Perfect horror recipe: Small Towns and Nonconformity

Have you  wondered why horror is centered in small towns and the eccentric/nonconformist characters never fit in with the regular folk?  Many horror novels, television shows and movies like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Town that Dreaded Sundown, Stephen King’s IT and Stranger Things to name a few are based in small towns and unique characters but why?

A simple recipe for a good horror storyline are small towns rather than a metropolitan area–where things can go unnoticed unless on a massive scale.  Majority the environment is quiet, isolated from the real world. The small town bubble makes great horror because of the town’s history, interesting residents and the best is the town’s secrets. Horror thrives in small towns because of the underbelly of fear hidden among the small town residents; easily to exploit their deepest, darkest desires and unsavory characteristics unbeknownst to their next door neighbor of twenty years.  

Undetection is another ingredient, a killer can hide in plain sight even if an alien take over goes unnoticed by the residents unless nonconformists notice the mundane life of the small town living changed in the slightest.   Nonconformists and eccentric people are the outliers of small town perfect life thus making them extraordinary in shaking up the status quo. In horror, nonconformists are barely tolerated/ignored by conformist townsfolk but are the ones who end up destroying evil and saving the town.

The Master of Horror Stephen King based many of his novels in fictitious small towns of Castle Rock, Derry and Jerusalem’s Lot to name a few in his home state of Maine.  Though they are emulated by “real” small towns, the horror continues to strike fear in small town residents.  IT revolves around a group of children in Derry, Maine after George’s gruesome mangled remains are found near a storm drain.  The mystery unfolds when an ancient trans-dimensional cosmic shape-shifting being hiding in Derry for centuries, disguises as a clown named Pennywise the Clown and consumes children’s fear then back to a twenty-seven year hibernation.  

The Losers Club are nonconformists, they defeated IT the first time and kept the secret to themselves who would not believe a powerful being is the one wreaking havoc throughout the town’s turbulent history.  The Mist is a perfect example of a small town taken over by interdimensional creatures devouring the residents by an accidental government experiment. Majority of the plot takes place inside the grocery store with the trapped residents, the tension rises splitting into factions: accepting God’s will punishing the wicked (believers/conformity) and those accepting facts that this is not an act of God but mankind’s actions (nonbelievers/nonconformity). The remaining nonconformists narrowly escaped the grocery store not only fighting interdimensional monsters but also human conflicts.

Another is Charlaine Harris, whose Southern Vampire Mysteries adapted the HBO series True Blood in the fictitious town of Bon Temps, Louisiana.  The main character is Sookie Stackhouse, a small town waitress from a working class family when life was turned upside down as vampires came out into the public eye revealing themselves and  supernaturals exist in reality.  She is unaware that her telekinesis powers are linked through the family’s secret fae bloodline which Sookie thought her powers are a curse, thus making her half human/fae and the attraction to supernatural beings involving herself in dangerous situations in the novels.  Because of Sookie’s powers, the residents tolerate her at a distance making her feel unaccepted but accepted in the supernatural realm but torn between both which Sookie understood both societies are no different from each other. 

The Duffer Brother number one rated show Stranger Things is set in a mid-western fictional town Hawkins, Indiana based in the eighties.  Hawkins is your basic small town where everything is perfect except for the military science facility that sits on the edge of the town.  Nobody do not question what goes on in the facility–because the town’s people are too busy with blue-collar life.   The town is shaken up by Will Byers’s disappearance, the residents of Hawkins are unaware of Hawkins Laboratory shrouded in experimental military government testing on gifted children to be used as future weapons and introducing a powerful telekinesis girl named Eleven, “El ” or Jane.  

The mystery goes deeper than what was expected by Will’s friends, mother, older brother and Hopper after Will was found.   Uncovering the real truth of what actually goes on at the Hawkins Facility–the gateway to a parallel dimension called the Upside unleashing many unspeakable nasty creatures.  Throughout each season we’ve seen Steve, Nancy, Max, Robin and Lucas’s sister Erica join “The Party” investigating, fighting and containing the threat from their hometown until the third and fourth season.  What makes the nonconformist characters unique in Stranger Things is their bond to each other, embracing each other’s differences to see beyond the surface and possessing qualities to keep the storyline going. 


Written by Keeshia Lacy. You can find more of Keeshias thoughts on heir podcast HERE