“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown” – H.P. Lovecraft
I recently read an article on Lit Reactor regarding the lack of fear of the old horror tropes in today’s entertainment. You can find the article here, if you are interested:
I get it. We live in a world where vampires have rock-hard bedazzled abs and duel with werewolves for dates with emo teenage chicks. The old cast of characters, while not dead, is no longer frightening. There is a reason for that.
The world has moved on. Monsters in horror have always been a reaction to real life fears. Now, they are action figures, poster children, icons gracing drinking glasses and toddler onesies.
Vampires and werewolves were fears from a superstitious time. They were scary because people believed they might be real. Now, while they are cool and can be used for effective entertainment, we don’t find them scary.
We no longer live in the days of folklore. We are skeptical by nature. We don’t share the old fears of demons, vampires, werewolves, banshees, vengeful gods, and the like. As such, we can not be terrified by them. Sometimes startled using cheap movie devices, but the characters don’t care us.
Jack Joslin is correct, the unknown is what scares us. The reason some of the old horror still works is that we are scared by what we don’t see. But that does not mean we don’t have our own monsters.
Our monsters don’t have the decency to be otherworldly nor inhuman. They don’t give us the opportunity to slay them with silver bullets or wooden stakes. CNN reminds us every day that our monsters live next door, and we won’t even know they exist until it is too late.
We can still scare our readers, but writers of gothic fiction have to remember that what scares us is not the monsters we have gotten to know so well, but the monsters we don’t want to know, the ones that share the world with us.
Our monsters are our neighbors, the ones who keep their lives locked private behind closed doors, and those who we think we know, but are never quite sure. They are the ones who abduct our children, not the vampires. They are the ones who slaughter us in the night, not the werewolves, and they don’t have to wait for a full moon to do it.
The ancient fear of monsters was passed through story-telling and legend. Today, we have the internet, and the stories of our monsters are spread far and wide in a matter of moments. Your neighbor may be an amazing person, but he also might be a cannibalistic serial killer. Jeffery Dahmer’s neighbors thought he was a great guy. Your priest may be a caring person with whom you can share all your secrets, but he also might be a pedophile. Is it likely? Of course not. We all know that. But it happens, which is what makes it scary.
I have no answer for what monster should come next. Godzilla and other giant monsters were born out of fear of nuclear war, zombies from fear of disease. Our next great monster will be born from our modern fears, and I can’t wait to see what it will be.
By all means, continue writing about zombies, vampires, and werewolves. These are timeless fun and people still love them. But you truly want to scare and disturb, lock on to the fears of modern man, and the dangers that we all face every day.
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