The Horror of Poop

Some friends were discussing the use of poop in horror fiction today. They had different ideas on why an author would include bodily functions and waste in a horror story, when such things are rarely mentioned in most other forms of fiction. So one of them asked me about it. But first, a romantic interlude …

Sally’s bosom heaved. Her skin was flushed with desire. She wanted him, and she could tell that Julio wanted her, too. But first, there were other matters to attend to.

“Julio, my love, I want you to ravish me,” she said. “But first I need to take a big hairy dump.”

Yeah, that probably wouldn’t make it past the editors at Harlequin. So, why do characters crap in horror? This friend referred to a scene in my as-yet unpublished book, The Prometheus Syndrome, where Josh, the main character, presses his butt against the bars of the cell where he’s being held captive and pinches a loaf onto the floor. He then goes to sleep and wakes up to find that dinner has been served … adorned with his chocolate offerings. Here was my response:

Horror fiction strives to make people think about things they don’t like to think about. Josh pooping through his cell door, then finding his own waste in his food, did show his character, but it also tells the reader (I hope) that she is in for a series of events that she may not want to think about happening in real life — being an unwilling subject in a science experiment, rape (being raped and not being able to control your own urges), reanimation of corpses and being hunted by the decaying product of your own rage.

Have you seen the old movie “The Legend of Bogey Creek?” I saw it as a kid and it scared me pretty good because of one scene in particular, and that’s the one scene people are first to mention. It’s the scene where the guy is sitting on the toilet and the monster shoves an arm through the bathroom window. On one level, it’s funny. haha, he was caught with his pants down. But on a deeper level, we’re seldom more vulnerable than we are when we’re taking a dump. Horror fiction reminds us of that.

What do you think? Why do horror writers like to wallow in the poop?

0 responses to “The Horror of Poop”

    • This is true. There’s that red-headed lady out in California who writes a classy vampire series without poop. What’s her name again? Hmm. Something Hamilton, ain’t it?
      Please don’t hurt me, Karen. I’m only funnin’ ya!
      Nice haircut, by the way. Makes you look sassy.

  1. Unneccessarily baroque reply:
    No, I don’t think Harlequin would go for that. Do women even pee in Harlequin romances?
    I think your reasoning is probably spot on in a lot of cases. Obviously it applies to you, since you’ll know why you are doing something. Since, as you pointed out, poop does not appear very often in other genres, it serves as a signal flare: things in this universe are not pretty. It’s not the only signal of its type. I have found that a fairly reliable indicator of whether I will enjoy a war movie or action movie is whether it actually shows someone throwing up. If they do, it’s a sure bet they won’t flinch from showing other things that I can’t . . . err . . . stomach. (I can read pretty graphic stuff while I eat with no more than a burp, but visually I have a very low gross-out tolerance.)
    Another part may be a feeling on the part of the writer that, by God, if they don’t flinch from showing evisceration, cannibalism, and flesh-gnawing mutant goldfish, they should not go all lily-livered over some crap.
    Yet again, I could point out that, to my mind, horror deals more closely with reality than almost any other genre. Fantasy establishes its own reality, as does science fiction. Romance is in a reality of its own where women never stink and people don’t fart and then laugh about it. Erotica when done “by the rules” is usually fairly close to the bone, so to speak, and is the most “realistic” genre I’ve ever had to work in. Horror, which I have rarely been able to write successfully, trumps all of those.
    Because in order for something to be horrific, it has to defy or betray or offend reality in some way. This means that in horror fiction, establishing a bedrock reality is important. Make of that what you will, but I don’t think the fact that horror writing tends to be . . . earthier is entirely accidental or unrelated to that.
    It’s also a shock. While there is a lot of debate over the relative merits of shock and splatter versus psychological horror, what is undeniable is that if you shock someone a little by showing them something they don’t usually see, it makes them more psychologically vulnerable. You’re poking the toothpick into their belly to see if they’re done before you stick the knife in. Once you get an emotional response, even one that might be seen as negative, getting another one becomes easier; provided they keep reading.
    It’s a technique, and it is effective, no matter how any one person feels about it individually.
    . . . Damn. That came out longer than I’d thought. Guess I really had to go.

    • Re: Unneccessarily baroque reply:
      Great points! And, umm, I’m glad you were able to get that out of your system.
      Erotica is realistic? Damn, girl. You must have a happy hubby!
      If you don’t use the flesh-gnawing mutant goldfish idea soon, I’m claiming it as my own. 😉

  2. Marcy at work…
    Actually, I’ve heard a lot of talk about using all kinds of bodily functions and fluids in horror. (Trying to remember if I’ve ever used any myself, though.)
    There are a lot of reasons to use it, psychologically or just straight out grossness. Isn’t that why there’s a Gross-Out contest at WHC??

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