Why Horror?

Probably the question horror writers get asked the most is “Why Horror?” When I interview people, I ask it too. The answers reveal as much about the author as they do about the power of horror itself. No lie. I’ve been thinking about my earliest introductions to horror, and how I always sort of knew I would always be a horror fan. I’ve narrowed it down to a few, which are presented in no particular order.

1. Sir Graves Ghastly. Sir Graves was the Detroit host of scary movies on Saturday afternoons. If I was home on a Saturday at 1pm, you could always find me in front of the TV, waiting for Sir Graves to show a black-and-white horror movie. If I wasn’t home, I was complaining loudly that I was missing Sir Graves. I saw King Kong, Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Brain that Wouldn’t Die, Them!, something about a woman who could change into a cobra, and whatever else he had for me. Sir Graves read birthdays (and said one year that I had a cute name), showed drawings kids sent in. Once I sent him a giant ceramic skull that was a bank. He opened it on the air. No footage of this exists, which is true of most of Sir Graves broadcasts. They were tossed out like a bunch of S1 Doctor Who episodes. But I always loved Sir Graves–and eventually got to tell him so when I got his autograph when I was about 12.

2. “How to Care for Your Monster” by Norman Bridwell (the guy who also made Clifford the Big Red Dog). I loved this in particular because it looked at the Universal Monsters in a new way. Horror AND Comedy?!? The idea boggled my 2nd grade mind. And I wanted a Frankenstein’s Monster soooooo bad.

3. Jaws. I was 4 when trailers for Jaws started running. I begged my mom for a Jaws poster from the grocery store, which was put up on my bedroom door. However, I had so many nightmares that ended with me waking up screaming, my parents finally took it down. Even the trailer gave me nightmares. This was long before we had a VCR, so I didn’t actually see Jaws until they showed it on TV. I couldn’t fully explain then why I pursued something that gave me nightmares, but I didn’t care. I wanted it.

4. ‘Salem’s Lot. This made-for-TV Tobe Hooper movie scarred many kids my age for life. Not only is it terrifying, children are not safe from The Master (who in this movie is a silent Nosferatu type). The kids get vampirized, and go on to vamp-up other kids. I hadn’t felt so personally targeted by a horror movie ever–and frankly didn’t again until Silence of the Lambs featured a killer who specifically went after fat chicks. Reading ‘Salem’s Lot, while awesome, never scared me as much as watching that movie did. I’ve seen it a billion times and it still makes me jump when Anchorman’s boss gets it, and again when Danny Glick sits up in his coffin.

5. The Oakland County Child Killer. A local murderer with a highly unimaginative name (though some called him The Babysitter), this guy was on the prowl for kids my age in my neighborhood for a few years in the 1970’s. He was on the news constantly, everyone was talking about him. At one point, my mom told me that my biological father might have been the OCCK. That’s not true, but even if it were, that’s an insane and horrible thing to tell a child. When I delivered school newsletters to the houses on my street (literally, my route was 3 blocks long), my mom followed me in her car to make sure no one stole me. So I grew up being told daily that a death by kidnapping was imminent. Again, this is something you’d think would repel me from horror, but it didn’t.

6. Night of the Living Dead. I’ve talked at length about this. It scared the hell out of me, and still does. When I have zombie nightmares, they’re often about no one believing me that we’re all in danger, that the undead are coming, that we need to prepare.

7. Psycho. A movie about a killer mother who turns out to be about a matricidal son? What’s not to love? This movie stuck with me not so much for the shower scene, but because I was so totally taken in by it. I responded exactly as Hitchcock wanted me to, at every turn. The novel is a very different sort of story, because Norman is a very different guy. I talk a lot about this in my Bates Motel reviews.

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