Growing up Gruesome: A Look at my Horror Influences

So I’ve been thinking about my own horror influences lately…

Yeah, there are the typical ones: I got into Anne Rice in college, Stephen King probably around the same time (I was a late bloomer), Ray Bradbury was a constant companion for me from high school on, though I really connected with him in my early twenties. I have fond memories of curling up in a little bookshop on Manteo island, pouring over The October Country, then later finding an ancient, battered copy of From Dust Returned in a green room when I was in one of the five thousand Sound of Musics I’ve done (okay, that may be an exaggeration, but it sure doesn’t feel like it). I’ve grown to embrace the slasher horror of the eighties when I somehow ended up in a sanctioned stage show of Friday the 13th (long, long, long story, though I still have so many happy memories of this, even if Jason did off me like five times a night. Six on Saturdays). I’ve gained a healthy respect for all sorts of authors, from Shirley Jackson and Clive Barker to Nancy A. Collins and Joe McKinney. I’d even argue that my love of Neil Gaiman stems from his ability to make the darker areas of fantasy beautiful and disturbing.

Still, I was an anxious child. I loved Halloween. Loved monsters, but they had to be the friendly ones. I probably have read every “nice” haunted house book ever, because that was my jam as a five-year-old. It wasn’t that I wasn’t allowed to venture into the horror realm, but I think my parents knew better…ie, they knew they’d never be allowed to sleep again, if my reactions to any horror movie commercial that came on television was a decent indication. Truly, they had the “COVER YOUR EYES NOW” reaction down pat pretty fast. Ironically, one of my closest adult life friends has also learned to get that reaction down after the unfortunate Texas Chainsaw Massacre prequel incident that we still tend not to discuss because I am an utter embarrassment to my kind. Geez, I never claimed to be a badass if I had to watch gore, yo.

Still, though, it was an odd dichotomy growing up. As much as the commercials on TV freaked me out, I may have snuck off to the forbidden sections of the video store (forbidden for me, meaning horror, not that other forbidden section that only those over thirty are smirking about right now). For some reason, I had a thing about reading the back of horror movie boxes, even though this pretty much told me nothing about the actual stories and probably amped up my imagination even more. I may still do this with wiki articles if I’m on the fence about seeing a movie, but I digress.

I also think people really underestimate children in a cafeteria or playground or other social setting. God knows I had friends with older siblings, and for some reason I felt like it was my sacred duty to hear every plot point of every Freddy, Jason, Candyman, who knows what else from their mouths, not getting that they were probably adding their own flair to the franchises until much later. Plus, every town has its urban legends, and the eighties were also filled to the brim with pseudo-news shows or paranormal whatevers about how the devil was road-tripping across America (I had a friend who had a friend who saw him and said he looked like a baked potato. I swear to God these are the things children discuss at lunch), about how aliens walked among us, how ghosts and demons hid in the corners of ceilings if you were bad, whatever. As you can probably tell, childhood friends were not the best sources, but none of us cared because we all believed it wholesale.

I may have also had a relative who loved Anne Rice and left the books laying out. To this day I cannot read certain scenes of Interview with the Vampire without having some sort of deep emotional flashback that I’m sure stems from being a nosy kid. I was introduced to IT as soon as the miniseries came out (apparently there was nothing else on TV that week), though admittedly right off the bat I’ve always thought Pennywise was hilarious. Maybe that was the beginning of the end for me. I’ve been told I was threatened as a young kid with a seed pod under the bed and being told that Audrey II would eat me if I was bad, but I don’t really remember this, so I’m not sure how valid that is. I do remember bedtime stories of princesses being kidnapped by evil creatures because they mouthed off too much, or the demons that stole the parents because the children thought they knew everything. One of these days I’m going to re-work these into adult children’s books and get the last laugh, because at the time I was like eight, very gullible, and scared out of my ever-lovin’ mind by threats like that. There was also one very memorable car trip where said relative faked something akin to demonic posession for like forty miles to apparently keep things interesting…you’d think I would have wised up by the time I was ten, but eh, I suppose it goes on the heap of memorable childhood experiences.

Although I didn’t actually see The Lost Boys until I was in college, I admittedly was also slightly terrified of Kiefer Sutherland for a long time because the same charming influence who told me warped bedtime stories played it when sparkly happy ponies apparently became too much. I may or may not have been threatened to be given to the vampires if I was too annoying. Obviously that threat wouldn’t work on me at all today, and is highly ironic for so many reasons. Susan has a theory about all this, but I’ll leave that for another day.

As freaky as that stuff could be, it never occurred to me until I was an adult that I was kinda predisposed to all of this, though, and not just because of when I grew up or who I was around. Truly, oddly, being a girl in the eighties kind of made it inevitable that I’d love horror.  The Care Bears alone kinda broke me early: the first movie had an evil book that was  a straight-up animated Necronomicon, the second movie featured something akin to demonic possession and Dark Heart was freakin’ terrifying.

Note to anyone out there who wants to make a CGI Care Bears Movie: Oh please, please, please let me write it. I’ll put so many generations into therapy, but it would be AMAZING. I will give you THE most incredible Dark Heart EVER. 

Beyond that, Ponyland had portals to dark dimensions and an ooze that tried to eat it, characters from Jem to Lady Lovelylocks were either put into bizarre comas or nearly lost their souls, The Raggedy Ann and Andy Movie was actually made, movies like All Dogs go to Heaven featured heavy WTF moments, and even the classic Disney cartoons that aired on the weekends featured throwbacks like that time Pluto dreamed he went to hell and was tormented by cat devils. And then The Real Ghostbusters aired every Saturday morning, along with cartoons like The Ewoks, which regularly put the cuddly characters in slavery or had them at the mercy of dark magic.

I had no chance. That stuff was so ingrained by the time I was ten, that’s all that made sense for a while. In the nineties when everyone started freaking out about Tales from the Cryptkeeper, I couldn’t even understand why. It was so much more tame than a lot of things I’d grown up on, and it really marked a changing of the times that it was only on for such a short amount of time. By that time, of course, I’d moved on to covertly reading the RL Stine YA novels and maybe running an underground library with them and books about urban legends out of my locker in Jr. High.

The subject matter still unsettled me, but by then I was slowly beginning to face why things made me uncomfortable and not just assume that I’d be at the mercy of, oh, everything. Plus, that was around the time true crime shows really took off, so that was where that freaked out part of me focused its attention. I also stumbled into Poe at age twelve or thirteen, which helped, as well. There was something about his writing, both beautiful and macabre, that really intrigued me, but didn’t feel like I was taking on too much or something more horrific than I could handle (yes I know that is really, really weird. Welcome to my headspace).

Honestly, by time I was in my twenties and getting cast in haunted events, short horror-ish films, and making monsters, it just made sense. It took me that long to realize that I really, really love the genre and have for a long time.

The dichotomy still exists inside me, obviously, but I don’t fight it now. Some things will always bother me, and some things will always intrigue me. Either way, it’s amusing to think of where I started out from, but even then, with influences like The Brothers Grimm, I was never completely unaffected by dark things. Kids are going to get into that kind of stuff no matter what, honestly, but sometimes, if it leads to things like them becoming less afraid of the world around them, if it means they start getting creative on their own terms and become things like horror writers, than I suppose it can have a happy ending, after all.


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