Gnarled, gloved fingers with razor blade tips blossom from the white bed linen. The hand yawns. The unsuspecting teenager, a baby-faced Johnny Depp, nodding off.
Then… the hand snatches Depp, yanking him into the bed. Blood sprays from where he once lay. Waves of magenta gushing upward, spraying the entire bed and room around it, like a busted old lawn sprinkler.
Johnny Depp is no more. All that remains is stained sheets and bedroom walls.
That image is seared into my memory. My introduction to horror, age nine or ten. Every now and then, it burns bright in my brain, usually before bed, and I get the same chills as I did all those years ago.
This is hard for me to admit, but horror has never been my genre. Never been my go-to. And that’s horrible for someone who has spent the past few months “showrunning” Avaaz’s upcoming horror audio drama podcast, We Don’t Belong Here.
So when I was asked to write about what horror means to me, I had to look back on my early conversations with co-creators and writers Sim Dhugga and Tamara Syed. The stories I like, regardless of genre, are about something. Whether it’s a person against themselves. Or the demons that lie within them. Or about a larger idea.
Which made me think of the horrors I admired. They’re all about something. The monster merely a metaphor for something else. Usually, the darkness within all of us. Or as master of the macabre Stephen King puts it:
“Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.”
The True Horror is Ourselves
King is the… well, king… of internalized horror. His stories all are about the horror inside ourselves. Take It, for instance. Pennywise represents our fears of growing up and moving on. Jack in The Shining is battling his own alcoholism. The enemy lies within many of his stories.
One of my favorite Star Trek episodes is “The Enemy Within,” written by science fiction and horror master Richard Matheson. The original Trek was often a horror in space, and this episode is no exception. After being split into two by the transporter, Kirk must confront all of the horrible, animalistic aspects that reside in all of us. It’s truly horrifying.
I’m also a huge fan of the Nightmare on Elm Street series. After all, it made a searing impression on 9-year-old me. I’ll never shake the image of Johnny Depp being turned into a geyser of blood.
But the thing that strikes me about the series is how Freddy Kruger is a metaphor for what’s really troubling us. For instance, the second installment is heavily queer coded. The whole movie has an underlying homoerotic subtext. But more than that, Freddy represents the torment Jesse feels for repressing his true homosexuality. And that Nightmare is now a gay cult classic and is lauded as one of the most unintentionally gay horror movies.
Horror works best for me when it’s about us. When the monster is about something we despise or the truth about ourselves that we’re running from.
We Don’t Belong Here
The reason I’m writing about what horror means to me is a little self-serving. Shameless plug warning.
As I said above, my fellow Brown Geeks Tamara Syed, Sim Dhugga, and I spent a lot of time thinking about what horror meant to us as we co-created the upcoming We Don’t Belong Here, a genre-bending audio drama podcast through South Asian, Filipino, and Muslim mythology.
And you’ll hear their own individual thoughts in some follow-up articles to this one.
The first question we asked: What does the monster represent for our characters? How do we make it personal?
That’s where we started.
I don’t want to give too much away, obviously. You know, ‘cause I want you to listen. But I will say, our story begins with three characters trapped in a forest and something deadly lurks under the shade of the trees. And each one of them has a pain they’re carrying and a secret they’re hiding.
Oh, and for all you Trekkies, the monster is voiced by an actor who’s appeared on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. But I won’t say who just yet!
In the meantime, you can listen to the teaser here. And please feel free to subscribe wherever you listen to your podcasts!
We Don’t Belong Here premieres on October 27.
(Header Image Artwork by Eesha Chavan)