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Horror Influences

April 13, 2017

I never planned on becoming a writer. I was a horror fan from a young age. My earliest memory of a scary movie was seeing Prophecy in the early summer of 1979 — the one about the mutant killer bear — at eight years old it scared the crap out me. The scene towards the end where everyone left is hiding in some underground chamber whispering and debating about the bear up above is the one that got me. I wanted them to stay put where it was safe and not to open the trapdoor, but characters never listen and do dumb things. The movie gave me nightmares and it was the last time I asked to sleep in my mom’s room sure that there something under the bed or waiting just outside the window was going to get me. Back then movies would play theaters again after their release, and the next trip to the theater was Carrie and something different happened. During the climax, Carrie is injured while her mother makes the sign of the cross with a butcher knife. My mother was ready to leave, but I wanted to see what happened next. She was trying to pull me out of the small, two screen, theater in Pasadena, Texas. I hung on to one seat, got pulled down the aisle, and hung on to the next as the knives flew across the screen. From that moment on I was drawn to horror. 

 

Late night television would play classic Universal monster films, Hammer horror, and 1950’s shlock and I would purposely stay up late to find horrors. One prime time example that stood out was Salem’s Lot, a Stephen King miniseries about a small town besieged with vampires, that was filled with some scenes of pure horror from the vampire in the rocking chair to the undead kid floating and scratching at another kid’s bedroom window in the middle of the night. Next came glorious cable, new to the neighborhood in 1982, showing films like Friday the 13th, The Howling, The Shining, It’s Alive, and Humanoids from the Deep in the middle of the day with no restrictions. Finally by 1983, a barrage of horror titles flooded in with the boom of home video. There were so many taboo looking boxes promising terrible sights. One of my favorite spots was a twenty-four hour Shell station that rented movies. I saw everything I could drinking in the chaos. 

 

The movies drove me to the horror section of the bookstores where I sought out and discovered Stephen King. The first book I bought was Salem’s Lot, black cover with the red drop of blood, and I found it different from the miniseries. I moved onto Carrie, Cujo, Christine, The Shining, Night Shift, Pet Sematary, Firestarter, The Talisman, Cycle of the Werewolf, and others discovering the differences when they were adapted into films — the character beats, the inner dialogues, and scenes of terror amplified by my imagination. King has the great ability to take the normal, whether it be a family. a small town, or a pet, and inject pure horror into it making the story have frisson. Any way I could get my hands on the books I would. I was hooked to the escapism. In rehab in 1985, I had my collection with me for a short while along with issues of Fangoria magazine until the staff decided they were detrimental and had them taken away. My teenage life was crazy but the fictional horror stories took me to other places of dreams and nightmares. 

 

Stephen King led to Clive Barker with his quote, “I have seen the future of horror…” with that, and the coverage of Rawhead Rex, Transmutations, and Hellraiser in Fangoria, I was sold on Clive. I dived into the Books of Blood as soon as I could and was shocked and delighted with lots of big words, some I would have to look up, and more dark fantasy. I devoured all of his extreme shorts then went into other realms with Weaveworld, The Damnation Game, and The Great and Secret Show. Later on, discovering Clive was gay was a revelation — a role model — another lost soul who found a path. Sacrament is one of my favorite books. The protagonist, Will, is gay and a wildlife photographer documenting the extinction of species. He finds a supernatural being split in two, male and female, that is on a quest to destroy the last of things. “Living and Dying, we feed the fire.”Clive Barker’s books were extreme but they were smartly written and appealed to the outsider in me. 

 

Films became more extreme in the underground with the rise of censorship. Slasher movies were slashed, television series like Friday the 13th, and War of the World were forced off the air. A true horror fan reveled in video releases that were unrated or searched overseas for an uncensored version of a film they liked. It is hard to explain the joy of seeing a movie with footage that was kept from you. All the times of seeing photos in Fangoria that were never in the film and scenes on horror specials that were ultimately trimmed. The shock and awe of seeing a film intact was magic back then and for those reasons Hellraiser 2: Hellbound was a favorite of mine at the time when it hit video intact. I discovered Dario Argento during that period with Creepers, a bizarre slasher, psychic, insect filled, heavy metal experience and like Stephen King I had to find the rest of his works. High points were Demons in a theater with the dreaded No One Under Seventeen Admitted logo along with the unrated video release of the classic Suspiria that opened my eyes to his art. I found other editions on Japanese Laserdisc like Deep Red and Opera and was able to rent Bird with the Crystal Plumage, The Devil’s Daughter, The Church, Demons 2 (which also played at the drive-in) and got to see Cat O’Nine Tails on the late night movie — full circle from my youth. 

 

Stephen King taught me how important characters are. How one must relate to them no matter how different they are. The audience must have an entry point they can enter a story or they will feel detached. Also I learned about taking the seemingly normal and turning it on its head. Horror works best that way. 

 

Clive Barker taught me an eloquence in verbiage especially when going beyond the limits. Gore for gore’s sake does not work, yet extremes should not be avoided. Pushing boundaries in service of the story and in response to characters actions makes the story have impact and sometimes monsters are the good guys. 

 

Dario Argento taught me the importance of visualization, of seeing a scene unfold in my head like a film. Having my characters walk in a world I can see and feel makes them more real. Death scenes can be operatic, filled with beauty and violence. 

 

I have other influences. Everything we watch and read has an effect even if it is only subconscious. I choose to harness it and use it to create stories of my own to share the dark beauty I grew up with to escape the twisted reality of that time. I never planned on becoming a writer, but the seeds that were planted long ago on the silver screen and the written page influence me to this very day. 

 

DS   

 

 

 

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