2020/08/24

Deracinated Horror

Zelda, Majora's Mask Creepypasta Horror

Horror stories give special insight into a culture's belief system. Since they serve as cautionary tales more than any other type of story, they tend to embody their native society's moral code.

Throughout the lifespan of Western civilization, nearly all horror stories incorporated Christian beliefs or were at least rooted in Christian morals. The West's global dominance even managed to impress Christian-themed horror tropes onto foreign societies. See the popularity of Western style vampires in Japan.

If the prevalence of traditional horror tropes serves as a measure of a civilization's cultural confidence, the waning of those tropes within the original culture makes a pretty reliable indicator of civilizational decline.

Old hands in the horror scene are fond of calling out the zombie apocalypse fad of the aughts as the moment when the genre fell into a rut.

Lots of ink has been spilled trying to figure out exactly what the zombie doom craze meant. The answer isn't all that elusive when you consider that it was mostly a Millennial phenomenon. Millennials entered adulthood just as the current big push toward globalism kicked off. The horror of the zombie arises from the loss of identity and meaning. It is an irrational creature that exists only to consume.

Now, the fact that the Millennials in general embraced their fate as consoomer NPCs doesn't invalidate my analysis. The glut of zombie apocalypse fare that finally sputtered out in the last decade was how that generation came to terms with the theft of their cultural, national, and religious identity.

Astute readers will point out that zombie horror retains a flicker of the old Christian worldview. The zombie as literary device originated from tawdry stories of Voodoo priests enslaving the living. Those B flicks in turn drew inspiration from real-world Caribbean cults that alloyed African folk traditions with Christianity.

And even "scientific zombies" caused by viruses, parasites, or radiation present a warped vision of the Resurrection, much as the vampire is a diabolical mockery of the Eucharist.

For a close look at post-Christian Western horror, we must delve into the dank corners of the web where Millennials are mere visitors but the Zoomers were raised.

Members of Generation Y and earlier cohorts will recall fond childhood memories of summer nights at camp--or just in the backyard--swapping spook yarns around the campfire. Kids don't go outside anymore, so the internet has stepped in to replace the campfire. If you want to sample the horror stories Zoomers tell each other, it means reading creepypasta threads on 4chan or Reddit.

If you're unfamiliar with the creepypasta format, think of an urban legend told in serial format and often expanded by other storytellers from the audience. The creepypasta with which Boomers are most likely to be familiar is the Slender Man.

You can find a pretty representative selection on this channel.

Here's a typical entry:


Two things you notice when you dig into Zoomer horror are:

  1. Their de-Christianization. Most of the storytellers and audience members display familiarity with Christianity on par with a typical 80s American kid's knowledge of Shinto.
  2. Technology as a central plot device/conflict source/theme.
The infamous BEN Drowned creepypasta is a prominent example of the latter.

After a few weeks spent immersing myself in these stories, my main impression is that the majority of them suffer from a specific type of internal incoherence that simply makes them not scary.

Whether the source of the terror is a rubber monster in the woods, a ghost girl who infests smartphones, or a cursed video game, each creepypasta reads like a deracinated rehash of the American remake of an early aughts Japanese horror film.

What's missing is any kind of internal logic for the plot to hang on. We don't even get the cheap anti-drug and fornication morality plays of 80s slasher flicks. The hauntings/curses/murders occur at random because the victims happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It's also noteworthy that when some kind of background lore is needed to make the spooky threat intelligible, American Indian legend and prefab Wiccan claptrap are the go-to sources. Summoning a priest to conduct a house blessing or an exorcism is as rare as a Republican in Hollywood--whose fare is nonetheless put to shame by most creepypastas. At least the latter are honest efforts at entertainment.

The Millennials had their identities stripped from them and suffered a crisis of meaning which they collectively resolved by giving in.

Zoomers are the first Western generation born and raised with no inherited identity and no awareness that there ever was a meaning to it all.

The situation is going to get much worse before it gets better.



One reason for the dearth of contemporary Christian horror is the baffling paralysis that's beset most Christian authors. Christian horror shouldn't be a sermon dressed up in genre trappings. It should be a genuinely terrifying story told from a Christian worldview. Those are the best kinds of horror stories, anyway.

Want proof? Read my award-winning horror-sci fi series.

Nethereal - Brian Niemeier

26 comments:

  1. Have you read Lint Hatcher and Rod Bennett's essay "Monster Fan 2000"? It was originally published in the obscure and short-lived WONDER Magazine, but it's survived on the web; you can find a copy at http://thegalleryofmonstertoys.com/mf2000.html

    They make a strong case for Night of the Living Dead as the first leaf of autumn, with a point of view that harmonizes well with much of what you say here but is also 20 years old at this point.

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    1. I hadn't read that essay, but their premise checks out.

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    2. George Romero's output is very post-modern horror. Martin is more or less the standard for the genre these days.

      My biggest problem with modern horror is the loss of the middle. You either get throwaway trash like the 500 variant on slasher movies with gimmicky names or interminable dour character studies where everybody is miserable and the horror element is somehow the most mundane part of the story.

