A friend of mine, who, I might narcissistically add, recently gave me some absolutely wonderful compliments on a brief history of a library I wrote, is getting into horror, and consequently, I’ve been thinking about it a bit lately.
Personally, my favorite type of horror invokes a sense of dread, of powerlessness in the face of something incomprehensible. It probably stems with a youth during which I was obsessed with tales of extraterrestrials and UFOs. I still remember the fear I felt after a night of watching “documentaries” about alien encounters, and making my way to bed alone. For some reason, I never feared sleeping. Even then, I considered being abducted unlikely. But the thought of looking out a dark window into the night and seeing the face of an extraterrestrial looking back at me, that frightened me.
Even today, a remnant of that fear stays with me. Is there anything more tense than being alone in the dark, hearing a noise, and having to open your eyes to investigate, fearful that when you do, someone, or something, might be looking back? And yet you must open your eyes, for surely whatever’s really there can’t be worse than what your imagination is currently crafting for you.
I think that the idea of being watched is especially good at invoking this sense of dread. That sudden realization that you’re being watched is simply uncanny. Even eerier, though, is the realized that you were being watched. At least if you discover that you are being watched, you can do something about it, you can leave, or alter your behavior. But to learn that you were being watched, what can be done?
But the worst is this. Not only becoming aware that you’re being watched, but in such a way that whoever is watching you knows that you know. Any action you take then, as they watch you, suddenly becomes nerve-wracking. Can you make a defense against someone observing your every move? If you try, what will they do?
In 2008, a man discovered that a woman had been living inside his house, unbeknownst to him. He noticed that food was going missing, so he set up security cameras, which caught the woman, causing him to call the police. What I didn’t know when I first read it, though, was that he was able to watch the cameras from his phone. I imagined that he had to play them on his TV, and could only imagine his feeling at watching the video as a strange woman climbed out of the closet, the same one that was currently in the room with him.
I’ve never tried writing horror, but it might be interesting. My fears tend to be fairly out there, though. Another aspect of horror that I like is the unexplained. Horror can have a cause, but I don’t think it should have a complete explanation. Something like Alien is much more effective when you don’t know much about the xenomorph. Where do they come from? Who’s the space jockey? It’s left very unclear. If you explore that too deeply, you take away that mystery, and, I feel, make it less interesting.