Horror, other genres, and, er, stuff…

Over at postmodernbarney, the ever-thoughtful Dorian Wright has been wondering about the horror genre in the run up to Halloween.

(From a British perspective of course, Halloween is a very minor deal, so the idea that you’d be thinking about it a month in advance rather than hastily buying some sweets on the day is pretty alien to us.)

I originally started writing the following in his comments section, then decided to transplant it here when I realised I was droning on, boring for Britain and yaahhhing out my own opinions rather than actually responding to Dorian’s piece.

So here it is. ‘Enjoy’:

Genre definitions are a pain in the arse. It’s not an argument that nerds particularly favour, as it’s a tacit acknowledgement that ‘their’ stuff is usually not good enough to play in the mainstream, but I’d say that the only really workable argument over what genre a work drops into is this: which itch does it scratch? We know a horror story, whether in print or on film or in a game, because it’s trying to unnerve or scare us (even when it fails), regardless of whether it’s realistic/supernatural/scientific.

Equally a thriller will be about hitting the adrenalin, a romance will be about a character (or characters) love lives, science fiction will be about the science… etc etc.

What drives nerds crazy is the way that, when any work moves beyond scratching just one itch, and goes on to actually say something about life or the world, it’s considered by critics to have transcended genre – it just becomes ‘literature’ or ‘drama’. Which of course chaffs nerds’ collective tits because of the inherent presumption that anything that stays in genre is somehow ‘lesser’.

I can see both sides of that argument, and think that the critics are generally right about works with wider scope, and that nerds should just grow up and enjoy the niche they enjoy, rather than mewling that the mainstream don’t wuv Farscape/Jack Kirby/Greg Bear/Saw XVI/their elderly grandparents the way they do. Enjoy what you enjoy, kids, whether big daddy High Culture blesses it or not.

Going back to the horror genre as I defined it above, my recent favourites have been the Hideo Nakata adaptations of Koji Suzuki’s Ring and Dark Water, films which strip out a lot of Suzuki’s well-worked out background logic in favour of creepy imagery, isolated from any comforting context. That’s pure horror to me, and while it may not have a wider meaning or relevance in the way that the best literary ghost stories do, it hits the scare button harder than virtually anything else.



October 7, 2009. Tags: , , , , , . Uncategorized.

One Comment

  1. Steve Lavington replied:

    Waitrose in Bath has a surprisingly well-stocked Halloween aisle…Re your post, I think the guilty pleasures argument is a good one – it's possible to like a whole range of books, films, comics even video games and recognise that some are of an objectively higher quality (not in a superficial sense but fundamental 'worthiness' – for want of a less joyless term) while others are, basically, trashy nonsense. Similarly it's possible to recognise the great-ness of a work while having no personal liking for it.e.g The Orphanage is a 'great' horror film. I don't have much time for it. Halloween (original) is also a 'great' horror film and one that I love. Jason X is not 'great' by any measure, but is one whole cart-load of fun.

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