Last Saturday I was at Bristol Horror Con; an event to celebrate horror in literature, film, music, games and art.
It was a small, yet well organised and well attended event. The traders hall held everything from artists, authors, and publishers to jewellery and houseware designers, and zombie survival courses. Sadly, there were a few no-shows, and in such a tightly packed hall, the empty tables were a noticeable blot.
We couldn’t stay for the whole event, but I did some networking and attended two great panel discussions. I had a long and interesting chat with audio book producers In Ear Entertainment, and discussed which books are better or worse than their movies, and the indeniable excellence of Sharknado, with the guys from Sinister Horror Company.
The first panel I attended was The Use and Abuse of Horror in Literature led by Pete Sutton of Bristol Festival of Literature and Far Horizons e-magazine. He was joined by writer Mike Carey, author Sara Jayne Townsend, writer and games designer Jonathan L Howard, and copywriter Rosie Sharratt.
The panel sought first to define horror: “Horror takes you to psychological brinks, and makes you peer over” (PS), “The kind of horror that will get into your soul, and stay with you” (SJT). The panel also agreed that trends in the subject of horror media, reflected the trends in the over-riding fears of society: “You’re writing about things that scare you, or things that scare society” (SJT), “Horror’s useful for considering real life things” (RS).
The conversation came around to monsters, and the social fears that they represent: “Every horror monster that lasts, is the externalisation of something in us” (MC), “The horror comes from within” (SJT), and Rosie Sharratt defined the monstrous as being something “both threatening and inpure”.
And you can’t talk monsters without talking zombies, and their continued endurance in the horror sphere. Mike Carey summed their popularity up nicely by stating that “zombies are animals and corpses. They remind us of where we come from, and where we end up.” He also felt that we are “at peak zombie now”. This forces the question, can we do anything new with the zombie trope? But he felt that “the more familiar the tropes are, the easier it is to find a sneaky way in.” We’re seeing this in the rise of traditional monsters becoming romance heroes, or comedy characters: “There are so many things that use the horror tropes, that don’t define themselves as horror.” (MC)
When the panel opened up to questions, I asked what they felt may be the next trends in horror, in line with current societal fears. Pete Sutton wondered if immigration may become a new trend (the fear of ‘the other’, or ‘the stranger’ was a popular horror trope in the 1950s), or if the emerging trend of cosmic horror might expand along with increasing astronomical discoveries. Mike Carey wondered if genetic manipulation may expand as scientific experimentation continues on this path. This brings us back to zombies again. And Sara Jayne Townsend wondered if the sheer amount of information that is available on us, publicly, via the internet, may become a horror trend.
The second panel was Gore Vs Psychological Terror: Is less more in horror? led by Ti Singh of the Bristol Bad Film Club. He was joined by Mark Adams of Hellbound Media, writer Thomas David Parker, and writer Ken Shinn.
Thomas David Parker felt that “the fashion today is more psychological, more the slow burn” because “it’s very easy to do gore badly, and then it’s ridiculous.” He thought that, to work well, gore had to be transforming for the victim, to signify that “this is the point of no return.”
Ti Singh felt that the ‘less is more’ approach worked in horror, stating “it’s what you think you see, or what you think is going on, that’s where the fear is”, and that “it’s not about the violence itself, but the threat of violence, and the waiting for violence.” A lot of films work to build tension by breaking down tropes and expectations. By not putting the frights in when viewers would expect them, by leaving them waiting, leaving them wrong-footed.
Mark Adams found that modern horror was seeing a return to fantasy, that franchises were “building their own mythology.” The panel felt that this was due to the current societal situation, that “the darker the world is, the more fantastical the horror has to be, so that we have that escapism.” (TDP)