Images of Disability in Horror, Guest Blog by Kateryna Fury
In honor of Women in Horror Month, I have invited Kateryna Fury to write a guest blog. Kateryna Fury is a writer, musician, and aspiring film maker . She writes in the horror, fantasy and sci-fi genres and writes poetry and autobiographical stories.
She is disabled and has a spinal cord injury, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Reynaud’s Syndrome, Celiac Sprue, and the potential for other ailments. She considers herself healthy, and strives to have a high quality of life. Her current goals include preparing for the Miss Wheelchair USA competition, becoming a Championship quality public speaker Via Toastmasters, and advocating for the rights of women, disabled people, and any person who has a need that she can fulfill.
This includes beginning to prepare for the creation of a documentary about our Disabled Veterans. She lives with her beloved cats, one of whom you’ve met on this very blog – the service cat Nosferspratu, better known as Sprite.
She writes about autobiographical subjects, politics, disability and disability rights advocacy on her blog Textual Fury.
The wind rattled the branches of the trees knocking them into her windows with a resounding thud. The shutters outside creaked in the wind periodically hitting against the wall with a bang. Each sound made her jump. She sat in a chair curled up with her favorite Sumiko Saulson novel, the ambiance of the storm making the pages seem that more alive. The creaks and bangs were like a chorus as she read about the monstrosities on the paper, her mind alive with horror. She was unaware that horror was about to knock on her door and introduce itself.
At first the banging blended in with the dance of the shutters, it took her a bit before she realized someone was at the door. She looked through the peephole and saw nothing but darkness. She turned to leave when she heard it again. Thud. Thud. Thud. “Who is it?” She called out. She was greeted by a muffled voice she could not understand then silence.
Thud. Thud. Thud. Her heart raced in her chest as the door was pounded on again. Finally she opened it, regretting not installing a chain. There he was, a hulking monster, a scar over his face, his hands gnarled into claws. She nearly screamed at the sight of the man as he towered above her. She was certain this was her end!
“Pizza?” He said, his tone gruff as he held out the box. She’d forgotten she had ordered it. The wafting smells of melted cheese and pepperoni forced their way through her adrenaline induced panic. She nodded, digging her cash out of her pocket and held it out. “Keep the change!” Closing the door she returned to her chair, eating with one hand and turning the pages with another. She had forgotten to lock her door, and thus as the storm blocked out most sounds she missed the soft creak as it opened once more. She missed the quiet footsteps. The last thing she knew was the words on the page, her head rolling across the floor as her assailant took the book, after all good literature was something no one could pass up. The last thing she saw, framed in her open door, was the boy next door with a knife dripping blood as he ate a slice of her pizza.
Images of Disability in Horror
Horror is a psychological reflection of fear. The fears of the writer, the fears of society, and the fears of the reader all come in to play in a dance between subconscious and conscious. It is a twining dance in which the writer works to bring out your fears, worries, and make you feel them. While you are safe with the pages of the book as a shield between the monsters with in you are not safe from the way your brain twists them. This is how horror and disability became so closely entwined.
Horror is not a new genre, though it did have a resurgence in the late 19th century with classics such as Frankenstein and The Phantom of the Opera. It is a genre so old that most folktales have elements of modern horror to them. Fairy tales were not always wholesome and gentle stories but used to use horror as a call for moral action. This is something that is still done today, though that seems to be more prevalent in film instead of literature. The stereotypically virginal final girl who bests the twisted and scarred villain with her purity can be traced back before the Brother’s Grimm. Horror is a reflection of the social conscience and the social morality.
During the Victorian Era resurgence, what is now known as Gothic Horror, reinvigorated the way people read. Books that frightened became a popular trend in part because people were afraid. In the United States after the American Civil War things had degenerated to a state of wildness in vast swaths of the country. There was upheaval between states that went unresolved and people were not entirely appreciative of the outcome. There was fear that another war would cut the country in half and that the people would not survive. The injuries from war both psychological and physical could not be hidden and with the more modern weapons created by the industrial revolution the injuries were the worst that had been seen at that point in time. The crisis medically was so dire it gave birth to a new field of medicine and recreated an old one. Plastic surgery and prosthetics were used to disguise wounds and to recreate what came before. This was the beginnings of the horror villain as we know him today.
The classic horror monster from this time was most often just a man, who at first glance seemed normal but then it became clear through the telling that there was something deeper there. He often had a bit of scarring, an old war injury or even Nostalgia (which is today known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). As the story progressed his mask began to crack and the shell fell away to reveal a twisted individual who was too broken to function in this world. He often killed a beautiful woman, ugliness erasing beauty. Then the hero, a handsome man without any sign of mental health struggles or physical infirmity came to the rescue, he was always dashing and always saved the other beauty, who was slightly more pure. Even Dracula uses this formula. His victims chosen based on their brazen behavior. The hero only able to save his bride because of his own pure nature and lack of signs of evil.
Often the evil is attributed to psychological issues. Even if the villain of the story is not shown to be a monster via scars or physical infirmity, they are then portrayed to have a mental illness. This invisible struggle is meant to seem all the more horrifying because then the villain can be anyone. Mental illness is often used to remove need for motive for violent actions, it is used to remove the sense of sensibility in the actions of the villain and has the long term effect in story telling of randomizing the narrative. At times physical scarring or disability is combined with the invisible mental health challenge faced by our purported villain, and the mental illness is attributed to the physical disability. The villain used to be a good person, until their disfigurement began to haunt them and they just couldn’t get over their inability to walk, their facial scars or their limp. Thus they must punish others who are able. If the narrative is not about punishment and revenge then they revert to being mindlessly insane.
The side effects of these narratives in horror have a real world effect. The mentally ill villain is portrayed as an unstoppable threat when the majority of mentally ill people are defenseless and are the most vulnerable population. They are the most in need of protection but are portrayed as the threat. This has escaped our stories and has invaded real world media including news stories. The act of violence is cast as an aberration and invariably in the event of a violent act there is a label of a mental illness or invisible impairment attached. Recent examples include almost every shooting story in the US in 2012 being attributed to Autism. When later shown to be incorrect and regardless of how unrelated it is to the actions, the media does nothing to point out their error but continues to push that the group they selected as scapegoat is the real threat. This leads to increased violence against defenseless people in an example of the fears of the many being used to persecute the vulnerable and innocent.
As society shifts so do our monsters, yet difference and disability have clung on as the faces of evil for centuries. The lack of understanding socially plays a part, yet even as society grows more understanding and open to those with visible and invisible illnesses our stories use these elements to drum on the subconscious. Perhaps it is the inability to experience disability without being forever marked by the experiences. Perhaps it is in the false narrative of normalcy. Perhaps it is in the reflections of who we as writers and readers are. Only time will tell how the changes in society change our writing, and horror has already begun to grow and change. The things that terrify us today will be our normal tomorrow. Horror goes deeper now seeking purchase in arenas beyond fear of what we may become and fear of who we are, seeking out fears with in new technology, with in diseases, and yet in the end the fears all return to the same space; the minds of the reader and the writer. What will the new horror monster be for this century? I suppose we horror writers better start typing so we can find out!
~ by Sumiko Saulson on February 25, 2013.
Posted in Guest Blog, WiHM 2013
Tags: Author, Celiac Sprue, disability, disabled writers, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Horror, Miss Wheelchair USA, Reynaud’s Syndrome, scary, sci-fi, WiHM, WiHM 2013, women in fiction, Women in Horror Month, Women in Horror Month 2013, writing