Yeah, it’s not Halloween. And the fact that it’s May and I’m writing an article that’s perfect for Halloween sort of proves the headline true- that I’m a horror fan for life. Let’s sit down in Dr. Perceptron’s office, look back on my life, and figure out why I love horror so much. Here are eight things that made me a lifelong fan of horror.
A Dracula View-Master Reel
When I was a kid, our family owned a view-master– a stereoscopic toy that showed miniature movies frame by frame. Think of it as the 1970s equivalent of Ingmar Bergman’s magic lantern. It was my way, as a 4 year old, to go to the movies whenever I wanted. The one reel that intrigued me the most was a 1976 release based on Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”. It included a read-along book. I’d watch it again and again and again, marveling at the grotesque beast.
Ichabod and Mr. Toad
I have a very distinct memory of going to school one day in late October when I was in first grade. And the powers that be at Bush River Elementary opted to show the Ichabod segment of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949). Since it’s a Disney film, it sounds harmless enough… if you’re 70-year old school teacher Mrs. Hollis and won’t have nightmares or crap your pants because you saw a headless monster flinging his demonic, glowing pumpkin head at the residents of Sleepy Hollow. But when you’re six-year-old John LaRue (or any other six-year-old), it’s a terrifying- and thrilling- experience. If you’re reading, Mrs. Hollis, thank you. I hated you at the time for it, but your total lack of regard for the sanity of children steeled me and gave me the resolve to become a horror geek.
The Night I Saw The Dark Crystal (1982)
When I was six years old, my brothers took me to see The Dark Crystal. They were 12 and 18 years old, respectively, at the time. It was a freaky movie about turkey vulture puppets sucking the souls out of other puppets, and it predictably scared the dookie out of me. Naturally, on the way home, my brothers gave me hell about being scared, because they’re older brothers and that’s what older brothers are supposed to do. And it just so happened that we lived close to an old graveyard that housed Revolutionary War soldiers. I grew tired of their teasing me about being scared during The Dark Crystal. There was only one way to prove that I wasn’t a little chicken shit. I had to let them leave me alone in the spooky old graveyard. And those bastards did it. The details are hazy, but I do remember being pissed at them that they were threatening to drive off. And the thrill of being surrounded by ghosts in the graveyard was something I’ll never forget. I’ve spent a lot of the rest of my life looking for that same thrill.
The Tree from Poltergeist (1982)
Poltergeist was released in 1982, when I was six years old. I didn’t actually see it until I was eight. As it turns out, it would’ve been far, far less scary to me when I was six because by the time I as eight, we had moved to a house where I had a giant creepy tree outside my bedroom window. It looked just like the kid-eating tree in Poltergeist. While every other kid on earth was losing their minds over clowns and Indian burial grounds, I was scared of bark and sap. Thankfully, I’ve grown out of this… for the most part. That a movie could turn something as simple as a tree into something so terrifying convinced me that horror movies were special.
Jaws, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Stinging Jellyfish
Although I claim Wisconsin and Missouri when asked where I’m from, I lived in South Carolina for the first six years of my life. It’s the home of the aforementioned graveyard the night I saw The Dark Crystal. As such, a lot of my childhood involved trips to the beach. I loved the trips to the beach. The sand was soft, the tide was soothing, and there were all sorts of sea creatures that you couldn’t find anywhere else. That’s how I felt until I got stung by a jellyfish, which gave me a healthy dose of apprehension about the ocean. Then when I was eight (a banner horror year), I was allowed to watch Jaws. Suffice it to say, jellyfish didn’t seem like such a scary thing anymore. It was another instance where everyday life was spun into something thrilling. I knew that huge sharks weren’t going to eat me when I went back to the ocean. But there was just enough doubt because of those asshole jellyfish.
Have I mentioned that my older brothers are assholes? My older brothers are assholes (if either are reading, I respect the hell out of you two despite the fact that you tortured the shit out of me as a kid). My oldest brother wanted to go see Ghostbusters when it was out. Even at 8 years old, I was already afflicted with the horror bug and begged him to take me. But honestly, what big brother wants to deal with a kid brother horrified of ghosts? So he warned me very sternly that I was not allowed to get scared. And I knew that he’d probably kick my ass if I embarrassed him, so I took it to heart. There’s no doubt that I was horrified during that movie. But not once did I make a scene. On the way out, he nudged me and said, “Well, did that scare you?” and he chuckled a knowing chuckle, well aware that it had scared the tar out of me. But I instantly defended myself with a tremendous lie, claiming that I wasn’t scared at all.
I learned one of the most important lessons that every horror lover must learn that day. When it comes to horror, it takes a special brand of cognitive dissonance to embrace the genre. Even when it strikes a nerve, you have to trudge through because there’s gold in them thar hills.
Along with conquering Ghostbusters and Jaws in 1984, I also managed to overcome Gremlins. This was the movie that taught me that humor and horror go hand in hand. It’s hard to be terrified if you’re laughing at little old ladies flying out of windows or horrible monsters flashing their junk at bartenders. And I realized I was wired a little different from other kids when the friend who came with me told me I was weird for liking that movie as much as I did.
Speaking of humor and horror going hand in hand, Scooby Doo is the ideal way to introduce children to the concept. Villains like the Black Knight, the Creeper, and the Snow Ghost were just enough to put a kid on edge, but always with the lesson in the end that it wasn’t a monster after all. The episodes were always topped off with chicanery from Scooby and the gang, which sapped the terror of its effectiveness. I’d say that Scooby was perfect for my generation, but the reality is that the Mystery Machine has been bringing horror to children almost non-stop since 1969. In other words, almost all of you can relate.