Danse Macabre: Terror, Horror, and Revulsion

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What do you think is the most potent aspect of horror fiction?


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Mr. Crandall

Member
Jan 17, 2014
12
96
35
Hello,

I've been working my way through this thoughtful book, and one sequence early on has particularly piqued my interest: King's definitions of terror, horror, and revulsion.

FYI:

Terror: The creeping feeling of dread as the door in a haunted house cracks open just a little bit. You know something ill and foreboding lies beyond, but as yet it is unknowable and outside of your direct sensory information. It's the atmospheric dread of the build-up.

Horror: The door swings open and a monster appears. You come face-to-face with a real threat, be it a ghost, bug monster, or wolf man. It is the shock value of immediate dread that hits you.

Revulsion: The monster disembowels your stalwart companion, and you lose your lunch. This is the primal, nauseating gross-out level. King views this one as cheap, or perhaps low class.

Anyway, I'd like to posit this question to the forum: Can you think of a particular King story that exemplifies one of these categories of horror fiction more than the others? Or that use a combination in an especially satisfying way?

For my two cents, I enjoyed the terror build-up in Pet Sematary. The Wendigo seemed unknowable and terrifying, while Gage and Winston were more horrific and revolting.
 

Rrty

Well-Known Member
Jun 4, 2007
1,394
4,588
I am really glad you brought this up. Believe it or not, this section of Danse Macabre tends to come to my mind again and again for some reason.

I have a slightly different take on the definitions. If I am horrified, I tend to think I am more the observer of the objectionable transaction than the participant. If I am terrified, I assume I would be a participant in the transaction. As an example, I might look at a scary spider and be horrified by it; once the spider sets upon my bare skin, I am inconsolable with insanity-inducing fear -- terrified, in other words. And someone can be terrified no matter what side of the trade they are on -- a person herself could be terrified while selling the terror to an unwilling bidder. I would assume that a soldier who has no choice but to kill someone in battle, even if it is the correct thing to do all things considered, finds the act personally terrifying, although obviously not as terrifying as the person being killed. Horror is more theoretical, even hypothetical and ambiguous; terror is the ambiguous made lucid and solid.

In fictional text, I believe you experience horror when you read something and then don't find the need to think about it later on; an author who makes you remember a scene long after you have read it has terrorized you. This doesn't mean that something that has horrified you isn't as strong or as enjoyable as something that contains terror; IT probably has horrified me mostly, but it is one of my favorites.

In terms of the question, I'll give some examples of what has terrified me. They tend to be the more realistic stuff, for obvious reasons. Although I didn't read the whole book, the villain in Rose Madder -- was his name Norman? -- did some terrifying stuff.
I also thought the British agent in The Langoliers was terrifying when he was breaking that kid's nose. When that guy in The Stand taped up the guy's nose and let him suffocate, that was pretty powerful (as was the mention of the starving rabbit).
Scenes in Misery are another example. On the other hand, 'Salem's Lot is an example of gorgeous horrifying horror.

Not sure all of that makes sense, but it is my take. And I further should say that I haven't read Danse Macabre in a while (and while I did take it off the shelf, for some reason I cannot locate the exact section in question, probably because the shelf near me has that new edition and not my original edition, the paperback with the bluish cover and King's face on it...that edition is in another room), so maybe King already mentioned some of this and I am merely subconsciously bringing it to the surface of my mind.
 
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skimom2

Just moseyin' through...
Oct 9, 2013
15,683
92,168
USA
Hello,

I've been working my way through this thoughtful book, and one sequence early on has particularly piqued my interest: King's definitions of terror, horror, and revulsion.

FYI:

Terror: The creeping feeling of dread as the door in a haunted house cracks open just a little bit. You know something ill and foreboding lies beyond, but as yet it is unknowable and outside of your direct sensory information. It's the atmospheric dread of the build-up.

Horror: The door swings open and a monster appears. You come face-to-face with a real threat, be it a ghost, bug monster, or wolf man. It is the shock value of immediate dread that hits you.

Revulsion: The monster disembowels your stalwart companion, and you lose your lunch. This is the primal, nauseating gross-out level. King views this one as cheap, or perhaps low class.

Anyway, I'd like to posit this question to the forum: Can you think of a particular King story that exemplifies one of these categories of horror fiction more than the others? Or that use a combination in an especially satisfying way?

For my two cents, I enjoyed the terror build-up in Pet Sematary. The Wendigo seemed unknowable and terrifying, while Gage and Winston were more horrific and revolting.

You know, I think the scene in 217 works on all three levels: Terror, when Danny is outside the room and we don't exactly know what is going to happen. I remember feeling such DREAD when I got to that point. Horror, when he sees the woman. We see what he sees, and it's awful. Revulsion, when the exact level of her decomposition is described. Her fish-white, flabby ,waterlogged skin sloughing off on Danny was revolting!
 

Walter Oobleck

keeps coming back...or going, and going, and going
Mar 6, 2013
11,749
34,805
ummmm...so many stories. For what it's worth, Tommyknockers surfaced as I tried to come up with an appropriate answer...throughout that story, the anticipation kept building and building as they dug deeper and deeper. There is that sense of exclusion and inclusion...those included are defined as much by who is excluded. Becka. There's all those smaller conflicts that build toward the climax. The shell...digging and digging...has excluded all for a time and then some, but now it will include you...cue the soundtrack. She's got, Bette Davis eyes. Her hair is Harlow gold. Her lips sweet surprise. Her hands are never cold...that cold and impenetrable ship penetrates everybody. She'll turn the music on you...you won't have to think twice. And yeah...there's some of the other stuff...but maybe there's more so an over-riding sense of terror that builds and builds...she'll take a tumble on you roll you like you were dice until you come up blue...and even when the ship does what it does with whom it does...terror. Still unknown.
 

CriticAndProud

Not actually dead, just very inactive.
Aug 26, 2013
5,955
24,608
21
Australia
Not knowing whats behind the door is way scarier than seeing whats behind the door.

Here is an interesting Alfred Hitchcock quote that could be applied to this:

There is a distinct difference between "suspense" and "surprise," and yet many pictures continually confuse the two. I'll explain what I mean.

We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let's suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, "Boom!" There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware the bomb is going to explode at one o'clock and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: "You shouldn't be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!"

In the first case we have given the public fifteen seconds of surprise at the moment of the explosion. In the second we have provided them with fifteen minutes of suspense. The conclusion is that whenever possible the public must be informed. Except when the surprise is a twist, that is, when the unexpected ending is, in itself, the highlight of the story.
 

doowopgirl

very avid fan
Aug 7, 2009
6,946
25,119
62
dublin ireland
Here is an interesting Alfred Hitchcock quote that could be applied to this:

There is a distinct difference between "suspense" and "surprise," and yet many pictures continually confuse the two. I'll explain what I mean.

We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let's suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, "Boom!" There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware the bomb is going to explode at one o'clock and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: "You shouldn't be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!"

In the first case we have given the public fifteen seconds of surprise at the moment of the explosion. In the second we have provided them with fifteen minutes of suspense. The conclusion is that whenever possible the public must be informed. Except when the surprise is a twist, that is, when the unexpected ending is, in itself, the highlight of the story.
I see your point and you expressed it very well. Yeah, suspense is what I meant.