HOW EXISTENTIAL DREAD CAN SUPERCHARGE YOUR HORROR SCRIPT
What Hell Bound, a Hit Korean Miniseries, Can Teach You About Genre Storytelling
The Plot Engine Of Hell bound
This was the premise. Sinners are given a decree. A time and date when you will die and have your soul sent to hell. What makes this terrifying is that your end, when it arrives, is not a matter of going quietly into the night. When your time arrives, you hear a rumbling. The earth tremors. Then grey Hulk-like giants explode into your space. You run but you might as well try to outrun a marauding three tonner. When these giants catch you, they pin you down and brutalize your body, ripping out flesh, just before they deliver the coup de grace. Sucking the soul out of you until you burn to a charred shriveled skeleton. Basically, in Hell bound, when you sin, you are toast.
But if being attacked by grey hulks was all there was in the mini-series, it would have gotten stale and lost its audience two episodes in. Instead, the director made use of the premise to bring our attention to some hefty philosophical themes.
What is Original Sin?
In Hell bound, a group of cult members exploit a fear of damnation to enrich their coffers with generous donations. For a while, they succeed, as the people who get sent to hell were indeed sinners. And these cult members were confident that they were spreading God’s message to the world. Repent! Or be toasted by Hulk-like creatures.
But what if you did not sin, and still received a decree. What then? What is God trying to tell us? If you’re meant to go to hell because you have sinned, what did it mean when you did not sin and yet still received a decree? If those hulk-like creatures were supposed to be “angels”, what were they now? You might argue that all humans sin. And that God does not distinguish between small and big sins.
At this point, I am tempted to mention the biggest midpoint reveal in the series. But I will leave you to discover it for yourself. What if there was indeed a species of human who has never sinned at all.
And still received a decree.
What does it say about the concept of Original Sin?
Does it even exist?
What Hell Bound Can Teach You About Telling Horror Stories
Stories that terrify you with existential dread have a proud history. I need only point you to HP LOVECRAFT and the Terror of the Great Old Ones. Lovecraft was an American writer of fantasy and horror fiction and his influence has been acknowledged by Stephen King, Guillermo Del Toro, John Carpenter, and Alan Moore. He was famous for creating the Cthulhu Mythos and his stories were largely about civilizations in decline. He believed that humanity is less than a footnote in the cosmos, and that it can be swept away in a blink. That what truly dominates the universe are ancient cosmic forces identified as The Great Old Ones who regard Mankind with indifference. It is not enough to be alone. Your existence has no purpose and even if it had, it did not matter. That is the existential dread we face. That despite our best efforts to mean something when life is over, it is pointless and useless. Ever since Man looked up into the night sky and wondered at how the stars were created, they told stories and myths as a way to give meaning to the great mysteries. Stories that taught us how to live, how to govern our hearts, and how to deal with the existential dread that assail us in the private hour of our lives.
Stories like Hellbound.
So the next time, you write a horror story, tackle the hefty philosophical themes. Top ten hits like Sin, God, Death, Redemption.
Go beyond mere jump scares.
Make me think and make me tremble with existential dread.