Scaring the devil?

I’ve been trying to read some books that claim to be evil and dark and all that stuff, but I’m finding they’re just gross and irritating. There’s a wall between them and me, and I don’t know if it’s my sensibilities or if the stories are just not what they claim to be, but I have a feeling what I think is evil is too real for those who are making movies or writing fiction about it.

For example, almost everyone I know has seen The Silence of the Lambs and think it’s a good scary movie about evil. I found it overwrought and silly…and I was shocked it got 5 Oscars. For years, I explained that away by thinking the movie had suffered because I saw the French/Dutch version of The Vanishing the week before, and that one had cut deep into me. It showed how simple evil was. How casual. I didn’t think any film could compare, so I shrugged and used that as my excuse to not be impressed by SotL.

But the books I’ve read about evil being perpetrated brought back a memory of going to see The Exorcist and laughing through it. I thought it was silly while the people I went to see it with were scarred by it. A girl seated next to me actually bruised my arm, she grabbed it so tight when Linda Blair’s head twisted around. I chuckled at how obvious the effect was.

But something I’m finally realizing is, the vast majority of books and films using evil as a premise put a layer between the viewer/reader and what’s going on. It’s depicted way over the top. Not real, just pretend. You know deep down that could never really happen the way they’re showing it…and that’s what wrecked me about The Vanishing. I could see it being real. A man who is the epitome of decency and humanity commits an act of the purest evil just to see if he can. That’s happened, in life. That is terrifying.

And he does it not just once, but twice. And you know he will, again, because no one suspects him capable of it. That, to me, is the truth of evil…that anyone can commit it with nothing more than a hint of reason behind it.

I can’t say I’m innocent of layering in that wall in my writing. I’ve come close to depicting evil honestly, in my view, but there’s always a bit of an explanation behind what is being done. Evil committed in the name of religion. Or for power. Or revenge. Even my latest book, The Beast in the Nothing Room, uses a bit of the fantastical to make the evil being perpetrated palatable.

The book I’m working on now, Hunter, has an amoral capitalist at its core. I intended to keep him as such, to make a point…but he’s suddenly doing something to make himself likable. I wonder if I can make him banal enough to be terrifying in his evil?

I wonder if I can make him scare the devil?


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