Horror stories are highly moralizing by nature. They are to terrorize us and keep us in place, reminding us there are powers greater than ourselves who will kick our backsides to make us tumble into the inner layers of Hell itself. The End. These tales are the helmet-haired old ladies with the tiny shoulders in the world of storytelling. Just you wait until the Grim Slasher of Your Nightmares comes to give you a-whipping!
Yet these stories are Patriarchal.
Do not follow the moral code and the demons will get you good. In horror movies, the serial killers cleanse the world of pot-smoking, promiscuous teenagers who play the music too loud and don’t listen to their mothers. Even in other genres of horror, you must remember to follow “the rules”: failure to comply results in a gruesome and gory death. The *Scream* franchise was all about remembering the Rules of Survival. It is either of list of negatives (Don’t do this; don’t do that) or positives (You must do these things in this particular order).
In a real way, these killers are Ammit the Dog, the companion of Anubis who weighed souls on a scale to determine their eternal fate. They are the Soul Eaters who are dispatched to devour these undesirables, leaving the pious, for the most part, alone.
Even with the television series *Dexter*, the protagonist was both Anubis and Ammit: determining whose heart was heavier than a feather, and then going off to devour their hearts.
It is a world constructed by a Patriarchal obsessive compulsive moralist. There is no wiggle room. Any deviation or misstep results in losing your entrails. It is about compliance by fear. It is all right for the demon protagonist to commit murder and work on the fringe, but make no mistake: he is The Man. Very few of these Soul Eaters are female (*Carrie* and *The Grudge* are notable exceptions). The world of horror is a Man’s World and the one doing the killing is, in fact, the authority.
Not all dark tales are gory, yet they still are the dark side of the Patriarchal, most notably *The Twilight Zone*, *Alfred Hitchcock Presents*, and *Tales of the Unexpected* to name three, though *The Night Gallery* was also of the same ilk. Many EC Comics of yore also relied on the Dark Patriarchal: someone has decided to enter a game that is rigged: stray one step away from The Rules, and you will face the consequences. Impure wishes are granted, but then your fate will prevent you from ever enjoying it. Those who repent at the critical moment will dodge a bullet. There are muted happy endings, but rather than feelings of triumph, it is dull relief that you survived at the last second because Anubis’ scales came out even.
No one can ever feel too cocky in these stories: survival at the end of the tale without death, punishment, or gross humiliation is the sole reward. In one *Alfred Hitchcock Presents* episode, a young Burt Reynolds plays the grown son of a truck driver. The young man wishes not to work with his father and wishes to branch out on his own; however after a series of events, the son decides to stick with the job where he is unhappy, but staying with his authority figure is rewarded by not getting killed by a hijacker. In another episode with Steve McQueen, his reward is not the money he seeks, but *not* getting his fingers cut off.
The true horror of these tales is that a happy ending is defined by not losing too much than what you had in the beginning. The view is not merely dystopic: it is *retreatist*. Just be grateful your loss or failure wasn’t worse – so now put a sunny spin on merely *living* to tell the tale. Now run along and don’t come back here again.
Yet nothing in these tales can ever be taken at face value. There is always deception in these tales – sleight of hand in the Patriarchal Style that always demands and dictates that the audience or reader takes everything as it appears. It is a rigged system of storytelling. You must always listen to the narrative authority, but he gleefully lies to you at every turn. An aspiring hitman agrees to an assignment to kill a veteran hitman, never realizing he is being set up by both his boss and the senior killer. An old boxer wins a match because his son believes he will win – but since the father refuses to have the same faith, the win becomes an Alice in Wonderland-like dream. The “twist” of these stories is strictly dependent on knowing the rules of the Patriarchal Style – that what is presented by the narrator is the truth because the narrator is the authority who is also the gate-keeper who determines what information will be presented and through what lens.
Make none of those assumptions, and the stories completely lose their punch.
In other words, look at them through a Matriarchal lens, and the element of surprise is gone.
Like the *Mission: Impossible!* television series where realizing that American spies who merely don a fake Eastern European accent and talk English to the natives who talk fluent English back is no clever feint, dark Patriarchal tales lose much of the same luster: if we are threatened with a grisly fate by not following an authority that proves to be dishonest with us, then we are *morally* obligated to question that authority on every level. The narrator depends on deceit; ergo, the moral edge is lost as is credibility. The horror stories become an empty and self-serving threat.
Darker tales can easily be told in the Matriarchal style; however, there are many differences. Dread Tales can examine moral ambiguity by grains. We can exit the Twilight Zone and enter a *Grey Zone*: where everyone in the story has questionable morals, yet we must weigh the facts knowing full well there is no one we can fully trust.
We go into these tales with our eyes *open*: yes, we are in a place that is run by evil, yet it is not necessarily *heartless* by default. Many who are wicked do not see themselves as such, yet every one of their actions reveals their dark nature. They are completely blind to their evil. We can find fallen souls who now are determined to do right, save they have alienated everyone who could have ever helped them and now they must try to figure out how to do good on their own. The reader understands that they are wearing a distorted lens – but then can go back with *other* lenses, looking at different angles to judge characters differently. Even villains can feel love and compassion, yet their own blind spots always lead them astray.
We can examine the ways of lies with the Matriarchal Style: the reader understands that they are in a world of lies, yet the narrator acknowledges the ways of this world. Suspense is built by watching one villain or anti-hero go up against another villain and anti-hero. These are a different sort of morality tale – one that examines the nature of evil to ponder it philosophical or even psychologically: how does greed turn a normal person into a monster? What role does fear play in the creation of evil? Is there such thing as redemption, and if there is, how does a villain remove those blinders? Why are delusions a part of evil? Can someone will anger and rage ever find a way to atone for his wrathful ways? Can such dark feelings be sublimated and transmuted to something positive?
In these stories, the point is not to nag the reader or make him afraid: the point is to allow him to *face* those dark crevices in the soul, confront those demons to have a heart-to-heart talk with them. We comfort those demons and show them – and ourselves – that there is nothing to fear as we embrace ourselves whole. We look within us and the chaotic vortex that seems to engulf us as we learn to master that vortex to build confidence in our benevolence to move confidently forward without neglecting the parts of ourselves that confuse or trouble us.
Matriarchal Dread Tales are about bravery – they are about facing the things that make us afraid of not only the world, but ourselves. We stand up to the lies of pessimism that always looks to infect others with its ideology to justify its existence to embrace the truths of optimism that allows us to boldly stand alone and face the scariest of Jabberwocky to show it compassion, kindness, and most importantly of all, forgiveness in order to transform itself to its true loving potential, even if it means it goes in a different direction than what we would choose for ourselves.
These tales are about letting go of our fears as we acknowledge that some emotions will always be soul-draining and destructive to us and people around us. We see how jealousy, greed, selfishness, and fear slowly deform a person’s heart and soul. We chronicle the downfall of those who choose to close their hearts and prefer to justify their actions rather than admit imperfection, yet we can also see that even those people can find ways to atone for their past fears and get more than a dull sense of relief: they can also reach a destination that gives them a fresh start as they become wise, brave, and ready to take on the world with both confidence and humility. They need not be degraded, but start fresh with self-respect and dignity as the reader learns that they can root for those who once seemed beyond all help.
However, it is not about excusing evil or justifying it. It is about healing our hearts to become brave and open. It is the most complex of dark stories, but ones where the point is to ponder as we don’t overwork Anubis and Ammit, but explore whether there are better ways to deal with those who cannot shake their fears and think the answer is to make all those around them as fearful as they are.