On Poppy Z Brite‘s journal, she quotes an Amazon.com review of an one of her older books, which begins thus:
T. Jackson (Portland, OR United States)
Though I am a big fan of many dark films and movies, I usually like for them to have some sort of moral, lesson or hope to impart. Most of them do. This book is darkness for darkness sake, extremely gross and sadistic, and beyond disturbing.
Have some moral lesson to impart? Excuse me? Is this 1890 and are we talking about books for kids, or what? This is horror, people! Horror is supposed to be disturbing.
Which reminds me of a panel I was on at VCon over the weekend. It was “Dark Fantasy: Just another word for horror?”
There was a vocal contingent in the audience (aided and abetted by a couple of panelists in agreement) that seemed to think that dark fantasy differs from horror primarily by being of a higher literary quality. No evidence to the contrary seemed to disabuse them of this notion. They were convinced that dark fantasy was more “psychological” and had richer characters and more fully realized worlds and whatnot and soforth.
It was a peculiar dialectical experience, because this contingent didn’t actually disagree with my evidence — they just Sarah Palined me, acting like my counter-evidence didn’t exist.
For the record, I claimed that horror (like comedy) was primarily defined by emotional effect, and could otherwise be any genre — fantasy, mystery, science fiction, drama, romance, etc. I also claimed that dark fantasy is fantasy with a horror mood or setting, but not necessarily a horror plot or story.
Is dark fantasy less violent, disturbing, or gross than horror? In general. Sort of. Maybe. Halloween stories for kids are usually dark fantasy, and stuff for kids can be gross but not violent or disturbing. The Haunting of Hill House is horror, and it is disturbing but not violent or gross. Or, take Sandman — dark fantasy throughout, but some issues were out-and-out horror. (Example: “24 Hours” otherwise known as “diner of death.”)
The reason you would make the distinction is marketing, because that’s the only reason to bother making any genre distinction. And people like T. Jackson are exactly why. S/he sounds like someone who enjoys dark fantasy but not horror. Well, okay. But it seems rather small-minded and pissy to take an author to task for having written a horror story that was horrifying.