Don’t fret Stephen King, you are still capable of scaring audiences silly

‘Predictable pleasures’ keep horror fans, of any age, coming back for more

Share

What gruesome nightmares torment novelist Stephen King in the middle of the night? The monsters in the attic? The serial killer under the bed? Or perhaps it’s the dreaded Kindle, come to steal all his readers away? Apparently not. According to an interview he gave the BBC earlier this week, the only thing that really gives King the willies is the spectre of the contemporary audience. “They have gotten a lot more savvy about the tricks that novel writers and film-makers use to scare them with.”

I’m a little scared, frankly, by how defeatist this statement sounds. But then since Stephen King is the most successful writer of horror and suspense fiction in the world, I’m inclined to assume instead that this is just a clever bit of early marketing for Doctor Sleep, his forthcoming sequel to The Shining. Like any decent horror writer he intends to lull us into a false sense of security before his latest creation jumps out of the publisher’s cupboard and ambushes us with its brilliance. Remember, if there’s one thing King is even better at that writing horror stories, it’s flogging them; he’s sold 350 million and counting.

Horror isn’t to everyone’s tastes, but if you like a vindaloo curry, or rollercoasters, or industrial techno music, then you can understand the principle of a pleasure which pleases through slight pain. No one would actually want to be stuck in the vast Overlook Hotel with a past-his-prime Jack Nicholson banging on about his creative insecurities (Shelley Duvall’s fate in the film version of The Shining), but when that nightmare is presented from a comfortable distance, in an environment that is ultimately within our control, it transforms into one of life’s great delights.

This also explains why wising up to the tricks of genre is not the same as tiring of them. It’s what cultural theorists call “the predictable pleasures” and it’s this that keeps horror fans – of any age – coming back for more. We know what lies beneath and we’ve also got a fairly good idea whodunit, but the anticipation of these predictions realised makes us grip the paperback all the tighter and scream all the louder.

Perhaps I’m being too cynical (that’s savvy, modern audiences for you) and this isn’t a marketing ploy. Perhaps Stephen King is experiencing a genuine crisis of confidence. If that’s the case, he need only look to Northampton for reassurance. There, a local prankster has succeeded in scaring the bejesus out of residents by simply donning the white face make-up and red nose of Pennywise, from Stephen King’s 1986 novel It.

If some clown (literally) from the East Midlands can terrorise with such minimal effort, then the acknowledged master of horror should have no trouble at all.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Queen spoke of respect for all cultures and faiths in her Christmas message  

Decoding the Queen's speech: Was Her Majesty taking a swipe at Ukip?

Jane Merrick
Iraqi soldiers trained by the US were routed by IS’s smaller force  

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

Patrick Cockburn
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015