Saturday, May 1, 2010

Where's the Horror?

There's a reason why I do my feature, Freaky Friday: to momentarily relive the YA horror that I grew up with. Why? Because it doesn't exist in today's market. Not like it used to, anyway. Sure there have been some re-releases of Christopher Pike's The Last Vampire series, and, of course, L.J. Smith's works. Goosebumps hasn't left the shelves since it first came out nearly 20 years ago. But what's considered horror today doesn't stack up to what I know as horror.

This article from The Telegraphs highlights some of the works that it considers horror. While it is a British newspaper and the markets are different, I don't agree with half the stuff they say is horror now. Harry Potter? Um, no. It may have horrific elements but it's not Stephen King for kids. Not even close. And I think that's where my major differentiating factor is - defining horror.

Something can be horrific - losing your parents in a car accident, getting kidnapped, getting addicted to drugs - but it's not horror. The horror genre itself defines itself not by having horrific elements (although they certainly do) but by how much something scares the everloving shit out of you. Dementors are nasty bastards and in a different context they can certainly be horror but in the contest of Harry Potter, they're watered down and, personally, lose their effect. Now imagine living in a world where Dementors ruled and humans were farmed, kept in greenhouses that forced happiness on them and the Dementors would then harvest them for their happy feelings and then eat their souls for dessert. The soulless humans would then be put to pasture . . . or used for fertilizer to cultivate more humans. See the difference? It's a big one.

Darren Shan and his Cirque du Freak series I think is a close throw back to those older types of horror that I like. Simon Holt's The Devouring series is another one that really reminds me of the YA horror from my own not-too-long-ago youth. For me it's like eating just one jelly bean. How the hell can you? You eat that little piece and you want more only to find out you're in the middle of a jelly bean shortage. Oh the horror!

But let's get one thing straight - just because vampires or zombies or werewolves are features in a book doesn't not, by default, make the book horror. Twilight? Neither the vampires nor the werewolves are the horrors of those books, let me tell you. Never Slow Dance with a Zombie, Zombie Queen of Newbury High, Twilight, The Morganville Vampires, Generation Dead - just because they have these creatures does not make them fit the horror genre. On order for it to be horror, there has to be fear induced in the reader, the reader needs to be afraid of the creatures in these books. Softening them up, making them glitter, having girls pine after them like they're rocks stars . . . not scary. If Edward had a history of luring plain, self-deprecating, clumsy girls into his clutches and slaughtering them in the night, that would be horror. But as it stands, only his hair is horror. And his painted-on abs.

It's like comparing Dawn of the Dead with Shaun of the Dead. Yeah, both have zombies. But Shaun of the Dead is not horror by default. It's a parody (and a damn good one at that). Dawn of the Dead is terrifying. There's nothing terrifying about romanticizing vampires and making them go to high school. And angels? Unless they're Bartlebe and Loki on a slaughtering bender, they're not horror either. Just because they're fallen angels with a prick streak doesn't make them fit the horror mould.

Every once in a while I'll find true YA horror gems but filter search YA horror on any non-used book website and you'll get the books I mentioned above; which are not horror. Maybe one day the romance vampires will branch off and form their own store-identifying genre instead of getting lumped into the horror one because it's horribly misleading. Why are so many horror books diluted with romance as a main plot? Because they're not horror. They're paranormal romance. But until bookstores start shelving those under their own shelving section, they're lumped into horror, pinking it up for the rest of us. Ick.

So I'll scour used book stores for my long lost horror and read it quietly in the corner until the market turns back around again. Will someone please let me know when they start filtering real horror back into the mix, please?


Sonja said...

I'd love to read a book about Dementors farming people.

But yeah - I agree with you completely. People don't seem to appreciate the nuances of language anymore, preferring to label things with the most convenient descriptor handy. The world is turning to Humpty Dumpties!

Anonymous said...

I loved The Devouring series. Very good and very scary. I think you should check The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey if you haven't yet. I think you would like his novel.


It's funny--I grew up reading RL Stine books (not the goosebumps ones; the other ones), and some series called Frankenstein's Children, and another one that I think was called The Secret Circle. Some of these were romance-influenced, but many weren't. The primary focus was a good scare.

I don't remember when I stopped reading them. Maybe when I was 16'ish and started reading Lurlene McDaniel or something. (Oops: Did I say that out loud?)

You're right, though. There isn't even really an RL Stine of YA lit today.

(p.s. Did you ever read RL Stine's adult novel, Superstitious? I remember being freaked out by it and liking it a lot, but I read it ages ago, so maybe it's not as good as I remember ...)

Emily said...

Exactly why I have been refilling my shelves with the likes of Christopher Pike, R.L. Stein, Richie Tankersley Cusick, Lois Duncan, Lael Littke and the like. I fulfill my contemporary horror needs with the 'adult' sections of bookstores :)

Great post!

Mari Miniatt said...

Funny thing was, when I was younger I did not care for the horror being marketed to kids my age. I was already reading King, Lovecraft, and Rice, so I felt it was too easy. Too quick with the scares.
As I got older and watched the new group of horror for YA come out, I realized those book back then at least could scare you.
I totally agree that most of the stuff marketed today is not horror.
Maybe someone like Stein or himself could come out with a series that is horror, but kids love. I was too old for Goosebumps, but my boys devoured the books. (the books were way above their reading level at the time, but they did not care.)

Jill of The O.W.L. said...

I agree! I loved horror books growing up. Read a ton of John Saul (yes he wasn't YA!) Loved them all. I read The Devouring and it was good - spooky - but not full horror. The best kind horror book I read is a book called Breathe. Very spooky and creepy!

James Garcia Jr said...

Fantastic! Well said. I completely agree with you. I didn't start devouring books until I stumbled across Jay Anson's "The Amityville Horror" and Michael Slade's "Headhunter". I then moved on to King and Clive Barker to name a few...
My novel, "Dance on Fire", is a crossover, marrying elements of horror and Christianity; however, I could never label it as horror because it isn't.
Again, well said.

Donna (Bites) said...

Add me to the reading beyond my years back when I was 12, 13, 14. I was reading Stephen King and Anne Rice and all of that. But there was something about those YA horror books that I loved. They game out just at the right time for me and I gobbled them up!

Jess, I've never read Superstitious but I've heard of it. I might have to seek it out! You really can't go wrong with RL Stine.

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