The horror genre is one that, through fear, tells us so much about who we are. How we react to fear tells us about ourselves and society, so this Halloween I wanted to highlight some works — across all mediums — that look at stories that pull these emotions out of us so acutely that we have set aside an entire holiday for experiencing them.
The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman
It’s no coincidence that I started this column with a quote from Neil Gaiman, and it’s no coincidence that Gaiman’s most famous work of horror fiction is a children’s book. A winner of The Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2009, it also won the Newberry Medal and it’s a great tale about a young child whose parents are murdered. He escapes the murder as an infant and is raised by ghosts from the town’s cemetery. The book, inspired by The Jungle Book, is tender and at the same time dark, and its themes are universal to the human experience.
The Thing, John Carpenter
You can’t see it, you can’t hear it and you can’t feel it. It’s an alien that takes over bodies, but the crews of scientists in the Artic never know who is friend or who is foe. The Thing is a brilliant film that shows us how fear can erode our trust and very humanity. The Thing doesn’t have to take you over to turn you into a monster, and we become the most frightening monster of all.
The Night of the Living Dead
The father of the modern zombie genre, George Romero’s classic original Night of the Living Dead really captures what horror is about. Toward the end of the movie, the anti-zombie mob goes after the zombie mob and sees the non-zombie protagonist — a black man, significant in 1968 — and, thinking he’s a zombie, shoots and kills him, again, raising the question about which mindless mob is more dangerous.
Oh, the fear of the unknown. All fear really stems from the unknown. What’s in your closet? You think you know, but do you? What’s up there in space? What’s the government doing? And when it seems like you’re the only one who thinks about these things, paranoia sets in. And when those with more power try and hamstring you, well hopelessness prevails. The X-Files had all this and more, and unfortunately it crumbled under the weight of its own mythology, but those first five or so seasons really explore what creepy is. And it wears a suit.
I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
No, this isn’t about the Will Smith movie, although the book that it is very loosely based on has spawned quite a few movies, all very loosely based on the original I Am Legend. An incredible examination of loneliness and the concept of “the other,” the main character in Richard Matheson’s masterpiece is the last surviving human who hasn’t been turned into a vampire. He locks himself up in his home, only goes out during the daytime and hunts vampires. The vampires, who taunt him at night outside his house, originally represent the traditional “other,” or an outside threat that is different from society as a whole. However, he slowly realizes that he has become the other, that the last man on earth has become the monster to these vampires.
Bobby Bozeman is The Star’s entertainment columnist. Follow him on Twitter @Bozeman_Star