What is Action Horror?

(Cross Posted at www.strugglingwordguy.com)

I write Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror.  But what I find myself writing most is Action Horror and it’s probably the genre closest to my heart.  I love a story where someone shoots a fucking vampire in the face.  Speaking of which…

action horror definition

Some of my favorite examples: Aliens, World War Z, and innumerable chronicles about creature hunters.  Sadly, Van Helsing has to be included in this list… but don’t hold that against the genre.

they can't all be winners

Think every zombie movie ever made.  Think space marines vs xenolife.  Think the Thing’s R.J. MacReady testing the blood of his coworkers.

If I wanted to be literary, I would claim to be carrying on a three thousand year old tradition.  That is to say, I want to retell Beowulf over and over again because goddamn do I love that story.  If I want to be crass I say I like stories where people kill cool looking monsters in endless varieties of awesomely violent ways.  I’m sometimes afraid to admit that I write ‘horror’ because the strongest association in people’s head nowadays is torture porn (a la Saw, Hostel and innumerable others incarnations).

Exact definitions are difficult because you could conceive of all horror stories as ‘action’ (running, screaming for help, or even begging for help are all ‘actions’).  I just look at what I like to write as one part of a continuum.  On one end is torture porn (which focuses on victimization and -well- torture) and on the other end there’s action horror (where the emphasis is on plans, the skills and abilities of human beings faced with an impossible situation).  And it’s the latter that generally interests me.

I adore considering the best laid plans of men battling nightmares.  It doesn’t matter if they’re soldiers, obsessives or ordinary people who ‘peaked behind the veil.’  They might not live through the night, but they’re not going to go down without a fight.

(Comment!  Commenting is awesome.  If you like great stories you can read my fiction CHEMO: Town of Golden by clicking here or listen by clicking here and skipping to the 22 minute mark.)

2 thoughts on “What is Action Horror?”

  1. Just to try to be clear….

    Action Horror would include things like The Walking Dead, Alien, I am Legend (the book, not the movie), The Wolf’s Hour, maybe even a little Sci-Fi crossover like Westworld?

    Action Horror would NOT include movies like Paranormal Activity, The Woman in Black, The Blair Witch Project, stuff like that? There’s running and screaming, and maybe some people die, but there’s no traditional ‘action’ sequences where someone Rambo’s out to save the day.

    Am I even close?

  2. Yes, sorta.

    Here’s the basics. For me, Action Horror = Horror Tropes + Characters Equipped to deal with said nastiness.

    It doesn’t matter if it’s supernatural, demonic, alien or whatever. So, the exorcist focuses on the characters of the Mother, the Daughter, and the doubt filled priest hence it’s a traditional Horror story. Constantine (having some the same themes of the devil, posession, madness et al) focuses on serial exorcist John Constantine and hence it is an action horror story.

    Action scenes (or the lack thereof) help set the tone, but when everything is said and done it’s more about the characters. There’s also the subgenre of survival horror, which -since survivors accumulate experience- tends to become action-horror eventually (Ripley is a good example, since she survives the horror movie Alien she is competent enough to help make Aliens an Action Horror story).

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