When you think about what scares you most in a horror story, what is the quickest to come to mind? Chances are, your mind’s eye will impose images of what should, under any normal circumstances, be the most unlikely of suspects. Children giggling, clowns smiling, dignified noblemen, perfectly sculpted topiary …the list goes on when it comes to imagery that, with just the right touch, goes from innocent or distinguished to downright terrifying. Place the giggling children in an otherwise empty haunted house; put a bit of blood on the clown’s suit; give the nobleman fangs; see the topiary move behind the protagonist’s back. It’s the dissonance between expectation and realization that creates the best kind of horror.
Consider any of a number of passages written by the master of Gothic horror, Edgar Allan Poe. For an example, I’ve pulled a random stanza from his timeless classic, “The Raven”:
Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
‘Wretch,’ I cried, ‘thy God hath lent thee - by these angels he has sent thee
Respite - respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!’
Quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore.’
I once conversed with another horror writer who insisted Gothic horror was, in his own language, “pretentious.” That word has stuck with me ever since. Pretentious. I must beg to differ. Gothic horror is sophisticated. It is complex. It contains a level of brilliance that might not be appreciable to fans of superficial horror—slash and dash, blood and guts, and such—and that’s okay. Literary is not everyone’s cup of oleander tea. With that said, I’ll take Gothic over gore any day.
It’s just scarier—in my humble opinion.
Also be sure to take a look at Coffin Hop’s benefit anthology, Death by Drive-In, the proceeds of which will go to the literacy program, Lit World.
What is your favorite kind or horror? Leave a comment for your chance to win a signed paperback copy of my Poe-inspired Gothic horror, Finding Poe, or an electronic copy of Death by Drive-In. Winners will be announced precisely at the stroke of the witching hour on Halloween ... unless the evil clown gets me. *insert evil laugh*