The Monsters Have all Grown Old
It is no secret among fright-lovers out there that horror is sinking. We are tired of repeating costumes for Halloween and watching remakes of our favorite monsters. Vampires now own hotels and even space travel close to the sun, ghosts are suddenly good again and werewolves now shave. The problem here has nothing to do with the storylines themselves, but has everything to do with the fact that the 21st century hasn’t given us much in the way of Gothic villains we can have nightmares about. The question here is why?
Monsters didn’t just surface from nowhere you know, people used to be superstitious. Grandmothers used to gather kids round fires at night and tell stories about demons, witches and ghosts, just to make them behave. And while that isn’t common today, less admirable parts of our cultures around the world encouraged them to do so throughout the Dark Ages and even the Victorian Era. Most of those stories were rooted in religion and eyewitness reports by those who claimed to have been visited, chased through the woods by Baba Yaga and scared in the fields by The Stickman.
These incidents, like it or not, gave writers the inspiration to tell scary stories and a curious audience who struggled to decide whether those stories were real or not, ready to read them. But with the coming of the Enlightenment Era, which almost rationalized the non-existence of witchery and supernatural evil, came the aftershock on frightful beliefs. Those who were men of science and metaphysics, convinced us that Lycanthropy (the werewolf curse) was merely a mental disorder and floating spirits were tricks of the mind.
Gothic fiction had existed for centuries before all these happened of course, but it wasn’t until Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto in 1765, that modern horror literature was born. Horace no longer told us just the frightful parts like the authors before him, he built suspense, developed the characters and portrayed realistic fears we can all relate to. Castle of Otranto became an icon and has been adapted into several movies, plays and live action animations since. Every horror story that did any of these three things instantly became a sensation.
Yet as times change, so have minds turned away from Gothic fiction to sci-fi novels, crime thrillers and romance. Only a few novelists and screenwriters today still hold the torch. 21st century writers focus more on alien invasions and zombie apocalypses because that is where the market is, but we want something new. We want creatures that have never been written, storyline that could rarely be imagined and scenes that have never been thought of.
History and myths are littered with creatures who should never be named, scary events which can never be explained without fillers that are obviously fiction. We want to see writers take clues from some of these events and craft Big Bads so scary and realistic no one can ignore them.
In today’s world where people have choices to be scared or not to be, they gravitate easily towards alternative genres. They choose to rarely be frightened, but that isn’t the sole essence of horror literature. It should be commonly known at this point that horror exposes readers to extreme fight or flight situations where one can learn from the mistakes of characters and share in their anxiety without being physically present.
The dangers in horror fiction are certainly more than what most people experience on a daily basis and when those characters manage to survive, It helps viewers and readers develop courage themselves to survive and fight their fears in real life. If we have learnt anything from the Twilight Saga franchise (2008 – 2012) and First Kill (2022), it’s that some monsters are people too.
A proper horror story for the 21st which aims to be iconic, must provide this and help readers understand why a monster behaves the way it does. Is it for survival, pleasure, or to preserve its reputation? We have seen this style in iconic horror portrayals by Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, HP Lovecraft and others. If it must fit this century, it must also be believable.
The hope is that it (no matter who writes it) remains untainted by the sci-fi elements of the 21st century and stays scary with those supernatural classic elements. We want to empathize with the villains and root for them secretly. Whoever can surprise us first with these; whether an experienced writer like Stephen King or a one time author rising from between the cracks, will really truly be crowned the King of Horror.
Haunting of Hill House (2018) Official Netflix Trailer