My pals John Boden and Ken Wood, of the great Shock Totem magazine -- which I strongly urge you to buy and read, if you haven't yet -- have talked me into trying this again.
What am I getting myself into here?
Maybe this time it will be no different. Perhaps I'll have a blog, keep it updated semi-regularly, but then, eventually, I'll end up giving the thing about as much attention as I give my MySpace page these days (read: can't remember the last time I looked at it).
That's not the plan, though. It's time to "kick things up a notch", to quote John. And since this thing will soon be taking over completely as my official website, I guess I have no choice but to keep it going and update it at least every time I have a new book to plug, right?
All joking aside: Hopefully you'll see a lot more here than sporadic "buy my book!" posts. Oh, you'll see plenty of that, but I'd like to do more with this. I doubt I'll update every day, I might not even update more than once a week if I don't have anything to say that I think folks'll wanna hear, but the plan for now is to use this site to post occasional opinions on a movie I just saw, a book I just read, etc. More often than not, said posts will be short n' sweet. Simply put, I don't write nonfiction (I like to make stuff up!), so it's highly unlikely you'll see rambling 3,000-word rants/reviews/what-have-you from yours truly. That is, after today, with this very first post. It's gonna get pretty wordy.
Essentially, this site will be a home for exactly what it says above: "random thoughts from a Southern hippie writer dude with a taste for the dark side of life."
Yep . . . that about sums it up.
Ken, John? Hope you're happy, fellas. I'm counting on you to help me spread the word.
So . . .
To kick things off, here's a fun lil' piece I wrote back in the day on that old blog. It was later published. I've cleaned it up a bit here, updated it a tad, but not too much. Hope you enjoy it, warts and all. It's all about who I am, and how I got to be this way . . . .
WHY I LOVE "THAT HORROR STUFF"
"Come play with us, Danny. Forever . . . . "
--- the Grady twins, Stanley Kubrick's The Shining
I've been asked on more than one occasion why I'm so obsessed with "the macabre," with "doom and gloom and death and violence." With things most folks don't like to think about. With "that horror stuff."
Okay. Obviously when such a thing is asked, it's a question loaded with condescension, but screw it. Doesn't bother me. I'm not ashamed of my beloved genre. And I'm about tell you why I dig this stuff, as best I can. Here goes nothin' . . . .
Just about everyone I know likes horror movies(1), but I know few people who are as -- okay, I admit it -- obsessed with the genre to the extent that I am. At least in "real life". The few fellow horror freaks I do know I find out there in cyberland, and outside of the rare horror convention I correspond with them only via e-mail, message boards, etc. I'd be willing to bet my entire DVD collection that nobody here in my hometown in western North Carolina -- other than my lifelong pal and occasional co-writer Donn Gash -- lives, breathes, eats, and sleeps horror films and horror literature like I do.
Is there something wrong with me (sniff)? With those "weirdos" who are like me?
Nope. Just 'cause I dig this stuff -- just because I wear Night of the Living Dead, Hellraiser, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre T-shirts as part of my everyday attire -- that doesn't make me some psycho child-molesting necropheliac in drag.
One thing I do not do is molest children, thank you very much.
But seriously . . . I consider myself to be a decent enough fellow, a dude with his head on straight. I have a beautiful wife, we've been together for twenty years this November (married for the last sixteen) . . . we have two wonderful sons, a twelve-year-old and a one-year-old. Although in my wilder days I dabbled, I don't do drugs anymore and I rarely drink alcohol. Last but not least, I can step into a church without spontaneously bursting into flames(2), believe it or not.
This all may sound like I'm trying to make excuses for my love of the macabre, as if I'm "apologizing" for my genre, but I assure you nothing could be further from the truth. Before I got off on a tangent, my goal with this essay was to tell you a little about why I'm the way I am. No pop psychology here, no analyzing why people love to be scared -- you've heard all that before (for a fascinating study on such things, I highly recommend Chris Treagus's Primeval Fear). I thought it might be fun to give you one man's history on how I came to love this scary stuff. Why I'm "sick," as I've been called in the past. If you're reading this in the first place, it's probably safe to assume you've been called that once or twice yourself. Usually it's all in fun -- I rarely take offense at such a jab (not enough to punch anybody in the mouth, anyway . . . yet) -- but then, why classify me that way because I enjoy reading books and watching movies about "the dark side?"
