Like other literary genres, horror becomes, sooner or later, more lulling than chilling. The same formulas, repeated over and over, become tiresome. The originality of horror stories become mere banality, and where there was once a race of the blood through arteries, veins, and brain, there is now only but the yawn and the nod. Every so often, a genre needs to reinvent itself—or be reinvented—and horror is no exception.
Unfortunately, it is a rare talent, indeed, that can reshape, or even redirect, an entire genre of fiction. In horror, there are many would-be masters but few Hawthornes, Poes, Lovecrafts, and (at least, for a time) Kings.
What usually happens in such times is a falling away of the aficionados. Only the young, the inexperienced, and the desperate cling to a dying literary form. Others either stop reading fiction altogether or seek their pleasures in other genres or in more serious literature of a quality that stands the test of time.
Horror fiction has been moribund for some time, critics contend. The death vigil has been long and grievous. Now, perhaps, the cadaver stinks so badly that the truth cannot be any longer denied. Horror fiction, clearly, is dead.
At least, horror fiction as it has been known since its last revival, in the latter half of the twentieth century, which witnessed Robert Bloch's Psycho, Stephen King's Carrie, and William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist, among others.
Now, though, the chills—and, indeed, the thrills—are gone again, and, like the narrator of William Butler Yeats' “The Second Coming,” we await the coming of some new “rough beast,” yet to be born.
For a while, it seemed the marriage of horror and science fiction might save both genres. There was hope, after all, such films as Alien, Jurassic Park, and the remakes of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Thing, and The Fly suggested.
Of course, the wedding of such an unlikely couple was really nothing new. Such authors as Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, H. P. Lovecraft, and even Stephen King had married fear and wonder before. But, for a while, anyway it seemed new, as resurgences often do.
Alas, those days, too, are gone.
We get merely more of the same, with writers revisiting old themes, characters we have met before, and places we have been in times long past. Thus, we get Dan Simmons' A Winter Haunting, the sequel to Summer of Night, Stephen King's Doctor Sleep, a sequel to The Shining, and Dean Koontz's endless series of self-parody, the Odd Thomas spectacle. Been there, done that.
After a long night, the faint illumination of first light seems to appear upon the far horizon. There seems to be the dimmest hope that a trickle, if not as tide, of resurgence may again moisten, if not inundate, the infertile shores of the wasteland that horror fiction has become. When the genre seems not almost dead but a goner for sure, there may be some last vestige of hope, and, if there is, we have another great writer of horror to thank for it, none other, ladies and gentlemen, than Ambrose Bierce.
I would explain, but, alas, I am too tired at the moment and will save the explanation for another time.
Perhaps. . . .
. . . if the interest doesn't flag. . . .