What is Horror?
The answer, I think, could be an essay in and over itself. Leave us not think of that now. Instead, let’s come up with not the solution but an example. It’s the Police song Synchronicity II.
I’m not quite certain where I heard the song first, my Pandora radio maybe, or perhaps off Brother Todd’s Rock Band game. Wherever I heard it, it captured my imagination for some reason. Maybe just the music; I seldom catch the words first time (ha! most times) through. I thought it was a pretty neat song in any case.
Then I looked up what the song was about and found my opinion changed.
Synchronicity II is, on the surface, about a day in the life of a most unhappy man. This person, called Daddy, lives a nightmarish existence. Married to a troubled woman, he spends breakfast listen to her and the mad Grandmother who also lives with them. Going to work has the no joy at all, especially when talking with the bosses amounts to something along the lever of, and I quote, “a humiliating kick in the crotch”
Going home, Daddy realizes that something is on the verge of breaking. No doubt this is a subconscious consideration of his own mental state. Lord alone knows how he made it this far; Lord knows how much longer he can last.
For the most part, Synchronicity II sounds like an Eighties rock song. With the exception of the crotch line, which hits like a hammer, it may well be lost in the glut of other bands. I know I’ve heard better Police songs, myself.
On this, while the main story of Daddy is hellish, it in no way resembles a Horror story, now does it? We wouldn’t even want this situation even wished upon us., We might well feel for the poor guy. That, though, isn’t unease, and without unease, there is no fear, no horror.
However, there is unease, a great deal of it. At the end of the three stanzas there is a single sentence. Two three lines long, one four lines long. They relate a wholly different and seemingly unconnected set of events. Far away in a Scottish loch something stirs. It rises to the loch’s surface, and, as the song ends, it comes to a nearby cottage.
No blood. No guts. Just unease. What is the thing? (Nessie?) What does it want? What will it do at the cottage? To anyone inside the cottage? With it connected to Daddy and his horrible day (by the title itself, no less), whatever the answers, things don’t bode well. They don’t bode well at all.
Not the flash of red but watching the knife near the neck, knowing you can’t stop it.
Not just seeing something dreadful beyond words but knowing that because it happened once, it can well happen again.
What is horror? “[A] shadow on the door / Of a cottage on the shore / Of a dark Scottish lake / Many miles away.”