Blog Post #4 Horror of My Youth

Some of us are just born demented. I’m not sure what I may have been exposed to as a baby or toddler before my memories began. I imagine my parents were among the many in the 80s who believed that kids seeing things they won’t understand or remember won’t affect them. Now we know that’s not quite true, but for many, the damage is done. I do remember that as a child I used to scare the crap out of others with ease. Apparently, I was a creepy child, cute, but creepy. I was in that way, something looks nonthreatening, adorable even, and then comes up and tells you there’s a man standing behind you talking to you, but you won’t listen, and there’s no one there when you look. I remember telling my dad about the skeleton who lived in the ground under my bed. He didn’t like that. Back then, I had an almost intuitive sense of what was scary to others, but these same topics rarely bothered me. This is especially interesting framed against the fact that I was raised in the Catholic church. Of course the church may have well been a strong influence on my love of horror. However it came about, I do know that for as long as I can remember, I have found enjoyment in the scarier side of things.

Way too young for it, shortly after it came out on VHS, some irresponsible person let elementary aged me watch the 1980s classic The Gate. From the eye in the palm of the hand, to the arm that shot out from under the bed and sprung across the room at unexpected lengths to grab a child, that movie did a number on me. For years it was the standard of horror I’d compare all things against. OK, this new movie was scary, but was it scarier than The Gate? In my late teens I tracked down a copy at a video rental place in town and watched it with one of my high school romances. To my great chagrin I realized that The Gate, was in fact, not that scary. Comedic in fact. Regardless of my later in life disappointment, I still think of The Gate as my, ahem, gateway into the world of horror and for that, it will always keep a spooky place in my heart. Please watch if you need a giggle, some parts still hold up, especially for the under 10 crowd.

The next biggest influence on young me isn’t even actually a horror movie, although the 30 seconds or so I saw of it were absolutely horrific with no context. A herd of my cousins were hanging out and I walked into the room where they were all watching another 1980s classic: Summer School. All I knew for years was the scene where students sitting at their desks had all been massacred and were dying, moaning in pain as their teacher looked on helplessly. One particular vision of a teenager holding their eviscerated guts out in a plea for help seared itself into my brain forever after. I ran from the room horrified as my older teenage cousins looked on in confusion. Again, years later I was able to search and find out what the movie was and rented it for a full watch. Imagine my confusion when I realized it wasn’t a horror movie at all, it was a comedy! Even weirder, the scene I remembered DID happen, only it was a staged prank that the students used to harass their teacher. Fucking wild. I laughed at myself, and how obviously fake the scene was when watched through adult eyes. For years this scene was the epitome of gore for me. Lesson learned though, many things can be horrifying without context.

Following that the biggest influence I can remember is the widely acclaimed and loved Scary Stories To Tell In the Dark. It was the pictures in these books that were so incredibly horrifying to me. Hats off to the illustrator. Those pictures can still sometimes make me uncomfortable today. Sometimes I would cover the pictures just to be able to read the words on the adjoining page. If I didn’t find a story especially concerning, I’d tentatively lift my hand to see if the picture could drive home the feeling that the story failed to convey. Never did they disappoint. Even better, the pictures made the accompanying words burn brighter into my memories. I can still think of some of the sentences today: “her head fell off.” Those books were beautiful, brilliant, terrifying, and thrilling. In short, everything I’d hope for any of my own work to be. May all children (who want to) be as terrified and entertained.

Lastly, the biggest horror influence, like the first 2, is not something my young mind should have been exposed to. Would I be the same person today though, writing the same stories, if I had not been? I don’t know the answer to that, but today I do appreciate how they affected me, regardless of how damaging they may have felt at the time of exposure. You may be surprised to see that the last item on this list of influences on me before the age of puberty, is actually a Stephen King novel. My parents divorced early on in my life, and I was only able to visit my dad on weekends for most of my adolescence. For that reason and the fact that he lived hours away, I didn’t have many of my own things at his house and would often forget to pack myself entertainment. One bored morning I found my way to his bookshelf to see what offerings were available. I’d already burned through several of his girlfriend’s old novels, including Heidi, and wanted something a little more to my taste. My dad is and always has been a fan of Mr. King. At the time he had several shelves filled with only King novels. I browsed, I perused the covers, until finally, I found my prize! Needful Things was an exciting story of people who find exactly what they want in a magical store. The story even features a kid like me! Fun! I ran back to my bed with my treasure in tow and settled in for a long comfy journey. By the end of the weekend I was horrified, shocked, disturbed. It was amazing! This was like nothing I’d ever read before! I was 9 years old.

The next weekend I spent at my dad’s house, I ran for the bookcase and ended up reading the entirety of Cujo. Which also had a lifelong impact on me. To this day I don’t go anywhere without several bottles of water in the car. Never know what kind of situation you might end up in.

So these are the biggest horror influences of my youth. I hope you horror fans had as many wonderfully scary moments as I did as a child. Think I missed out on any essential scary materials of my childhood? Please let me know, I’m always in for a spooky good time.