Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Horror of Us (Guest Post)

(Guest author Christina Bergling discusses why she believes psychological horror is the type we fear the most. Click the jump for her entire post!)

I love psychological horror because I believe two things.

The worst hells are created in our minds. As someone with a bit of experience in being my own worst enemy, I can attest that there is nothing quite as unrelenting and pervasive as ourselves. There is no escape from our own minds, and no one knows what will torture us more than us. I think the scariest situations are when we lose reality and turn on ourselves. There is not stopping the momentum of a mind unraveling; there is no way to find a foothold against the descent of a mind. Perhaps the thing I fear most in life is losing my mind. I also believe that other humans are what we need to fear most. More than the world around us, we pose the most threat to our fellow humans. A flesh and blood killer is more realistic and unnerving that a supernatural manifestation or animal with which we may never come into contact.

I think the best horror killers are those who can get inside your head, who can turn you on yourself, which may be why Hannibal Lecter reigns as my favorite.

Psychology covers both of these ideas. The study and the psychological horror media examine the mind that can create these hells and the human behavior we exemplify at our most savage. It all begins in our mind; it all starts with us then radiates out into the world around us. My interest in psychology extends into normal curiosity and personal investment in the field, but blended with my favorite genre and confronting my own doubts about our species, it affects me the most.

 In short, I think humans are our own worst horror.

This pessimistic world view was perhaps always with me. Due to dabblings in the less savory parts of life in youth, I never did truly trust other people. I gravitated to horror because it seemed to be in line with many of the things I saw. War-side, in a civilian deployment in Iraq, I got the smallest taste of our deeper, more base nature, and that aftertaste lingered in the edges of my mind every day since.

Ultimately, this bleak view became the basis for my book, Savages.

When I returned home after three short months, I could not shake the things I had been exposed to, mostly the stories of war I had been told. It was markedly different than seeing an article on Facebook or watching a clip on the news. Something about feeling the blast in my boots then reading how many people it killed was more real; something about hearing first-hand accounts was more shattering.

I had trouble resolving those horrors against the comfortable life to which I returned. I did not think the people in those stories were any different than us, so what did their stories say about all of us?

The idea birthed from that experience and that nagging question slowly grew legs and began walking around in my head. They took form as savages, as ragged creatures who barely resembled the humans as which they began. They were what we are without all our socialization, without all our society; they were humans missing their humanity.

In my mind, they no longer spoke. The savages I saw abandoned all social convention and civilized expectations. They forsook clothing, possessions, humanity and devolved to animalistic tendencies. They kept to their own and killed any perceived others. They were, most simply, what we all are at our very core.

For me, apocalyptic horror is never about the apocalypse, never about how the world ends. What interests me is what happens to the survivors, how they cope with existence when the world they knew is gone. How do we change? What do we become? What is the price of survival? The apocalypse is a psychological story for me, an examination of the minds of the leftovers. The question I ask in Savages, the question my characters face is: underneath it all, how human are we? Are we all savages at our core, or are we capable of humanity without comfort? Were we ever really human at all? I am personally torn on the issue, which may be why I crafted one character on each side of the argument.

Parker, my narrator, walks the pessimistic line after losing her family during the apocalypse and its aftermath. She sees nothing but savagery in the other survivors and herself. Marcus, on the other hand, is convinced that they are capable of more, that he and Parker are different than the other savages they fight. His time in the Iraq war did not convince him of a lack of humanity, rather the opposite. In either case, the true horror in the situation becomes an internal one. Though Marcus and Parker face and fight these gruesome savages, the true struggle and the true fear lies in what might be inside of them. Parker, in particular, is tormented by herself and the unsavory parts she sees in her own nature.

This is what I mean by internal psychological horror being my favorite. The apocalypse, the savages are the scene; they are the external conflict and setting. However, the vast majority of the story and the horror itself resides inside and between the characters. It is best constructed out their own damaged minds because ultimately that is the horror we cannot escape.

I'd like to thank Sari NeoChaos for the art credits on Savages, which you can learn more about here on the official site if you're interested.

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