Makes 'em feel safe. That's what I think. Sane. Because everybody wants to feel sane in a world increasingly marred by such depressing realities as cancer, AIDS, terrorist attacks, and those infernal reality shows like Jersey Shore(3). What kind of person would choose to dwell on death and darkness and things other folks don't like to think about?
Well, for starters, some really good people. Normal people, contrary to popular belief. Who woulda thunk it -- doctors, lawyers, fathers, and wives. Professionals! Less than one percent of them, I betcha, are those psycho child-molesting necropheliacs in drag I mentioned earlier.
In my own case, it's my dad's fault, why I love this genre. I've blamed him on more than one occasion for my being the way I am (he usually chuckles when I tell him this, gets a big, proud, shit-eating grin on his face as if he's just discovered the cure for cancer), so why stop now?
No, really. I mean it. Thanks!
I remember when I was merely four years old (!), my father took me to the movies to see The Incredible Melting Man. I haven't seen that movie since, and I'm sure if I went back to revisit said film I'd find it nothing more than a piece of B-movie trash(4), but my memories -- blurred by time and hundreds of better movies since -- suggest that it could be one of the greatest genre films ever made. It's called sentimental value. I can vaguely remember covering my eyes, yet always peeking through just a little . . . then a little more . . . terrified to see what nightmare creature might lurk up there on the big screen yet at the same time even more horrified at the thought of missing a single second of the carnage. Vaguely, I remember some running man swathed in filthy yellow bandages, his crimson skin leaking through and trailing behind him as he melted down to nothing like some grotesque, human-shaped candle. That is the lone image I can recall from The Incredible Melting Man, and it will always stick with me. I trembled, I quivered in my seat, I knew that dripping fiend would get me when I went to bed that night and I would soon be melting along with him.
Yet I could not turn away.
Because, man-oh-man, this shit was cool!
God only knows why dear old Dad thought it wise to take a toddler to see something like The Incredible Melting Man. A case of bad parenting, some might say? Perish the thought. 'Cause every time I finish writing a new story that I'm especially proud of . . . for every shiver that runs up my spine when I read a particularly creepy scene in the latest Bentley Little novel . . . every time goosebumps stipple my forearms during those last few nerve-wracking minutes of The Blair Witch Project or Ringu, or when Leatherface slams that warped metal door in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre . . . I peer back on what started all this. And I subconsciously thank my father.
'Cause, Dad, you started all this.
But it doesn't end there. Oh, no. My parents were repeat offenders. A year or so after 'Melting Man, my mom and dad took a trip to the drive-in(5) to see John Carpenter's Halloween. The only thing I can remember during this pleasant "family outing" is the scene in which Michael Myers bursts through the closet doors, blindly swinging his knife at Jamie Leigh Curtis as she cowers in the corner. I remember crying to go home, to be rescued from the lunacy. My mom turned around every few minutes (after a glance at my dad as if to say "was this really a good idea?"), looked down at me where I cowered in the backseat. "It's okay, honey," she reassured me as I fought back tears. "It's just a movie. It's almost over." I shielded my eyes from the terrors onscreen, covered my head as if it would all go away if I only didn't look, until my father said, "Okay. Okay. You're right. We'd better go."
I promptly popped up from the back then, and frantically pleaded with my parents: "No! I don't wanna go! I wanna see the movie!"
Because I loved every horrifying minute of it.
After making it that far, there was no way they were gonna take me home . . . I had to see if Michael got Jamie Leigh!
Well, Ms. Curtis survived to fight the Shape another day, for a few more shitty sequels at least, and here I am. Little Jamie Newman survived that night without dying of a heart attack right there in the backseat of his parents' '76 Nova. And since that fateful day, Halloween has become one of my favorite films.
There have been similiar incidents that fueled my obsession with this genre, that "planted the seed" if you will, though none compare to the aforementioned viewings of The Incredible Melting Man and Halloween. There was John Carpenter's The Thing in a hotel room one night on a family vacation somewhere(6), another film which -- as if I have to tell you -- has since become one of my all-time favorites. I also recall a first-time viewing of Poltergeist at some point, as well as The Fog, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and of course The Exorcist (the latter was the edited-for-television version, but that hardly mattered to yours truly back then(7)). Great stuff. Thanks, Mom . . . thanks, Dad.
