[Horror stories] clustered around the principle of a real or fake intrusion of the supernatural into the natural world, an intrusion which arouses fear (4-5).
It is Lovecraft’s essay that provides the keystone upon which any architecture of horror must be built: atmosphere. . . . What this means is that you can experience true horror in, potentially, any work of fiction, be it a western, a contemporary gothic, science fiction, [or] mystery. . . . as long as the atmosphere follows. This means that horror is free of the supernatural (5).
Hartwell includes a quotation of David Aylward:
To them [those who don’t read horror] it is a kind of pornography, inducing horripilation instead of erection. And the reader who appears to relish such sensations--why, he’s an emotional masochist. . . (Revenge of the Past, as quoted in The Dark Descent, 5-6).Hartwell resumes his own voice, arguing his ideas on his topic:
[Edmund Wilson] sees. . . literature as evolving in a linear fashion into fantasies of the psyche removed entirely from supernatural trappings. Any audience interested in these trappings is regressive. He sees no value to a modern reader in obsolete fiction (7).Hartwell includes a quotation of Jean-Paul Sartre:
As horror has evolved in this century, it has grown significantly in the areas of “the morbidities of the psyche” and fantasies of “a world in which, prosaic though it is, we can find no firm foothold on reality (7).
In order to achieve the fantastic, it is neither necessary nor sufficient to portray extraordinary things. . . . Either it [the fantastic] does not exist at all, or else it extends throughout the universe.. . (The Fantastic Considered as a Language, as quoted in The Dark Descent, 7-8).Hartwell resumes his own voice, arguing his ideas on his topic:
Contemporary horror occurs in three streams. . .: 1. moral allegorical [,] 2. psychological metaphor [, and] 3. fantastic. These modes are not mutually exclusive, but usually a matter of emphasis (8).Hartwell includes a quotation of George Stade, which originally appeared in The New York Times (October 27, 1985):
[Moral allegories] are characteristically supernatural fiction, most usually about the intrusion of evil into consensus reality. . . . These arte the stories of children possessed by demons, of haunting by evil ghosts from the past. . . stories of bad places (where evil persists from past times), of witchcraft and satanism. . . . They are often written by lapsed Christians, who have lost their firm belief in good but still have a discomforting belief in evil. Stories in this stream imply or state the Manichean universe (8).
In speaking of stories and novels in this first stream, we are speaking of the most popular form of horror fiction today, the commercial bestseller lineage of Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, and a majority of the works of Stephen King. . . . This stream is the center of category horror publishing (8-9).
The second group of horror stories, stories of aberrant human psychology embodied metaphorically, may be either purely supernatural, such as Dracula, or purely psychological, such as Robert Bloch’s Psycho. What characterizes them as a group is the monster at the center. . .--an overtly abnormal human or creature, from whose acts and on account of whose being the horror arises (9).
Stories of the third stream have at their center ambiguity as to the nature of reality, and it is this very ambiguity that generates the horrific effects. Often this is an overtly supernatural (or certainly abnormal) occurrence, but we know of it only by
allusion. Often, essential elements are left undescribed so that, for instance, we do not know whether there was really a ghost or not. But the difference is not merely supernatural versus psychological explanation: third stream stories lack any explanation that makes sense in everyday reality--we don’t know, and that doubt disturbs us, horrifies us. This is the fiction to which Sartre’s analysis alludes, the fantastic. At its extreme form, from Kafka to the present, it blends indistinguishably with magic realism, the surreal, the absurd, all the fictions that confront reality through paradoxical distance. It is the fiction of radical doubt. . . . In the contemporary field it is a major current (10).
Third stream stories tend to cross all category lines but usually they do not use the conventional supernatural as a distancing device (10).
At the end of a horror story, the reader is left with a new perception of the nature of reality. In the moral allegory strain, the point seems to be that this is what reality was and has been all along (i.. e., literally a world in which supernatural forces are at work) only you couldn’t or wouldn’t recognize it. Psychological metaphor stories basically use the intrusion of abnormality to release repressed or unarticulated psychological states. In her book, Powers of Horror, critic Julia Kristeva says that horror deals with material just on the edge of repression but not entirely repressed and inaccessible. Stories from our second stream use the heightening effect of the monstrously abnormal to achieve this release. Third stream stories maintain the pretense of everyday reality only to annihilate it, leaving us with another world entirely, one in which we are disturbingly imprisoned. It is in perceiving the changed reality and its nature that the pleasure and the illumination of third stream stories lies. . . . The mass horror audience is not much taken with third stream stories. . .
Because they modify the emotional jolt (10-11).
Although the manifest images of horror fiction are legion, their latent meanings are few.
He also offers a quotation of Stephen King:
I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out (Danse Macabre).