Stephen King, Madness and The Monster

So when I sat down to write this blog, I thought that I had the “What is horror?” question all figured out.  After all, horror is about being scared and grossed out isn’t it?  Yet if you simply look at it as nothing more than a gory adrenaline rush, you miss the whole reason as to why it’s so interesting.  While it has many forms, at its core it’s about intense emotions like fear.


So why are we fans?

Out of the numerous theories that I came across, the one that I found the most intriguing was from a 1981 Stephen King essay called “Why We Crave Horror Movies”.  In it King writes,

“I think that we’re all mentally ill; those of us outside the asylums only hide it a little better – and maybe not all that much better, after all….The mythic horror movie, like the sick joke, has a dirty job to do. It deliberately appeals to all that is worst in us.”(

King believes that we love horror because we want to explore that dangerous part of ourselves that is the monster.

So if we watch horror to satisfy this madness, what is there to stop us from acting on it in real life?

Well as King points out, if you were to act on it you would end up reading this post from a padded cell somewhere.  It is true that  we would never think of actually acting out like Norman Bates or Jigsaw.

So, let’s take this idea in a different direction.

If we can find comfort in knowing that we would never be the villain, then how do we really feel about the victims?

While we do love our villains, the characters that we typically relate to are the ones in peril. The ones that survive succeed because the fear drives them into their own type of madness.  In doing so, they start to become the monster.

Books of Blood

The scary part is, they think that they are still in control.

Clive Barker once said,  “[Horror fiction] shows us that the control we believe we have is purely illusory, and that every moment we teeter on chaos and oblivion.” (courtesy of

Take the popular show The Walking Dead as an example.  People don’t watch it  for the zombies, they watch it for the humans.  We have watched as the show’s characters commit unspeakable acts in order to save themselves or  the group.  While we watch and judge we question whether we would behave any differently.  You put yourself into their shoes and wonder if you, under the right circumstances, would do the unthinkable.

courtesy episode, The Same Boat

The answer terrifies us.

Even in the slasher films of the 80s, such as A Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th, the victim survives by becoming the monster.  It is only when they give in to that madness that they destroy their tormentor.

They survive, however, they are never the same.  The madness and fear are gone but they are often damaged by the consequences of their actions.

We the viewer can watch safely from a distance.  We can judge and discuss.  If we agree with a character’s decision and he/she regrets it so what?  We let them take that risk for us.  It is their outcome, not our own.

So for a time, we can be the monster.  We can take part in their journey. If they are lost to that madness, we are still safe.

Yet in the back of our mind, while we watch them fall into that darkness, we are afraid. They are a mirror of us after all, a reflection of what we could be.

That is the real fear of horror.  Not the blood, gore or boogeymen.  It is ourselves and the realization that we can easily become the true monsters.

Do you agree?  Are we all just teetering on the edge of madness?

Let me know what you think.

title image from :

Text © Written In Geek blog (2016) All rights reserved
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5 thoughts on “Stephen King, Madness and The Monster

    • Thanks Izzy. While I love a good slasher movie, it’s always the psychological ones that I love the most. Harlan Ellison has some really dark stuff and I am a huge Walking Dead fan. Glad that you enjoyed it!


  1. I absolutely enjoyed reading this post (Corey typed from the comfort of his padded cell). I think you hit the nail on the head. We enjoy horror because we often times relate to both the victims and the monsters. By relating to monsters we teeter on the edge of insanity.

    Many times, the victims are portrayed in a way that almost makes us WISH something bad would happen to them. Then we smile as they make the mistake we just told them not to make. In this way, the monsters become heroes for us.

    Making out in a tent, smoking weed, and drinking beer huh? Jason, take care of this for us. *CH-CH-CH-KA-KA-KA hack hack hack* I love that stuff. I sometimes thinks we relate to the monster because they represent societal views on right and wrong.

    If you were a teen watching Jason, and those kids just got sliced and diced, your parents might look over and say, “See what happens Corey? This could be you if you use drugs and have unprotected sex with scandalous college girls.” The Mother Against Drugs (MAD) campaign would have been far more effective if, instead of chubby police officer coming to the school, a machete wielding madman did.

    You mentioned Stephen King, so I can’t help but mention Misery (as a writer, this book horrified me). What makes Annie Wilkes so terrifying, and appealing, is the steadfast belief that what she is doing is morally correct. It hits us on a primal level, because most of us believe in something to that extent. If you took my son from me, I might just tie you to a bed and obliterate your feet with a sledgehammer too.

    Anyways, that is enough ramblings from this horror loving madman. Thanks for sharing this and getting my gears turning!

    Liked by 1 person

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