Back in 2004 I wrote a paper in college exploring the evolution of horror in the film industry. The main premise of the paper was that major studios started including the gore and violence B films used to compete with mainstream horror, thus squelching the B film market. As a result, B films had to grow increasingly violent in order to compete with the mainstream, resulting in a discourse of gore and violence. It’s still happening today. I wonder sometimes where the line between tasteful and tasteless was, and how long ago we crossed it.
Pardon this momentary digression. A month or so back, Nicole Cushing wrote an article about horror writers who derive their inspiration from films. You can check that out here. The reason I mention her post is because what I tried to accomplish in my latest piece of flash fiction goes against the grain of her proposition. I have read my fair share of horror, but with “Sixty-Minute Sentence” I was responding to a phenomenon I stumbled upon while writing a college essay about horror films. By stumbled upon I mean found many people who had already made the observation relating to film I’m about to discuss. While this doesn’t make me a writer who doesn’t read, it definitely makes me a writer who can’t deny the influence of horror film on his work.
Hitchcock’s Psycho let the mind supplement the story. Instead of depicting violence, it was left to the viewers’ imagination. Today films like Saw leave nothing to the imagination. I think that’s a bit of a shame, but that’s probably the old man in me lamenting the sacrifice of the old for the new.
Essentially horror films did no different than the American prison system did back in the early nineteenth century. They started by leaving punishment within the walls of the prison to the imagination of civilians. Over time, however, civilians became exposed to what was happening behind closed doors. For some, the reality transcended their concept of punishment. For others, meh, it wasn’t so bad.
Depictions of hell follow a similar trend. They strike me as vague in The Bible. Punishment was left to the imagination of the audience. Today we have a clearer image of hell, one which is so tame for some that they want to become inhabitants.
Maybe there is a place for increasingly violent depictions of punishment and fear-inducing scenarios. If our mind can’t disturb itself, perhaps we need to seek out material that will disturb us. That’s not always my cup of tea. My mind takes me places that sometimes I wish I didn’t have to go. I don’t need anyone to take me to the darkest depths of the human psyche, so I stick with tame writing like that written by Stephen King, and I avoid the torture/rape/gore.
With “Sixty-Minute Sentence,” I tried my best to blend the old and the new. I give the reader a bit to chew on, paint a vivid picture of the punishment, but leave the reader to imagine the closing shot in their head. To go one step further, the form of punishment used in the story is a chemical which draws horror from the victim’s mind. So it is a brief exploration of show vs. leaving it to the imagination both in the context of horror film and in the context of the prison system. The victim is a prisoner who has committed terrible atrocities.
I can’t help but imbue my work with some semblance of justice. I’m kind of wimpy like that when it comes to horror, but it appears I’m not the only one. The more I look for places to submit the more I see resistance to violence against the innocent, particularly animals and children. I’m down with that. There’s enough evil in the real world and I don’t want to walk away from a story with a knot in my gut that reinforces the darkness I already see in the world. I gravitate more towards supernatural horror. That’s the kind of horror that makes my eyes water, that used to make me creep around corners to avoid poltergeists and monsters.
My latest really doesn’t work in the vein of what scares me, however. It’s my attempt to mediate the fine line between leaving nothing to the reader’s imagination and using the reader’s imagination to induce fear. The reader has the power to choose how disturbing or frightening the story is. This returns the power to the reader, or at least that’s what I hope it does.
Hope you enjoy.
You can read my latest at the link below: