Hearts Held By Horror
As fans, every bloodied heart ripped from a victim's body on the screen is representative of our own. The genre holds our undying love forever beating. Horror holding our hearts in a loving embrace, strangely creating a safety net for us. A community of like-minded individuals that understand the art in the grotesque imagery and terrifying stories. It's an art form that branches itself into many areas and creates many sub-genres but, if executed properly it illicits feelings of not just terror, but of humor. Of drama. Of action. And, many times, sorrow. It's a perfect balancing act of genres to create one that we clamor for. Even when those elements are not present, Stephen King famously said, "Even the worst horror movie is the best movie I've ever seen." And who are we to argue with a king?
What makes us love this so much? I do believe it is the most encompassing art form of human emotions. I do think it is the most creative in filmmaking from practical FX maestros like Tom Savini, legendary cinematography like Dean Cundy, chilling scores from composers such as Harry Manfredini, tales of the human psyche and it's threshold from scribes like Mary Heron, performances that push the boundaries of sanity and tread the line between performance and reality ushering in true metamorphosis in the hero's journey from the likes of Heather Langenkamp and, of course, the mind and eye to bring it all together with masterful direction from the likes of John Carpenter. We all love and appreciate this art. But on a deeper level, I think there's something more for many of us. As there was certainly much more for me.
Twenty seven years on this planet and my accomplishments all have been under the gracious love and bonds of the horror community combined with my passion for the genre. My first writing gig was for an unproduced horror anthology where I was paid to write six episodes. I would go on to write for the likes of Blumhouse, Dread Central and Ghastly Grinning, which has led to me hosting and interviewing heroes of mine that have changed my life with their twisted tales that society deems "poor taste." My programming for a month-long horror-thon at Alamo Drafthouse has just begun and I have been hosting horror movie parties non-stop. I owe this life I lead and everything I have to horror. The things that adorn my home, the food I consume to live, the best of times and therapy for my soul is all thanks to this genre that is so strong. But funnily enough...I Initially feared it.
I grew up in a VERY strict Catholic household under the abusive eye of my grandmother, a pious woman who considered herself holier than any and all people especially anyone different. A true horror villain in the vein of "Mommy" from The People Under The Stairs if I'd ever met one. I was emotionally and culturally stunted. I grew up a fat kid who was told his parents didn't want him, I wasn't really allowed to watch anything above PG and when I discovered music, I thought The Rolling Stones were a new band. More than anything I was utterly petrified of horror films. My earliest memories of walking in on my grandfather watching them were catching glimpses of the child being eaten in Jaws and Father Malone butchered by the ghostly pirate crew in The Fog. Those sights stayed with me and I couldn't sleep at all. Like flashes of a blade, the imagery would slash into my sight every time I closed my eyes and I would toss violently thinking the killers real, ready to butcher me in my bed. The irony being it was my grandmother's ring across my face or even a time, hands around my neck that truly butchered my mind and bruised my body. I didn't get hurt that bad that often because I knew to obey and keep my place. Looking back now I don't think I could differentiate the horrors of the world from the joys. My grandmother knew best. Horror films were the problem. Not her.
My salvation for my psyche has and always will be film. My uncle graciously took me to the movies where I would escape into whole other worlds where I couldn't be hurt. Where someone like me could have a voice. Where I could be a Jedi, where I could be saved by Spider-Man. The times with my Uncle in the theater were the most precious times of my childhood. He snuck me into my first R-rated movie and I think my brain malfunctioned, but a turning point for me was when he took me to see Alien Vs. Predator. I know, not a great film but to a stunted pre-teen boy with no friends that LOVED practical FX aliens thanks to Star Wars (praise be Rick Baker), it was revolutionary. Now keep in mind that the movie retained a PG-13 rating. It wasn't very extreme, but just enough for me to stand it. At that point, many other grandchildren came along and so I wasn't the main focus of my grandmother's extremes anymore. I saw my chance to help myself grow and movies were my only guidance.
The hey-day of Blockbuster with its wide selection of strange films each sectioned to their genre for convenience held a special place in my heart. I remember after AVP I finally for the first time walked into the Sci-Fi/Horror section. Immediately before me like a sign from God (or just the alphabet) was Alien. I grasped the DVD and held it in my hand staring at that egg emitting it's an eerie green light and thought I was ready. I walked to the P's and saw Arnold Schwarzenegger staring me down with a gun and some strange target around him. A double feature of space and jungle horror but I had Turbo Man and Dana from Ghostbusters, so what could go wrong? I walked over with my Dollar Rental a Day Card renting both films from the uncaring clerk, who didn't give a shit seeing as he let me rent Mallrats the week prior, off on my journey.
Heart racing, sweaty, head in pain and fear I sat clutching a pillow in a dark room with huge windows to the outside darkness that seemed unending and darker and deeper than usual. Just as a man was spitting out his spaghetti and I heard the crack of bone a creature erupted on the screen as well as in my home. A bat had flown in and rushed my face as the chestburster scene took place. Needless to say, I didn't finish the movie. I didn't even touch Predator. I didn't sleep for the next week. I wasn't ready and the incident stunted me for another year.
