Wednesday, January 25, 2012

How Horror Snuck Up On Me When I Wasn’t Looking

Okay, up front I will fully admit to being a chicken shit when it comes to the things that go bump in the night.  I was the kid that could not watch horror movies at slumber parties or else I ended up crawling into my parents’ room in the middle of the night to sleep on the floor.  Of course that might have something to do with being scratched by a cat during a critical scene in Nightmare on Elm Street.   I swear I never had a normal night’s sleep again until we moved out of state and I managed to convince myself that Freddy Kruegar was still looking for me in Ohio.  I told myself that as long as I never watched another Elm Street movie I would be safe in Maryland. 
"Dagon" Todd Shearer

As much as horror scared me, I have to admit that I was drawn to it, fascinated by it.  I kept going back for the thrill of fear.  I even watched The Children of the Corn in a barn surrounded by cornfields.  When we lived in that little rental for a month with no TV, my sisters and I re-enacted out horror movies to keep ourselves entertained.  When my mom would demand that we be quiet because she worked nights, I would tell them romance stories with their favorite leading men.  Looking back now, I think I was predisposed to a mix of romance and horror at a very young age even though I loved to read fantasy books the most.  Weird right?  Most of the stories I wrote then had a both a love interest and some strange demonic entity.
Then I became friends with my future husband who introduced me to role-playing and the absolute freaky horror of Call of Cthulhu.  It’s a game based on the mythos of H.P. Lovecraft who has influenced many horror aficionados over the years.  It’s a game that really doesn’t have a happy ending.  In my experience you can count on your character ending up one of three ways by the end of a campaign: (1) dead; (2) insane then dead; or (3) just insane. 
Every time he brought out the Cthulhu books we would all shiver before the games even started.  And I’ll never forget the smile he had on his face whenever he asked us to make a sanity roll.  He smiled like that often.  And every time you failed a sanity roll, your character lost a few more marbles.  I loved the way that he could set the mood.  It seemed effortless to me.  I loved watching the characters’ descent into madness, struggling to hold onto any normality that they could as they fought to survive.  And I loved knowing that it was a hopeless fight for my characters.  (The characters at least had the comfort of believing they had a fighting chance.  The players knew better by the 2nd damn game and that was part of the thrill.)

"Hounds of Tindalos" James Wolf Strehle

Which brings me back to what really scares me.  I can handle serial killer movies like Scream or I Know What You Did Last Summer or When a Stranger Calls.  Those movies never kept me up at night, because the killer could be defeated.  The characters at least had a fighting chance that eventually the bad guy would be overcome and there would be a few survivors.  It’s the Grudge or The Exorcist that really scared the hell out of me.  Situations where no matter what you do, you’re screwed.
If you had asked me when I was younger if I’d ever write stories with elements of horror in them I would’ve said hell no, not realizing that I already was.  I like taking perfectly normal characters living normal lives and thrusting them in unnatural situations to see how they cope, like Jacob in my vampire trilogy.  In my latest story that I’m currently editing, Dean is on his way home when he is murdered and now his ghost has to help his lover Andrei find the killer.  I wanted to write a story that not only included paranormal elements, but the personal horror of having all your dreams shattered with one bullet.  I wanted to see how Dean and Andrei would overcome their demons and move on.  Here’s a little excerpt:
“Dean, you can’t stay.”  Andrei closed his eyes, swallowing convulsively.  “Please, I know it doesn’t make sense.  And maybe one day I’ll have the chance to explain it to you, but you’ve got to leave me behind.” Andrei gathered what reserves he had left and slowly straightened and turned in his chair.
Dean stood behind him, his warm hazel eyes grave as they stared at each other.  He looked so vital and solid.  So goddamned fucking real.  He could be selfish and let Dean stay, and god, at first it would be wonderful, until it became obvious that Dean was like an old time LP caught in the same skipping loop over and over again.
Andrei blinked rapidly.  “Why are you here?  Is it to be with me?  Is it to help you find your killer?”
Inexplicably, Andrei heard the sound of a bird singing; a songbird of some kind, cheery and bright with the promise of sun filled days.  Then far off in the distance a baby began to cry, the sound rising and falling, melding with the bird into strange kind of melody.
Andrei opened his mouth to ask a question, but the fierce look of concentration on Dean’s face stopped him.  A picture appeared in the middle of the air, fluttering to the floor.  Frowning, Andrei scooped it up and saw a little girl with dark hair and smiling eyes.  “Is this one of the kids that Justin was talking about?”
Dean shook his head slightly and a line appeared between his brows.  A dozen more pictures fell, all of different little girls with dark hair, all about the same age.  “What else can you tell me?” Andrei asked.
More pictures began to litter the floor, pictures of babies, of robins, pictures of slim white men in trucker hats, ads of camper trucks.  More and more pictures fell, striking Andrei’s face and the back of his head; crying babies, laughing babies, until Andrei thought it would never end.
“For godssake Dean, stop it!”
The pictures vanished and when Andrei looked up, Dean was gone too.

Who else has a love/hate relationship with horror?  Tell me why you like or don’t like it as a genre.  And if you have a favorite movie or story share that too. 


  1. Great post and excerpt, Margie :)

    I'm squeamish, I faint at the sight of blood...but I really like to write graphic scenes of blood and gore. it makes no sense!
    I can't watch horror films at all, especially splatterfests. I do like the Alien films though, esp Aliens. Ripley and Hicks *happy sigh*

  2. I don't like gore either. The Hellraiser movies were too much, especially while eating pizza. And I've been accused of writing gore too, which took me by surprise. Aliens was the best. *sighs with you*