      No more do you get a Phantasm, a Night of the Creeps, a Society, or even a TerrorVision or Ninja III: the Domination, where the horror works with the narrative to create an exciting and creative story that connects on a deeper level without having to spread misery.

      You won't get those anymore, but you will get remakes that suck out the mystery and energy, thereby ruining the appeal.

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    3. A common refrain in our circles is the need for the Right to get serious about taking back the arts. The most cost-effective move for a right wing patron of the arts would be to make good on John Carpenter's original plans for a horror anthology film series. Even someone of moderate wealth could fund a series of indie horror movies, each of which would give a young, unpozzed film maker a shot in the director's chair.

      But in a testament to the Right's besetting vice of autistic utilitarianism, the trend is heading the other way. You see the retrograde sentiment, "Durr, books are dumb!" popping up all over social media--even from folks on our side who should know better.

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    4. In addition to that, I just recently watched 1935's Werewolf of London, which meshes well with the above article. Horror really is trapped because it lost focus and forgot its appeal.

      The horror in the movie is not focused on psychological traumas or mindless gore and death, but on the tragedy that befalls those caught in the crossfire and the good people that have to fight it off. The movie's primary conflict is about the victim attempting to remain human while his community attempts to help. The movie also did all this in 75 minutes.

      The whole experience was like watching a different species from another planet, and the film isn't even a century old.

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  2. From what I've managed to see while doing Cannon Cruisers, the genre was already sputtering out by the mid-'90s. The growth of CG and obsession with splatter (splatterpunk in novels, too) over all else more or less allowed the zombie craze full fruition in the nihilism. It had a wide open path with nothing standing in its way.

    It's hard to imagine that the movie that really kicked off the zombie craze, 28 Days Later, is now 18 years old, and not once since it came out have zombies gone away for even a second. That's the sign of a dead genre stripped of ambition of creativity.

    For a good way to present the differences between horror then and now, I suggest using Suspiria and its remake from a few years ago.

    One is atmospheric, eerie, and doesn't have to explain much to get its point across, and yet still retains good pacing without wasting the audience's time. The other is ponderous, has to explain everything, leaves nothing to the imagination, and needs the audience to "empathize" with the evil.

    One is clearly better, but I've seen more than a few horror fans arguing the newer one is better, despite it containing nothing of what makes a good horror story what it is. The movie is just a thriller with a tacked on supernatural element that is less interesting than dour characters' backgrounds and motivations.

    For what I've seen, horror's insistence to be taken "seriously" is what has led to its current irrelevance. The only horror not trying to be "serious" is the 35th gimmicky winking slasher movie, and that's about it.

    I've seen a few NewPub authors put out some good horror, so at least it's not quite dead yet. But the genre is finished in Hollywood.

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    1. I've seen Argento's entire Mothers trilogy. He has his faults, but he also has vision. No director uses each frame as a devastating canvas quite like Dario.

      Suffice it to say, there is no remake of Suspiria because ontologically there cannot be a remake of Suspiria.

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  3. My bolding:

    "After a few weeks spent immersing myself in these stories, my main impression is that the majority of them suffer from a specific type of internal incoherence that simply makes them not scary."

    That really nails it. I can't remember a recent horror movie that instilled a sense of dread in me. Jump scares, sure. But that's it. This reminds me of a review of The Blair Witch Project: https://jamesbowman.net/reviewDetail.asp?pubID=385

    He notes: 1. That the film is premised on the idea that witches are malevolent and malicious. In in age when the military provides Wiccan "chaplains", this is a true stunning and brave choice.

    2. That the characters have no moral framework for comprehending evil. "It's like watching a fluffy little bunny rabbit mesmerized by the python which is about to swallow it. These kids, raised in luxury and comfort in some American suburb, not only have no skill with map and compass but they also have no vocabulary for dealing with evil, death and disaster. It is the latter ignorance which is somehow the more frightening, the more real-looking."

    And how! That was written in 1999. Now we are witnesses to fear being turned into a virtue. That is, those who are most afraid of a virus with a 99.97% survival rate are better than those who fear less and worse, get to set subsidiarity-violating policy for the rest.


    "Want proof? Read my award-winning horror-sci fi series."

    Ohh alright. Ordered.

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  4. I consider horror a sister genre to fantasy. They are like a ying-yang pair in how they present the unknown. In fantasy, there is a sense of wonder. That is, an experience of beauty in the face of the unknown. In horror however, there isn't an equivalent term but we can make one up: a sense of dread, an experience of fear in the face of the unknown.

    Fantasy presents the beauty of the unknown, of the fairyland. Horror presents the peril of the same place. These feelings can and do overlap, but they still form distinct categories. A good example of the sense of dread is this scene from the movie Poltergeist. There is no blood, no loud bangs and it's all in plain daylight. Still, I can't forget the first time I saw it: every hair in my body rose up. The cold feeling of an unknown peril that is present.

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  5. “Zoomers are the first Western generation born and raised with no inherited identity and no awareness that there ever was a meaning to it all.”

