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  • Writer's pictureRua Fay

The Art of Domestic Horror

Contrary to popular belief, horror is a much larger genre than you'd think. There are dozens and dozens of subgenres that a film could possibly fit into, from cosmic horror to paranormal to even Lovecraftian. We've all heard of the good old "creature feature" that makes our spines tingle, but even for the most seasoned of horror fans, there's one subgenre that never ceases to terrify the audience, and no writer does it better than Stephen King.

Domestic horror has to do with "horror within the family." Most people won't have a hard time getting scared by a movie about something like ghosts or monsters, but they can at least be reassured by the fact that it's just a fictional story. Sure, The Creature From The Black Lagoon and Dracula are scary, but it's ridiculous to think they are any more than just a good old Hollywood story. Their threat is just too far fetched to believe. What isn't too far fetched to believe however, is the suspicion that someone in your own household isn't who they say they are. The most effective horror movies are those that portray a subtle, realistic evil that could easily happen beyond the silver screen. There are plenty of generic horror films that I consider "scary" however when it comes to stories, none shake me to my core quite like Stephen King's Misery.

Misery is a 1990 film directed by Rob Reiner that tells the story of famous romance novel author, Paul Sheldon who is involved in a serious car accident on his way home from a small town in Colorado. Paul, played by James Caan, wakes up to find himself in a cottage owned by former nurse, Annie Wilkes, famously played by Kathy Bates. Although she appears nurturing at first, Annie gradually reveals herself to be a psychotic super-fan of Paul's Victorian book series, Misery and refuses to let him leave the house. Since his legs have been completely mangled by the car accident, the phone lines have been cut, and there is no other house for miles, Paul is trapped in the house with Annie Wilkes, all while relying on her for medical treatment. I don't know about you, but I physically cannot imagine anything more terrifying than that. Throughout the film's runtime, there is no threat of ghosts, demons, aliens, or any other malevolent force other than a simple, dangerous human being. It's hard not to picture yourself in Paul's exact situation, and if you're extremely unfortunate, it might even be something you could personally relate to. However, the lightning in a bottle that Stephen King was able to accomplish doesn't end with Misery.

Perhaps the most notorious example the domestic horror genre has to offer is 1980's The Shining. Directed by Stanley Kubrick, The Shining is not only a domestic horror, but a psychological thriller that adds elements of the paranormal while still maintaining its domesticity. Although a considerable amount of the plot centers around ghosts, vengeful spirits, and possession, the main threat in The Shining is mere human, Jack Torrance. The rest of the family, Wendy and Danny, don't have the comfort of remaining a team while facing this evil because the evil is within the family, tearing them apart. Throughout the film we learn that Wendy and Jack's relationship isn't exactly ideal, Jack straight up despises his wife and pays very little attention to his son. This disinterest is morphed into malicious rage when paired with the isolation of being in the Overlook Hotel, miles away from anyone else, similar to Misery. This terrifying helplessness is a key element to what makes domestic horror so effective.

One of the most memorable scenes in The Shining comes towards the tail end of the film where Danny is running away from his father in the sprawling, endless maze outside the hotel. The image of a five year old boy being chased by his father with a bloody axe, in a setting where very few people could escape from is a scene that epitomizes the domestic horror genre. It's n0t the fear of the unknown its fear of the familiar, even someone as common as your own father.

While each subcategory of the horror genre hold a special place in my heart, my attention will always first be drawn to those that scare you with what you already know. It's that kind of writing that make people afraid to go outside, afraid of those around them, it's how you make the most effective horror movie possible.

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