On Darkness and Horror

When the Lights Go Off…

Image from Taringa.net

Horror dwells in the shadows. Unseen, hidden, obscured. Where you cannot see it.

Look beyond the obscurity. It’s there. Waiting. Ready to surprise you. Reach out. Ready to step into the spotlight and give you chills.

You can hear it, smell it, perhaps. You can feel its presence. It is waiting. Run!

Are you scared yet?

The truth is, horror, the genre meant to scare you off –ironically– shines better when it is constrained to darkness.

There is something about losing the ability to see well and trust our senses that is disconcerting and frightening.

Also, most of the tropes associated with horror fit in the darkness. Monsters, vampires, in particular, the supernatural, criminals, serial killers, et cetera, hide in the darkness. Unseen like the true night predators they are.

Ghosts? Spirits? Demons? Have you ever seen one in the daylight? Those stories are rare. It is always in the darkness. Away from the lights, the sun, the brightness.

It is almost as if every monster conceived by writers was allergic to the sunlight.

The truth is that is much easier to scare you senselessly when we take away your senses. And taking away your sight makes every single little noise suspicious, every single touch unnerving, and every single smell suspicious.

Indeed, horror lives in the darkness. Darkness takes away our feeling of safety.

Let’s explore it further.

Our Primal Fear of the Dark

A silhouette in the dark could be anything.   Photo from Southeast Asia website Wanuxi.com

Fear of the dark is such a primal human predisposition. Almost genetical. Most likely an evolutionary adaptation. We must remember street lights and electricity are modern inventions.

Before the twentieth century, people used torches and candles, as well as gas lamps, which incidentally creates weird shapes and shadows.

Darkness is inevitable. Nightfall falls daily regardless of season or weather conditions. We humans have to sleep eventually. Preferably in the dark.

If you the reader are anything like me, you are as afraid of the dark as I am. You probably used to sleep with a tiny light on in the bedroom because you were afraid of ghosts and monsters. (Yes, I still am and still do).

What is darkness if not the absolute absence of light? How terrifying! How creepy!

When we cannot see, our imagination usually fills the blanks. And there is nothing scarier than those thoughts conjured by our imaginations.

No wonder the Bible begins with the words “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:4). Even the Lord knew permanent darkness was not good.

Primal fears are fertile ground for writers to explore and exploit. For example, an abandoned house, a forest, even a cemetery are not scary during the daytime. However, at nighttime, they can be scariest, most petrifying, chilling settings.

Darkness is not our friend. Darkness is the source of our terrors.

Danger in the Dark

Something lurks in the dark. Pinterest image.

Even without ghosts and monsters, the dark is dangerous. Moreover, darkness increases and invites danger.

Who has not hit themselves or tripped while trying to walk in the dark? Who hasn’t got lost?

Who has not jump suddenly, hairs raised, as they felt something harmless (like a cat or a dog) touch them in the dark?

Because the real danger and fear of darkness are not knowing. To be completely unaware of your surroundings and those nearby.

In particular, psychological horror with its unreliable narrators is perfectly fit to induce fear through locations devoid of light.

Night, shadows, and darkness are horror tropes because they work.

In most horror stories, only the moonlight is enough. Let darkness reign. Let shadows engulf us.

man walking downstairs in the dark, image: Tenor

No horror novel worth their frights ever took place in a beautiful, sunny, illuminated place. None.

Light is comforting whereas darkness is unnerving.

Another cliche is when the lights flickered, the flashlight batteries die, or the power gets cut. It never fails to increase the danger quotient and stress level for your characters.

Granted, a good writer could write a horror story without darkness and shadows. Nonetheless, it would be the exception, not the norm.

In any event, turn off the lights. Every single one. Embrace the gloom. Abandon all hope. Close your eyes and listen carefully. Walk slowly, cautiously. You never know what is hiding behind the curtain. What lies in the shadows.

But is there, waiting. Reaching. Beware when the lights dim. You are warned.

Are you afraid of the dark? Can you have horror stories in a bright setting? Would you read them? Or do you feel the dark setting is overdone? Voice your opinion in the comments section.


No Responses

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

March 2023