As far as the first novel I ever read in my beloved genre (adult novel, I mean -- all through my childhood I tore through anything and everything for youngsters that might contain the slightest bit of "darkness"(8) . . . surprise, surprise), that honor belongs to Anne River Siddons's The House Next Door. I tore through it in high school, and there's been no looking back ever since. I've re-read The House Next Door several times in the last few decades, and it stills affects me the same as that first time I read it. Ms. Siddons' novel is considered by many to be one of the best in the haunted house genre, as her prose pulses with a constant sense of dread, the horror building oh-so-subtly from page one until its not-so-happy ending. If you haven't read this one, run don't walk to your nearest used book store and pick up The House Next Door. It's fairly easy to find, and it will stay with you forever. Trust me.
Horror is a genre that has kept me pumped with adrenaline for almost thirty years, a genre that has given me a world in which to escape. When things get to be too much in the real world, when bills pile up or the boss just chewed out three-quarters of your ass . . . what better way to push it all aside than to witness Seth Brundle's worse problems in David Cronenberg's The Fly? Or to laugh at Ash's escapades in the Evil Dead series? What better way to forget about it all than to sign up for Bentley Little's The Association, or cross the great pond to the bloody Old West with none other than Jack the Ripper in Richard Laymon's Savage? Step away from the real world for a while and pray that a vanful of harmless hippies guilty of nothing more than believing in astrology and picking up hitch-hikers ultimately survive The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Everybody needs that now and then, I think.
I love to "embrace the darkness" (to paraphrase Clive Barker's Lord of Illusions). I always will. Why try to explain it to those who'll never understand?
It's a gift, this obsession(9). For those who have been "chosen".
And we wouldn't have it any other way.
1 Although, admittedly, this usually consists of more "mainstream" fare like the Scream series, the latest installment of Final Destination, and sub-par remakes such as 2010's A Nightmare On Elm Street and this summer's Fright Night. Not to mention, as far as horror literature goes, Stephen King . . . everybody knows King's work, even if the casual reader in question "doesn't read horror" (yeah, I don't get that either).
2 Believe it or not, despite being a horror writer and lover of all things horror, I'm a Christian. Albeit a very liberal one.
3 Perhaps the scariest thing of all? You decide.
4 Although, in many cases, this isn't really a bad thing, is it? Trash can be fun . . . far be it from me to denigrate the "fun factor" of such lovable junk as The Toxic Avenger, Killer Klowns From Outer Space, Roger Corman's Galaxy of Terror, and Night of the Demons. I could go on and on.
5 May those fine institutions of American cinema rest in peace. Sure do wish I was old enough to remember more about them.
6 Alongside a made-for-TV chiller called Dark Night of the Scarecrow, Carpenter's The Thing is one of the first movies I can remember giving me nightmares. I will never forget the first time I saw that spider/head thing scrabbling across the floor of that arctic outpost. "You gotta be fucking kidding," one character proclaimed, and even at the age of 8 or 9 I had to agree.
7 Oddly enough, the scariest thing about The Exorcist for me that first time I saw it wasn't the pea-soup, the head-spinning, or the rampant sacrilege. It was those damn hospital scenes. Needles (shudder).
8 Those Scary Stories To Tell In the Dark books by Alvin Schwartz were always a fave. Still are, for that matter. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White is a masterpiece. No, Charlotte's Web wasn't scary by any means . . . but Charlotte was a spider. And let the record show that I don't like spiders (even nice ones)! Props also gotta go to Where the Wild Things Are, of course. And believe it or not, it's probably just my over-active imagination . . . but I always found Green Eggs and Ham, by the late great Dr. Seuss, to be a tad creepy. What the hell caused that damn breakfast entree to be green in the first place, Trioxin-245? And why was that little dude so persistent in getting the Cat In the Hat to eat them? (Okay, so that particular book is a stretch. I'm strange. But there you have it.)
9 In fact, it's a gift that I am proud to say I have passed on to my oldest son. He's a voracious reader, and usually the books he chooses to crack open are those of a darker variety (surprise, surprise)! Just a few of his favorite movies at the moment are Cronenberg's The Fly, The Mist, They Live, Killer Klowns From Outer Space, From Dusk Till Dawn, The Butterfly Effect, the Terminator series, and Insidious. Folks, how cool is that?!