Copyright 2012 by Gary L. Pullman
In Danse Macabre, Stephen King admits, “If I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out.” These two emotions--horror and disgust--are viewed by many as the two main emotions--some might argue the only emotions--that horror fiction evokes.
However, King doesn’t believe that himself, nor, it seems likely, does any other writer or editor of horror stories, any writer or director of horror films. Like any other genre of literature, horror fiction makes use of a range and variety of emotions--and mental states or conditions--among which are the following:
Desperation (Mrs. Cornelia Hilyard embodies desperation when she begs stranger to assist her in Lady in a Cage.)
Humiliation (In Dahmer, Jeffrey Dahmer is humiliated when his father discovers that the mannequin that his son stole and dresses is a male, rather than a female, mannequin.)
Grief (Both Dr. David Callaway and his daughter Emily express grief following the death of David's wife [Emily's mother]).
Curiosity (Caroline Ellis’ curiosity as to what lies behind the locked attic room gets her killed in The Skeleton Key.)
Anxiety (Marion Crane exemplifies this emotion at the start of Psycho, both before and after she absconds with her boss’ money and particularly when she is followed by the state police officer after she has left town with the stolen loot.)
Madness (Norman Bates’ close ups at the end of Psycho, when he has, for all intents and purposes become his dead mother, illustrate this emotion.).
Vulnerability (Jane Hudson personifies this condition in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.)
Sadistic delight (Tuesday Wells reflects sadistic delight as a murderess in Pretty Poison.)
Wonder (Marte in Day of Wrath emotes wonder.)
Innocence (Regan MacNeil is the very picture of innocence--before and after she is possessed in The Exorcist.)
Hysteria (Heather Donahue, in tears in The Blair Witch Project, expresses hysteria as she videotapes herself.)
Ecstasy (Catherine Ballard, in Crash, experiences ecstasy.)
Shock (Juno is shocked when she accidentally kills her friend Beth in The Descent.)
Revulsion (Andre Delambre is repulsed at his personal appearance after he becomes a human fly in The Fly; the human body, especially its sexual parts and aspects, is a source of repulsion for characters in body horror films, such as many of David Cronenberg's movies.)
A series of such emotions can, in fact, create what might be called an emotional storyline. The looks of anxiety, indecision, anxiety, relief, disturbance, repentance, shock, fear, and horror on Marion Crane’s face in Psycho, for example, both complement the film’s action and are complemented, in return, by the film’s action as these expressions tell--or show--the story, in their own way, as much as the overt action and dialogue do. The same is true of other horror films--or for movies in general, for that matter. Often, in fact, such emotional storylines follow formulas such as the one suggested by the expression “curiosity killed the cat” (The Skeleton Key is an example: Caroline Ellis’ curiosity as to what lies behind the locked attic room gets her killed.)