But, during college my first year, I made friends who actually watched horror stuff. It started with us going to see a completely innocuous movie that had a commercial for the horror movie Mama in the trailers. I couldn't even watch the trailer, I was so freaked out, but they all got excited, and after that went on a horror movie marathon.
It got me thinking about why horror is so powerful, about what it is that scares us the most. This thought continued as I began watching Doctor Who, which has some pretty intense horror-inspired episodes throughout, and then on as I began to read some horror novels for the heck of it. Recently, I got into the TV show Supernatural, which is a horror show. Not very good for my mental health, to be quite honest with you--but extremely well-written and addictive. (Help me.)
In the midst of all this, there was one unifying thought -- some of the most powerful horror films/stories involve children. (Obviously, not all of them. Horror also commonly revolves around shocks, death, and blood and gore.) If you sample the horror world, it becomes very clear that, for some reason, children freak us out.
Think how many horror films have murderous, psychopathic children, or possessed children, or the ghosts of children, as a central figure. Then expand that thought. Think about things reminiscent of childhood, and how often they appear in horror-related stories. I saw this myself very clearly in the way Steven Moffat created horror in many of his Doctor Who episodes ("The Empty Child" is the episode that freaked me the out most, by the way--it's also my favorite). Think about dolls, or clowns, or children's songs being twisted to become something creepy or unearthly. It happens a lot in this genre.
The answer seems fairly clear - we're not afraid of children themselves (or most of us aren't, anyway). We're afraid of corrupted innocence.The loss of innocence is a common theme in all kinds of stories, made powerful by the fact that everyone goes through it at some point. Everyone grows up, and everyone loses the childlike innocence they had at the beginning of their life. This is a natural and accepted part of life--but it's also a kind of tragic, sometimes frightening thing. The loss of innocence, in its worse cases, comes violently and far too soon, such as with abused children.
So it speaks to us on many levels, innocence and the loss of it, and one of those levels is fear. I think horror writers know this, or at least they play on it very well. They take that which is most innocent, children, and other artifacts related to childhood, and then they corrupt it. They play on the natural fear of lost and corrupted innocence and make it into something grotesque and hugely powerful.
So that's basically all I have to say today. That's what I've noticed in my small experience with horror, and I think it's a good point to note, psychologically and as a writer. It certainly helps you when you're trying to cause fear with something you're writing.
Have you noticed the same thing I have with children and horror? Any thoughts or examples?
Images via cgsociety.org and stevenbritton.net.