Saturday, February 28, 2015

How the Curse Began...

I think it's safe to say that both Nature and Nurture played into my lifelong love of horror movies. Growing up, I had a favorite uncle who was also a fiend for the gruesome stuff. Together he and I would stay up late and watch broadcasts of black-and-white movies of varying quality presented by the local horror host. (By the way - if any of you know who the local host was in West Texas during the late 70s and early 80s, please drop a line as I was pretty young and don't remember the specifics.) Jay, my uncle, never took me with him and his college-aged friends to see scary movies in the theatre, but when he returned from these excursions he would regale me with lurid tales of horrors glimpsed upon the silver screen. I remember being in a state of rapt attention listening to him as he relayed the storylines of movies like Halloween and Tobe Hooper's The Funhouse. Such a horror hound was my Uncle Jay that, in addition to numerous books by Stephen King and other known authors, in later years his bookshelf also held novelized versions of movies such as Friday the 13th, Part 3. Between my uncle's recounting of various horror movies, our regular viewing of televised terrors, and my habit for sneaking brief reads of the books on my uncle's shelf, it can hardly be a surprise that a love for being frightened took root deep in my heart at an early age.



"They'll probably get us wherever we are..."

It was my attendance at an elementary school friend's birthday slumber party that truly took things to the next level for me. I was six years old, and had been invited to my friend Adrian's house for an overnight party. I knew the drill - pizza, soft drinks, movies, ghost stories after dark, and assorted juvenile hijinks. I had no idea that the events of the night would change my life forever.

The evening started with a trip to the local pizza parlor, where we feasted on slices of pepperoni pizza and slaked our thirst with oceans of Dr. Pepper, all the time listening to songs on the jukebox ("Pac-Man Fever" and "I Love Rock n' Roll" seemed to be the favorites of the evening, despite having lived in the dusty jukebox for a couple of years) and pumping quarters into the battered tabletop Galaga machine. When we returned to Adrian's house, his mother asked if we wanted to watch a movie. We all answered enthusiastically in the affirmative.

When the first movie started up, my immediate response was rather dismissive; it was in black-and-white. My entire exposure to B&W movies to this point had been rather tame stuff which my parents had watched and which held no real interest to me. I remember hearing my mother talk about how scary Hitchcock's Psycho was, but when I asked to watch it one night when it was being shown on WTBS (The Superstation!) they firmly declined my request. I had no frame of reference for what I was about to experience in George Romero's Night of the Living Dead. I remember feeling my initial disinterest fade away during the initial sequence with Johnny and Barbara in the cemetery, and will admit to a bit of panic as Barbara fled from the Cemetery Zombie. A sense of creeping dread came on in waves, growing in intensity, until my young mind erupted in true shock and terror after witnessing the explosion of the truck, and learning exactly what the zombies would do if - and when - they finally got ahold of you. From that moment onward, I was glued to my seat, eyes fixed on the horrors unfolding on the screen, ignoring even the demands of a bladder filled to capacity (and being unwilling to navigate an unfamiliar home in the dark after having glimpsed such unspeakable horrors). I was awestruck by the spectacle of it all, unable to look away until the final devastating scene had played out, watching in silence as the credits played through to the very end - something I had never done until that night.

The lights came up briefly, chasing away the dark shadows which had engulfed Adrian's house, and allowing each of us a nervous rush to the bathroom before we refilled our supplies of popcorn and soft drinks. Once we had all settled back in, the lights again dimmed and the second feature began...



"...because we're already dead!"

As with Night of the Living Dead, I had no conception of what I was about to see in Creepshow. At my young age, I'd had no previous exposure to the EC Comics such as Tales from the Crypt or Vault of Horror. Based on the introduction to the film, I didn't expect it to affect me the way the night's previous film had. Creepshow had a way of knocking me off-balance. It balanced its scares with laughs, the humor setting you up before the horrors knocked you down. As with just about any anthology, Creepshow is a bit of an uneven experience, with some of its segments far outshining the others. The two segments that affected me the most on that initial viewing (and remain my favorites to this day, more than three decades later) were "Father's Day" and "Something to Tide You Over". It may just be me, but I think we're seeing a pattern emerge here! Something about the zombie father coming back to finally get his cake and - most especially - the waterlogged zombies coming back to exact righteous revenge on Leslie Nielsen (perhaps in an act of prepaid karmic retribution for Dracula, Dead and Loving It?) stuck with me for weeks to come. As is standard operating procedure for slumber parties, even those which don't involve a double-shot of Romero to a batch of impressionable young minds, we stayed awake until we could no longer keep our eyes open and our heads up. Ghost stories were told, and we compared notes as to what the scariest parts of the movies had been.

I returned home as if nothing had happened. I didn't share my experiences with my parents, and wouldn't until years later. Needless to say, they would not have been too pleased with someone else's parents exposing me to R-rated or unrated horror movies at such a young age. The nights of the next few weeks were long and unfriendly things. I kept the covers pulled up over my head, which as every young child knows, is like monster camouflage. Even the slightest noises of the house settling caused me a fright, my heart leaping into my throat. For quite some time afterwards, I slept with my closet light on and a small pocket knife hidden under my pillow - just in case those things came calling in the night.



Creepshow had me like...

For me, that is where and how it all began - this lifelong fascination with horror, and with scaring myself senseless. It has in some ways kept alive a connection with my uncle, who passed away unexpectedly while I was in junior high school. It has provided endless opportunities for enjoyment, discussion, thought, and good-natured argument. And now it has become the impetus for this blog, which I hope you will enjoy and share with others of a like mind.

So what about you? What set off your horror obsession, and how have you fed and cared for it over the years? Let us know in the comments!