When Horror Isn’t Scary: Should it Be?

When Horror Isn’t Scary: Should it Be?


Writing horror (usually) has a singular purpose – to scare, unsettle, or otherwise illicit an unpleasant emotion. The appeal seems a little strange. However, research has determined that spooky things allow us to experience these frightening feelings in a safe space, where we’re not in danger of divorce from our body parts. 

Put another way, fear can be gentle, even exciting – as long as the unpleasant things it’s associated with can’t get out of the TV. This is what each year’s Halloween is about, a time for people dressed as the undead to walk the earth and eat sugar disguised as eyeballs. 

So, the question to ask is – when horror is removed from its blood-soaked reality, does it still need to be scary? The answer is, of course, no. Just like any other genre, there are shades of horror for all stomachs.

Killer Klowns

In February, Marie Clare magazine published an article that listed “Non-Scary Horror Movies”. It included mostly cult hits, like The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), Hocus Pocus (1993), and Little Shop of Horrors (1986). Oddly enough, superhero flick Blade (1998) made the cut, despite some rather gory scenes. The magazine claimed to draw the line at wriggling guts. 

It wasn’t the greatest list for a non-spooky evening, in hindsight.

Source: Pexels.

The concept of fright-less horror is a popular gaming trope, where hinting at themes is more attractive to a mass audience than opening up the coffin directly. Little Green Men, Experi-Mental, and Blood-Suckers crop up year-round on the PlayStar website and NJ casino online app. As movie tricks like jump-scares would detract from the gameplay, they’re used sparingly, if at all. 

For fans, an uncomfortable fact is that horror sometimes thrives on nonsensical ideas. Giant monsters, like in Tremors (1990), invincible killers, marauding aliens, ghosts and poltergeists, and even Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988).

It’s this underlying silliness that allows horror to make occasional visits to everybody’s TV. Scale down the gore and the teeth, and things can get quite camp – just look at the work of R.L. Stine.

The Graveyard Book

There are plenty of voices in the conversation about whether the more extreme aspects of horror are mandatory for the true experience. This is true in most niches, among audiences protective of their art and appreciations. Music is a good example. 

Source: Pexels.

Books make for a compelling argument against horror as a purist’s game. Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and The Graveyard Book are geared towards the young adult market, with an intensity lower than somebody like Stephen King.

The problem of scariness is complicated by how subjective horror is. Another magazine, Bloody Disgusting, tries to answer whether horror is horror if it’s not scary to “YOU” (emphasis theirs). The answer seems to be “yes”. 

Certain corners of the community believe that horror ceases to be scary once it becomes mainstream. After all, how can something so attractive be part of the genre?  This suggests that horror isn’t just subjective, market factors determine its spookiness. Of course, that’s a ridiculous notion. 

Fans can take their blood the way they like it.

You may also like...