The Real Blurred Lines: On Liminality in Horror and the Threatened Boundary Between the Real and the Imagined
West, Brandon Charles
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The horror genre is obsessed with being treated as fact rather than fiction. From movies that plaster their title screens with "Based on actual events" to urban legends that happened to a friend of a friend, the horror genre thrives on being treated as fact even when it is more often fiction. Yet horror does more than claim verisimilitude. Whereas some stories are content to pass as reality, other stories question whether a boundary between fiction and reality even exists. They give us monsters that become real when their names are spoken (Tales from the Darkside) and generally undermine the boundaries we take for granted. Wes Craven's New Nightmare, for instance, shows a malevolent being forcibly blending the characters' reality with the fiction they themselves created. But why are scary stories concerned with seeming real and undermining our notions of reality? To answer this, I draw on various horror films and philosophical and psychological notions of the self and reality. Ultimately, I argue, horror is a didactic genre obsessed with showing us reality as it is, not as we wish it to be. Horror confronts us not only with our mortality (as in slasher films) but also with the truth that fiction and reality are not the easily divided categories we often take them to be.
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