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Horror fiction is a genre of literature, which is intended to, or has the capacity to scare its readers, inducing feelings of horror and terror. Horror can be either supernatural or non-supernatural. The genre has ancient origins which were reformulated in the eighteenth century as Gothic horror, with publication of the Castle of Otranto (1764) by Horace Walpole.

Supernatural horror has its roots in folklore and religious myth, focusing on death, the afterlife, evil, the demonic and the principle of evil embodied in The Devil.[1] These were manifested in stories of witches, vampires, werewolves and ghosts and demonic pacts such as that of Faust.

Eighteenth century Gothic horror drew on these sources in such works as Vathek (1786) by William Beckford, The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) and The Italian (1797) by Ann Radcliffe and The Monk (1796) by Matthew Lewis. A lot of horror fiction of this era was written by women and marketed at a female audience, a typical scenario being a resourceful female protagonist menaced by fiends in a gloomy castle.[2]

The Gothic tradition continued in the 19th century, in such works as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818) Edgar Allan Poe's short stories, the works of Sheridan Le Fanu, Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), and Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897). Enduring icons of horror derived from these stories include Dr Frankenstein and Frankenstein's Monster, Count Dracula, and Dr Jekyll and his evil double Mr Hyde.[3] Other legendary figures of horror from the nineteenth century are the murderers Burke and Hare, Sweeney Todd and Jack the Ripper.

Great horror writers of the early twentieth century include H.P. Lovecraft and M.R. James.

Categories of horror are all similar, in the use of overwhelming dark, evil forces and demonic aspects. The different types of horror are: Dark fiction; this is a psychological type of horror, historical horror; where the stories find place in the past or in realistic settings or psychological horror; where the characters' psychological problems generate horror.

The trait of the genre of horror is that it provokes a response, emotional, psychological or physical within each individual which causes someone to react with fear. In order for that response to be elicited there are different techniques used, such as unreal figures (phantoms, mummies, etc.), or more real situations and figures (serial killers, rapists, kidnappers). The main ingredient within horror is that the reader or viewer can relate to it somehow and that there’s always something unexpected on its way. The whole horror genre is build up upon people’s fear of the unknown and anxieties. According to H.P. Lovecraft: "The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown."

The best-known contemporary horror writer is Stephen King. King was responsible for the development of the horror genre in the seventies until the nineties. King's unique and intelligent stories have managed to convince and attract a larger audience, which he was prized for by the U.S. National Book Foundation in 2003. King received the prestigious, Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters prize for his fine work.

In the years from the eighties and up, the genre of horror has gained a massive amount of popularity, not only in literature but also in the making of movies and mediums like music videos. Examples of these are Michael Jackson’s use of the horror aspect in his hit Thriller music video (1984) and movies like Saw (2003) which has garnered significant commercial success, and is now an entire film series.

Achievements in horror fiction are recognized by numerous awards. The Horror Writer's Association presents the Bram Stoker Awards for Superior Achievement, named in honor of Bram Stoker, author of the seminal horror work, Dracula.[4] The International Horror Guild presents its own annual awards, as do organisations such as the Australian Horror Writers Association with its annual Australian Shadows Award. Other important awards for horror literature are as subcategories included within general awards for fantasy and science fiction in such awards as the Aurealis Award.

Today, horror is one of the most popular categories of film. Examples of well-received horror movies include The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Exorcist and A Nightmare On Elm Street.[5]

References

  1. ^ Rosemary Jackson (1981) Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion. London, Methuen: 53-5, 68-9
  2. ^ Davenport-Hines, Richard (1998) Gothic: 400 Years of Excess, Horror, Evil and Ruin. London, Fourth Estate.
  3. ^ Christopher Frayling (1996) Nightmare: The Birth of Horror. London, BBC Books
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ Chad Austin. "Horror Films Still Scaring – and Delighting – Audiences". North Carolina State University News. http://news.ncsu.edu/features/103106_HorrorFilms.htm. Retrieved 2006-01-16. 

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