Am I Writing a Horror/Slasher?


My current WIP does feature a Predator-type creature killing a few people, and yet I don’t consider my story to be horror at all. Chiefly because it’s missing two of the key tropes or ingredients that modern horror has:

Isolation: Your motley crew of teenage misfits arrive at a cabin in the woods. Or maybe it’s a research station in Antarctica, or passengers marooned on an island. Could even be a space ship or station, but if you’re going the modern day contemporary route it’s vital that when you’re characters arrive at their final destination one of them holds up their cellphone and proclaims that ‘there’s no signal…’ At any rate, you want your audience to know that even if this band could call for help, it’s a long way off and not likely to arrive in time to save everybody (you can heighten things further by having help finally show up only to be taken down by the killer). If Texas Chainsaw Massacre had taken place in a suburb then we’d just be watching Leatherface chasing people with his chainsaw only to be tasered by a police helicopter. Just a typical day in my neighbourhood. This physical isolation is obviously one of the most cliched elements of modern horror/slasher movies, because it’s the easiest and doesn’t cost a lot of money if all your action is taking place around one cabin. But isolation can also be psychological, or maybe our hero has learned some startling truth about the world but doesn’t know who really is or isn’t an alien vessel piloted by hyper-intelligent mice.

Anyway, my story doesn’t really have that. There’s a moment when one of the characters is a little traumatised and confused by what’s happened, but she soon starts finding real help and answers. Which brings to the next key element of what would make it a horror:

The killer is unreasonable: You simply can’t reason with it. It’s supernatural or just too alien for its motives to be understood by the protagonists. Or maybe it’s a zombie driven solely by instinct, or a machine that won’t stop or rest until it’s carried out the instructions it was given. In any case there’s just no way to reason or talk your way out of it killing you. Now there may be some exceptions to this – modern vampires, for example, are usually intelligent and can have a full range of emotions. It’s just that their need to feed on human blood often overwhelms any other sense they may have, again reducing them to creatures acting by instinct instead of reason (there’s probably some kind of metaphor in all that).

So in my WIP the antagonists are intelligent and can theoretically reasoned with. The problem is that they consider themselves superior and therefore aren’t likely to be persuaded by someone they think is beneath them. But Jennifer does try, bless her, and she does begin to understand what the threat is and what it wants. And most importantly how to beat it.

I suppose it’s a bit like Doctor Who, where some bits can seem shocking and scary, but it’s a family show and you know The Doctor will always figure this stuff out in the end. (Although my niece did used to be terrified by one episode of Dr Who, which was the werewolf episode. She was never frightened of the werewolf itself – just one scene before the monk turns where his eyes just go all black for a second. That she would always refuse to watch).

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