I remember the first time I was scared.
Well, maybe that’s not true. I’m sure I was scared as a baby, but, honestly, who can really remember those times? No, when I say I remember the first time I was scared, what I mean is that I remember the moment when I first understood what fear, what true terror actually was.
I was in the 4th grade. I was a fairly average kid, and as such was rather obsessed with the things that 4th graders of my generation were obsessed with: Power Rangers, Ninja Turtles, video games, and a load of other fantastic things. One of the things I was decidedly not obsessed with was horror. I hadn’t really been exposed to much terrifying pop culture at that young age, but that was mostly by choice. The very thought of going out of my way to purposely watch something that might scare me just did not compute. Why would anyone want to be scared?
And that brings us to the subject of “girls.” Like most young boys, the very notion of “girls” would send my immature brain into a tail-spin. I didn’t understand them. I didn’t get how another living thing could be so similar to me, as a boy, in so many ways, yet also so very different. The fairer sex was an enigma, and as such I did my best to avoid contact with it.
But there was this one girl… She was in my same grade, but not in my particular class. She was blonde, pretty, and very shy. She did her best to keep to herself, and for some reason this made her a bit of a pariah. I remember this girl getting picked on relentlessly, for reasons that I’m still unaware of. I seem to remember her being the butt of a ton of “dumb blonde” jokes. I would like to say that I didn’t take part in any of this cruelty, but I’d be a liar if I did. In order to fit in, I often took part in mocking this poor girl, and I probably even instigated it all a few times. Kids are inherently assholes, and I was no different.
But I digress…
The reason I bring up this particular girl in relation to being scared all ties back to one particular weekend from that time. My mom and sister had gone out-of-town for a few days, and that left me and my dad to our own devices. My dad is the kind of parent that didn’t seem to have any sense of censorship when it came to movies and TV shows that he would let me watch as a kid, which is to say that he was an awesome dad. He introduced me, at a very young age, to movies that were so not age-appropriate, and let 4th grade me watch things like The Simpsons and Married With Children, even though I didn’t get half the humor I was ingesting.
It was on this weekend, with the ladies of the house gone, that my dad decided to he and I would have a “Boys Night In.” He went out and secured for us a feast of tacos, and went to the video store and rented a stack of tapes (for our younger readers, I came of age during a time when movie rentals were done exclusively in stores and were of the VHS variety. If you don’t know what VHS is…well…go ask your parents). The film selections he made were all of a singular genre: horror.
Now, I said before how I wasn’t one to let myself get intentionally scared, and that I wasn’t very well versed in world of horror, so my dad renting a ton of scary movies for us to watch was not something I was too thrilled about. But this was my dad, and he was trying to share something fun with me, and I would be damned if I was going to let on that I was petrified of what I might see. So, as we started scarfing down our tacos, my dad put in one of the first tapes…
I loved it.
The first film we watched that night was George A. Romero’s severely underrated 1985 classic, Day of the Dead. We followed it up Stan Winston’s creature masterpiece Pumpkinhead, then went through a few more films that I can’t really recall. All I remember is that I loved them, each and every one.
The night grew late, and my dad was getting pretty tired, but there was still one film left in to watch. My dad suggested we leave it and watch it the next day, but I just couldn’t do it. I was so adrenalized from the images I had seen that night, all of them dispelling my preconceived notions about what “horror” actually was. I begged my dad to let me stay up and watch that last film. It didn’t take much for him to relent and put it in the VCR.
That last tape was Carrie, Brian De Palma’s 1976 adaptation of the Stephen King novel.
It scared the living hell out of me.
People laugh at me now when I tell them that Carrie is the scariest film I’ve ever seen in my life, but you have to understand where I’m coming from. All those films that I had watched earlier in that evening involved zombies, hulking monsters, I think even some vampires, all things that I knew in the 4th grade were concoctions of pure fiction.
A film that featured realistic, human characters. A film about a girl, a pretty, shy, blonde girl, picked on and tormented by her classmates, that lashes out at those around her and uses devastating mental abilities to kill them all.
This was a film that hit a little too close to home for me. It reflected back at my young mind all the horrible things I had ever said and done to someone who didn’t deserve it, and it showed me a vision of the punishment that could await me.
Some may ask, “Why didn’t you turn it off? Why’d you keep watching?” Well, that’s another thing that scared me so bad. While watching the movie, my dad fell fast asleep in his recliner pretty quick. I was too scared to move, and I didn’t want to wake him, because that felt rude, so instead I sat on the couch, alone with my thoughts, and my guilt, and a newfound fear, all through the night. My dad woke the next morning to find me still awake and terrified.
Needless to say, after that day I did everything in my power to be nice, or at least not so shitty, to people I saw being picked on.
Flash forward some 20 odd years, and here I am today, a bona fide lover and creator of horror. It might seem counterintuitive for someone to have been so terrified by a horror story to become such a lover and morbid and macabre, but I think that shows the true power of this genre. It was some time before I sought to watch Carrie again, and it was even longer before I worked up the nerve to read the book, but in the intervening years I found myself more and more attracted to horror because I understood firsthand the power that a good scary story has, be it in film or literature, or even music. As I’ve grown older, and hopefully a little wiser, I’ve found solace and entertainment in the works of authors like Thomas Ligotti, Clive Barker, H.P. Lovecraft, and Harlan Ellison, films like Halloween, Audition, and The Blair Witch Project (which I think will be the subject of its own post soon…), and even in bands with a horror slant to them like Slayer, White Zombie, and Danzig.
Horror shows us a side of ourselves that we may be afraid to acknowledge, but if we’re willing to confront it we can come out all the better for it, and maybe even learn a little something about ourselves and those around us.
And I think that brings us to the end of this rather lengthy introductory post. I’ve told you a little about myself, and how I became so enthralled in this spooky world, and in the coming months, or years, or however long this group will have me, I hope to share some of the things I’ve made and some of the things that I love so much about the world of horror.