I still loved AVP but the association of the terrifying incident with the original film stopped me from going further. I was obsessed with the idea of the VS film though. So obsessed I wanted desperately to watch Freddy Vs. Jason. I had never seen a single frame of a Nightmare or Friday film but was oddly compelled to watch their showdown. Of course, I eventually worked up the cajones and walked out Blockbuster with a copy of the DVD, I'd do it this time! I'd make it through! It'll be like AVP, just two cool monsters fighting, right? I got up until the first kill with the bed, a masterfully fun practical effect by the way, and was done. No sleep for me. And no horror for another few months. At that point, I had exhausted the comedy section and my brain was pumped with Kevin Smith like a drug but I hadn't dared go into that forbidden section again.
To this day I still don't know what came over me. I can't explain it at all. I had a particularly bad day at school with all the jackass kids I dealt with on a daily basis and I just walked right into that Sci-Fi horror section and grabbed Freddy Vs. Jason. The uncaring store clerk gave me the look of, "Again?" For some reason this time, "Hell yes, again." Breathing deeply I popped in my DVD and got all the way to the first kill. Familiar territory. No lingering fears. I kept going. It kept going. Transfixed on what was before me. I didn't feel anything I felt before. What I felt now I never had felt before. Fat little thirteen-year-old Freddy with no friends had the biggest shit eating grin on his face since he first saw Star Wars. I was blown away by the creativity, the imagination, the comedy, the amazing character work of Freddy and Jason! The gore! The gore! I needed more! That Sci-Fi/Horror section at Blockbuster? In the words of Freddy, "I made it my bitch."
Now I'm not gonna sit here and say Freddy Vs. Jason is some sort of masterpiece, it is, but it was my first horror film and opened the flood-gates for me. I watched EVERYTHING, I clung to each movie and scanned the credits learning every actor, fx artist, composer, writer, producer and director like a crazed madman linking all these Shakespearean and Oscar-worthy creators of culture together. This all happened in the span of a year. In that year I learned almost everything I know now. It was one of the happiest time periods I can recollect. My love was young and new, nothing I found could disappoint, Hell, I even defended Tobe Hooper's Spontaneous Combustion to Brad Douriff when I got him to autograph it, and my discoveries fueled my passion, helping me to create and write. That year and those films, along with Kevin Smith, finally gave me a voice.
How can we as fans love these grotesque and horrid movies full of pain, misery, masochism and violent imagery? Because we understand them. We know right from wrong. We might not agree with these Killer's motives but we understand them. We feel the pain for Mrs. Voorhees of having lost her son. We don't condone her actions but we get it. We love the art form and we don't hide from the truth in society and sugar coat the real world like the "normals" do. These stories like the first told over a fire to warn the children to be wary are our morality tales and I think we are far more adjusted and happy than those who don't like them. For me, it was an awakening. I finally did differentiate the horrors of the movies from my horrors at home. I still can't completely explain it but the best of my ability I can say I think I finally stopped being scared of the monsters on film because I learned what makes them. Most of them aren't monsters but are misunderstood like me. Beyond that, I knew the creative teams that brought these madmen to life. Freddy Krueger is scary as hell but Robert Englund, who plays him, is the sweetest man on the planet. What I don't know is what makes and drives real people. What made my grandmother this horrid sadistic, racist, bigoted abusive woman? What drove her to beat us and steal money from her own blood? People scare me. People like her. They're the real monsters. The Rubberheaded monsters and madmen on the silver screen are my friends. Guillermo Del Toro helped me realize this talking about how as a kid he would see monsters in his crib and he'd be too scared to go to the bathroom. One day he was tired of it and said,
"If you allow me to go pee, I'll be your friend forever. They disappeared and I have peed happily since." Looking at my life now, the monsters have definitely been good to me.
Through horror, I have found my passion and love. I've found an endless network and support system of fans and writers and actors and creators like-minded in our common love of the genre. I've found my family. Over the years I've found many people with these same commonalities and it's the most refreshing thing to have that conversation that bonds us. "Is Tom Atkins the greatest Mustache in history?" "Fuck yes!" "What's a more Oscar-worthy performance? Dee Wallace in Cujo or Adrienne Barbeau in Two Evil Eyes?" "Call me Billie! Everyone does!" Discussions WE live for and anytime I can meet a new brother or sister of that bond I relish it. As I write this piece sitting here in my The Shining socks and Critters T-Shirt, rockin' with Dokken and the Dream Warriors blasting, I look around me this holiday season of Halloween giving many thanks to the genre that changed my life. Gave me purpose and a family. And endless times of joy and happiness. Hold your hearts out my slashers! Raise your claws my monsters! Rattle your chains my ghosts! Emerge my Ghouls and let us cry out this holiday season our love of our genre that holds our hearts so dear! Happy Halloween my friends!