Growing up, I never would have called myself a horror fan. I liked creepy, gothy things, but horror? No, thanks. I was never into the blood and guts and just avoided it for the most part, even as I loved every second of all things creepy. For me there was a line between creepy and horror, and that line was gore.
The moment that the character is stabbed is not the moment horror is born. Horror walks the line of suspense, keeping the entire world of the story contained within a tightly coiled spring. The moment the monster appears, attacks, maims, etc — that’s the moment the spring comes undone, and then (if it’s not the climax) the spring begins to coil back down, ready to leap again.
The scare doesn’t come from violence. The scare comes from a delicate rhythm of tension and release, of the unknown threat or unseen danger finally being realized. In horror, sometimes the most powerful jolts are based on the things you don’t see or don’t expect. It’s jarring.
But that jolt alone does not a horror story make. The best analogy I heard is that one spark does not start a fire unless there’s something surrounding it to catch flame. A single moment won’t set the way for a horror story unless you’ve done the work and set the rest of the scene.
The moment I realized horror was something I loved came from a video game, Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly.
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