Thursday, 1 November 2012

Horror Vs Crime

Halloween got me thinking about horror writing and crime fiction. Without meaning to offend any of my friends who read or write horror fiction I have to say that the whole horror scene does nothing for me. Ghouls, goblins, monsters and supernatural goings on have me reaching for the remote, leaving the cinema or worst of all – laying down the book. 

Yet when I thought about it there is a definite correlation between horror and my beloved crime fiction. Horror terrifies the reader or viewer with scary beings that may or may not be exist, (I’m a bet hedger by the way) while crime fiction deals with events which are real and can be found in almost any daily newspaper.  

Okay I’ll admit that some books in the crime fiction genre are a bit fanciful, but they all play on the fears of the reader. Take the Bond books by Ian Fleming as an example, they all seem to have a megalomaniac who wants to rule the world or are a battle against Russians. While this may be a bit clich├ęd in today’s world, we must remember that they were mostly released during the late fifties and sixties when the cold war was at its most Arctic and the thoughts and fears of the populace were very different than they are today. 

On the other hand there are some fantastic novels which could claim to be in either camp. Take The Shining by Stephen King, King is known for his out and out horror novels which have petrified millions of people over the decades, yet I feel The Shining is more of a psychological thriller than a straight horror tale. When you examine the story and observe Jack’s descent into madness you genuinely feel afraid for him and his family. There are no supernatural creatures whatsoever in the book or the film but who can forget Jack Nicholson’s face poking through the shattered door panel?

Another film and book which shocked was Thomas Harris’ Silence of the Lambs. Boiled down to its essential story Silence of the Lambs is a police procedural with an informer called Hannibal Lector. However anyone who has ever read the book or seen the film will know it is so much more than that. Lector is a truly terrifying character who, when teamed up with the young and vulnerable Clarice Starling takes on an even more sinister role. 

These crossovers work for me as they do for millions of others but I have tried reading and watching horror only to find myself underwhelmed. I have read a John Connolly book which was technically very good but too supernatural for me and I fell asleep in the cinema during Hellraiser 3

So which camp are you in, Crime or Horror? Answers on the back of a £20 note or in the comments section if you prefer.




  1. I enjoy both genres, and often find the two slipping into the same ground. A horror story isn't necessarily a 'supernatural' story', it's the way it invokes fear that is important for me. Many books in the crime fiction genre could easily be called horror and the opposite is equally true. Probably the best definition is that most psychological thrillers are equally psychological horrors ( as in The Shining), and yes, Silence of the Lambs is as much a horror to me as it is a crime fiction novel. The horror genre is probably as wide (if not more) and encompassing of so many sub genres as is crime fiction and it's likely that many readers miss out on some terrific stories if they are put off by the tag that has usually been applied by a publisher. I always see Dean Koontz in the horror section (and Stephen King) but many of their books are straight crime or thriller books. It's worth checking through the other genres now and again, just so you don't miss out.

  2. It's an interesting debate. I asked the question to Tom Piccirilli when I interviewed him. He agreed that the more psychological forms of horror and the darker crime fiction (notably noir) were very alike. "Both are about the long night of the soul," he said. I've been reading almost exclusively crime fiction for two years and as I'm burning out of it, horror is natural option to turn on to. Crime is very pragmatic and anchored in reality. Horror is free of that. You can get away with it without a clear explanation in horror (my favorite horror movie Session 9, does exactly that).

    I think in general, horror is a looser genre. Lets you explore more forms of storytelling. Now blending both. That would be interesting.

  3. Sorry Graham, only got Euros.
    I think I'm with you in that I find it hard to read and write about supernatural things. I've tried it and it was OK, but I'm always tempted try to find a logical reason for strange occurances. To me, good horror is something that really can happen to someone, even better if the readers feel it's them.
    I guess there are several elements to violent crime, but I think the main ones would be a straight murder/assassination and one which involes an element of torture or extreme cruelty. However, I do think The Shining more of a psychological thriller than supernatural based horror.

  4. I'd say that horror and crime fiction can coexist -- in the same novel, even. Richard Godwin manages that in his novels, Mr. Glamour and Apostile Rising for example. It's been said that to qualify for horror, there must be an "other" an unseen, terrifying, maybe supernatural force at work. If that's the case then, To Kill A Mockingbird could qualify. Both Boo Radley and the killer in the woods (even though we knew his name)were, at different times, unseen and -- to the characters Scout and Gem -- equally terrifying.

  5. Thanks for all the comments guys. Good to see that I have provoked some debate on the matter.