L’horror ci parla di noi

Il genere horror ci accompagna dall’età della pietra. Perché? In sostanza perché parla dell’oscurità che aleggia sulla condizione umana. Ma è diventato vera arte solo in quest’epoca contrassegnata dalla paura dell’altro.

Horror is what anthropologists call biocultural. It is about fears we carry because we are primates with a certain evolved biology: the corruption of the flesh, the loss of our offspring. It is also about fears unique to our sociocultural moment: the potential danger of genetically modifying plants. The first type of fear is universal; the second is more flexible and contextual. Their cold currents meet where all great art does its work, down among the bottomless caves on the seabed of consciousness. Lurking here, a vision of myself paralysed in the dirt, invisible to those I love.

Horror has always been with us. Prehistoric cave paintings are rife with the animal-human hybrids that remain a motif of horror to this day. Every folktale tradition on Earth contains tales of malevolent creatures, petrifying ghosts and graphic violence. The classics are frequently horrifying: in Homer’s Odyssey, when the Cyclops encounters Odysseus’ men, the monster eats them, ‘entrails, flesh and the marrowy bones alike’.


As any historian of the genre will tell you, horror has had previous golden ages. Perhaps ours is just a random quirk of popular taste. But perhaps not. Perhaps we are intoxicated by horror today because the genre is serving a function that others aren’t. Can’t. Horror’s roots run deep, but they twist themselves into forms very modern. The imagination’s conversion of fear into art offers a dark and piercing mirror.

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