Are you familiar with that weirdo in the movie theater that laughs at horror movies? Or the one that purposefully reads the grossest lines from the horror book of the day to an unsuspecting friend, and then waits for a reaction before doling out more disgusting details of muck, mire and gore. That would be me...
I grew up on monster movies. Ate them for breakfast; washed them down with Ovaltine and milk for lunch. They were my babysitters, my friends. The company I kept while doing my homework. Thinking on this as I start THE TRAVELER, it made me wonder something about my readers?
What is “scary” to you?
To some, it might be the creaky floors of a long-empty, moaning home; to others, the late-night,voiceless phone call, or perhaps the disembodied spirit that won’t leave the world of the living alone. For me, it’s the masked man, the clown, hiding behind a gleeful disguise, and even people in costume character suits at amusement parks.
Aha! There ismy true fear! Right there in that last sentence.
I am terrified by the human mind, and all its natural and infinite pockets of horror. Activated for the benefit of only themselves; sometimes out of a need for survival or vengeance; some for reasons even unknown to them. They are the true ‘monsters’ in this world that scare me.
One day, I saw something totally different in my Saturday matinee corral of prosthesis-covered actors...and suddenly, I couldn’t sleep. So afraid to close my eyes in fear that a human monster would suddenly be standing over me, wielding a butcher’s knife. It took me a very long time before I was comfortable taking a shower, too. It’s the very nature of the human mind that created that monster, which veils my writing and reading choices today. If you haven’t guessed by now, that movie was “Psycho”; one of Hitchcock’s most famous flicks.
Taking Alfie and his works into consideration, I came up with a list of movies and books that really and truly scared me, and have been a huge influence in mycharacterizations and storylines, along with Norman and his mother. Might give you an idea where my mind goes when I need to write the violence in my books. (In no particular order)
1. “Jaws” – What a fish story! I don’t know how to swim and will not learn because of this movie. The opening scene where the young (albeit, stupid) girl goes skinny dipping at night, and is suddenly, and with great force, dragged around the salty water like a dogs chew toy; all the while screaming bloody murder for help. Then, suddenly, in Mr. Spielberg’s superb fashion for giving the audience electro-shock the way he does...she’s gone. Already on edge with every nerve at attention, he then sends Richard Dreyfus under a dimly-lit,capsized boat...and pops an eyeless head of a recently deceased fisherman out of a broken window.
My family and I saw this movie during its opening weekend in a new, and rather naïve theater that sold sodas in cap less cups. I am certain they were not expecting anyone, namely me, to toss both a large 7-Up and full tub of popcorn in the air in order to cover their eyes at this latter scene.The patrons near me were not only startled by the scene, but also the realistic effect of the icy cold beverage and soggy puffs of corn raining on them.
2. “Night of the Living Dead” (B&W)– It just isn’t the same in color...trust me. The starkness of the waking dead, twisting and turning as they rise from the earth, and writhe as they feast on the living is so much more hideous and somewhat “real” in black and white; like the warning words of the Bible walking off the page and onto the screen. It’s an apocalyptic themed event that has always scared me. Mr. Romero’s use of handheld cameras during the zombie’s march gives that dizzying effect that the world is spinning out of control, and you the audience along with it. The latter made color version had no business being made. It’s just silly.
3. “Salem’s Lot” – Stephen King, master of all things written has a way with children, and captures their innocence in his right hand, and throws that innocence to the wolves with his left. Little Ralphie, a recently made ‘undead’, floats outside his brother, Daniel’s, window; scratching at the glass, begging to be let in. Then Daniel,missing his little brother so, opens the window and Ralphie floats in; taking his brother in his cold, dead arms, and...I THREW THE BOOK ACROSS THE ROOM AND COULDN'T PICK IT UP AGAIN UNTIL DAYLIGHT BECAUSE I WAS AFRAID OF WHAT WOULD GRAB ME FROM UNDER MY BED! Slept with the lights on that night, I did. The filmmakers ruined this scene in the made for TV movie (both of them), but the book still spins my nerves into knots.
