What Scares You?

It’s October! (Already? Yeesh, where did September go? Or for that matter, where did the summer go?) And you know what means!


I’ve always been a fan of all things dark, morbid, and goth, and I think it’s pretty fitting that my relationship anniversary is in the month of October, so my fiance and I can celebrate by going to haunted houses/corn-mazes. Huzzah, horror!

Last year I wrote about the difference between horror and terror as a storytelling device, but this year I want to focus on the “types” or horror, or the sorts of stories that scare you. While my fiance and I both like horror, the horror stories to which we are drawn are very different. When it comes to horror movies in the theatre, he goes for the slasher-type, whereas I prefer ghost stories.

Blood, guts, and gore? Or the supernatural? Both types of horror stories are certainly valid. But because I am the sort of person who likes to dissect and categorize, I’ve divided the two of us into External and Internal Horror.

External Horror

Bear tends to like stories with an external danger: the serial killer on the loose, the deranged psychopath inflicting pain, etc. I call these External Horror narratives, stories in which there is a clear delineation between Good and Evil. (Cabin in the Woods skewers and plays into this sort of horror story quite well.) External Horror often has a high body count, and it is frequently gruesome. In External Horror narratives, the protagonist is the audience proxy, the point of entry for the viewer or reader into the story. Because the protagonist is the sole character you can trust, everything and everyone around him or her becomes suspect, which creates an atmosphere of fear, interspersed by spikes of terror. (The infamous “scare cut”.)

Internal Horror

On the other hand, I prefer stories in which the danger is not quite so distinct or discrete. I like stories about possessed objects, children, or houses, parents slowly losing their minds, murderers who turn out to the be the protagonist all along, etc. I call these Internal Horror stories, where the danger may or may not be “real”.  The protagonist is not the audience proxy in Internal Horror narratives, and instead of people or things around the protagonist, it’s the audience’s perception of events that can’t be trusted. Internal Horror stories tend to have less of a body count than External ones, and the scares tend to be less intense, but there is a constant level of tension that becomes nearly unbearable by the end. (The Shining is one of my favourite examples of the Internal Horror narrative.)

Of course, both Internal and External elements can exist in the same horror narrative. Rosemary’s Baby is a great example, as is American Psycho (the movie, not the book), both of which are some of my favourite horror stories.

What about you? What sort of horror stories do you like?

3 Responses to What Scares You?

  1. Marc Vun Kannon Oct 10 2014 at 8:58 am #

    I wrote a paper for a philosophy class long ago on this topic. I was using a new book I’d found called Horror, or Paradoxes of the Heart by Noel Carroll. He described Horror as a combination of fear and disgust, and the paradox was why we were drawn to it. The main focus, as I recall, was on ‘interstitial entities’, things that we couldn’t categorize in any of the normal mental boxes we all have. We want to categorize them, that’s the draw, and the fear. I disagreed with him as to what causes the disgust, since in my view we make our own mental boxes, so it’s easy enough to make a new one for something strange. There’s only one area where the mental box is a given, and that’s ourselves. The disgust, in my view, comes from a situation that defines ‘human being’ differently than we already do. Giant monsters aren’t the horrifying thing, it’s the fact that we are their prey now that horrifies. A godzilla, that doesn’t prey on anyone, isn’t even horrifying. He’s just a creature. To me, a true monster was always once a man.
    I’m not a fan of horror, though, especially not slasher stories. My favorite story is probably The Changeling, a wonderful ghost movie with George C. Scott. The Uninvited is another good one. I don’t read much in this genre, so my favorite would probably be The Dead Zone, by Stephen King.

  2. Alexa S. Oct 20 2014 at 4:50 pm #

    Personally, I’m like you and prefer internal horror! I absolutely cannot stand external horror for some reason. Slasher flicks with lots of dead bodies and gore and guts? NOT for me. But I do, on occasion, watch and find films with possessions, ghosts, etc, very interesting 🙂

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