Monday, June 04, 2007

The Horror, The Horror

Interesting article that attempts to define the horror genre and its many sub-genres. It makes some good points but I think it falls short of really putting together a complete theory of horror. I also don't understand the whole tree metaphor but that may just be me. Here's the gist:

The "roots" of our subconscious memory soak up the myriad predicaments of life: loss of a job, a broken leg, the end of a relationship. The trunk is, to put it simply, loss of control: our failed attempts to reconcile these frustrations and doubts into a reasonable approximation of an ordered universe. Then they branch out into various terrors, and though we still classify them by type, they all boil down to one theme: loss of control. Like great Yggdrasil, this three has three primary branches:
  • loss of control of self
    death by unnatural means, mutation of one's body
  • loss of control of environment
    resurrection of the dead, animation of the inanimate
  • loss of control of place in society
    visions that no one will believe, rejection by family group
I would have been with him all the way if he hadn't stopped at three. Basically what we have is three of the four Dramatica quads and a handful of sometimes related genres:
  • loss of control of self (manipulation/activity)
    death by unnatural means (suspense), mutation of one's body (science fiction)
  • loss of control of environment (situation)
    resurrection of the dead (fantasy), animation of the inanimate (fantasy)
  • loss of control of place in society (fixed ideas)
    visions that no one will believe (thriller), rejection by family group (bias drama)
What we have then is really a muddle of ideas from other genres. In horror though the emphasis is placed more on outcome (failure/bad) and emphasis (the consequence of failure) in the subjective storyline rather than achieving the goal in the overall story. In this case:
  • Failure of action (Activity)
    violation (slasher films, torture)
  • Failure of the mind (Fixed Ideas)
    decadence (morbid desires and obsessions; Phantom of the Opera)
  • Failure of the environment (Situation)
    corruption (haunted houses, zombie movies)
  • Failure of psychology (Manipulations)
    madness (psychological horror; think Poe and Lovecraft)
The key is that order and control are rarely restored. And even if they are, it's a very thin success/bad story: the horror lingers or has the ability to return.

On a secondary note, in Dramatica the Main Character (MC) is always a potential victim and the Impact Character (IC) is the monster, the killer, the unseen evil force. So the bulk of the action takes place in the subjective storyline with a thin objective story to bookend the scares and supply extra victims. The problem with a lot of modern horror movies is that the villain, the IC, tends to dominate and becomes the de-facto hero (Hannibal, Freddy), or that the only throughline we get is the violently subjective storyline (where the drama of consequences is played out), leaving the other throughlines all but forgotten (Hostel). When this happens the movie becomes an assault by the filmmaker (IC) on the audience (MC).

All in all a very interesting subject well worth exploring.