Friday, March 4, 2016

Why Horror Novels are Different From Horror Movies

Have I told you about the time my mom invited me over to watch the Japanese (original) version of Ju On: The Grudge? I've told this story a lot because this was the straw that broke the camel's back. I haven't watched a scary movie since and this was like in 14 years ago.
So here's what happened: I dropped the kids off at school and head over to my mom's. She's like all excited to watch this Japanese import. I knew it was a ghost story but I have never watched a Japanese one before so I didn't really know what to expect.
Apparently, they are experts at this sort of thing. If I had watched this movie by myself (who would DO that?) I would have bailed on it right away but because I was with my mom and because she kept calling me a wuss, I watched the whole thing! I watched the creepy ghost kid, I watched the creepy thing making guttural noises from its open mouth, I watched ev-er-y-thing, and I kinda wished I hadn't.

I drove home after the movie shaken up with horrible images from the film racing through my mind. That night, I made my husband keep the light on. In fact, we may have slept with the light on for a couple of days and I had to take showers with him in the room so he could make sure there wasn't a lady with hair in her face standing in the shower with me, putting her nasty, angry ghost fingers in my hair.
So in a nutshell, Ju On ruined me for life. Horror movies are off the table. There is no reason to go through all of that again-the payoff was zero. I got nothing out of it. When people find this out about me, they often squint their eyes and tilt their heads and ask, "But you're a Stephen King fan! You read horror novels night and day!"
True, true. I am a Stephen King fan, I own all his books in hardcover and I have read the scarier ones more than once! Why? How are they different than a movie? (and let's not talk about Stephen King books turned into movies, save for a few gems, most of them are utter crap)
Here's the deal:
I trust my own mind. While I'm reading a horror novel, the pictures in my mind only go so far. If something really scary gets in there, my mind sort of hurries it along until the story goes on. A written story moves pretty slowly over the span of days, even weeks. It's not a horror fest like a movie that has to tell the whole story in two hours. There's a lot of down time in a novel, with bursts of scary.
See, a director wants to show you some scary stuff. He wants you to finish the movie and be scared. He wants you to tell your friends how scared you were and they will want to go see it so they can be scared too. The director's mind has all these scary images floating around in his mind and he wants to show you--to horrify you.
My mind, while I'm reading a book, does not have this goal. My mind isn't trying to conjure up the scariest, most graphic images it can. The author can try--and the good ones succeed--at getting my heart rate up a little and worrying about the characters and watching the horror play out, but then I close the book and it all goes away. Nothing sticks.
Very rarely, something will stick.
It's happened.
But I didn't have to sleep with the light on and the fear only lasted a few minutes because my mind didn't really develop the image very clearly; unlike a movie where you can't get those scenes out of your head no matter how hard you try.
So there you have it. The difference between a horror movie and a horror novel as told by me: Lover of the latter; sworn enemy of the aforementioned.


  1. Funny, I had a similar experience with the American version of The Grudge. I had spent the better part of my twenties drowning in horror films. I couldn't get enough. I saw everything. But my relationship with horror films slowly began to change, and that movie was like the catalyst for basically giving up on them for a very long time. It's only very recently that I've begun to get back into horror films, and at that, I've been very selective about what I choose to see.

    1. Thanks Corey! If I can ask you, which horror movies do you watch now? I mean, what's your criteria?


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