|Horror/Scary: January 25, 2023 Issue [#11770]|
This week: Isolation Thrillers Edited by: I like big books #2233315
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|Hello, my name is Brooke and I've been a moderator here since April 2010. I love this site and think it's a valuable place for writers and readers of all levels to get feedback and make friends. I'm proud to be your guest editor this week.|
|An isolated setting in a horror or thriller story can provide an eerie and tense atmosphere even if there is just one character narrating the story. Some of the scariest thriller stories are set in isolated places, whether it’s a group of people confined on a spaceship or a single family at a hotel in Colorado during a terrible winter storm.|
You might recognize the latter from one the most well-known isolated thriller/horror stories there is - Stephen King’s third published novel The Shining (1977). While being alone stuck in a huge, rambling resort alone would be bad enough to set anyone on edge after a while, the detail that really sets the mood for me is the snow. For me, there is something especially chilling (pardon the pun) about isolated stories that take place in winter landscapes. The fear and desolation factors are ramped up to a level that no other setting can match.
Another well-known horror story takes place in the cold, barren Antarctic wilderness. Not entirely an isolation story but close enough considering the setting. Based on the novella 'Who Goes There' (1938) by John. W. Campbell, the film, The Thing (1986) didn’t see critical acclaim upon its release but gained a cult following after released on home video. It pits a research team against a shape-shifting alien from a 100,000-year-old spaceship that assumes the appearance of its victims.
Ruth Ware is an author I’ve discovered recently who has really embraced the isolated thriller setting. One by One is the first of her books I read. While getting snowed in at a beautiful, rustic mountain chalet doesn’t sound like the worst problem in the world, what happens when that company is eight of your coworkers and one turns up dead…and you can’t trust any of them? She had me at snowed in.
Isolation stories don’t have to take place in bad weather to be effective though. The setting alone is a simple and timeless storytelling method. It’s easy to see yourself in the lonely protagonist as they face whatever is happening relying only on themselves. Your emotions are stripped down; everything becomes irrelevant except feelings directly related to survival.
There are several ways to isolate a person without them technically being alone though. In Rear Window, the main character is confined to a wheelchair in his apartment due to a medical event when he realizes one of his neighbors may be a murderer. There are other characters in the story but Jeff, the main character is restricted from leaving which ramps up the feeling of, you guessed it, isolation. The story was originally published in 1942 in Dime Detective Magazine under the title “It Had to Be Murder,” as a short story by Cornell Woolrich before it was developed into the famous Alfred Hitchcock movie in 1954.
While severe weather can really ramp up the excitement, few environments are more isolating than outer space. The unknown stretches the imagination and takes your nervousness to places a more normal setting cannot. Take the screenplay entitled Alien (1979) written by Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett. It follows the crew of a commercial spaceship who after finding an abandoned ship on an unsettled moon, find themselves fighting for their lives against an aggressive and deadly extraterrestrial that makes its way onto their ship. The first film was so wildly popular it was developed into a series of movies, novels, comic books, and even video games, and toys.
There is one isolation setting that I’ve saved for last.
Imagine waking up in a room with no recollection of how you got there. Now imagine you can’t get out.
That was the setting for a screenplay written by James Wan and Leigh Whannell. The first film simply titled Saw, released in 2004 was described as focusing primarily on the character of John Kramer, a notorious serial killer referred to as the "Jigsaw Killer", who seeks out those he deems to be wasting their lives and subjects them to torturous and lethal games, supposedly to make them appreciate being alive. According to several sources, the story wasn’t written with as much violence as it ended up actually containing. Wan saw the script as a more mystery-thriller but as the series progressed it got more violent and bloody putting it squarely in the splatter genre with many critics referring to it as torture porn. Whatever it was, it was effective. As with isolation settings, torture sells.
|I've chosen items this week that relate to the isolation topic above. I hope you like them.|
Have you ever felt like you were being watched?
Hospital rooms can be unnervingly quiet.
The human mind can be the most isolated place of all.
Always be careful walking home alone.
Repetition in scary stories can be an unsettling mode of storytelling.
What could be more isolating than being unable to escape from your dreams?
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