Friday, 21 August 2020

Horror in the Daylight

Horror for the most part happens at night, in the shadows, in the dark. We are diurnal creatures and we rely on our sight above all other senses. Hence, "the night is dark and full of terrors".

But a bright summer's day can also exhibit a certain spookiness - a feeling of impending doom. I was struck by this earlier today while driving around the small English town (a largish village, really) which some of my relatives call home. The day was hot, cloudless, soporific. The town, let's call it 'L', is a short drive away from some of England's quaintest and most exclusive coastal resorts, not to mention beautiful areas of unspoiled natural beauty, and is surrounded by fetching picture-postcard countryside But 'L' itself is what I suppose Americans would call rust belt. It used to be a somewhat important railway interchange and, as the largest settlement for miles around, a commercial and engineering hub. But the railway closed down and the jobs disappeared and almost everyone there is now stoney broke. It is not a place for tourists, who even in the days of Covid flock to the local beaches in their thousands. 

During a hot summer's day in the school holidays, a town like 'L' takes on a malevolent air. Everybody who has any wherewithal whatsoever is at the beach, or having fun in their gardens, or away on a trip. The streets are quiet, populated only by the occasional lost soul wandering about with grubby plastic bags and an aged dog on a leash. The air shimmers with heat. Local pubs are mostly empty (the gastropubs in the villages around are full); suspicious-looking locals lurk in the doorways drinking flat beer and smoking. Occasionally, in the distance, you hear the sound of a car, or a burst of music from the window of some pokey flat. Playgrounds stand empty; swings, see-saws and climbing frames, rusty and overgrown with weeds, look as though they haven't heard a child's laughter in years. You wouldn't be particularly surprised to see Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach appear around the corner with six-guns drawn. At the same time, you feel as though you have slipped into some parallel reality in which all there will ever be, for ever more, is one long, hot, sunny afternoon, and in which there will never be the remotest hope of any event of any significance coming along to break the oppressive monotony which lays over the earth like a blanket.

Is there not the feeling, for those of you who are familiar with such scenes and moments, that there would be nothing particularly untoward if ghosts haunted the streets on days like this? If demons of despair, loneliness and anger lingered in the alleyways of the town, searching for victims upon whom to visit their hatred for the universe? If one's path was not stalked by a murderer who knew that the overwhelming lethargy of the townsfolk would prevent serious investigation of a death? If some nihilistic entropy-worshipping cult did not hide in plain sight, infested in the civic affairs of the town? If behind that second-story window from which music blares there wasn't a group of dabblers attempting to summon a Lovecraftian entity from beyond space and time?

Here, it is not what you can't see which scares you - or, rather, it is not the fact that you can't see which is the source of fear. It is the fact that you cannot hope. On a railway bridge a hundred yards or so from my uncle's house (I wish I had had the forethought to take a photograph) there is a grafito in yellow spray paint: FUCK LIFE. That is the type of horror which descends upon you on a hot day in a small depressed town in rural England. 


  1. Related genres:

    Southern gothic (more humid)
    Post apocalyptic wasteland (Mad Max etc)
    Desert survival stories (Lawrence of Arabia etc)

  2. Ha, reminded me of the first time I read the short story, "Children of the Corn."

  3. Similarly Down East Maine horror works well in the daylight. Drive up near Machias on the Canadian border and it just feels wrong. Windswept, mostly empty with real feeling of desolation. Some Stephen King stories tap into that since he's from around there.

  4. Getting some real Thomas Ligotti vibes here.

  5. I know exactly what you mean.

  6. I'm surprised nobody's mentioned The Prisoner, which contained quite a bit of daylight horror in the unsettlingly bright and baroque Village.

    1. True, and Portmeirion on a hot day would have entirely this vibe except for the hordes of tourists.