What Makes the Horror Genre so Flexible?

What Makes the Horror Genre so Flexible
What Makes the Horror Genre so Flexible?

Of all the different genres of entertainment, few have enjoyed the breadth of horror. From the early years of unconvincing rubber masks to the modern age of cutting-edge digital effects, the sheer range that horror covers place the genre among the best. This, despite being born on one fundamental cornerstone: the elicitation of fear.

So, what is it that has given horror these types of legs? How is it that such long-standing methods of evoking terror still prove so effective, and keep the industry strong? Taking a few direct and indirect examples, we want to take a peek under the covers.

Defining Terror

The concept of horror, or terror, is not a complicated one. It revolves around what scares us on a base level, as something we can’t help but be thrilled and repulsed by. In some ways, this can tie into animal instinct, in others, it’s more of a reflection of unconsciously adopted socio-cultural understandings.

As a human animal, our fears are often well-founded and realized. We know to be afraid of death, for example, and this fear drives us. Even if we acknowledge it, even if we know we are safe, we can extend this fear to others, putting ourselves in the shoes of horror protagonists.

Running parallel to this idea is the power of our imagination and our fear of the unknown. We fuse our known fears of death with out-of-control imaginations, given guidance by writers, actors, and artists. More than the sum of its parts, this makes horror a personal pursuit, with each person finding their own path.

“fear” (CC BY 2.0) by Szymon Olszowski

Contributing are the conscious and unconscious ideas that we’ve adopted along with our lives. A large amount of what scares us has been created by our upbringings and society. This means that, as long as society continues to evolve, we’ll always have new ways to be scared.

In films, It Follows was a great illustration of this in action. Combining a more societal fear of transmittable diseases with the realities of modern dating via technology, It Follows is a product of its time. Such a movie wouldn’t have made sense 30 years ago, but today, the concept proved an enormous critical and financial hit.

Maintaining Public Interest

From a more indirect standpoint, a lot of thanks has to go to industry interest and the socio-cultural obsession that horror inspires. From an industry standpoint, keeping horror in the public eye has been fairly simple. Trigger some degree of base recognition, and this alone can stimulate the deep-seated familiarity of fear and excitement.

Traditionally, horror masks and costumes have been an important part of this, especially around Halloween. Dressing up like Michael Myers or the killers from Scream has been a hit for decades, also finding footing on modern contemporary monsters and murderers, at least for a time.

“Scream” (CC BY 2.0) by garryknight

This idea also extends to less time-dependent industries, such as those involved with interactive entertainment. Games like online video slots are a popular example of this, adopting horror-inspired entries among their most popular titles. Some, like Vampire Hunters, do this in a broader sense, taking in established monster tropes. Others, such as The Creepy Carnival, adopt a less subtle approach, in this case drawing similarities to Pennywise the Dancing Clown from IT.

More recently, some horror concepts have found traction in relating to the development of internet culture and memes. Sometimes known as creepypasta, these ideas have essentially become modern urban legends. In the case of the Slenderman, a monster originating from the Something Awful internet forums, they’ve even gone on to become feature films. Together, the public interest both maintains constant awareness and uncovers new paths for horror to travel and evolve.

“Scarefest Sept 2014” (CC BY-ND 2.0) by A Train

Looking at all the avenues that horror takes, we can appreciate just how well-suited it is to human society and consciousness. On the foundation are our base fears, built upon by decades of evolving social consciousness. From here, horror ties into our daily lives both keeping us engaged and creating additional dark roads down which our minds can wander. Taking this perspective, the question is less about how horror has become so flexible, and more about if any parts of society could remain untouched.