Horror is a very problematic genre when it comes to accurate portrayals of neurodivergence and disability. Though it tends to give neurodivergent and disabled people more spotlight time than many other genres, the representation is often terrifying.
Here are some ways horror is actually terrible:
1. Serial Killers are a popular subgenre in horror novels and movies. And, we all know who the killers turn out to be 85% of the time… people with Schizophrenia, Autism, PTSD, and Dissociative Identity Disorder. You can never have a killer who is just a bad person. No. They have to have some type of neuordivergence which makes them “apathetic machines”, or unable to discern hallucination from reality. Because “normal” people don’t hurt others without reason, right?
2. Supernatural horror novels, especially those having a possession or haunting plot, run the risk of a surprise twist. The twist? The protagonist is actually hallucinating the whole thing! Yes, the “twist” becomes the neurodivergence. Because the lives of neurodivergent people are fodder for the neurotypical audience.
3. The victim is to be pitied and rooted for extra-hard because he/they/she is Blind or Deaf. It isn’t enough to make a creature/demon/situation nearly insurmountable; the author is using the absence of one sense to being a new terror to readers. Because everyone is even MORE helpless if they can’t hear or see. That’s why no one who has lost one sense ever manages to live alone or do things everyone else does. (Sarcasm)
4. A group of people investigate an asylum because mentally ill and/or disabled people are frightening, moreso than old buildings. We’re vile, so vile our spirits haunt the last place we lived just to torment people who weren’t given our disadvantages. Oh, come the fuck on!
5. The person in the wheelchair (or with a limp) has been an agent of Satan in more than one book I’ve read. Possibly, the author is trying to get readers to think the villain couldn’t possibly be that sweet, little cripple in the corner. Or, perhaps, writers still buy into the stereotype of dark souls manifesting “incomplete or twisted” bodies.
6. An amputee, person with heavy scarring, someone with severe edema, etc. used for “ick” factor. Even though this is a tactic used more often in film, it still makes an occasional appearance in books. It isn’t enough to add extreme blood and gore, now body variation becomes endurance for the squeamish. Poor babies.
I’ve probably missed more than a few examples, but these are what spring to mind when I think about horror novels.
Oddly, I can’t think of too many examples of disability and neuordivergence done right in scary books, which is a shame.
What tropes about disability and neurodivergence in horror do you wish would never be written again?