WILA: Icy Horror

What I like about...

Icy Horror

I recently finished watching True Detective: Night Country, which I enjoyed for many reasons, such as the strong characters, great acting, and terrifying scenes, but one aspect that heightened my enjoyment was the setting. Set in a fictional Alaskan town, everything was encased in ice and darkness. The long night begins at the start of the series, and freezing/hypothermia is a constant threat. Setting the story in such an extreme environment enhances the horror that the characters face. 

While I have never been to the true, deep north, I have experienced some strong winter weather in my life. I have been stranded in a blizzard, snowed in, had the early stages of hypothermia and frostbite, and camped in the winter-time. When I read a story that utilizes cold, icy weather and winter to enhance the story, I can feel the literal chill. There is nothing like a howling wind rattling your windows while you curl up warm and safe in a blanket to read a frozen horror story. Below are some of the aspects of an icy setting that can elevate a horror story in particular.


One reason that a frozen setting is especially suited for a horror story, or a murder mystery, is the isolation. Whether the story is set in the deep north, or a more southern location that has been recently snowed in, the characters are automatically isolated. Roads become impassable, the outside air stings, snow can be difficult to traverse, and outside help can be a long way off. 

In Foxfire by Rowan Hill, a group of potential investors are alone at a Finnish resort in the far north. They have gathered to enjoy the wintry beauty of the location and the Northern Lights, but among them is a killer who is picking them off one by one. The survivors cannot reach anyone to help them and any rescue is difficult in such a remote location. Similarly, in Stephen King’s The Shining, no one is around for miles to save Wendy and Danny from Jack Torrance’s descent into madness.

Having victims that are trapped with them gives killers and other bad guys a power that renders them all the more terrifying. In This is Where we Talk Things Out by Caitlin Marceau, the abusive mother of the protagonist purposely isolates her daughter in a wintry location so that she can exact control. There are only so many places one can hide in a single house.

Cabin Fever

Isolation not only prevents help and escape, but it also can drive the characters quite literally insane. While ghosts are the main culprit, the loneliness of the Overlook Hotel enhances Jack Torrance’s fall. A story that masterfully utilizes the threat of cabin fever is The Nox, an audio series by Joe White and Catriona Ward. The Nox is a research vessel that journeys to the Arctic Circle in search of the last of the polar bears. The mission turns out to be about more than just bears as the members of the crew slowly lose their minds and succumb to the extreme isolation and cold.

A killer stalking the characters is a classic threat, but adding in this layer where the characters can simply turn on each other, even “good” people, because of their surroundings makes icy stories more compelling. A good horror story is terrifying for multiple reasons. When paranoia, hallucination, and a very real threat are combined, things get tense, fast. An excellent, classic example of this is The Thing, either version. The characters are facing a parasite that overtakes them, but can still look like any one of them. Why this story works so well is because it takes the threat of the parasite and compounds it with the isolation and paranoia of the location.

The Elements

Harsh winds and driving snow do more for the story than just trap the characters. Hypothermia and frostbite are serious conditions that can come upon someone who is not prepared. When I had hypothermia, I was only thirteen and it wasn’t even properly winter. It was early May in Ontario. My hypothermia was mild and, thankfully, had no lasting effects, but I didn’t even realize it was happening to me until someone pointed it out. A threat that can take you without you even realizing it is scary. Sometimes the elements themselves can be enough of a horror to drive a story.

In the video game, The Long Dark, the player is under constant threat of freezing to death. This can be staved off by warm clothes and huddling inside buildings, but at some point they will always have to venture out into the frozen wasteland for supplies. While the game can be a little slow and dull at times, there is something about the relentlessness of the cold that draws me into the story.

Winter Itself

Of all the seasons of nature, winter is the scariest. Plants die, animals hibernate, and the weather can literally trap you. I, personally, enjoy the beauty of winter and the fresh, crisp air over the oppressive heat of summer, but winter can still be a dangerous time for many. I tend to avoid generalizations, but I believe there is a general unease about deep winter and what it signifies. A story that demonstrates the unease we have around winter is the Demeter-Persephone myth.

When Persephone is stolen by the Lord of Death, her mother, Demeter, casts the world into perpetual winter. Winter signifies her grief and rage. When Persephone is finally allowed to return for part of the year, she brings with her warmth and spring flowers. Winter’s Harvest by Ioanna Papadopoulou, while not a horror story, does demonstrate the raw power of winter through a goddess’ wrath.

Winter also means shorter days and so many of our nightmare creatures come out in the darkness. Impact Winter by Travis Beacham is an audio series where the sun is blotted out by ash, forcing a perpetual night and in this world, vampires reign. The sun is a protector and casts away the shadows. Winter is filled with cold shadows and everything that lurks inside them.

When the world is covered in ice and our breath curls in front of our face, everything is a little bit unsettling. Even when the snow is a perfect blanket and icicles adorn tree branches, the threat of a frozen demise hovers in the background. I love a good horror story and I love a frozen one even more.




Winter’s Ghosts by Alison Faye and Stephanie Ellis - My Review

Foxfire by Rowan Hill - My Review

In the Arctic Sun by Rowan Hill - My Review

The Shining by Stephen King - My Review

This is Where we Talk Things Out by Caitlin Marceau - My Review

Winter’s Harvest by Ioanna Papadopoulou - My Review

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley


The Nox by Joe White and Catriona Ward

Impact Winter by Travis Beacham

Movies/TV Shows:

True Detective, Season 4: Night Country

The Thing (1982) and (2011) 


Popular posts from this blog

Monthly Microfiction - December 2021 - Billy's Special Blanket

Monthly Microfiction: Under the Ice

Review: It Calls from the Veil by Eerie River