The Monster Mash-up: Horror Hybrids
It's October, Halloween month, and this is a good time to talk about horror. Horror, of course, is a solid genre in its own right, but it's also versatile in that it mixes well with other genres. With the possible exception of fantasy, no other genre is quite as adaptable.
What follows is a brief look at some of these genre mash-ups, keeping the focus, front and center, on horror.
Two Great Tastes that Taste Great Together: Western Horror
Westerns pair up with other genres frequently as part of the Weird Western subgenre, but horror seems to be one of the most natural pardners. Something about the spirit of the frontier, the lawlessness, and the constant struggle against the environment makes it fertile ground for horror tropes to take root. With all the death on the frontier, the restless dead make some of the most sense with ghosts and zombies and dark, shambling things crawling forth from boot hills and bone gardens. The fact that pioneers clung so tightly to their various faiths makes the use of horror all the more attractive.
The master of such tales is undoubtedly Joe Lansdale. For over thirty years Lansdale has been writing western horror stories, setting the tone for all such stories that followed. His work has been collected numerous times. His Reverend Jebediah Mercer stories pit the good reverend against zombie hordes and werewolves. Lansdale also wrote several Jonah Hex comics for Vertigo back in the 90s, blending horror and westerns together in comics as well as prose (with illustrations by Tim Truman).
Lansdale, of course, isn't alone. In fact, Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan, wrote weird westerns such as "The Horror from the Mound." A more recent novel, The Six-Gun Tarot, by R.S. Belcher, draws heavily on horror tropes (as well as others) to help bring the strange city of Golgotha to glorious life. And of course Richard Matheson (of I Am Legend fame) wrote a horror western called Shadow on the Sun.
And this isn't just restricted to books. J. T. Petty's The Burrowers brings the horror/western hybrid into film. Western video game Red Dead Redemption had an expansion that added zombies. And longtime tabletop RPG Deadlands melds a slew of horror tropes into its alternate history western setting.
Patron Saint: Joe Lansdale,
The Horror from Beyond: Science Fiction Horror
Horror/science fiction hybrids seem less common, though they are sometimes my favorite. What is Alien but a horror movie set in space? Once again, the idea of the unknown, the frontier, the terror in the darkness, is all part of science fiction. That idea that once things aren't defined, once we go off the lines of the map, that here be dragons. Movies like Sunshine, Alien, Prometheus and Event Horizon all draw on this idea.
But SF horror stories don't have to take place in outer space. We also have a history of science fiction stories that describe horrors invading our society in ways both obvious and hidden. Look at Invasion of the Bodysnatchers or They Live. These address a particular type of horror, that of supreme paranoia, now knowing if the people around you, maybe even your friends and loved ones, are friends or enemies.
If we include post-apocalyptic fiction here (and why not?), then we can add even more stories like Richard Matheson's I Am Legend, which deals with vampires after the collapse of civilization (the movie version uses zombies). Lots of "infection" stories fall under this category, too, including more out there movies like Planet Terror.
You'll notice that I've mostly mentioned movies so far, but this hybrid pops up in fiction quite a bit as well. I already mentioned I Am Legend, but Stephen King's The Stand also falls into this category, along with classics like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Invisible Man, War of the Worlds, and Day of the Triffids. And if your tastes run to media tie-ins, there are novels like Death Troopers and Red Harvest, bringing horror tropes (like zombies) into the Star Wars universe.
Patron Saints: H. G. Wells, Ridley Scott
Chimeras: Fantasy/Horror Hybrids
It's hard to write about horror/fantasy mash-ups because they have a lot in common. Supernatural horror is essentially a branch of fantasy, but horror tropes have been used in all kinds of fantasy novels. Take George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. While the White Walkers and Others aren't the only threat in the books, they draw heavily on horror tropes.
There's even a whole subset of fantasy called Dark Fantasy that more closely merges the ideas of horror and fantasy together. Stephen King's Dark Tower novels often get thrown in here (rightly so—they're some of King's most fantastical works), but the borders of this category are exceedingly muddy. Some Urban Fantasy overlaps here—they don't tend to have the same tone as horror novels, but they often include tropes like vampires and werewolves and ghosts (Laurell K. Hamilton, Charlaine Harris, Jim Butcher, and even the Twilight books). Some of those even qualify as Paranormal Romance.
For me, though, H. P. Lovecraft hits the kind of sweet spot in the horror/fantasy mix. His works, mythos and otherwise, are all about horror, but elements like the Elder Gods and the Great Old Ones catapult that horror firmly into the realm of fantasy. Like many of the other examples in this post, Lovecraft relies on the horror of things we are unaware of, things that we even have a hard time comprehending. And that's perhaps why he exemplifies this hybrid. It's not just that these nightmares are undiscovered, it's like they come from another universe, that their very appearance, the very knowledge of them, can overwhelm a human being.
Patron Saints: H. P. Lovecraft, Clive Barker
This is not a comprehensive list by any means. For example, there's such a thing as steampunk/horror hybrids (Cherie Priest). Horror works its fingers (or maybe tentacles) into a variety of genres and works. My upcoming novel, Falling Sky, even draws on horror tropes. So I put it to you—what are your favorite horror hybrids? What other genres do you love horror in? Let me know in the comments.
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