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Stephen King's Horror Essay

stephen king / horror / film / book / story / evil / supernatural / fear / imagination / violence / death
 

Title: Classification/Division Essay on ‘Storm of the century’

Introduction

Stephen King’s Storm of the century (1999) is Emmy Award Winner for Outstanding Sound Editing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special (1999); Saturn Award winner for the Best Single Genre Television Presentation (2000); and International Horror Guild Award winner for the Best Television (2000).

King is known for his great eye for detail, for continuity, and for inside references; many stories that may seem unrelated are often linked by secondary characters, fictional towns, or off-hand references to events in previous books. King’s stories are filled with references to American history and American culture, particularly the darker, more fearful side of these. The essay focuses on the division of horror mastery applied by Stephen King.

Body

In Storm of the century Stephen King brings off the horror effect without the extreme violence that features much of the current mainstream of the genre. The film begins with no idea how the story will end. In due context, King comments “sometimes, however, I just can not remember how I arrived at a particular novel or story. In these cases the seed of the story seems to be an image rather than an idea, a mental snapshot so powerful it eventually calls characters and incidents the way some ultrasonic whistles supposedly call every dog in the neighbourhood” (King, 1999).

A small village off the mainland is on the verge of a huge winter storm. However, this time the storm will be unusual. A stranger Andre Linoge arrives to give the residents havoc. It seems he knows all about them, however while revealing the truth, people deny it. Constable Mike Anderson attempts to calm everyone in view of the recent events in the village. Though, Linoge is persistent and scares locals with the words/signs “Give me what I want and I will go away”.

“So, they're calling it the Storm of the Century, and it's coming hard. The residents of Little Tall Island have seen their share of nasty Maine Nor'easters, but this one is different. Not only is it packing hurricane-force winds and up to five feet of snow, it's bringing something worse. Something even the islanders have never seen before. Something no one wants to see. Just as the first flakes begin to fall, Martha Clarendon, one of Little Tall Island's oldest residents, suffers an unspeakably violent death. While her blood dries, Andre Linoge, the man responsible sits calmly in Martha's easy chair holding his cane topped with a silver wolf's head...waiting. Linoge knows the townsfolk will come to arrest him. He will let them. For he has come to the island for one reason. And when he meets Constable Mike Anderson, his beautiful wife and child, and the rest of Little Tall's tight-knit community, this stranger will make one simple proposition to them all: "If you give me what I want, I'll go away."

The center of the film is the fear within the main character. Herein, fear is presented as psychological nature - something that can not be explained through normal human experience. Supernatural mystery whose solution is outside the realm of typical understanding, the evil appears as an invisible force.  The plotting process, however, ensures that the surrounding characters do not believe in the evil at first. 

Main characters are haunted, estranged individuals, whose lives mainly depend on the success of the protagonist. Mood is dark, foreboding, menacing, and bleak and creates an immediate response by the reader. Setting is described in some detail if much of the story takes place in one location. Plot contains frightening and unexpected incidents.

Coincidence explains the initial actions of the evil entity. The supporting cast shows concern for the well-being and sanity of the main character. Only after a convincing disaster or death everyone believes fearing the main character and praying for help. In turn, the protagonist develops power in order to conquer the evil entity (Agent Query, 2007).

The miniseries has always been the best format for King to present his novel ideas, and Storm of the Century provides the subject matter he is so fond of: taking a normal setting and stripping away the layers until the evil is exposed (Huddleston, 2003). The author likes to take a long time to get to the meat of a story.

King’s horror involves supernatural effects. Each type plays on different fears; the most effective play on the oldest, most visceral fears left over from ancestral experience or childhood imagination. Yet all of them have some elements in common, certain motifs that appear throughout the genre, however widely separated in time and setting. These motifs horrify by taking away things we depend on. They disturb our preconceptions, our sense of safety and comfort and how the world should work. They twist and warp the familiar into the unfamiliar. They bother us with differences.

King’s approaches to creating horror are featured by the following characteristics:

1) The unknown - the first, most primal fear because it contains all the others. Anything could happen; anything could emerge from the darkness.

Our imaginations readily run away with us, leaving us clinging to the edge of our seats. Yet the unknown is limitless in potential as well as in threat. Everything known emerges from the unknown, and so it has endless power to hold our attention.

2) The unexpected - from the unknown comes the known, the way we expect reality to function. When something shatters our expectations, we feel shock and distress. Your stomach plummets when the monster smashes through the wall. Even without the sudden impact, unnatural creatures and occurrences make us uncomfortable. On a deep, instinctive level we react to them as wrong. Sane people do not like having to deal with an insane world. The absurd confuses us.

