Surrender to Horrific Excess
L. Andrew Cooper
Too much! I can’t stand it! One more time and I’ll—
Respectable people know they’re supposed to say the best horror relies on suggestion and subtlety along with arguable fidelity to the natural world. Many Americans continue to celebrate The Exorcist as the scariest film of all time, and sounding lofty, they cite the film’s representation of spiritual anguish. But what do people mention when they talk about The Exorcist? A little girl who pukes pea soup and masturbates with a crucifix. We praise subtlety, but wild, excessive images occupy our minds. The name “Beauty in Ruins” captures what the original Gothic novelists, who sometimes built their own castle “follies,” already knew: watching a gorgeous building or beautiful girl fall into ghastly ruin shocks the soul. We scream, we shiver, and for a moment, feeling anything but subtle, we might get confused about the difference between fear and pleasure. After all, screams and shivers accompany other activities as well. The castle-girl falls, and we fall with her in a heap, losing ourselves in the frenzy of the moment.
Horror is a brain glitch, an encounter with stimuli so overwhelming that the mind revolts. Horror creators, then, must craft overwhelming moments that deliver frenzied, revolutionary experiences. We don’t have to rely on vomit-inducing imagery—Shirley Jackson overwhelms mightily with banging noises in The Haunting of Hill House—but vomit-inducing imagery is an awfully effective tool of the trade, and it works well in combination with other techniques. I’m fond of combining it with deeper runs into bizarre territory. For example, in one story from my book Peritoneum, a character who gets her heart ripped out is only beginning her surreal journey. There’s always farther to go. My hope is that if you stay with this character past the point where her heart goes, your brain will start glitching out of control.
Good horror breaks rocks and lays waste to your stability. Horror stories that wind up neat and tidy at the end exit the genre. Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows” is vomit-free but one of the scariest stories I’ve read because, despite its subtlety, its unyielding weirdness makes me glitch out of control. Clive Barker’s “Midnight Meat Train” is not vomit-free, but like “The Willows,” it makes the entire world unstable by asking more questions than it answers. Both of these stories destroy assumptions about the natural world, telling us that what we thought about nature was never true in the first place.
If horror needs to cause glitches, its needs to interrupt. Like the little girl The Exorcist, it needs to break into polite parties, announce impending doom, and piss on the floor. A subtle piss is harder to pull off (Jackson and Blackwood were masters), but it can work. Interruption may or may not lead to outright ruin—a glitch may or may not hail a fatal system error—but it should definitely shock the system enough to register that all is not right in the universe.
As a horror writer, be overwhelming, and as a horror reader, open yourself to being overwhelmed. When you feel your brain on overload, with the images spinning, and the bile rising—it’s working.
About the Author
Find him at:
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/author/landrewcooper
About the Book
by L. Andrew Cooper
Snaking through history–from the early-1900s cannibal axe-murderer of “Blood and Feathers,” to the monster hunting on the 1943 Pacific front in “Year of the Wolf,” through the files of J. Edgar Hoover for an “Interview with ‘Oscar,'” and into “The Broom Closet Where Everything Dies” for a finale in the year 2050–Peritoneum winds up your guts to assault your brain. Hallucinatory experiences redefine nightmare in “Patrick’s Luck” and “The Eternal Recurrence of Suburban Abortion.” Strange visions of colors and insects spill through the basements of hospitals and houses, especially the basement that provides the title for “TR4B,” which causes visitors to suffer from “Door Poison.” Settings, characters, and details recur not only in these tales but throughout Peritoneum, connecting all its stories in oblique but organic ways. Freud, borrowing from Virgil, promised to unlock dreams not by bending higher powers but by moving infernal regions. Welcome to a vivisection. Come dream with the insides.
Leaping at Thorns
by L. Andrew Cooper
Leaping at Thorns arranges eighteen of L. Andrew Cooper’s experimental short horror stories into a triptych of themes–complicity, entrapment, and conspiracy–elements that run throughout the collection. The stories span from the emotionally-centered to the unthinkably horrific; from psychosexual grossness to absurd violence; from dark extremes to brain-and-tongue twister. These standalone stories add important details to the fictional world and grand scheme of Dr. Allen Fincher, who also lurks in the background of Cooper’s novels Burning the Middle Ground and Descending Lines.
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