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Why So Horrifying? Supernatural Fiction and The World

Life is becoming so outlandish that, even without spirituality, it has begun to seem sort of uncanny in itself.

by
Andrew Klavan

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October 24, 2013 - 12:00 pm
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In an article called “Who Killed the Halloween Horror Movie?” USA Today recently noted the dearth of big budget horror films this Halloween, the Carrie remake being the exception. Don’t blame me for this, since I’ve done my little all to provide you with a Kreepy Klavan Holiday via my new young adult ghost story Nightmare City (now available to pre-order) and the reboot of Neal Edelstein’s ghost story app Haunting Melissa  script by me — now getting a shiny new 2.0 reboot.

And in fact, it’s not that there are fewer horror stories out there, it’s that there are so many that they can’t be confined to one time of year or to one medium. Horror has gone mainstream, and the zombie-like hunger for Halloween fare can be satisfied at any time and in any number of ways. The Conjuring was released in theaters in the summer, and is out on DVD for October. World War Z, The Evil Dead and Insidious 2 all broke this year and two out of three are available now. And whatever other spooky-dooky tale you want to experience on Halloween or any other time, you only have to stream it or DVR it or, for all I know, have it injected directly into your brain. Like the real world, the fictional world has no shortage of horror — none at all.

Does the mainstreaming and mainlining of eerie fare tell us anything about ourselves, I wonder. I’m always suspicious of such generalizations, but here’s something I’ve noticed for myself. After a career of realistic crime writing with only occasional forays into ghost stories, I’m finding it harder and harder to describe my vision of the world in fiction without resorting to the supernatural.

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I think horror and the supernatural could be connected to that universal malady, anxiety. We're all fearful of what is unknown, those things that can't be predicted or prepared for, but a rational person can't allow themselves to give in to the anxiety because we have to get on with our lives and so we push it aside. Horror novels and films allow us to experience fear and anxiety full-throttle but safely because we know it's only temporary. Rosemary's Baby in the late '60s launched an avalanche of interest in Satanism and satanic possession which more than likely reflected the anxieties brought about by the radical changes in the culture that happened at that time.

The supernatural in the form of mediums and psychics seems to serve another function. Mediums had a surge in popularity after the carnage of WWI and again during the AIDs epidemic; so many young people gone, leaving a vacancy in the hearts of their loved ones much deeper than the death of someone who's old. The psychics and mediums helped a lot of people accept their loss.

I love horror films and watch a lot of them because they're the only ones both my husband I like and can watch together.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I don’t normally watch TV but I have recently been caught up in a long running series called Supernatural. It follows the exploits of the Winchester brothers as they battle vampires, demons and leviathans.

This administration has me shivering with fear when I think about the corruption and theft in high places and the lawlessness. I think to myself, “Fine steal us blind, but when it comes time to go, go”.

The Winchester brothers always find a way to “gank” in the parlance of the show, the monsters. I don’t want or wish any harm on anyone, but I want to believe that America can return to a place where the rule of law is placed above the rule of men.

I remember what happened the last time we elected a man based on the premise that he would not lie to us, and it was dreadful. I don’t want to go back there, but I want the colossal waste and fraud to stop.

I fear there will be hell to pay.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Dear Katherine in RB: I too love Supernatural. I got hooked about 2 years ago and I can't remember how I found it. One day I saw it on TNT and watched, and I was hooked. I tape it every day and watch it when I can. Last year I discovered it was still being made and on a network station. Oh yay Oh yay! Anyway, I wonder why it is such a long-running series, other than the fact that the two actors are so believeable in well-scripted and thoroughly thought-out situations. I believe there is a connection between real life and programs on TV.
Have you noticed there are more programs on preparing for disruptions in our economy or environment, ie EMP, natural disasters, government takeovers, etc.
And have you noticed all the Zombie-like programs now on? For a while it was vampires and wolfmen. So, I guess we've had our blood sucked out of us, and if we didn't turn into wolfmen, we've become Zombies - and it sure feels that way with people just walking to the slaughter like a lamb and believing everything they hear on ABC news.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
This show actually made me figure out what station CW was so I could TIVO it for this season. I can't say I noticed the things you observed because I don't watch TV, everything comes to me via Netflix, which has all eight seasons of Supernatural on instant download. Instant gratification. There is a web site Billie Doux that has excellent reviews of many shows. They help me references that my TV deprived brain misses completely
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The mainstreaming of "eerie fare" in film tells us very little I think. Although it has a rep for being ghettoized and shoved into a corner, the modern horror story has been big adult business since well back into Victorian times. Adult takes on film took a while to do the same, and there is a dearth of more serious stuff in the '30s and '40s like "The Uninvited."

In the last 100 years, there's been a non-stop flood of stories, some more sober and literary and also dreamy Lovecraftian takes on horror, but with the same destination - to scare the pants off of you. Even Edith Wharton has ghost anthologies.

Probably the biggest difference, at least in film, is that horror films have been dressed up to make them more presentable to adults since the '60s. I'm thinking of "The Turn of the Screw" and "The Haunting," both very scary films, and outside the teen fare dominating the industry then and now.

"The Exorcist" went full adult, mainstream and Full Monty and provided nightmares for many folks for months.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"The Exorcist" ... provided nightmares for many folks for months.

The book scared me so that I had to get rid of its physical presence and gave it away to a friend. I was a teen at the time, old enough not to believe in demons, but in reality I was scared of (and also curious of) ghosts since my early childhood. In my teens I tried holding a seance with some friends and suddenly had a very eery tingling sensation. I stopped the seance immediately and never tried it again. That was before reading The Exorcist where the girl found a Ouija board (normally used for seances) and ended up summoning a demon. About the same time I started having episodes of a sleeping disorder known as awareness during sleep paralysis:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sleep_paralysis

http://www.trionica.com/

When you're asleep much of your body is paralyzed, unless you're a sleepwalker. But falling asleep and waking up are gradual processes, so it may happen that you wake up in the sense of being aware, but the sleep paralysis hasn't faded out yet, in which case you find yourself unable to move or utter a sound. It may be accompanied by eerie sensations and sounds, or even a sensation of being out of your body. Many people experience this situation once in their lifetimes. A few, like me, experience it many times. But back in my teens when I first experienced it I didn't know what they were. I felt the tingling sensation I had during the seance, and I wasn't able to move or scream. Subjectively it felt like something is taking over me, and when I finally could scream and then move I felt I've barely escaped its hold. Since the first episode happened shortly after the seance I associated it with the seance, as if the seance opened the door to something. About the same time I found The Exorcist just lying around at home, it probably belonged to my brother. Reading it didn't help improve my sense of supernatural safety. A Ouija board used for seances opens the door for a demon to take over a girl... Hmm, seemed a bit too close to home. Nightmares don't begin to describe the horror I've felt during those sleep paralysis episodes.

I've only seen the movie a couple of years ago, and even then I hesitated and made sure it won't be before going to bed. It was a good horror film and this time it didn't give me any nightmares.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Perhaps it has to do with when I grew up -- 60s and 70s -- horror films came out any time during the year. "Exorcist" was a summer release alongside "The Sting" -- sad timing because they were nominated for pretty much the same string of Oscars and "Sting" got nearly all of them. "Jaws" was a summer movie, if you count it as horror and many do. Horror films got some extra play on TV around Halloween but they came out without regard to the holiday.
My own idea of religion doesn't extend to ghosts -- I can't find a religious basis for them. I'm sure there is power beyond what I understand and I agree that people seem to have a "...God-shaped hole..." in our lives that we need to fill. But Mr. Klavan is not saying ghosts are "real" as a crime is real, of course.
1 year ago
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