(Pre-reading note: I have no idea if any of this rambling will make sense. There might be huge holes in my arguments/paragraphs/basic sentence structures, but if you want to brave the danger, then GO RIGHT ON AHEAD. SEE WHAT IT GETS YOU.)
Lavender Town theme. There, I’ve just managed to send shivers up the spine of just about every American 90’s kid. Now, you might be asking “why”? Potentially out of anger for my inflicting that memory upon you, potentially out of curiosity.
Well, I’ve been reflecting on the nature of two very different, very distinct brands of horror, one of which is unfortunately under-represented in the world of movies and video games (in particular).
Brand of Horror 1: Dangerous Horror. This is categorized as horror that revels in “the chase.” This is where the monsters are going to destroy the protagonist and the audience feels an inherent desire to see said protagonist survive by avoiding all of the pain coming their way.
Examples: Amnesia the Dark Decent, Silent Hill, Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, Saw
Brand of Horror 2: Sad Horror. This is, surprise surprise, the under-represented style I spoke of earlier. In this version, the Dangerous Horror has already happened or is going to happen, but never to the protagonist. The damage is inflicted on those that are important to the protagonist.
Examples: Snow on Mount Silver, Lavender Town Theme, Pokemon Strangled Red
I turn my attention to Sad Horror because, once again, I believe that it is very under-represented. But enough of my redundant rambling, time for some non-redundant rambling!
-BEGIN STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS-
So, the funny thing about horror is that the idea of what is “horrifying” is relatively nondescript. When somebody says that something is “horrifying,” a million different images appear in a person’s head based off of their own experiences, fears, etc.
Sad Horror has something within it that, I feel, makes it even more powerful than Dangerous Horror. I suspect this has to do with the idea of psychic distance. To the non-English majors, psychic distance is the term used to describe how closely the audience can see into the mind of the characters based off of point of view. An important distinction to make, however, is that a story told in first-person can still have a far distant psychic distance. If the character often shuts out the outside world, it can make him/her hard to understand (which is not necessarily a bad thing, of course) regardless of the POV.
But yes, Sad Horror invokes something within us that can make horror be truly terrifying: A feeling of helplessness. Say you’re playing Amnesia and a Gatherer comes barreling after you. Naturally, you try to run. You want to avoid having your guts turned to pudding by this horrible monster. True, you are playing as the English gentleman Daniel in the early 1800’s, but you still feel for him, yes? You live through him and you take matters into your own hand, steering Daniel/you away from the creature in order to survive.
This is actually similarly observed in film audiences, I’ve noticed. When watching Alien, we all root for the good Ellen Ripley to escape her pursuer and avoid being put into a big wooden bowl of pain, tossed around with the salad-forks of agony, and turned into a salad of gore and guts. I’m just rolling in the analogies tonight aren’t I? HOWEVER, the point remains. We feel as audience members, actively participating or otherwise, as though we have the ability to influence the events of the story. This extends to the earlier idea of Dangerous Horror being “pre-apocalyptic,” The ultimate danger of the situation boils down to “oh god what happens if that thing catches me?” We don’t know and that’s what makes us afraid- the horror of the unknown and the pain it can bring.
In all, Dangerous Horror is very primal. It invokes out “fight vs. flight” instinct and sends us running from danger. Sad Horror, however, does something much more complicated.
Saunter on over to Youtube and listen to the Lavender Town theme. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
WELL, I’ll just go ahead and assume that you’ve done so. It will help with the atmosphere of this argument. Listen to that song (DO IT). Of course it’s extremely creepy and eerie, but one might ask “why.” Yes, time to finally answer that question which I first injected a laboriously long time ago. Well, if you know the lore of Lavender Town (hint, it’s essentially a giant graveyard town), the sadness of the song becomes apparent. It’s a very sad song. Now, to backtrack, how does sadness arise? From past horrors, of course. Sure, they could be “mundane” horrors, i.e. it wasn’t Jason Voorhees’ fault. The death of a loved one resonates the strongest with most people and, indeed, with Lavender Town itself. Back on the original point, isn’t it odd that sorrow is something that is so distinctly different from our perception of being horrified and yet a simple song like Lavender Town’s theme can inspire such feelings of dread, unease, and also, well, sadness? Allow me to make an English-Major Stretch here and bring this full circle. We can still be horrified at something, be positively filled with dread, after the horrific event has already been committed, i.e. a “post-apocalyptic” viewpoint.
The Creepypastas Snow on Mount Silver and Strangled Red seem to be on my mind right now. This is probably because I listened to them all of two hours ago. Nevertheless, it is a fine example of Sad Horror. We as the audience see the aftereffects of some horrible event. Spoilers:
Yes, the player’s Pokemon (talking about Snow on Mount Silver in this instance) mutilated, bleeding, freezing to death, yadda yadda blah, but what can hit an audience harder is the duality experienced as a result of that. These are the best friends of the player character and they are all dying in horrifying, gruesome ways. I cannot help but think that the fact that we don’t actually see his Pokemon being killed really very much helps the Sad Horror idea. The focus of the horror is no longer on HOW the protagonist(s) will die, but more on the WHAT that comes afterwards.
It’s a terrifying thought to imagine one’s friends or loved ones laying in various stages of agonizing pain, so imagine the destruction it would wreck on one’s soul to see it personally. There’s the horror aspect: The, well, horrifying death of the cherished ones inspires revulsion and disgust, a much more subdued kind horrified feeling. Those aftereffects, however, of feeling the sorrow about the dead is what completes the Sad Horror picture.
I think this all relates back to the idea of psychic distance. In instants of Sad Horror, we absolutely cannot help the protagonists, we are utterly helpless. We cannot yell “don’t go in there!” or “he’s right behind you!” hoping, perhaps against hope, that the hero will survive. The deed is already done, the loss is already inflicted. Now we can only watch the aftereffects and let our sympathy cause us even more discomfort. From there, the hero must deal with the horror of the event in addition to the mind-breaking sorrow that comes afterwards. I find myself sometimes disillusioned with horror films and games when they seem to fail at conveying the enormous mental damage that would be inflicted on participants of a “horror” situation. BUT I DIGRESS. That is for a different time and place.
I feel like I’m starting to talk in circles now and this post is becoming worryingly long, so I think I shall end it here. Suffice to say, I feel as though the sadness and horror put together (I’m just noticing now that all of the supporting media I have for Sad Horror is Pokemon related. God my generation has issues) can create something much more profound than just the regular “scary” Dangerous Horror.
Now begone with you! I have finished my ranting!
-End Transmission. Good morning, good afternoon, good night-