The Power of Horror
by Willow Croft
Horror typically revolves around a certain disempowerment of its characters. And of the reader. Horror readers, like myself, relish the helpless feeling that arises when witnessing the terrible things happening to the people in the books we are reading. It’s the literary version of a car crash we can’t stop ourselves from gawking at as we drive past. We are safe in our own homes. In our own cars. And in our own lives. We horror readers like to have both security and fear, balanced on the knife edge of our reading experience. At least, that’s what I’ve loved about the horror and suspense genres since I was maybe around ten or eleven. Clive Barker. Stephen King. Victoria Holt. My grandmother’s collection of V.C. Andrews books. Back then, nobody cared too much what a kid was reading, as long as they were reading.
Now, even as an adult, when I confess I love horror stories and movies, people edge away. Out come the suspicious looks. I’m suddenly classified as one of those quiet ones they need to be wary of. I’ve been typecast. Dark, depraved, disturbed, secretive, untrustworthy; the person who gets faint at the sight of blood in real life, and is perpetually rescuing everything from stray animals to tiny bugs. Yes, one of those evil lost souls. Which is why I choose not to buy into any of those stereotypes I constantly hear about horror readers (and those who write it). I believe, instead, that those individuals are extraordinarily caring and sensitive. Otherwise, horror stories and movies wouldn’t have much of a market. We horror readers feel every stab of the knife, every whack of the ax, every drop of blood that hits the fictional floor, and every spooky chill when we realize that the character and I aren’t alone in the house. Horror readers are deeply empathic and that vicarious fear has a deliciously intense, lingering effect on our permeable souls.
Horror, therefore, is a powerful, and empowering genre; both to me as a reader, and as a writer. Horror liberates me as much as it does my characters I am trying to develop. Horror gives my fictional women agency. Horror gives me a way to take all my women-centric frustration and wrap a story around it. To have a space to put all my emotions. To create a place where women are not trapped. Where they are not limited by everything that still seeks to curtail them, even in the 21st century.
I am fairly new to the horror-writing community, but I love my vision of my women characters, and I hope they grow and evolve with each new story I write. To write women who have the deepest, darkest souls sitting comfortably alongside a spirit of perfect purity. Their dark purity of hate. Their dark purity of fierce emotions. Their I’m-not-going-to-take-it-anymore sort of cleansing wrath. The kind of women that are the stuff of nightmares. The kind of women that are the powerful saviors of their girlhood dreams. Not of anyone else; it is a horror story, after all.
For, within horror’s safe space, they are only saviors of themselves.
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