Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Anatomy of a Horror Setting #3-7: Horror Invasion

Is it incredulous or inconceivable to believe that an alien invasion could be the driving force of horror? There have been numerous invasion stories. Most of them do not come across as being creepy, scary, horrifying or even particularly terror-filled even with all the screaming that tends to accompany them. On the other hand there are great examples that fit perfectly into the horror mould. The best alien invasion horror has two versions, each called Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It is no coincidence that the next famous example also has two versions--War of the Worlds. Both of these are large-scale invasion stories. This does not have to be the case. At the small end of the scale there is The Thing, a remake of a non-horror invasion, which covers a broad spectrum of horror.

What is the first thing that this kind of story requires? Does it have to be amazing special effects; ships flying through the air, death rays vaporising all in their path, or grisly alien metamorphoses, and gory experiments of anatomy? Those don’t hurt in the cinematic medium, but are not necessary in the textual medium. H.G. Wells penned War of the Worlds and it saw publication in 1898. The horror of the situation in this seminal invasion novel runs deeper than its movie representations. It’s not about the number of deaths, or the exact how of the deaths, its about the portrayal of them. Horror needs to be about eliciting that eponymous emotion. The details do not matter nearly as much as the way they are put together. Since it is about emotion the best option is empathy.

It is a fine line between science fiction and horror in an invasion story. The events in the science fiction invasions leave the audience to empathise on their own. The horror tale will, or should, help the audience to empathise. For example take a single death. Who the victim is defines the response a stranger will have to their death. Children get a stronger response than an adult; women are more sympathetic than men, especially a mother versus a father. To get the maximum response requires contact with the people who are directly affected by the death. A scientist witness to the destruction of the invasion has much less impact than the father trying to get his children out of harms way. This is essential to any horror, and although it is about characters it can dictate your setting.

Music: Invaders by Iron Maiden and Tommyknockers by Blind Guardian.

Iron Maiden: Number of the Beast
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Blind Guardian: Tales From The Twilight World

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