Re: RARA-AVIS: Noir Horror?

From: Bob Toomey (
Date: 08 Feb 2000

Bill Hagen wrote:
> Insofar as noir projects the inner world of morally problematic characters,
> it seems to me there is some interesection between good psychological
> horror pieces and hard-boiled noir--especially in those cases where the
> focus is on the criminal mind.

I've said before -- too often, no doubt -- that hardboiled is an attitude, not a genre. Noir is a style, and a film style at that, not a literary style, which you correctly trace to the German expressionistic silent films of the twenties. Hitchcock, who spent time in Germany, was influenced. Directors like Lang and Siodmak, German Jews fleeing Hitler, brought it to Hollywood. A fair number of noir films could be described as hardboiled, but very few hardboiled literary works can also be described as noir, in the same sense that very few literary works can be described as musical comedies. We're talking different mediums here.

For that matter, I'm not all that strong on the relationship between horror and noir. Horror takes place in shadows and darkness? It's true that noir, as a film style emphasizes shadows, not to mention blinking neon and glistening wet asphalt, but noir also tends toward an oblique narrative in which weak men are victimized by strong evil women, virtually the opposite of the horror story, in which women are generally the victims, a legacy of its descent from the Gothic.

Hardboiled horror is practically an oxymoron. Hardboiled is objective, horror is subjective. The primary goal of the horror story is to evoke fear, and it does this by operating along an emotional spectrum that is scrupulously avoided by hardboiled writers. To suggest that someone like Lovecraft has any relationship to hardboiled literature is preposterous. The idea, as someone mentioned here, that Matheson's I AM LEGEND is somehow hardboiled makes me wonder if he even read the book, which is full of purple prose and emotional excesses that are the precise opposite of the hardboiled attitude.

Which is not to say that there are no stories that succeed as both horror and hardboiled. But they are few and far between, and in nearly all cases, the degree to which they succeed as one is exactly the degree to which they fail as the other. In this instance, opposites don't attract, they annihilate each other, like matter and antimatter.


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