Friday, November 16, 2012

How Dark Will You Walk by Matthew Bryant

We welcome back Matthew Bryant to All Things Writing!

A buddy and I were discussing movies the other day, mostly about Disney buying out LucasFilms and taking over the Star Wars franchise, but then it sidetracked to one of my favorite subjects, horror.  Surprisingly enough, we both agreed on which movie scared us the most when we were growing up – Event Horizon.

The amusing thing is that typically, I wouldn't credit science fiction as being an effective mixture with horror.  It's too unbelievable.  But Event Horizon did something right, something all writers and film-makers strive for.  It pushed the grungy envelope just far enough to the sweet spot, that razor's edge of balance that puts the audience outside of their comfort zone without disgusting them (Yes, I'm looking at YOU, Human Centipede)

Every writer's familiar with the timeless advice that you write best what you know.  This is true, which is what makes horror such a tricky subject.  Anybody can throw on a mask and leap from the shadows, making their sibling, parent, spouse or child squeal in terror for a moment, but making a full-grown adult pull their covers over their head and twitch at every creak of a settling house takes practice.

Any jerk can write about chopping up babies or severing limbs, describe a creature as big and nasty, even throw in a bit of mucus and dripping blood as icing on the cake, but where does the real fear come in?  The answer is this: distorting the known.

There are things we as civilized people don't want to think about.  What do you do when the passenger door of your car swings open while you're stuck at a red light and a strange man slides in, closing the door behind him?  Why are all of your windows open when you wake up shivering at 3am?  Who could have come in and spilled knives all across the kitchen floor... and are there any missing?  These are questions that protagonists should be asked.  Sure you can show them the gore, throw dead babies at them until they're beaten into a concussion, but wouldn't you rather have your readers putting the book down to check all the door locks before rushing back to see what happens next?

Back to Event Horizon, sure it took place on a space ship that (spoiler alert) had literally been through hell and back, but that wasn't the scary part.  The scariness was the boy who willingly opened the air lock and released himself to deep space because he was so terrified.  Sam Neil's hallucinations remembering his wife's suicide as she joins him in the tub before the images drive him completely bonkers.  Anybody else freeze-frame the ship's log to see people strung up by hooks or tearing out their own eyes?  Yup, disturbing!  But somehow it seems less grotesque than super-gluing a skinhead to the seat of a car and forcing him to detach himself from his own flesh to pull a lever. 

So to my fellow horror writers – please remember, your duty as a writer is to make your audience squirm, heighten their senses with adrenaline, not send them screaming to the nearest porcelain god to relieve a stomach-load of their favorite lounge-time snacks in prayer-like offering.


Matthew Bryant is the author of the recently released thriller, Towers.  He lives in Dallas with his wife and three children and works as an English/Math tutor in the evenings.  For more information, visit him at or follow him on Twitter - @MattBryantDFW.


  1. I agree that horror movies should be more about suspense than about gore. That's why I don't want to watch any of the Saw movies; even though I bet they are suspenseful, at the same time I think that a movie can be scary without being THAT violent.

  2. The real win of the Saw movies is that they managed to create a recognizable fear on such a modest budget. The gore was excessive - not a safe dinner and a movie idea, but what really amused me was the traps. It was a maze of mystery in each movie.. filled with characters that you were uncomfortable liking because.. everybody was flawed. Brilliantly human and dementedly twisted all at once.

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