Eerie or Terrifying?

Ah, it’s the season for plastic skeletons, fake tombstones, spiderwebs all over, and rings of dancing ghosties. I like cute or fun Halloween decor, and eerie special effects. Gruesome, horrifying, and terrifying things don’t really need to be in front yards, in my opinion. Now, granted, one person’s “eerie” can be another person’s “terrifying.” But, um, let’s just say that gore isn’t really a great thing to impose on the neighbors.

This is one of those places where my “it’s your property, do what you want as long as you don’t hurt anyone or keep other people from enjoying their property” beliefs collide with “I don’t appreciate that and there are small kids in the neighborhood.” Skeletons are OK, fake tombstones are OK, obviously fake spiders and webs, witches who have collided with trees, dancing ghosts . . . Especially witty things, like the guy with the skeleton in a lawn chair holding a phone and a sign that reads, “Your call is important to us, please stay on the line.” Or the inflatable pirate ship, black cat, dragons, cute stuff that’s kid friendly.

The pretty realistic headless horseman on a horse still held together by scraps of muscle and sinew, with glowing red eyes? Um . . . I was impressed, it was spooky, and there are no young kids on that block that I’ve seen, so hey, go for it. The slightly too realistic dead dude in the tree with a motion detector that makes screaming sounds when someone approaches? No, please.

I suspect my difficulty is that I have an all too vivid imagination at times, and a low tolerance for fake gore. I’ve dealt with real gore, and real-life scary things. Halloween as a public festival should be fun, eerie, a little creepy for the older kids who like creepy. That’s great, and I enjoy costumes and corn mazes and the like. Halloween as a private, or at least indoors, event can be terrifying for people who enjoy that kind of thing. There are some local haunted houses (commercial type) that I won’t go into for love nor money. I do not enjoy that kind of thing, and my reaction to jump scares is probably not what other people want to see. Gore and fake blood isn’t witty or clever, at least not 99% of the time.

Likewise, horror is not a genre that I enjoy most of the time, especially not on screen. Splatter-fests just make me want to reach for firearms or other appropriate means of dealing with the monster of the week. Written horror can be better, but I avoid a lot of it because it pokes places in my mind that don’t need to be poked. Plus, many writers don’t seem to do psychological horror well, at least not the best-sellers I’ve sampled recently. Manly Wade Wellman and H.P. Lovecraft, early Stephen King, they all left things out, left mysteries lurking in the shadows, implied a lot that the reader could fill in for herself. That sort of thing I can appreciate, although King . . . His endings can leave something to be desired, in my opinion.

Bring on the wit, bring on the humor, bring on the spooky! Please leave the gore in the back yard, or indoors.

25 thoughts on “Eerie or Terrifying?

  1. You want funny and horror without the gore, check out the yubtub channel “DUST”. I can’t watch it any more, because it’s a bit too effective. Well done, certainly. Imaginative, definitely. It’s just a bit much for me these days, even though it would get a PG or occasionally a PG-13 rating.

  2. I have always hated horror as a genre because … well, what it boils down to is that I read/watch fiction of any kind to be entertained. Bonus points if it makes me think or gives me new mental energy, but above all I want to be entertained. Spending a couple of hours in someone else’s nightmares is not entertaining.

  3. Heh.

    I’m reminded of a friend, retired military SF, and a fairly Alpha type. He took his family to a neighborhood “haunted house”, but thanks to a few experiences that he doesn’t talk about, he doesn’t appreciate being surprised – particularly surprised and scared. He waited outside, leaning against a pillar of the porch, while his wife took the kids through it.

    One of the “haunters” decided it would be fun to make the husband jump, so he crept around the house, came up behind him, and screamed luridly in his ear from a range of about six inches. Approximately half a second later, he found himself on the verge of suck-starting the muzzle of a .45 pistol that had magically appeared in Daddy’s hand. Daddy didn’t pull the trigger, but he was NOT amused.

    As he said to me later, with commendable self-control: “That’s when I learned that ghosts have sphincter muscles. What’s more, they can lose control of them as fast as anyone else!”


    • “Retired SF” had trigger control, and hadn’t pulled the knife first. That would become, ah, non-optmial quickly. Abrupt loud noises are a Bad Thing.

      I was just thinking of Lawdog ‘s essay on how horror movies end in the first reel.

  4. I enjoy horror, until it devolves into squick, the writer feels a compulsion to explain and sympathize with the monster, or it doesn’t make sense—especially prominent with endings.. (Ok, there’s another exception: that dabbling in the occult is good.)

    I also appreciate it more in short stories than in longer works. Unity of purpose, and all that.

