, reminisced about her childhood, recalling her extensive list of childhood fears and the elaborate protective rituals that she developed.
Priest related how the ancient Greeks had used the “crash and burn” aspects of horror as katharsis, the purification after tragedy from which the audience derived a sense of release. In relating venues for horror fiction, Foster said that vampire stories might be “too damn sexy” to be considered horror. All of the panelists agreed that the genre has cyclical trends. Antczak provided the example of the splatterpunk bubble that swelled and burst. Zombies were acclaimed as the “new snakes,” referring to the current horror movie, Snakes on a Plane. Foster concluded that she enjoyed writing gore, but never gratuitously, as it should be integral to the story’s plot. She herself never reads or watches gory horror. “I’m a wimp,” Foster admitted.