Copyright 2009 by Gary L. Pullman
In the sexist teen sex comedy, 100 Girls, college student Matthew (no last name) has sex with a coed student with whom he is trapped in a dark, stalled elevator. He awakens the next morning, still in the elevator, to find that his anonymous lover has abandoned him, leaving behind, perhaps as a memento of the occasion, a pair of her panties. In a twist on the idea of Prince Charming’s matching the glass slipper left by Cinderella at the masked ball to the foot of its owner, Matthew seeks the bra that he believes will match the panties. He adopts the strategy of posing as a maintenance man for the college’s women’s dormitory, or “virgin vault,” as he calls it, which impersonation provides him access to coeds’ dressers, wherein he can search for the holy grail, as it were, of the matching bra.
That’s how this situation is developed comically--at least in 100 Girls. How might the same storyline be developed in a horror story? Here’s one possibility:
College student Matthew (no last name) has sex with a coed student with whom he is trapped in a dark, stalled elevator. He awakens the next morning, still in the elevator, to find that his anonymous lover has abandoned him, leaving her glass eye behind her. In a twist on the idea of Prince Charming’s matching the glass slipper left by Cinderella at the masked ball to the foot of its owner, Matthew seeks the one-eyed woman, his “Miss Cyclops,” who owns the glass eye. He adopts the strategy of posing as a maintenance man for the college’s women’s dormitory, which impersonation provides him access to coeds’ rooms, wherein he can search for his “Miss Cyclops.”
Admittedly, this is not much of a storyline. It needs work--a lot of work--and maybe wouldn’t work at all. My point, though, is to indicate how a humorist and a horror writer can treat the same idea, each in his or her own way, which is to say, humorously or horrifically.
In a comedy, order gives way to confusion, but the conflict is usually not a life-and-death matter; typically, it is something lighthearted, insignificant, or even absurd, often with satirical overtones, and the story usually ends well. The theme may be meaningful, but the vehicle for its expression, the story itself, tends to be fluffy and fun.
In a horror story, stability likewise succumbs to chaos, but the conflict that ensues definitely is a life-and-death matter. The story may occasionally feature a lighthearted moment, by way of comedic relief, but, overall, the narrative or drama will be suspenseful, even terrifying, and an atmosphere of dread will pervade, right to the end, as a monster or other antagonist relentlessly and pitilessly pursues his or her (usually his) victims, piling up dead (and often mutilated) bodies like cordwood. The theme usually will be significant, although the story is unlikely to end well, even for the protagonist. In a word, comedies treat their subjects humorously; horror stories, horrifically. Even the same basic situation will take a turn for the better (in comedy) or for the worse (in horror), depending upon the writer’s intent and perspective.
For example, in 100 Girls, Matthew ends up with his mystery lover, whereas, in a horrific treatment of the story:
Matthew might be arrested, suspected of being the psychotic butcher who, for weeks, has been collecting women’s eyeballs. In jail, Matthew has no way to stop the real mutilator/killer, who wants to complete his set by collecting his latest victim’s second eyeball as well. Perhaps Matthew’s parents, mortgaging their house, post their son’s bail, and Matthew is able, then, to track down the true psycho, either in time to prevent him from claiming the coed’s other eye or arriving on the scene a few seconds too late to save her from this blinding fate.
Again, this extension of the plot is about as ludicrous as it is horrific, and it could use a lot more work. For one thing, it is derivative, not only of 100 Girls but also of Jeepers Creepers, a horror film in which a stalker collects women’s eyes. (Hollywood would no doubt solve this problem by making the antagonist of such a film a "copycat" killer, just as this sort of story would itself be a copycat of the original movie.) The derivative nature of the storyline, however, suggests that the tale could be not only told but sold, and indicates, further, that, in horror, the absurd is as welcome as it is in humor, provided that it is treated horrifically, rather than humorously, which means that there must be fear and, in many cases, gore, or, as Edgar Allan Poe, more eloquently phrases the same dictum:
That motley drama!--oh, be sure
It shall not be forgot!
With its Phantom chased for evermore,
By a crowd that seize it not,
Through a circle that ever returneth in
To the self-same spot;
And much of Madness, and more of Sin
And Horror, the soul of the plot!