As I’ve said before, I like to mix genres, horror and fantasy or horror and science fiction being my two most frequently practiced interbreeding experiments. Its a headache for agents and industry folk because if you don’t get it right, it’s difficult to market. Of course, lots of examples of successful hybrid screenwriting exist: Alien(s) (horror, sci-fi), Blade Runner (film noir, sci-fi), DOOM (horror, sci-fi), Pan’s Labyrinth (fantasy, horror) – the list goes on and on. But there’s a grey area that one can find themselves, where something fantastic and fanciful may also be dark and dangerous. So where is the line between “fantasy” and “horror”? If you don’t use elves and ogres and talking trees, but you do incorporate magical elements into your fancies of fright, when have you crossed the line from wonder into plunder?
I’m working on a screenplay/graphic novel that involves just such a challenge. Tonally, I believe I’ve got it sound; the setting is bleak with a background of violence and war, thereby foreshadowing something wicked this way coming. However it also involves a manifestation of sorts of my main character’s imagination. It’s one of those hero versus himself stories, where the antagonist is more the circumstances that surround his life and his own demons than a big monster out to impregnate someone with their multi-fanged, demon seed. So there’s no clear-cut villain in my story, or rather, it’s up to the reader (viewer?) to decide where their loyalties reside. One could attribute the same sort of description to a film about, say, a serial killer. Although, something like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer isn’t exactly “horror”, is it? It’s more thriller/documentary/drama, I think. Yet if he was possessed by the devil and did the exact same things, it would be horror, right? To be honest, I just don’t know anymore. It’s kind of like that loose judicial definition of obscene: I know it when I see it.
As far as I’m concerned, horror makes the viewer or reader feel scared all the time. You constantly dread a possible event or series of events that will render your character irrevocably changed forever in what is likely the worst possible way. It’s the participation of an extreme experience just for the thrill of it, like jumping out of an airplane or sticking your tongue on a nine-volt battery. In fantasy, we sense we’re being lead on a journey of discovery and that, while we may come up against evil things that want to suck the eyeballs out of our heads, we will prevail and be better for the battle – kind of like the difference between suffering pain for gain, as opposed to just a hangover.
If those assertions are to be regarded as fact, what, then, is fantasy/horror? Well, in my case, the reader is full of dread, scared a lot, shocked out of their comfort zone, but can see that their hero is on a journey where he will ultimately fulfill his true destiny. There will be triumph, but at a dire cost. There will be shouts of victory, but they will be misted with bile.
And to quote our good old pal Jigsaw, “Oh yes, there will be blood.”
*photo courtesy of Lisa de Araujo