4. “Alien” – When Tom Skerritt crawled through the air shaft like a rat in a maze, I just knew by the hairs standing on the back of my neck that something bad was going to happen. What scared me more here was what Ridley Scott didn’t show. Your imagination had complete control at this point, and anything I could come up with was far worse than anything they could have shown me, complete with exploding blood packs and gelatin wound pieces. Smart man, that Ridley Scott! Note to self; don’t go into space and if you do, don’t touch ANYTHING!
5. “The Shining” – Stephen King; If you’ve only seen the movies, do yourself a favor; read the book...and leave the lights on, make sure its not windy or raining outside, you aren’t alone, and don’t eat anything. Just read it, and I dare you to sleep afterwards. This is Mr. King, playing his taught garrote strings in every chapter, at his finest.
6. “Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte” – Bette Davis is driven mad, supposedly, after witnessing her father kill and dismember her fiancé, and then take his own life. But the creepy weirdness doesn’t stop there. It just gets more twisted. Here again, it’s the black and white film that makes you stop, and stare at the screen because its so true you just can’t look away. The spooky southern mansion is as ominous as the secret the family is keeping from land developers that want to tear it down. Was it really her father who killed her betrothed? Did her father really take his own life? I’m not telling. You need to watch and find out. Fine performances by Ms. Davis and her bestie, Olivia de Haviland, too.
7. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, Episode, ‘TheGentlemen’ – Poor little Sunnydale has seen its share of Vamps and Demons alike, but none like The Gentlemen. These floating fairy-tale like oddities, dressed in prim and proper, tuxedo day-coats, cast a spell with their arrival, rendering the town completely mute on their quest of seven human hearts. The only thing to break the spell and send them back to wherever they came from, is a human scream. There is no sound in this episode, just ominous music to accompany The Gentlemen’s arrival, preceded by their minions comprised of deformed mental patients in straight-jackets that they have ripped apart.You want to scream, but somehow, just like the characters, you can’t. I find myself whispering to the TV screen everytime I see it.
8. “Flowers in the Attic” – V.C. Andrews This sweet little family story features the innocent Dollanger children, who are locked in their grandparents' attic, where they are starved, abused, betrayed by their mother, and basically driven mad. This is just a sick and creepy story, which also involves some weird, sexual scenes that left me thoroughly wigged out. I always knew that things like this happened in some families, but it was just disturbing how the writer, without being clinical; made you feel like you were there with the kids, living the nightmare alongside them...and there was just no hope in sight.
9. “The Exorcist” – After this film came out, I hated any and all books, stories or films that depicted children in peril, period! This film didn’t scare me, but its affect on culture did. I compare this movie to Orson Wells’ radio broadcast of “War of the Worlds”. The man had people readying murder-suicide pacts between families, because they believed that aliens had actually landed here and were taking over. TheExorcist was the very same thing. A handful of people were genuinely scared by it. They told two people, and then they told two people, and when the word gotout, people all over the nation were having anxiety attacks before they even saw the opening credits.
Once again, a prime example of the power of the human mind over another’s who is not as strong. The manipulation of the human psyche is the true ‘possession’ here that needs an exorcism. The other element that scared me was that after this movie was released, the bar was raised on putting children in parts that made them“pretend” even more horrible things. The checks and controls on child actors were once again ignored, and there was nothing that was taboo where child actors were concerned.
10. “It” – Book or mini-series, made no difference...they both creeped me out, totally. Why? Because of the freakin’clown!!
I HATE CLOWNS!!!
In the TV movie version, Tim Curry is over-the-top, and hands down the best Pennywise. All the bold bravado that King wrote into the evil entity was played brilliantly, and renewed my loathe for the painted fools. The book is creepy, but Curry’s performance, even years later when I re-read the book and saw him in the part as I read it, scared the beejeezus out of me, and I will never look twice at a clown again!
Okay…now, it’s your turn! Tell me what books, movies, TV shows, scare(d) you?