First, what is horror fiction? The definition that works best for me is fiction that unsettles and disturbs us. For some, this comes in the form of fantastic monsters like vampires, werewolves and such. For others, it wears the form of serial killers. And for yet others, it’s someone dressed as a clown.
Secondly, what is erotic fiction? I think most would agree that it is fiction that deals with sex or sexual themes, without moving into explicit pornography. In trying to find a definition for erotic fiction on the ‘Net, I came across something interesting by Michael Perkins (I don’t know who he is). He wrote, “the function of erotic literature is to express the secret part of our lives which periodically rules us” and goes on to conclude that “such writing confirms an important measure of our interior worlds and purges us of our fear of the unknown.”
This leads me to the sometimes odd, but also inevitable, merging of the erotic with the horrifying in fiction. Perkins writes, “We read what frightens us because the work confronts our deepest suspicions about life.” So why does sex scare some of us so much?
I think that erotic horror has developed in part because we are at our most vulnerable when engaged in the intimate embrace. At what other time are we bereft of all forms of protection and focused on not our surroundings but one individual? In addition to that, sex can leave us emotionally vulnerable, as well. For many, this is truly unsettling.
If it wasn’t, why are there so many people with intimacy issues?
Another aspect of pleasure and pain commingled in fiction is the use of food in both horror and erotic horror. Food in necessary for life. But it can also be a sensual, visceral pleasure, thus the term “comfort food.”
Much of horror uses food for the gross-out effect — people eating things that most people wouldn’t put near their nose, let alone in their mouth. There is also the cannibalistic use of food in horror fiction. But, for me, food is the most scary when it is used seductively: the unsuspecting victim lured to his or her doom by the promise of a tasty treat, or the promise of pleasure being used to lure the victim to his or her demise.
Hunters and trappers use the former quite often — a chunk of meat lures the wolf into a trap. This is also used in nature: the angler fish has a fleshy antennae-like thing hanging from its forehead that lures fish into its gaping maw. In fiction, food has been used to transform the victim into something monstrous. Drinking the blood of a vampire turns you into a vampire without loosing a drop of your own (The Lost Boys used this.)
Ray Bradbury wrote a chilling short story in which aliens invade earth in the form of mushrooms, which, when eaten, transformed the person into an alien. Murderers who use poison will often prepare elaborate or gourmet meals in which to hide the poison. In some ways, this is metaphorically pushing the tale of Eve and the Apple to a grotesque extreme.
As for the latter, serial killers often ply their prey with flattery and seduction. Even in the natural world, sex can lead to death. The male black widow has to tread carefully onto his paramour’s web, or she will devour him. In fiction, vampires often seduce their victims into being their meals.
So, in conclusion, why are some of the most pleasurable things in life often commingled with what scares us the most? Just a thought, but could it be that what we fear the most is loosing those very pleasures?