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. 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 and 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-type show. (I think my opinion on horror may be changing--or at least my tolerance of it.)
In the midst of all this, I had one unifying thought--some of the most powerful horror stories involve children. (Obviously, not all of them. Horror also commonly revolves around shocks, death, and blood and gore. However, it is a common motif.)
Even as someone very new to the horror genre, it's clear to me that this is a powerful concept. But why does it appear so much?
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.
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 invoke fear with something you're writing.
Any more thoughts or examples?
Images via cgsociety.org and stevenbritton.net.