The Rebirth of Elegant Horror

by K.L. Nappier

Does “elegant horror” seem like an oxymoron to you? It shouldn’t. There was a time when horror shared the same literary and theatrical heights as classical romances or tragedies. Then somewhere on the timeline of entertainment history, mainstream horror veered. It went not so much the way of erotica as porn, if you will.

Now, for me, particularly cinematically speaking, one of the great harbingers of elegant horror’s return was actually billed as a sci-fi flick. Bet you know which one I mean: Ridley Scott’s Alien. Some may argue that The Exorcist holds the honor of beginning the rebirth, but I see that classic as being a hallowed outlier, a rebel in a rising age of schlocky living deads, shocky chainsaw massacres and scream-queening slasher nightmares that still, of course, rule a considerable kingdom of gruesome.

Is it weird, then, that I -an author often billed as a horror writer- never learned to love the likes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween or Saw? Well, not really, when you consider that my early influences were Edgar Allan Poe and Rod Serling. It’s true that the morés of Poe’s and Serling’s times repressed the grotesque. But I believe, even if that were not the case, Poe and Serling would have still insisted that the gore serve the story. Not the other way around.

Which brings me back to our modern times and why I feel we are enjoying a new age of elegant horror. Literarily speaking, it’s been coming for a while now. Consider Guillermo del Toro (whether in books or movies, dude kicks elegant horror ass), Thomas Harris, Anne Rice and Peter Straub. Now, don’t be snippy because I didn’t include Stephen King. I am a great admirer of Stephen King. He is legendary. But I don’t believe his work can be defined as elegant horror, even though some very elegant horror movies have been made based on his novels.

Cinematically speaking, today’s return to elegant horror occurs more often on the small screen (if you can call today’s t.v. screens small) than the great, silver one: The Walking Dead, American Horror Story, Penny Dreadful, my personal favorite Hannibal and even the Netflix yawner Hemlock Grove fits the mold. Were you a fan of Dexter? I can see that.

And it should come to no one’s surprise that many of the above mentioned are riffs off elegant horror tomes. The film industry has mined the best and brightest from literature for decades, and we have all benefited.

So. What’s my point? My point is that there is, and always has been, a large audience enthralled with the kind of horror that cuts deeper than a meat clever or a chainsaw; that probes softer, more vulnerable parts of our humanity than mere muscle tissue and organs. The old masters understood how to do that. So do the contemporary masters. And I am in absolute, chilled-to-the-bone heaven to see the literary and cinematic worlds return to their senses and re-embrace them.

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Think you might be a closet elegant horror fan? Here’s some of my favorites to cut your teeth on…or deeply into your soul:

Movies: The Exorcist, Alien, The Shining, Rosemary’s Baby, Pumpkin Head (much ignored and underrated), Let the Right One In (the original Swedish flick), Let Me In (the British/American version of Let the Right One In), The Silence of the Lambs, The Sixth Sense, The Others

TV series: Hannibal, The Walking Dead, American Horror Story, Penny Dreadful

Authors: Thomas Harris, Anne Rice (her earlier works), Peter Straub

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K.L. Nappier is the author of “The Full Wolf Moon Trilogy”, “Voyagers”, “Strange Eight” and other supernatural thrillers and dark fiction. For more information, go to


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