The impossible world of addiction horror
March 2023's Pick by Dean Patrick
Addiction horror is as wild a ride as it gets in the genre. It’s as wild a ride as you’ll ever want. It’s also right up my alley since I’ve battled the horrors of it for decades. When it comes to horror, adding the element of addiction makes the given situation far more disturbing as well as frightening. Good news for horror fans, bad news for protagonists locked in a world where fear and terror are the norm, when those worlds and characters have their journey pumped to a fever pitch.
Addiction horror stories themselves provide an audience with scenarios that seem impossible to overcome. Many times they can’t be overcome. It’s in this process where such odds inside the world of addiction horror can really push the envelope.
Let’s play around with some situations.
Spring, for example. It’s just around the corner. Where I live it sure as hell doesn’t feel like it, but for much of the country the weather is turning quite lovely. There’s a protagonist in this story. She’s in love with Spring. She’s also in love with crack cocaine. She uses it daily as Spring opens its new-life wings. The more our protagonist hits the crack pipe, the longer the days become in Spring. Until one day she discovers it’s impossible to stop hitting the pipe. Soon enough, days never end. Ever. Regardless how starved she becomes for the gracious night, it is the Spring days and their never ending torment that kill her with her eyes peeled open. Forever.
Or how about this one, and one that’s far too deeply familiar.
Our protagonist is stuck in traffic. It’s just after work hours in the big city. He becomes agitated to the point of anger that nothing is moving. It’s in the middle of summer and his car’s engine begins to overheat so he has to shut off the AC. Sweat begins to run down his face, his shirt becomes wet. Pants are sticking to him uncomfortably. He can no longer take the insane idleness and heat, so he opens up the glove compartment where he has a bottle of vodka stored and ready. He slams it home. Drink after drink. The alcohol hits him fast and hard. He finishes the bottle when the traffic begins to move. His impatience has grown to fury, so he hits the gas and slams into the car in front of him. It’s not long until blue and red lights are all around and his BAC level is .15.
One more for the road.
It’s Christmas Eve. Our protagonist is a lonely woman who’s just had her husband leave her. After 10 years of marriage and who she thought was the love of her life, he’s gone. She has no children. She has no pets. It’s cold outside. Far too cold. Her loneliness begins to break her heart. She has no one to call, feels there is no one to listen or turn to. She’s also been clean from heroin for 6 months. Her husband ended up leaving her just as her sobriety begins to take off. But she’s had a stash hidden during those 6 months. She goes to it, preps the needle, heats up the spoon, cooks the fix and hits the vein because she has no other way out. The drug instantly soothes her nerves and comforts her fears. But it keeps going and going and soon enough her loneliness is locked in a death grip while chasing the dragon, a dragon that soon kills her just as there’s a knock on the door from the neighbors who came over to spread good cheer.
Ahhh, addiction horror is indeed a wild ride.
If this is unfamiliar territory it’s important to note a few writers themselves who’ve been afflicted with addiction, and to note their ability to use what tormented them as a creative outlet for masterful horror.
Edgar Allen Poe
Poe was an opium addict and alcoholic who died penniless because of it. But no horror writer has done it better when it comes to mood, tone, and paranoia. His best works that cover the subject are “The Cask of Amontillado,” and “The Black Cat.”
Huxley took hallucinogens most of his adult life. His novel, Brave New World, is perhaps a better blueprint of the world we see now than Orwell’s 1984. Huxley’s dystopia is one riddled with forced drug use, and his autobiographical The Doors of Perception is the best study we have on the power of hallucinogens such as mescaline and LSD.
Robert Louis Stevenson
Stevenson battled cocaine much of his life, yet his addiction sparked the masterful The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. When Stevenson was in the depths of his addiction, this harrowing novel was written in 6 days while he pumped himself with cocaine non-stop.
King has battled alcoholism his entire career. It’s nearly killed him many times. Yet the times he was drowning most in the drink produced The Shining, The Stand, and countless short stories such as “Grey Matter,” “1408,” and “The Man in the Black Suit.”
I’ve read each of these works; they’re as good as it gets. But to my argument, they wouldn’t nearly possess the kind of terror and overwhelming sense of foreboding without addiction as part of the stories. No way.
If you love film as much as I do, here are some of the best films on the subject, and ones that are not for the squeamish:
Requiem for a Dream, starring Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, and Ellen Burstyn in a performance of astonishing power as a amphetamine addict.
Bug, starring Michale Shannon and Ashley Judd.
Tragedy Girls, starring Kevin Durand and Brianna Hildebrand.
A Star is Born, starring Bradley Cooper in crushing performance, and Lady Gaga.
Flight, starring Denzel Washington in the very best film on alcoholism.
Shame, starring Michale Fassbender in a harrowing and terrifying portrayal of sexual addiction
Kalifornia, starring Brad Pitt and Juliet Lewis in a heart wrenching tale of addiction to violence
A Clock Work Orange, starring Malcolm McDowell in THE masterpiece of addiction to violence horror
Infinity Pool, starring Mia Goth and Alexander Skarsgard - the great horror film of this decade so far, my blog dedicated to it, here.
Have fun my fine readers, but not too much fun.