"What happened to horror?"


I’ve been asked this question in various forms innumerable times over the last decade or so and I’m not sure that there is one decisive answer. But as a former bookstore manager, published author, and longtime book reviewer, I do have some thoughts on the subject.



It was a dismal failure. King, Koontz, and Straub continued to sell well but the increased exposure did nothing for the other releases. After a few months, I ended up merging Horror back in with Fiction. My conclusion? Readers who are fanatically into bestselling authors like King and Koontz aren’t necessarily into horror, per se. There was an undeniable stigma associated with reading horror back in those days. The perception at the time was that horror was largely literary bloodbaths, excessively gruesome works fixated on humankind’s most visceral elements. So much so that over the years, I began to see new horror releases losing the “horror” tag on their spines – publishers and publicists began promoting new releases as dark fantasy or horror fiction or just plain fiction. Anything but horror!




What happened to horror? It evolved – and is continuing to evolve – and the crème de la crème has become genre transcendent. Horror, for me at least, isn’t so much a category anymore as it is a narrative attitude. For those of you who think horror is dead or that it has lost its creepy, bladder-loosening edge, you're just not not looking in the right spots!


(FYI: Mark June 5, 2012, on your calendars – that is the day that Laird Barron's first novel, The Croning, comes out. After reading his first two short story collections The Imago Sequence and Other Stories and Occultation and Other Stories, I called him "Horror’s New Messiah." The guy is that good and I'm guessing that in 2012, he is going to become a household name...)


But that's next year. Here are my favorite look-under-the-bed-before-I-go-to-sleep releases of 2011…




































































7. Deadline by Mira Grant

















































































Those Across the River by Christopher Buehlman

Every Shallow Cut by Tom Piccirilli

The Pumpkin Man by John Everson

The White Devil by Justin Evans

77 Shadow Street by Dean Koontz

Smite The Damned  by Zack Kullis

The Marbled Swarm by Dennis Cooper

Belieber! by Cathleen Falsani





Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for the last two decades and has written thousands of reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, Kirkus Reviews, and BarnesandNoble.com. He is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. 


 Keep up with all of my blogs – as well as all of Barnes & Noble’s exclusive reviews, authors interviews, videos, promotions, and more – by following @BNBuzz on Twitter!


by ThirstyFlea on ‎12-30-2011 03:01 PM

Thank you for this posting! I used to love horror in the 80's and early 90's, and yes I started with King and Koontz and Lovecraft, but lost interest at some point as I wasn't able to find new (or old!) horror novels that scared the bejeezus out of me. That is the kind of horror I really love- where I'm so scared I don't want to stop reading because I'd have to turn off the light!


I admittedly haven't been trying to re-explore the genre- as you mentioned, there aren't always horror sections in bookstores, and it just seemed like too much effort to figure out what exactly I was looking for in all of the "not really horror" horror books out there. 


That being said... there are many books you've highlighted here that look like they may be just what I've been looking for to rediscover the creepiness I've been so missing! 


So again, thank you!!

by Chomp on ‎12-30-2011 03:43 PM

I really enjoyed reading this post, Paul. I have never been what I would consider a horror fan, but I do enjoy the horror element added into various genres. To me, UF is definitely a cross-pollination and merging of horror and fantasy, even though single titles may lean more toward one aspect than the other. I like to be scared, and love suspense, but am not keen on being grossed out. :smileyhappy:


In any case, thanks for the list and the thoughtful commentary.


by Author Zkullis on ‎12-30-2011 07:05 PM

Awesome post!


I can't wait to read the few books above that I haven't picked up yet.



Also, thank you very much for including me on the  honorable mention list!



by JohnEverson on ‎12-31-2011 12:38 AM

Thanks for the nod to The Pumpkin Man Paul - glad you enjoyed it! 


I'm in the middle of reading Brian Hodge's Picking the Bones collection right now, and you're right - it's phenomenal.

by BrandieC on ‎12-31-2011 05:54 PM

I find it interesting that you included Belieber in your honorable mention list.  There are so many aspects of horror raised by this book; which particularly struck you, Paul?

by on ‎01-01-2012 11:34 PM

Thank you Paul! I trust your opinions and will gratefully reference your horror release list whenever I'm in the mood for stellar horror. Also, I'll keep an eye out for the June 5, 2012 release of The Croning.   


