Monday, July 21, 2014

Heroes of Horror

Terrifying tidings dear readers, as it’s time for yet another look into the horror that is modern literature! While I enjoy a good movie as well as the next person, words and symbolism through print will always hold a special place in my heart, for it’s through words that we find meaning! As I’ve previously reviewed books by Mira Grant and David Wellington (both rather new to the literary scene in that they’ve appeared in the last decade), I thought that perhaps we could turn our attention to classic authors that made our genre even possible with their nightmare-inducing tales. For those of you that merely rolled your eyes at this statement don’t worry: Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker will only be mentioned this one time in this article.

The real father of horror in the modern sense, as well as science fiction to a lesser extent, would be H.P. Lovecraft. This man, for those of you unaware, published work from 1905 to 1935. A rather strange man even when judged against the other classic writers, Lovecraft wrote poetry and macabre stories meant to both challenge preconceived notions and to mock established institutions that he both found mesmerizing and controversial at the same time. His Cthulhu mythos has spawned forth the majority of the more infamous science fiction tales, the strange characteristics of the mysterious star-borne monsters being the early influences for authors like Stephen King, Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman (to name a few), and his fictional monsters and locations have been featured in popular cinema and comic books for so long we would hesitate to even attribute them to him. Arkham, Massachusetts is a central location in many of his stories, and is also completely made up. The name Arkham has been adopted by many different medias, the most common being by DC comics for their infamous insane asylum. Meanwhile, his series of short stories about Herbert West were probably some of the first true zombie tales to be told in America, though the creatures Doctor West made were hardly mindless beings of indiscriminate carnage; instead they ranged from crazed monsters to talking heads, and everywhere in between.
Edgar Allen Poe is a true American horror writer, with his short stories and poems relying more upon the reader’s imagination to conjure the vivid imagery he used. The Pit and the Pendulum is nothing more than a primitive Saw movie in written form, while his infamous Raven-themed poem speaking of Lenore is so awe-inspiring that even the Simpsons cartoon made an episode where they parodied it. Poe’s early life is a textbook case for a garden variety Manic-Depressive, who medicated himself with Absinthe and other liquors to keep him half-sane enough to write up new, dark literature. So infamous is his work, so renowned, that public schools across America have his works read in English classrooms, while college courses are dedicated to his maudlin masterpieces. America’s answer to Shakespeare, Poe was a genius that paved the way for others to follow, creating writing about dark, twisted things that would have normally been best left unsaid. His writings stirred something in the masses, something primal; this was the first time they had experienced fear through their own imaginations (not counting the monsters they conjured in their own heads to fill the darkness). Churches denounced his work as sinful while critics raved over each new piece of work; when he died at a relatively early age of unknown causes, his work was turned over to a rival, Rufus Griswold, who began a smear campaign to try and ruin the late poet’s semi-good name. It’s thanks to him that many believe that Poe was a drug-addict, though it is also Griswold’s rather dubious assistance that Poe’s written word spread even further after his demise. Griswold put together the only biography on Poe, which included a large body of his work and personal letters, and sold it as the life a depraved lunatic. The American masses were intrigued, of course, which made Poe’s work spread like wildfire.
The entirety of horror and a great deal of science fiction sprang to life thanks to these two writers from the early 19th and 20th centuries, and if left alone the genre would most likely be quite different than it is today. But, in my eyes thankfully, this is not the case. When video games became a new phenomenon, through arcades and computers, the birth of a new platform from which to expose horrible thoughts and ideas was born. The best known horror series would most likely be the Japanese Biohazard series, which to the American audience it was marketed as Resident Evil. The story behind this series spawned twenty-two video games, eight movies (two animated, one in current production) and seven novels, all revolving around the tale of an evil corporation and its twisted designs for world conquest through either economic, terrorist or militaristic means. This is one of the first modern horror stories that spanned over so many different platforms and touched so many different media, that the market became overindulged in their need for zombies, which of course led to a craze that has consumed much of the nation; zombie games and novels, movies and television shows… we can’t seem to get enough of them. Whether they are child friendly like Plants vs. Zombies, in computer games as actual playable characters like World of Warcraft, or merely in adult shows such as The Walking Dead, we just can’t seem to get enough of zombies.
The final hero of horror that I think deserves attention is the original writer of the Japanese ghost story Ju-on: The Grudge, Takashi Shimizu. This movie, in the original format and language, is by far a near-perfect reflection of the Japanese cultural fear of spirits, which was translated over to American audiences. We didn’t even know what we were seeing the first time we saw this film, our audiences freaking out over the mere presence of a meowing boy ghost, as well as the crawling croaking mother that would drag you to your demise. The original film, as well as the remake, capture the elements of suspense in such a way that we really don’t know how to handle the scarier moments as they creep out of the darkness. This is one of the first stories that made it to American audiences where the supernatural use modern technology (when the croaking ghost echoes through a cell phone that it uses to lure a victim out of their home), as well as a real first where the “haunted” location is ignored; the ghosts in the Grudge traveled beyond their home and hunted their victims down, trapping them alone and picking them off one by one. The answer of burning the house that the ghosts call home is ultimately a failure, resulting in the ghosts continued assault on the protagonist, reaching all the way into two sequels and a side film of other ghosts created by the house.

These are not the only worthy entities within the horror genre of praise, merely three names that are rarely brought up when the scary stories are spoken of. Mary Shelly and Stephen King are the names that come to mind, with Bram Stoker following as well; these authors are great and definitely have molded the genre as a whole on their own, but these three truly created a niche that horror grew from. From the American authors of old that carved out a literary pathway for others to follow to the Japanese writer whose nightmares have influenced almost every ghost story since, these men made our scary movies what they are today.  

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