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The Rebirth of Elegant Horror
Does "elegant horror" seem like an oxymoron to you? It shouldn't. There was a time when horror shared the same literary and theatrical heights as classical romances or tragedies. Then somewhere on the timeline of intelligent entertainment history, mainstream horror veered. Went not so much the way of erotica as porn, if you will.
Now, for me, particularly cinematically speaking, one of the great harbingers of the return to elegant horror was actually billed as a sci-fi flick. Bet you know which one I mean: Ridley Scott's Alien. Some may argue that The Exorcist holds the honor of beginning the rebirth, but I see that classic as being a hallowed outlier, a rebel in a rising age of schlocky living deads, shocky chainsaw massacres and scream-queening slasher nightmares that still, of course, rule a considerable kingdom of gruesome.
Is it weird, then, that I -an author often billed as a horror writer- never learned to love the likes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween or Saw? Well, not really, when you consider that my early influences were Edgar Allan Poe and Rod Serling. It's true that the morés of Poe's and Serling's times repressed the grotesque. But I believe, even if that were not the case, they still would have insisted that the gore serve the story. Not the other way around.
Which brings me back to our modern times and why I feel we are enjoying a new age of elegant horror. Literarily speaking, it's been coming for a while now. Consider Guillermo del Toro (whether in books or movies, dude kicks elegant horror ass), Thomas Harris, Anne Rice and Peter Straub. Now, don't be snippy because I didn't include Stephen King. I am a great admirer of Stephen King. He is legendary. But I don't believe his work can be defined as elegant horror, even though some very elegant horror movies have been made based on his novels.
Cinematically speaking, today's return to elegant horror occurs more often on the small screen than the great, silver one (if you can call today's t.v. screens small these days): The Walking Dead, American Horror Story, my personal favorite Hannibal and even the Netflix yawner Hemlock Grove fits the mold. Were you a fan of Dexter? I can see that.
So. What's my point? My point is that there is, and always has been, a large audience enthralled with the kind of horror that cuts deeper than a meat clever or a chainsaw; that probes softer, more vulnerable parts of our humanity than mere muscle tissue and organs. The old masters understood how to do that. So do the contemporary masters, and I am in absolute and bizarrely chilling heaven to see the literary and cinematic worlds come to their senses and embrace them.
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Think you might be a closet elegant horror fan? Here's some of my favorites to cut your teeth on...or deeply into your soul:
Movies: The Exorcist, Alien, The Shining, Rosemary's Baby, Pumpkinhead (much ignored and underrated), Let the Right One In (the original Swedish flick), Let Me In (the British/American version of Let the Right One In), The Silence of the Lambs, The Sixth Sense, The Others
TV series: Hannibal, The Walking Dead, American Horror Story
Authors: Thomas Harris, Anne Rice (particularly her earlier works), Peter Straub
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K.L. Nappier is the author of "The Full Wolf Moon Trilogy", "Voyagers", "Strange Eight" and other supernatural thrillers and dark fiction. For more information, go to www.KLNappier.com