This is probably no shock of consequence, but if I’m going to pay nigh on to $15 to see a movie, I better not come away totally disappointed. For this reason, it is almost impossible to get me to go see anything but horror films. Yes, horror movies can suck as much as anything else but usually, I’ll at least go home with something to think about, write about, talk to myself while home alone, etc. Earlier this year, I went to see The Devil Inside, which had its moments but wasted my goodwill with its abrupt ending, which was clearly intended to set up a sequel (I had thought the movie had a big opening, which makes me surprised that I have yet to hear of a sequel in the works). Outside of the theater, in the lobby, I was waiting for a friend and had a teenaged theater employee ask if she could survey me about my moviegoing habits. Since I’d just had a gin and tonic and since I was at Bridgeport Village and the people there freak me out, I agreed to speak to her.
I was shown a rather obnoxious trailer for some upcoming movie (I believe it was Chronicle) and then she wanted my opinions and I was all too keen to provide them. When I asked if I would see the movie, I said no. When asked why, I drawled that it looked to be about young people and their problems, “and I don’t care about young people and their problems.” When asked if anything else displeased me (she didn’t use those particular words, she was very polite) about the trailer, I thought about it and then said that I resented the director naming what looked to be the film’s antagonist “Andrew.” That, of course, is my full name and I complained that it got used for demonic types too often (I have no idea what I meant by that, I can only think of one movie where that was true, 1981′s Fear No Evil). The whole thing ended when she asked if there were any other genres I liked, I thought about it (much as my little brother used to furrow his brow and think carefully before he spoke) and declared “No, I only like horror. Only horror.”
People often assume that because I’m a horror fan, I must like gore (I don’t, at all) or have a screw loose (which I do, but only the right screws that should be loose). The truth is, I first became acquainted with horror because I was sick of being scared. The year was 1988, and I was turning nine years old. I was aware of horror (mainly from Disney movies, because those things are full of horror, and the occasional made-for-TV product like Mr. Boogedy or my mom randomly renting Poltergeist and watching it on a Saturday morning). Back then, I thought ghosts looked like skeletons and I avoided that kind of thing like the plague (although I did like Halloween, loved it).
This would have been all it took to send me from the room screaming.
The previous winter, I had somehow brought home from the library a book called America’s Monsters or some such. My guess is that I figured it was “safe” because it was about monsters, not ghosts or vampires (I was also quite opposed to vampires, as I believed in them fervently). Some twenty years later, I was able to go back and read this book and I must say that the stories were pretty scary. Mothman, Bigfoot, Nessie, they were all there. Sure, the stories played the devil with me when I went to bed at night, but I enjoyed them enough to check out some other books, most of them about America’s Favorite Ghosts or some such thing, so you got a history lesson along with your ghost story (and I was one of those irritating kids who enjoyed history and geography and such). These were a good start (and shortly I would start reading children’s books that offered truncated versions of the Universal Monsters films, illustrated with stills from the movies) but things took a definite turn in the spring of 1988.
My sisters and my brother had conspired to make me believe that our 1950s-era ranch house was formerly the home of a midget (their words, not mine) and that his much taller wife had cheated on him with a muscle man and they killed the midget to take his house and his money (one of them had to have seen Freaks). Now, the midget’s ghost was set to return and hated people who could grow to full size and this return involved my brother covered in jackets (he was maybe 6) and making scary noises. Anyhow, I went to my mother about it and she told me that the only way to avoid being scared by my siblings was to stop letting them do it. And maybe learn to scare them back.
Mother, you had no idea.
In the years that followed, I read every ghost story collection I could find, watched any horror movie that I was allowed to rent or tune in, and even read my way through some of my stepmother’s Stephen King novels. By the time I was in high school, I was scaring the hell out of the other kids in the family and was actually forbidden to tell any more “stories.”
One of my best stories involved convincing my younger siblings that our detached garage was built on the site of an old house where a crazy old lady had lived, one Mrs. Hermes. She kidnapped neighborhood children and cooked them in a cauldron and ate them. And I told them her hungry ghost lived in the loft space above the garage itself. Finest hour. I based her appearance on Mombi from the Oz books and took her last name from the author of my sister’s My Girl novelization that she wouldn’t let me read that summer.
Revenge is sweet. And so are horror stories.