Horror in the late 20th century

Horror literature in the late 20th century

Towards the second half of the 20th century, the horror genre began to move in many different directions and was taken up by a large number of new writers. An early writer of horror stories and stories with horror elements in this period was Shirley Jackson, who is particularly famous for the short story “The Lottery” (1948), which is not about supernatural monsters, but is rather focused on the horrors that ordinary human beings might commit against each other when influenced by tradition or authority figures. Jackson also went on to write more traditional gothic horror with The Haunting of Hill House (1959).

In general, there was a growing trend towards more realistic horror stories, which would often focus on human villains such as serial killers or other violent criminals. A famous example of this trend was Psycho (1959) by Robert Bloch, which tells the story of a psychologically complex but relentlessly violent killer. Shortly after its publication, the novel was adapted into a movie by Alfred Hitchcock, and became even more famous in this format.

The rising fascination with serial killers among the American public has sometimes been attributed to the case of Ed Gein, a real-life murderer and grave robber who crafted furniture and clothing out of human bodies he had dug up from their graves. Gein helped inspire both Robert Bloch’s Psycho, and the later novels about the cannibalistic serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter (1981-2006) by Thomas Harris.

In 1974 a young Stephen King published Carrie, his debut novel. This tale of a girl with strange powers who take horrible revenge on her bullies would launch King straight into literary fame - and start off an extremely productive literary career which today includes more than 50 novels and more than 200 short stories - most of them falling somewhere within the horror genre. You can read much more about Stephen King here.

Anne Rice is another noteworthy author of this period. Her Interview with the Vampire (1976) is notable for casting vampires as its main characters, and for its focus on the psychological and ethical implications of being an immortal creature who is forced to feed on the blood of living beings to survive. The current trend of portraying vampires as tragic anti-heroes rather than simple villains (such as in the Twilight series) can partly be traced back to Rice’s ideas.  

The 1990s saw a rise in horror stories marketed to children and young adults, most famously through the wildly successful Goosebumps series (1992-1997) by R.L. Stine, which is the second-best selling book series in history (only surpassed by Harry Potter). The Goosebumps books typically foc...

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