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Friday, August 6, 2010

Speculative fiction makes for good horror

As an avid horror fan across all media, I became interested in Old Time Radio while reading Stephen King's nonfiction Danse Macabre, where I found that Bill Cosby's OTR parody "The Chicken Heart" actually parodied a real episode of Lights Out!" I located the show at, as well as other programs that Cosby mentioned in his routine, "Suspense" and "Inner Sanctum Mysteries." From these I eventually got turned onto the science fiction program "Dimension X," which often did versions of Ray Bradbury stories, frequently much creepier than any episode of "Inner Sanctum." After listening to many of these, I realized that I never gave sci-fi enough credit.

The term "speculative fiction" is said to have arisen as a response to science fiction growing too attached to genre convention, sacrificing creativity to retread worn ground. Just because it takes place in space doesn't make a story speculative fiction. Speculation implies an element of "what if?" Ray Bradbury's stories from "Dimension X" have this in spades. What becomes of a smart-home after a nuclear war? Or if an alien invasion is assisted by children? Both were broadcast together as "There Will Come Soft Rains/ Zero Hour."

This satisfies my requirement that a great plot can be great in the abstract, like a philosophical treatise or a thought experiment. I cannot overstate this.

This accounts for my fascination with H.P. Lovecraft. I have spent much more time reading about his work than actually reading it. Though I find his writings inaccessible, the internal coherency of the Lovecraft universe is incredibly appealing to me. His work speculates on the possibility of gods in a realistic way, positing that an actual experience of the incomprehensible could only lead to madness. Speculation about "ancient astronauts," as At the Mountains of Madness is sometimes described, is similarly enthralling.

Sorting through my list of favorite horror films, my first post to this blog, I see that though not all of my films satisfy this requirement. But many do. Se7en is a speculation about ethics, American Psycho about the limits of personality, Antichrist about perceptions of women, and onward.

The horror film is a place to say something. The reason my top 10 horror films is only 9 long is because the genre is polluted by vacuous violence.

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