On Horror

While I agree with [Noël] Carroll [in his article “Why Horror?”] that the pleasure of horror is linked to feelings of curiosity and fascination, his argument only really engages the scenario of the unknown, particularly the subject of monsters.  His concern centers on the discovery of the identity or explanation for the creature.  Though his observations are perceptive, he fails to address other avenues of the genre.

Rather than the subject of the unknown and the curiosity viewers have for the fascinating yet horrific creature, I find the concept of horror of the common and the repulsive much more interesting.  Fascination with an unnatural being is not exactly a bold idea.  But why do people derive pleasure from the murderer, the serial killer, the gory violence?
I think the central feelings that allow these things to become pleasurable still revolve around the basic fascination and curiosity that Carroll suggests, but they are achieved differently than in the imagination-stimulating monster.  Here, the fascination focuses on the possibility rather than the impossibility of an event.  The idea that something so horrifying actually could happen in a non-fantastic scenario is a thrilling and terrifying thought.  The curiosity stems from the questions of why the killer kills, will the killer be caught, and how he will kill the next victim.  The last question in particular is interesting because it deals with the fascination of the repulsive.  The viewer’s curiosity is aroused by wanting to know the extent to which horrible deaths can be contrived.  A movie like Saw, for instance, creates a fascination and curiosity for the next level of disgustingness.  This sort of curiosity is far more disturbing and, I believe, more complex than the essence of the monster narrative.

– Nick Maranto

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