My relationship with horror has been an off-again, on-again sort of thing. Well, mostly on-again. But when I was a kid, scary stuff… Well, it scared me. Do you remember that movie, Mad Monster Party?, that stop-motion film done in the same technology that did Rudolph and Red-Nosed Reindeer? Probably you don’t, since it first came out in 1969. I saw it for the first time on a re-release in 197x (don’t remember exactly). It was part of a series of Saturday afternoon matinÃ©es that parents could drop their kids off and know they were in pretty good hands, since there were other parents there to help take care of the kids. Mad Monster Party? scared me so badly that I cried and one of the other mothers had to come and comfort me, sitting next to me in the aisle. “Don’t you wonder how they do that?” she asked me while we watched the animation.
It gave me nightmares. Here’s the trailer for the film that so traumatized me:
Terrifying stuff, no?
I was also terrified by the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland. I remember one time being there with my grandfather and my sister, and the ride broke down. It broke down right in the fucking graveyard scene! I sat there, getting more and more frightened as skeletons and ghouls popped up repeatedly from behind tombstones. The fact that I could hear the hydraulics that powered them, the fact that I knew these skeletons were plastic and styrofoam, did nothing. I was still scared witless. The fact that I didn’t wet myself is a miracle, I think.
I watched plenty of scary movies when I was a kid (Matango, also known as Attack of the Mushroom People was one of the more memorable ones, and one of the scarier ones), always surreptitiously. That surreptitious watching of scary movies was, I think, part of every little boy’s journey into manhood. But my imagination, already overburdened with juvenile hypochondria, was way too strong and too weird when I was a kid. My parents, recognizing how off-kilter my imagination was, forbade me from reading any Stephen King novels until I was eighteen years old. Of course, I still snuck my mom’s copy of The Dead Zone (hey, it was right in the bookcase in the living room, who could blame me?), and read it in secret at school. Strangely, I was not at all scared by that novel. It was neat, I thought, and had plenty of cool moments, and it was well written, but scary? No, not really.
Of course, nowadays I gobble up horror novels and horror movies. I used to go for the scariest, most disturbing stuff I could find; and while I still enjoy a good Romero zombie flick, I find that these days I appreciate more light-hearted fare. I enjoyed The Grudge, The Ring, and [Rec]; but the ones I really like the most and that I will go to more are movies like Shaun of the Dead, the Evil Dead trilogy, and Slither (though of those, Shaun of the Dead is definitely my favorite).
The stories I write over the years have changed as well. Years ago, I tried to write disturbing, scary, horrific stuff, the stuff that I hoped would freak Stephen King and H. P. Lovecraft out of their boots. But around 2005, my writing changed; in November of that year, for National Novel Writing Month, I wrote Fred, Again, which became the crap-draft of The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster, and I found that I enjoyed writing comic horror far more. I find that I can still write scary stuff, but I can also write stuff that makes people laugh, and hopefully writing stuff that can make them feel at least a little bit better about themselves and the messed up world around them. If you can laugh at Cthulhu, say, or at Frankenstein (like I do in my short story “The Bride Price”, which will be published in an upcoming issue of Shimmer, so you should definitely buy it), then maybe scary things like the economy, the war on terror, global warming, and so on won’t seem so terrifying and intimidating.
That, at least, is the theory.
Of course, there’s another reason I write the comic horror that I do. It’s a way of telling that little boy terrified out of his wits by an animated monster movie or the graveyard scene in the Haunted Mansion ride that it’s okay to laugh at these things and still appreciate them. And if you can do that, maybe the rest of the world won’t look so scary either.