Jason. Freddie. Randal Flagg. Dracula. The monsters that haunt our dreams. What makes a horror bad guy different than a regular bad guy? I mean, both should get in the way of the hero and his journey, right?
Yes, but there's a subtle difference.
In a regular story, the bad guy, or antagonist, may be a somewhat sympathetic character. Even if he's human, you can understand perhaps why he is the way he is. By making the bad guy more real, he becomes more three-dimensional, and thus a more realistic bad-guy. It makes the conflict more interesting, because you're rooting for the good guy, but the bad guy has so much going on that you're actually interested in him too.
In horror, the bad guy is usually more one dimensional. They don't give a shit about anything. They're "monsters", devoid of any feelings or backstory or empathetic experiences. They want to kill, maim, rule the world, whatever. And that doesn't make them any less interesting, because in the horror genre, we don't want to feel anything but revulsion for the bad guy. Hannibal Lecter is a perfect example. He just doesn't care that eating people is bad. He doesn't care who thinks he's a monster. He just kills, and kills well. We spend the whole novel hoping like hell that the hero doesn't have to get too close to him.
Horror monsters are humans, diseases, beasts, aliens, anything that destroys without abandon. Fiction bad guys shouldn't be that one-sided, because then the conflict becomes less interesting. That's why I struggle to think of Frankenstein as a real "horror" novel, because yes the monster kills, but who would blame him? I mean, if you were dead and then suddenly alive with some whacked out brain, that would make anyone cranky. So it's more just an interesting study in the pros/cons of dead tissue reanimation.
But Pennywise the Clown in Stephen King's IT? That dude's bad. He just doesn't care who he kills.
For more on the subject, check out Kidlit.com - great summary of the role of an antagonist in fiction.
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