Stephen King and the Poetry of Fear

I read a pretty good blog piece about Alan Wake, Limbo, and Stephen King this evening. The point of the piece is that Limbo is better at horror than Alan Wake because Wake is big-budget, telegraphs its scares, and feels the need to explain everything. It’s a pretty good series of short articles, which I enjoyed.

But the author also linked to a 2008 piece by Stephen King about why big-budget Hollywood movies are rarely scary. They explain everything. Their use of CG and blue screens makes them impersonal. They “blast our emotions and imaginations, instead of caressing them with a knife edge.”

It’s a great article, and one that very deftly makes the point that simple horror is better horror. There is a reason, King maintains, that the best horror films are low-budget. Nightmares are simple, and nonsensical. They don’t need a complicated explanation, CG, or even a huge grotesque monster to be scary. King’s inspiration for this piece, a horror movie called The Strangers, only has one known star (Liv Tyler). It’s a simple, uncomplicated film. And it’s (apparently) quite scary.

This might have something to do with why Hell Night is so much scarier than Resident Evil 5.

5 thoughts on “Stephen King and the Poetry of Fear

  1. The only time I was honestly scared reading a book was “The Shining”. Had my knuckles in my mouth when the lady from the bathtub advances on the little boy; man that part was tense.

    That being said, I love Stephen King novels, but not because I find them scary (Shining was the exception). I like the balance that (most) of his books maintain between forces of good and evil.

  2. I couldn’t agree more. King has some misses amongst his hits, but the man is a talented writer and he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to horror.

    I’ve been really disappointed with every big budget horror movie I’ve seen in the past decade or so, but the resurgence of low budget documentary style movies has yielded quite a few gems. Now if only someone would make a horror game where you play as the guy behind the camera, making the documentary, I’d pay good money for that. Something like Michigan, only better.

  3. Unless there are explanations in the downloadable episodes, Alan Wake doesn’t really explain that much. At least, for what it does explain it either leaves that much open and then begins to present new questions. I’m actually kind of hoping the extra episodes answer things.

    That being said, I can’t say the game ever felt like it was trying to scare me; it was more mystery/suspense than horror, and I don’t believe it was ever truly intended to be in the horror genre.:|

  4. Thing is, Stephen King is a two decades late in saying what every horror writer and fan I know has said all along: That the 80s weren’t scary, for the most part, because they showed everything, and because the gore lacked ambiguity. The 90s were about rediscovering atmosphere, and the the next decade has been about realizing that stylized moodiness is as literal as the overly specific explanation.

    Coppola said it years ago: In murder scenes, for example, it’s important to have at least one odd and unexplained detail to haunt the audience.

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