    Gore generally is squick, unless it’s splatterschtick. Evil Dead 2, for instance, where fake blood is used by the barrel for comic effect. I don’t really get why some people love gorn. I don’t find it fun, and it assaults my willing suspension of disbelief.

    I’m not the normal consumer of horror. I thought Candyman was stupid. I despise the Friday the 13th series. I’ve been to professional haunted houses, and wondered what the point was. (Yes, I’m dense enough that my wife had to explain to me that the guy who dramatically tried to run my feet over with a lawnmower was trying to scare me. I just stepped on top of it, and looked at him with a “what the heck are you doing” expression.)

    Short story: The Judge’s House by Bram Stoker, runner-up: The Terrible Old Man by HP Lovecraft
    Movie: Apt Pupil, runner-up: Fallen
    TV series: The Twilight Zone

  5. I firmly dislike those “screaming” Halloween decorations. Not that they’re “scary” but the continuing screams (especially in a convenience store) are extremely annoying.

  6. I was among the adults that chaperoned a joint youth group expedition to a haunted zipline. A bunch of the youth ran off cheerfully to be chased by men with chainsaws and other assorted monsters, a few huddled up. After finding out that the venue could not instruct the performers that they had a small group coming who did not wish to be scared, I took that group through loudly deconstructing the theatrical presentation.
    Chain saw dude is much less frightening when predicted and he wasn’t entirely pleased at the make-up critique, but I hate horror and my group of kids spent the evening laughing and not scared. Afterwards, the kids told me that this was the only time they’d ever had fun at a haunted anything.

    The lure of night ziplining was what brought those kids out, and that was what they got. And I hope enough knowledge of how this stuff is done to handle it in the future if a situation arises when they need or want to. Because, as it happens, theater is theater.

  7. Several decades ago, I rather liked some horror. H. P. Lovecraft was a favorite, and I liked the earlier King novels (OTOH, Cujo is one of those where the proper application of 158 grain JHP would have made for a much shorter and satisfying novel). Started getting really tired of his stuff with Pet Semetary and Christine and stopped reading.

    I spent a few minutes reading the opening of the Mk 2.0 version of The Stand, which I think was his best early effort. More detail, but why bother? Still, a review of the book stash shows that I’m entirely done with King–even The Stand is gone from my shelves.

    Never was fond of horror movies. A good friend liked them, and I saw a few with him, but haven’t seen any in years.

    I get enough horror writing looking at Instapundit this year.

  8. If I want horror, there are histories of medical disasters and industrial accidents. Those also tend to have the value of “Thus we learned DO NOT DO THIS.”

    • Real life is not generally escapism.
      While something horrible happening to someone else *can* put your own problems into perspective, it’s a lot more fun if it’s all pretend and the victim totally deserves it.

      • Yes. This is why some say that horror, as a genre, is the most moral of all genres. Good and evil should be clear, and bad choices must lead to bad outcomes. Other genres can futz with that, but not horror.

        • Judging from Some Horror Movies, the characters Think They’ve Won but the Monster Will Be Back.

          IMO that lessens the moral component of Horror Movies.

          • Oh, indeed. You could make a strong argument that horror in written fiction and horror in TV and film have diverged, probably going back to Texas Chainsaw Massacre. They tracked much closer before the slasher film came to dominate screen horror.

    • “If I want horror, there are histories of medical disasters and industrial accidents.”


      Even before the COVID struck, I never read “monster disease strikes mankind” stories because years ago I read Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone about Ebola Reston. No fiction author could devise anything more terrifying than Ebola. At least, I hope none could.

      As for industrial accidents, consider the Minamata disaster…

  9. Public stuff should be for public! Not in-jokes that are really scary unless you have the “joke” in mind.

    And yeah, spook-scares are OK…but if you jump out at someone yelling, be prepared to catch a fist in the opposite direction. Or worse, depending on the area, and no “it was just a joke” does not undo fatal levels of self defense, nor make them unjustified.

    Yeah, some little kids will be scared by flat anything. Youngest son was terrified by the lady with a very pretty Day of the Dead style skull makeup– not her husband, not the teen with them, just her. But that was quickly fixed by him hiding behind me, us mutually assuring eachother that there was nothing exceptional kids are kids sometimes they get scared at even odd colored hair, and me walking off remembering the family that went trick or treating at the mall as car-crash zombies. With photo-realistic makeup, to the point that it scared me into “f where is my emergency aid kit-” when I came around a corner and saw one of them. (Those folks quickly figured out it was really not a good idea and spent the next roughly hour of trick or treating doing everything they could to ruin the illusion of being fatally wounded.)

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