Why Horror?

By Alistair Cross

Black and white image of common cooking utensils.

When someone finds out you’re a writer, the first question is, “What do you write?” Almost invariably, the second question is, “Why horror?” It’s a simple enough question, though not necessarily an easy one to answer – but having given it some thought, I’ve narrowed it down to two parts.

The first reason I write horror is that, very simply, it’s just what I do. Regardless of my initial intentions, the stories I write tend to turn dark very quickly, with or without my consent. When asked if I might one day write outside the horror genre, I always say that yes, I would, if a storyline required it … but I don’t think I’d ever get entirely away from that underlying vibration of eeriness. It’s stylistic, part of who I am, and I’m not sure I could erase it if I wanted to.

The other reason I write horror is because it allows me to explore the deeper layers of life and the human experience. I can’t imagine trying to squeeze questions of faith, of good and evil, into a Romance or Western novel. Though it could surely be done, horror allows for more immediate and natural access to the philosophical questions that have plagued us since the beginning of time: Why am I here? What will happen when I die? Is there a God? A devil? By the very nature of the horror genre, these questions are presented … and they demand to be answered. When faced with real horror, one is immediately thrust into the deepest end of the self; one is forced to find his or her core beliefs very quickly, and these are the aspects of humanity that I want to explore. I want to see human nature at its most unpretentious. I want to see faith found the hard way, the natural way – which never authentically comes from anywhere except the core self – the very pit of who we are beneath our social standings, our idle chit-chat, and our exteriors of collected calm.

Horror is so much more than blood and guts, madness and murder. And it’s not synonymous with “Slasher.” Horror is a direct tap to the core of the human experience. It allows no pretense because it strips a person to their basics. It’s instinct, it’s nature. It’s real, and for all its misunderstanding, I believe horror is one of the most moral genres. Horror changes people – for the better. It strengthens and teaches. It shifts perspective and rearranges priority.

The facing of fear is the cornerstone of human evolution. It’s painful, but without pain, we are stagnant and when I sit down to write, I’m not much interested in anything except plunging into the darkest depth of my character’s minds, of reaching in and finding out what lies there … and what they’re most afraid of. I then invariably find myself wondering what said character’s core response to that fear might be … and how coming face to face with it might change them. I want to witness the transition that takes place when he or she has dealt with their demons – that’s what makes writing so satisfying for me.

I don’t think it’s something I could fully explore in any other genre.

And that is “why horror.”