As a writer I love a good challenge, especially if it’s short and easily conquered (because as a non-Man Booker-winning writer I am also lazy). So a few months ago I was intrigued by this widely shared Reddit thread: What is the best horror story you can come up with in two sentences.
This was the top story:
I begin tucking him into bed and he tells me, “Daddy check for monsters under my bed.” I look underneath for his amusement and see him, another him, under the bed, staring back at me quivering and whispering, “Daddy there’s somebody on my bed.”
You may be of a different opinion to me (i.e. wrong), but I don’t find this scary at all. I much prefer this one:
My sister says that mommy killed her. Mommy says that I don't have a sister.
This one needed better construction but is pretty great:
The doctors told the amputee he might experience a phantom limb from time to time. Nobody prepared him for the moments though, when he felt cold fingers brush across his phantom hand.
And this one:
Don't be scared of the monsters, just look for them. Look to your left, to your right, under your bed, behind your dresser, in your closet but never look up, she hates being seen.
But because it’s Reddit, sometimes the responses are better than the stories:
“It's been watching me for hours now... Sometimes I catch glimpses of its reflexion on the computer screen, but I dare not turn around...”
“You could at least stop masturbating.”
Reading down through the stories a few elements become noticeable. Women, children, darkness, sleep. Most of the stories seem to revolve around hearing or feeling something strange near you just before falling asleep or rousing you from sleep. Creepy children and creepy women are often the cause of the noises or the ones who are dead (see the “sister” and “monster” story above).
I find it interesting that the fears haven’t changed much since the days of Poe and Lovecraft. Simple stories of things that are visible just out of the corner of your eye and that you only hear because it’s quiet at night, and they mostly come at night… mostly.
How do you break these memes? How do you make something scary in broad daylight? Stephen King, one of the best short story writers ever, is a master of altering the setting and making you scared of anything. Derry’s killer clown is often seen in sunlight. Cujo is a wonderfully gruesome story on a hot day in a car. The Moving Finger is a story about a very weird monster, but is really just about a guy who can’t go to the bathroom around other people.
Recently it seems as if we have turned away from traditional monsters to scare us as well. No one sits down with the Devil anymore. Vampires, werewolves and even Frankenstein are action heroes, not midnight terrors.
We also don’t fear animals or nature. There are no wolves at our door. No spiders crawling over our faces while we sleep, laying eggs in our ears, screaming as thousands of baby spiders pour through our sinuses and eating our eyes from the inside out. I couldn’t get that idea out of my head the other night when I noticed a big white-tailed spider on my bedroom ceiling the other night.
Mediums for horror are increasing though. A few months back friends of mine who are also game writers discussed making horror games. There are some great games out there to scare the hell out of you (Slender Game comes to mind). But we were talking cooperative games, ones that would intentionally split your party, cut off your friend’s voice from communications and then introduce an AI character pretending to be your friend. A videogame version of The Thing.
YouTube and Vimeo have a wonderful trove of short horror films (bringing that genre back from the dead… so to speak).
And if you’ll indulge me, the horror film I co-wrote (and won awards for):
So enjoy this haunted time of the year, think of all of the things that terrify you. Listen to some spooky tunes and watch a movie that will have you wide awake in the middle of the night.
Because it’s All Hallows Eve when the dead walk the earth and darkness falls across the land. When creatures crawl in search of blood to terrorize y'all's neighbourhood. And whosoever shall be found, without the soul for getting down, must stand and face the hounds of hell and rot inside a corpse's shell … and though you fight to stay alive your body starts to shiver, for no mere mortal can resist, the evil of the thriller.