Why I Need Horror More Than Ever.


Last night, as the hour of the first debate drew nigh, I found myself torn.  As someone raised in a family with very strong political opinions, it’s always in my best interest to stay informed.  As someone raised by a mother for whom horror movies were required viewing, I like being scared.  In this, the first of three debates before Election Day, I had the opportunity to be informed AND scared.  But I wasn’t sure if I could deal with this particular kind of scare.  Was it willfully ignorant to sit it out and watch “Re-Animator” instead?

Ultimately, I went for the relative comfort of gore over the risk of elevating my blood pressure by watching the debate.  The personal is political and all that.  I did wind up watching the last 20 minutes or so, and that was enough to give me nightmares.  I’m serious.  I should have stuck with the horror movies.

I honestly don’t think there’s been an election season as frightening as this one.  I don’t know if I was even a fraction as horrified by McCain/Palin as I am right now.  You think there can’t possibly be as stupefyingly preposterous a ticket as the last one, only to be proven horribly wrong.

Anyone who knows me knows who I’m absolutely NOT voting for.  I debated whether or not to even bring it up in this piece.  But I’ll say it, because I may as well:  Trump is terrifying.  Trump is like Leatherface, Jason Vorhees, and Chucky all at once, with a dash of Tall Man from “Phantasm” for bad measure.  I won’t even compare him to Pinhead.  That’s an insult to Pinhead.


I’m not the kind of horror fan who spends a great deal of time thinking about the psychology of the canon’s chief monsters.  Certainly monsters can represent the things we loathe and fear within ourselves.  And there’s no doubt that isolation, in most cases, creates the monster (see: Grendel, or Frankenstein’s monster).  Sometimes I certainly do find myself rooting for the monster, especially when its “victims” are deliberately unsympathetic (and they’re always the first to go).  I can, and will, wax academic about my preferred genre, but this is when I feel compelled to defend myself and my creepy ways.  Mostly I’m in it for the screams, really.


But I can’t help but think that this election season is a monster of our own making, fueled by isolation, AND fear, AND loathing.  Unlike Grendel, or Frankenstein’s monster, this isn’t something that is trying to communicate or connect before the fury fueled by constant misunderstanding wipes away all hope of redemption.  This is something that rages, flails, and smirks with a Mephistophelean leer that says: “You’re fucked.”

The scares we want onscreen tend to dovetail with the fears we have as a society.  A couple of months ago, I had a nice chat with Judith O’Dea (from the original “Night Of The Living Dead”) about how the surge in zombie narratives tends to coincide with periods of political unrest.  What does a zombie represent more than the fear of lack of control?  You can’t even be dead without something forcing you to continue to lurch in a mindless herd.

I deeply enjoy cringing and not quite being able to look away from something that’s pulsating, glistening with viscous matter, dragging its entrails, or any combination thereof.  There’s a kind of low comedy to hyper-splatter that keeps one at a reasonable adrenaline level.  Horror allows for the thrill of a “fight or flight” response without having to, you know, actually outrun a guy in a flesh mask wielding a chainsaw.  It’s better than therapy, sometimes.  A vacation into the implausible (although right now it’s also a vacation FROM the implausible).

And so it stands to reason that this is, for me, an escape from the boundless fuckery that is currently, unsuccessfully, masquerading as the 2016 presidential campaign.  I would sooner sit through all four of the “Subspecies” movies again than navigate social media right now.  And Radu has better hair than Trump.


Things to look forward to…


WARNING:  gross scary stuff ahead.  Don’t play any of these clips if you’re easily spooked, offended, or prone to frowing up.

With Halloween rapidly approaching, I have been indulging my horror jones with near-nightly doses of creepshow goodness.

My mother is 100% to blame for my insatiable hunger for the ghostly, the gory, and the just plain gross. While fairly strict in most matters (no you can’t bring your brother’s trumpet for Show & Tell, yes you can say that word but not in front of company), she was entirely permissive regarding horror movies…I am not exaggerating when I say that as far as that went, nothing was off-limits to me and my siblings. If it went bump in the night, or spewed green goo, it was a go. I’m sure most of the other mothers gave mine the side-eye when I would cheerfully announce to my peers that I’d spent the weekend watching all manner of grim nastiness. And Halloween, natch, was a very big deal at my house. Really, my mom was pretty awesome. Did YOUR mom make you watch Plan 9 From Outer Space as a “learning experience” when you were 10? I didn’t think so.

The other night I watched The Shining for the 1,264,975th time. I mean the Kubrick version. The miniseries that came out like nine years ago? That shit was for the birds, man. As a writer, I can understand Stephen King wanting his story shown the way he intended. As a horror film fanatic, I say he should have let it be. The Kubrick version may not even be a quarter faithful to the original material, but it’s still awesome, a really deeply unsettling movie, and my sister and I have been obsessed with it since we were kids…although I’m ashamed to admit that a couple of years ago, on a family trip to Oregon, my dad drove us up to the Timberline and I was like, “Why am I so creeped out by this place? Why?!” and my mom looked at me and said, “It’s where they shot all the exterior scenes for The Shining. Dumbass.” Oops. But, really, my sister and I have pretty much analyzed this frame-by-frame, and the GREAT QUESTION we’ve never really had a satisfactory answer to is: WHY, if Scatman Crothers shined so hard that he could pick up Danny’s vibes all the way down in Florida, was he NOT ABLE TO FIGURE OUT THAT JACK WAS AROUND THAT CORNER WITH AN AX?!

My favorite double feature for people who haven’t seen a lot of horror movies is Murnau’s Nosferatu, followed by Shadow of the Vampire. I’m also fond of pairing the deliciously awful Dracula that Coppola did a bunch of years ago with Interview With The Vampire. That is high bloodsucker camp at its finest. I have ZERO INTEREST in any of this Twilight foolishness. I’d like to throw that sparkly Edward in with the fiends from 30 Days of Night and see how long he’d last. I enjoy the foppish vampires up to a point, but Danny Huston as Marlow is an ANIMAL. There’s no romantic struggle with the last vestiges of humanity there. He’ll rip your throat out without a second thought, unless he wants to play with his food first.

Gah. So awesome. Is it wrong that I find him oddly attractive? Don’t answer that.

The big news for me, though, is The Thing, which opens this Friday. I had thought this was a remake of the remake, but in fact it’s a prequel, taking place in the Norwegian encampment that Kurt Russell and his crew checked out in the ’82 version, which – if you’ve seen it (and if you haven’t – what the HELL is wrong with you) – is where the Thing is first discovered and thawed out, where it purportedly wreaks all kinds of disgusting havoc before it finds its way into Richard Masur’s dog and makes Wilford Brimley go crazier than a rat in a coffee can.

I give the producers big props for going the prequel route, because there’s no way you could remake Carpenter’s version, unless you just make it MORE gross, and that’s sort of like throwing additional splatter on a Pollock painting. You don’t do it. I mean, you can’t improve on perfection:

Mommy? Come up from Florida and come see this with me?