    I take it we’re gonna have to go Virgil on them...without the lying and hyperbolic fabricating.

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    1. Unlike Millennials, Zoomers acquire a fierce appetite for tradition and meaning once they get a taste of it.

      Which is why supporting traditionalist, Christian artists is vitally important, and not funding people who hate us is nonnegotiable.

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    2. Can confirm based on the Zoomers I keep seeing at TLM.

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  6. Horror without a moral center (that is, without christianity or at least a religious base) isn't scary just as fantasy without moral center isn't beautiful. Effective horror always assumes evil and in doing so, affirms good. And where there is good, there is something to lose. The Exorcist wasn't scary because of spooky make-up but because there was something immeasurable at stake: a young girl's soul.

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    1. Evil is no more or less than a privation of the good. Failing to define an objective standard of good renders any evil depicted in a story inaccessible to the audience.

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  7. Imagine a hellraiser where a portal is opened to heaven and God sends an angel to bring judgment. All horror ignores this other side- A church I grew up in used to do a huge thing on halloween where they would have a christian haunted house where someone judged and condemned to hell for rejecting Christ. Now that was something that I remember to this day while I cannot recall past horror movies I saw last week.

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    1. You can do this sort of horror, but it hits too hard and so people don't do it.

      Lewis made a comment on how if you're terrified of the Good you're out of luck because nobody is going to come and rescue you from it.

      I don't think Hollywood, or the online creepy pasta community could countenance a story of true religious horror. Hell, I don't think they could countenance the Erinyes from Orestes.

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  8. I see a link to some of the older horror stories mentioned here and the sci-fi movie The Vast of Night which is really a slow-burn horror movie IMHO, all about what Eve Tushnet calls the Horror Sublime. It obeys to the extreme the old rule about withholding the reveal of the monster; the alien spaceship doesn't appear until the last 5 minutes!

    I'm wondering if others were affected by that movie as I was. I admit, I was in the minority in my family in thinking it was great. But I think we could all agree its power depends upon it being set in the 1950s; the audience vicariously adopts the cultural/religious assumptions of the time (both in terms of metaphysics and the pervasive fear of Cold War apolcalypse). Certainly, a Zoomer version of that movie would be incoherent.

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  9. “What's missing is any kind of internal logic for the plot to hang on. We don't even get the cheap anti-drug and fornication morality plays of 80s slasher flicks. The hauntings/curses/murders occur at random because the victims happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
    Because tragedy and violence is always sensible and karmically driven, just ask Cannon Hinnant.

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    1. On second thought, that comment was overly caustic at best, borderline ghoulish. I won’t take it down, but I will apologize and attempt to qualify it.
      Horrible things happen to blameless people all the time. That’s not an excuse to condemn or disbelieve God or Innate Universal Goodness, but we can’t go through this life denying this fact or resenting everyone that brings it up.
      There should a place in the storytelling environment for people to work with the fear of violence being visited on them merely for convenience or thrills’ sake. Especially in this era of entire societies stripping themselves of ancient spiritual protections for pride. The logic-less Demonic predation stories that Zoomers come out with should be seen as a cry for help, or at least for a proper explanation as to why this is happening/filling them with terror.

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    2. I think "The Purge" series explores that fear of random, wanton violence, though it's arguably more action than horror.

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  10. This rabbit hole has explained why I tend to despise most horror movies that people who I thought had taste recommend. I usually come back with the same complaint. "That was bleak and depressing. The bad guys unequivocally win, nobody gets justice, and the only implied future is more victims."

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    1. Malchus

      Agreed. Contemporary horror is banal and tedious. Precisely because it lacks a moral centre. Horror arises when norm or taboo is brazenly violated and the person flaunts the violation.

      xavier

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    2. A horror movie plot fails if the final outcome is indistinguishable from the characters putting guns to their heads and blowing their brains out in act I.

      Looking at you, The Mist.

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  11. Part of the problem is sheer trope saturation. The sensation of horror comes ultimately from a feeling that the rules are breaking down, or that you have gone somewhere where they no longer apply. In standard mythic horror, this sense of breakdown is alleviated by the discovery (though often at terrible price) of the new set of rules, which can then be exploited for victory. Unfortunately, thanks to a century of movies and novels and TV shows, most folklore and mythic horrors are now known and understood; Dracula is simply not going to scare people the way he once did.

    This is why lack of internal coherence is not itself a deal-breaker for these modern horror tales; the oversaturated audience no longer needs all that time developing story, world, monster, rules or characters. They just want to get straight to the visceral skin-crawling frisson, which is what all these creepypasta sketches are designed to evoke. In a sense, the creepypasta is to mythic horror as pornography is to the legends of Aphrodite: both work by evoking a primal human response, but the modern approach is direct and brutal and unsubtle because modern audiences have lost all patience for anything else.

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  12. "The horror of the zombie arises from the loss of identity and meaning. It is an irrational creature that exists only to consume."

    Somewhat ironic that modern entertainment has aimed to breed exactly this sort of consumer.

    Don't think. Don't question it. Consume product, then get excited for the next product. Just keep consuming.

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