by Kristina Wright
Horror was my genre of choice for most of my teen years. Nothing was too scary. Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Peter Straub, , Richard Matheson, Clive Barker... they were my heroes. I read the classics-- Dracula, Frankenstein, Poe's short stories and poetry. I saw all of the horror movies. The Evil Dead, Rosemary's Baby, Burnt Offerings, The Omen, The Exorcist... I loved them all. Unlike Charlotte, there were a couple of horror novels that did scare the bejesus out of me, most notably King's Pet Sematary. Holy freakin' crap, that book scared the hell out of me. I had to put it away for a couple of weeks and the only way I could finish it was to read it during the daytime. ::shiver::
I have become a big 'fraidy cat in my old age. I don't watch many horror movies anymore. Even those grainy trailers for the Paranormal Activity movies freak me out. I won't see anything that has children in it. Children in horror movies = terrifying. But it's not just children in horror movies that scare me. It's anything kid related that has been used in a horror movie. I'm afraid of baby monitors. Seriously. I rarely use the one we have because the quiet static is creepy and every sound is amplified to a nerve wracking level that reminds me of a horror movie. I'm terrified that I'm going to dream about one of the babies whispering, "I'm coming to kill you, mama," and wake up from the nightmare to discover it isn't a dream. Ahhhhhhhh!
When I lost my taste for horror films, I started avoiingd the movies that involved supernatural elements-- demons and ghosts and the like. Then I stopped watching anything seemed like it could happen because, hey, it could happen. Now I even stay away from the horror that's seems more like over-the-top blood fest than horror. A coworker loaned me the first Saw movie several years ago and I returned it to her three months later, unwatched. Just the concept freaked me out. I really have no idea how realistic/scary the Saw movies are. I just can't watch them to find out. Sigh. I'm a wimp now.
My Barnes & Noble has done away with the horror section and books that were once considered horror have been reshelved in general fiction or fantasy and science fiction. There seems to be a lot of Young Adult horror. I suppose there just aren't many writers writing horror anymore? Or has the fantasy genre simply been expanded to include horror and sparkly vampires and anything that isn't grounded in reality? Or is it the horror genre that has become so diluted and vague that it no longer fits its own description? I really don't know. I still read horror or horror-ish stories, but I rarely realize that what I'm reading is horror until I'm well into the story. Probably for the best--otherwise I would miss some really great authors.
The thing that always stood out to me about horror was how few women horror writers there were (are?). I have no explanation for that, either. It's just one of those things that has always puzzled me. Is it a gendered thing-- men won't read horror written by women? Women are perceived as being too "soft" to write good horror? Women aren't interested in writing horror? (I know better than that.)
I am delighted to know three women authors who have sent a few shivers up my spine. One is our own Charlotte Stein, whose story "Dolly" in Red Velvet and Absinthe gave me chills the first time I read it and I still read it two more times. Charlotte is one of the funniest writers I know--but she is also one of the best at creating dark, descriptive pieces that leave me with goosebumps.
Then there's Kristina Lloyd, whose story "Living Off Lovers" in my anthology Dream Lover, was described by one reviewer as "probably the creepiest" story in the collection. And it is! But it's also erotic as hell and worth more than one read. Trust me.
The best horror story I've read in the past several years (straight horror, with no erotica or romance chaser to give my poor faltering heart something else to focus on) is Shanna Germain's Trill. This one will stay with you, folks. It's truly... horrific. Seductively so. I've read it several times, trying to pinpoint the exact moment when every muscle in my body goes tense. The moment when I want to stop reading. That moment seems to start earlier and earlier every time I read Shanna's story, but yet I still have to finish reading it. Again. Every time. Even though I know how it ends and that I will not like it even though I love it. Read it and tell me I'm wrong. Read it and try to stay relaxed and not hold your breath and not cringe and not squirm in your seat with discomfort. The kind of discomfort that starts as a little bug crawling on the hairline at the back of your neck and ends with you clawing at your own flesh just to make it stop.
Whew. I may not read (or watch) much anymore, but I still love horror. And I hate that I love it.
Now that I have blood under my nails, I think I'll say good night.