copyright 2014 by Gary L. Pullman
Horror hides inside us all, actually or potentially, taking many forms.
What horrifies us is our own demise.
We are horrified, too, by the measures we will take to survive.
In an us-against-them scenario, it is we who will survive—or will to survive—whatever the cost, including the destruction of another person. We are horrified that we may be killed, but we are horrified, also, that we may kill, even if we should be compelled to do so to prevent ourselves from being killed.
We kill or we are killed; therein lies our horror, the secret horror within, which assumes a multitude of disguises, but is always only the same fear, the same loathing.
Sometimes, though, the survival of the fittest is disguised. We compete for laurels and for jobs, for love and attention, for fame and devotion, for men and women, as well as for life and not death.
Each time we win, we kill; every time we lose, we die.
Horror fiction is horrible because it tells this truth about us: we are all both predator and prey, hunter and hunted, stalker and stalked, quick and dead.
Sometimes, we are, simultaneously, one and the same, as when, for example, we commit suicide.
There are several ways to kill oneself, to be both predator and prey, perpetrator and victim: morally, psychologically, and, yes, physically.
When we look the other way, introspectively or with extroversion; when we deny or reject the truth, we die.
Little by little, we die every day.
But slow death is often overlooked, in the moment, at least, when we are too busy with our lives:
Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me
Emily Dickinson tells us.
In the literature of horror, death stops for us, and, in doing so, he employs the strategy of Flannery O'Connor:
To the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.
Blood and gore, deformity and disfigurement, madness and mayhem, death and destruction, disease and pestilence, fear and trembling are “large” and “startling figures,” indeed, but even they may not succeed, in every case, to startle us out of the complacency of ourselves, and, when they are not, we are not.