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2023-01-08 03:48:35 (UTC)

Two Types of Horror

John Carpenter is quoted something to the effect of: "There are two types of horror. The first is: the horror is the other. It's out there in the world and it's coming to get us. The second is: the horror is us. We're the monsters."

Considering Carpenter created fantastic films such as "The Fog," "John Carpenter's The Thing, (actually a re-imagination of the 1950s film, "The Thing From Another World") ," and the long-lasting "Halloween" franchise, I would like to think he knows what he's talking about.

I decided to take this paradigm and examine some short stories I'd read recently, and analyze them as best I can with this lens. So here's my take on the stories found in _Modern Masters of Horror_ from 1981, a book I picked up at a thrift store in the past couple months. I'll list the title of the story, its author, the category where I feel it best fits, and finally a bit of commentary. I might want to write stories like these myself again one day, so I figure a little research doesn't hurt.

Of course, if someone else is actually reading this and you're the type to dislike descriptions of violence and the occasional spoiler, then I humbly suggest you don't read any further.

Another disclaimer: there seem to be no female authors in this list. A sign of the times, surely. If that offends you, I suggest you re-read a copy of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein," which is leagues better than all of the following stories combined, and about 100 years older.
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THE MONKEY, Stephen King.
HORROR TYPE: The Other.
A man is followed by a possessed, wind-up monkey toy that has somehow become linked back to him in adulthood, affecting his family life and filling him with dread. King's strength is very often his dialogue, which helps bring things back to a human level in an otherwise supernaturally-charged world. The climactic third act could have benefited from this a bit more in my opinion, though he would be hard-pressed to surpass his work from his novel-length "The Shining."

THE NEW TENANT, William Hallahan.
HORROR TYPE: Us.
A man realizes he is becoming possessed by someone first infiltrating his dreams, then his physical body, to leave his soul in a kind of purgatory. The tables are turned as the possessed man in turn escapes this limbo to possess his adulterous wife's body (who has been seeing the CEO on the side, and conspiring to build a business empire with the CEO). Has a mystical-inspired premise and a wry punch line involving a novel interpretation of "corporate takeover."

IN THE CARDS, Robert Bloch.
HORROR TYPE: Us.
A fading star in Hollywood attempts to flee his fate when he hears from a fortune-teller that he will "die on Saturday." After surviving a heart attack, he fails to check the name of the prostitute he solicits, who goes by the name, "Saturday Knight." Basically a story about a man whose bad decisions finally catch up to him.

CLAY, George A. Romero.
HORROR TYPE: Us.
A boy beaten savagely by his abusive father to the point of suffering multiple TBIs is now an adult, and attempts to literally mold the ideal family from clay, with truly horrific results. I admit I'm likely biased since this guy also created several admirable films, personally speaking. However I still like the structure of the revelation and the inclusion of the elements of human weakness and religious succor provided by the priest character.

THE CABIN IN THE WOODS, John Coyne.
HORROR TYPE: The Other.
An author moves into his holiday cabin in the woods, only to find it infested with fungus. He ends up burning down the cabin to escape being smothered by the monstrously-growing fungus. There's a metaphor in this one, briefly hinted at, perhaps commenting on the stagnant scene in literature at the time and Coyne's personal feelings on the matter. Didn't care about the main character, unfortunately.

MAKEUP, Robert R. McCammon.
HORROR TYPE: Us.
A cat burglar steals the wrong makeup case from a Hollywood museum, and eventually finds out the different appliques anoint him with supernatural powers. A little bit of dry humor here and there helps this one bounce around with a steady pace until the end when the thief earns their just desserts.

THE SMALL WORLD OF LEWIS STILLMAN, William F. Nolan.
HORROR TYPE: Us.
Well shit, I thought I didn't like kids... This guy writes a story about a world overrun by children who hunt down adults at night.

THE SIEGE OF 318, Davis Grubb.
HORROR TYPE: Us.
Another tale of children taking revenge on adults for being petty and mistreating. It almost falls into the "other" category in a sense, since the toy soldiers are the adults' undoing, however the family connection that manifests the revenge is what reminds us that personal resentments build until they - literally, in this case - explode.

THE CHAMPION, Richard Laymon.
HORROR TYPE: Us.
A guy becomes roped-into a bizarre gladiatorial battle of life-and-death after stopping at a roadside restaurant. Reminded me of the kind of stories I'd read in the old "Death Rattle" comic books back in the day. Short and to the point, with a nice punch line.

THE POWER OF THE MANDARIN, Gahan Wilson.
HORROR TYPE: The Other.
An interesting take on the notion that authors are more like mediums or conduits, building a bridge from another world to ours instead of manifesting them through the creative process. Messes around with the story-writing format a little bit, utilizing multiple perspectives, which I thought was interesting.

HORROR HOUSE OF BLOOD, Ramsey Campbell.
HORROR TYPE: The Other (?)
Hands-down the most incomprehensible story of the whole lot. Something about a house becoming possessed by the "spirit" of a low-budget horror film that was shot in it?

ABSOLUTE EBONY, Felice Picano.
HORROR TYPE: The Other.
An elegant story with a classic-literature, "elemental evil" feel to it, which I enjoyed despite it being well-trodden ground. Felt very much like an old "weird tale" by H.P. Lovecraft or Algernon Blackwood.

THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL, Graham Masterton.
HORROR TYPE: The Other.
A taxi driver faces off with a voodoo demon after entanglement in a couple murders. Character-driven and somewhat comedic. It was okay.

JULIAN'S HAND, Gary Brandner.
HORROR TYPE: Us.
A man grows an Id-fueled third arm. Inspired by body-horror stuff, like David Cronenberg's films, where some weird thing grows out of a person, which eventually consumes them, compels them to do crazy things, and then ultimately brings about their doom. However, the metaphors regarding corporate life, suburban banality, and unfulfilled desires course strong through this one. Well done.

THE FACE, Jere Cunningham.
HORROR TYPE: Us.
Another take on the suppressed Id, very much like King's "The Dark Half." A single paragraph of exposition provides all the background needed for the punch line at the end, which was telegraphed a mile away. Didn't provide me with the shock I suppose was intended, as I felt it was another "elemental evil" story that went too far past its premise and had no worthwhile conclusion.


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