3) The unbelievable - the scourge of the story flattening a village and the main characters can't get any assistance because nobody believes them. We disregard that which does not fit into our pre-existing definition of reality ... a dangerous habit. We also fear falling into a situation that places us beyond belief.

The nature of sanity comes into question. Despite this, we enjoy a jaunt outside the boundaries of everyday reality.

4) The unseen - blood and guts grab our attention precisely because, in a normal world, we never see them. They only become visible when something goes seriously wrong. This is why slasher scenes work -- they show us something we rarely see -- and why their effectiveness decreases with repeat exposure

5) The unstoppable - the inexorable advance and endless pursuit upset our expectations. People retreat, fighting harder as they back into corners. Relentless forces too powerful to fight call up uncomfortable associations with death, which most people don't like to think about. Yet death comes for everyone in time, so we cannot avoid it forever. Instead we go whistling down dark alleys to confront the inevitable.

6) Helplessness - characters have agency, the ability to act, react, and change to hold viewers’ attention. Much of the attraction comes from a complete lack of agency, of power.

7) Urgency - is the central conflict. Helplessness contrasts with aching, desperate need. The price of failure is always astronomical: the death of a loved one, the destruction of the world.

The characters cannot simply walk away; they draw us into their urgency as well. This driving force also contrasts with the apathy common today, the feeling that one's decisions and actions never make a difference. Thus, the very stress of the protagonist's struggle appeals to us.

8) Pressure - the slow build of tension is accompanied by the increasing need to do something. Pressure combines with urgency to spur characters to greater feats, while heightening audience involvement. The pressure builds, peaks, and then dissipates.

9) Intensity - with danger comes a heightened awareness, enhancing all emotions both positive and negative, drawing attention to every detail. The senses pick up far more than usual; the world becomes more immediate, more real. The intensity of emotion and sensation drowns out common sense.

10) Rhythm - the preceding elements combine to create a rise and fall of tension. Rhythm allows the intensity to build to a higher peak than would a straight assault. The film succeeds through a profound lack of pattern, again playing on our innate desire for the world to make sense. The random attacks eat away at our security and force us to take the story on its own terms.

Conclusion

The emotional and physical violence of horror literature acts as a safety valve for our repressed animalism. Horror stories are a convenient and harmless way of striking back, of giving in to those mysterious and feral forces, allowing them to take control and wrack havoc on the stultifying regularity of our lives. There's real horror in loneliness and rage, in twisted love and jealously, in the rampant corporate greed that threatens to rot us from within. Much of today’s horror is about these dark stains on our souls, the cancers of our minds.

As Stephen King observed, horror and supernatural stories is a form of preparation for our own deaths, a ‘dance macabre’ before the void, as well as a way to satisfy our curiosity about the most seminal event in our lives except birth. So perhaps the ultimate appeal of horror is the affirmation that it provides.

The opposite of death is life. If supernatural evil exists in this world, as many horror stories posit, so must supernatural good. Black magic is balanced by white. In a starkly rational world that would banish such beings, horror genre gives them back to us: their magic, their power, and the reality they once held in simpler times (Taylor, 2007).

Horror fiction taunts our fears with nothingness and mystery, dark wisdom, and the teachings of the evil’s hopeless immortality, which seem to be as deeply imprinted in the human psyche. Therefore, the key feature of the film is provocation of fear and terror in viewers, usually via demonic scenes. This is added by a sense of dread, unease, anxiety, or foreboding. In actual fact, horror is associated with certain archtypes such as demons, witches, ghosts, vampires and the like, though this can be found in other genres, especially fantasy (Bennett, 2007).

Storm of the century is a painful and intense fear, dread, and dismay. The film offers us scary emotion continually evolving into meeting our fears and anxieties. And this is all due to King’s horror mastery keeping us breathless until the last scene.  

Works Cited

Agent Query. 2007, ‘Fiction Genre Descriptions’ [Online] Available at: http://www.agentquery.com/genre_descriptions.aspx

Bennett, S. 2007, ‘Definition of the Horror Fiction genre’, [Online] Available at:

http://www.findmeanauthor.com/definition_horror_fiction_genre.htm

Huddleston, K. 2003, ‘Stephen King's Storm of the Century’, [Online] Available at:

            http://www.scifi.com/sfw/issue95/screen.html

King, S. 1999, Storm of the century, Pocket; TV Tie in Ed edition

Taylor, D. 2003, ‘No Bones About It: How to Write Today's Horror. Part III: What Today's Readers Don't Want’, [Online] Available at:  http://www.writing-world.com/sf/taylor3.shtml

 

 

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