Regular vs. Speculative Horror

I think there are two brands of horror fiction.

One kind is what I call regular, or normal, horror. It’s the kind of horror that we frequently see on TV or in the movies with the deranged psychopaths who like their shiny metal tools and trap unsuspecting – but beautiful – young adults and torture them for hours. It’s the kind of thing we read about in our newspapers, where people kill (or attempt to kill) others just so they can steal their babies. Or the stories we hear about that could easily be the realizations of our own worst fears. These are the everyday horrors that we hope never come to visit us.

But then there is the kind of horror that can only, and will only, ever take place in our imaginations, the horrors that happen in the future or that have some element of fantasy, magic, or the supernatural. These are the kinds of horrors that frighten us, disturb us, creep us out, but the ones that we ultimately know will _never_ come to visit because they simply cannot happen. These are the _”safe”_ horrors, what I call speculative horror.

I heard it said recently that regular horror is far better because it is far creepier. I have to both agree and disagree with that notion. I think that it _can_ be far creepier and horrific because we know that these sorts of things _could_ happen to us or to someone we love. We recognize that fact, and it unsettles us deeply. On the other hand, though, speculative horror can be easily translated into things that _could_ happen. Our minds modify them and make them real, especially if we find ourselves feeling empathy for character undergoing the horror. Our imaginations take flight, and suddenly those things that go bump in the night might not be just bumps anymore. So I do think that speculative horror can be every bit as frightening as regular horror if the writer crafts the story properly.

8 thoughts on “Regular vs. Speculative Horror”

  1. Pingback: Pursuing Holiness
  2. i won’t say one is “better” than the other. i like both. i’m afraid of the creepy guy with washed out eyes who lives in my apartment complex. i’m also afraid of haunted houses and ghosts trapped in some room.

    it just depends on my mood.

  3. I think that’s the gist of it exactly – it boils down to personal preference. My preference is speculative horror. It’s just more interesting to me than your average slasher-type horror. Though I do like psychological horror, where you don’t necessarily see much in the way of gore but that totally freaks you out, nonetheless. _Alien_ is actually a really good example of this. They spend the whole movie deliberately not showing you much of anything, just hints and flashes here and there. It’s not until the end where it really starts to get a bit more on the gory side.

  4. if you like understated horror, I recommend “A Tale of Two Sisters,” a Korean horror film. it’s made in the same moody style as the japanese horror flicks, but it has its own unique flavor. I can’t explain it. Just watch it.

  5. An interesting division.
    I think we may have become a bit inured by media detail to the average horror of serial killers, pedophiles and school slaughters.
    Speculative horror touches our primeval, superstitous terror.

  6. The type of horror that stays with me tends to be of the supernatural persuasion. My most memorable nightmares all include attackers or themes of the supernatural variety. It’s the reason I’m drawn to books and movies that revolve around the fictional side of horror.

  7. I actually find dreadfully gory slasher-type stories less scary in some ways. I’ve described movies to friends before now as possessing ‘comic book violence’. By which I usually mean the gore has become so over the top that the effect is to take away the impact. It just becomes a splash of red across the screen. It doesn’t seem real anymore.

    For me, really scary tends to start in the mind. It doesn’t matter whether it’s speculative or based on real effects, but it is the fact that it is messing with your mind that makes me jump.

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