Culture

Why So Horrifying? Supernatural Fiction and The World

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.

There are two reasons for this, I think. One is my ever-deepening religious sense. This doesn’t mean I now believe that angels dance on the heads of pins or that the right prayer said in the right way will fetch you a million bucks. But I have begun to experience a moral logic to life that extends beyond life, an understanding that the good and evil we choose to do exists on a continuum of which birth and death are only a part.

As atheist scientists try harder and harder to explain away man’s altruism and spiritual striving with fanciful evolutionary just-so stories, I — and an increasing number of other thinkers and writers besides — am beginning to understand that what these scientists are saying is not scientific at all and doesn’t really make much sense.

As a writer of what I hope are thrilling tales, I find it almost impossible to represent this spiritual idea of life without resorting to the uncanny. I think a lot of the audience is feeling this as well.

And the other reason I and others are increasingly turning to supernatural stories is that the natural world is becoming so outlandish that, even without spirituality, it has begun to seem sort of uncanny in itself. Terrorists mesmerized by a seventh century superstition are developing the capability to end human life — and it’s considered bigotry to say them nay. Sex, which once was an important private interaction between human beings, has become a matter of ubiquitous imagery, assaulting the senses while containing about as much emotion as an electric jolt to the brain’s pleasure center. Journalists and intellectuals have replaced the search for truth with an ongoing attempt to impose a narrative, turning the ever-present voices of media into a cacophony of competing lies.

In a world of such globalized danger, sensory assault and omnipresent deception, is it any wonder we discharge our burgeoning anxieties with tales of zombie apocalypse, vampire seduction and an ordinary world that is not what it seems?

So now I’ve given two reasons why I and other artists and audiences are increasingly turning to supernatural tales:  a rebirth of true religion and the explosive extension of human insanity through technological means. But perhaps these are really two sides of the same reason. Perhaps there is a growing sense in the zeitgeist that the world is on the brink of either great beauty or vast destruction or possibly both.

And only tales of the supernatural can express both the glory we anticipate and the gnawing fear we feel.
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Cross-posted from Klavan on the Culture