Because of your blog review of Enter, Night, I'm looking for to reading it. I also personally recommend Deadline and The Night Eternal

by gezza on ‎01-02-2012 02:22 AM

Your observations, Paul, resonate well with me. As a small specfic publisher as well as a writer, I use the term 'horror' loosely, but I also in the same breath use 'dark fantasy' - or for that matter, 'dark scifi'. I think horror has expanded, rather than it being impinged on - there was a time when horror could be more easily defined, but not any more.


I still use 'horror' with the hard core folk, but in reality, it is now subsumed into the space on the specfic spectrum that is called 'dark'.


Hope you had a great New Year's day.



by kimba88 on ‎01-02-2012 05:59 PM

I have and always will love horror. As I have grown older, my idea of horror has changed. When I first began reading King, Koontz and oh so many others.they scared the crap out of me with monsters and things that go bump in the night along with movies such as Freddy Krueger and Jeepers Creepers. When I had children, I set the boogy man aside and became fearful of bad people.(Silence of the Lamb) I realized the world could be down right scary. So, David Bell, Tess Gerrestion, Lisa Jackson etc have become horror writers to me. I still love ghosts and demons and monsters..but they fall into another category for me. I still love that rush of things that go bump in the night and get goose bumps..but you are so right Paul..horror has spilled over into all genres. I agree with someone's comment about dark fantasy and darkscfi. Elements of horror have seeped into all genres. 


by LordRuthven on ‎01-02-2012 07:36 PM

I have gotten really big into "reclaiming the 'H-word'" lately. When it comes to bookstores, though, I still think that all Horror titles should be mixed in with SF and Fantasy.

by B&N Bookseller melissas on ‎01-07-2012 10:32 PM

This post led me through a detour down memory lane. Growing up in the 80s, my sister and I were obsessed with Goosebumps, Fear Street, anything by Christopher Pike. As a teen I started reading Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and V.C. Andrews but ended up growing out of it. I think it may have had something to do with a nightmare I had about my mother burning up in a fire in Foxworth Hall...


Anyway, I remember we still had a horror section when I started at B&N in 1999. It was only a few years later that mainstream fiction absorbed those books. Readers didn't seem to be into Poppy Z. Brite, Richard Laymon, and Robert McCammon as much as King and Koontz. Yet, several times a year, I still get customers who ask me where horror books can be found. I feel bad telling them that they are mixed in with fiction and genres because it makes finding what they want a bit difficult.


I digress. Great post, Paul.

by Dark1X on ‎03-27-2013 06:41 PM

  Greetings, Paul...  Thanks much for this amazing post.  It is so...true, to every point:  Horror has indeed changed...not in content, but, yes...in regards to our (humanity's) literal perceptions of what QUALIFIES as "horror"...  I think many writers--particularly "new-age" ones--are partly responsible for such striking regressions in the macabre genre of literary works.  What I mean by this is that, well...there seems to be this huge lack of RESPECT for the great minds of old, as it relates to those brave writers who've truly paved the way for modern "dark" writers...  Many "new" authors appear to be quite..."ignorant" of the style of writings that laid the great foundation of "HORROR" tales.  Such ignorance has therefore allowed this new..."water-down" sort of literary work to enter the macabre genre of fiction--many of such that are now associated with said "genre" having no TRUE identity to wear the name.  More blatantly speaking: Many of the "new" works of HORROR are, in my humble opinion, sad "jokes".

  This is clearly ALSO depicted in many of these late so-called HORROR flicks shown across our theaters.  No longer do the writers APPEAR to know how to lay out a captivating story line (as I, myself, being a "dark fiction" writer, am well capable of, as is displayed therein my new website, @ www.daoodbrown.com), while boldly getting to the true point of the "horrific" plot.  Bottomline, I believe that people go to the movies...or they pick up "horror" novels (or read the occasional such short story) in order to satisfy their CRAVINGS for chilling suspense and terror--the likes of which, for many readers, can prove to be equivocal to a drug addict receiving a much-needed high...

  Anyhow, Paul (and all other persons reading this), I invite you to go and check out my new web site (a collection of eight fascinating short stories--THREE of which you can read, in-full, for absolutely "FREE" of charge; no "B.S.").  I assure you, my mind appreciates the great writers of old--the likes of Stephen King, Peter Straub, James Patterson and Dean Koontz--as is clearly depicted in my style of writing.  Again, my site can be reviewed @ www.daoodbrown.com.  Thanks; and please let me know what you think about it. 


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