Just as cyberpunk was simmering for years before "Neuromancer" revitalized sci-fi by taking it out of its mystic space operatic far future and gave it a gritty, brand-name dystopian edge, so too are the disparate elements of bio-cabre growing together in the shadows.
What am I talking about? Let me outline the main elements of the new style. Bio-cabre is a mixure of short-term sci-fi extrapolation with a horror sensibility. It has no supernatural elements. It is usually set in the immediate or near future. The big, brooding gothic castle of traditional horror is transformed into sterile, gleaming labs filling glass-walled research centers. And wheras traditional horror is concerned primarily with the "other"--the monster, the serial killer, the alien--come to threaten us, bio-cabre focuses on something closer to home: the fear of what we can become, what science and biology can turn us, or those we love into.
What will bio-cabre's "Neuromancer" be like? One could argue, of course, that it has already been written, over a hundred years ago: Shelley's "Frankenstein". It has everything-- a gothic atmosphere, a man seduced into crossing the line between madness and sanity, and an experiment gone horribly wrong. Or, Stevenson's "Jeckyll and Hyde". More mad science, more experiments gone horribly wrong, and more imporantly--the horror comes from within Jeckyll.
How does bio-cabre show up in today's horror? I think the "Alien" series of movies makes for a nice transition point; it combines elements of traditional horror and bio-cabre. First of all, there is no supernatural element--while there is an "other" it is (presumably) fully rationally explainable. And, while many of the thrills and chills come from the aliens serving as traditional monsters, the movie treats the ultiate horror, the one worse that death, as something that comes from within--the alien embryos possibly gestating inside our own bodies.
Maybe there is nothing thematically new about bio-cabre. But there really hasn't been anything thematically new about horror since the first Neanderthal started telling ghost stories around the camp fire. Horror, at its core, has one theme: to scare the living crap out of people. Everything else is secondary.
But I think there is a new theme to bio-cabre. It has a different emphasis than traditional horror. There is no "other", come to threaten humanity, rather, the horror in bio-cabre comes from watching humanity destroyed from within, watching all that we treasure, the essence of our humanity melt like candle wax in the face of science.
Clearly this is not the first time this issue has been raised. But this is the first time that this issue can be made to feel so real. Whether this bodes well for the sub-genre is unclear; it is another truism that horror that hits to close to everyday life is no longer enjoyable. But be warned -- our understanding of and ability to manipulate ourselves can only grow in time, providing an endless artery of inspiration and suggestion to a new breed of author.
-- Kyle Thornton