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Category Archives: General Horror

First and foremost!  The podcast is up, and I have not listened to it, because I hate how I sound in recordings!  But if you wish to listen to it (and please, lie to me and tell me I don’t sound like a moron, or at least don’t tell me you listened to it), it can be found here, the October 8th entry.

But anyway!  October is my favorite month for a number of reasons, chief among them being the fact that it’s the one period of the year when my love of horror jibes with the annual public zeitgeist.  (Can you use zeitgeist in that context?  I’m really not sure.)  Even Buzzfeed rang in October 2015 with a list of the best 31 horror movies streaming on Netflix.

Buuuuut…and here’s my dirty little secret, alluded to in the past but never fully embraced…

Start to finish, I’ve watched, like, 7 horror movies.  Ever.

  1. The Shining: I maintain that this is a wonderful movie, but not a scary one.  At no point was I scared.
  2. Rosemary’s Baby: This would have been so much better if they cut the last 15 minutes, so you’d never know whether or not it was all in her head.
  3. A Tale of Two Sisters: I don’t know if this really counts, because I spent well over 60% of the film with my face buried in a pillow.  HOLY SHIT is that one scary.
  4. The Sixth Sense: I saw this in Psychology my junior year of high school, after the AP exam.  The stunning twist had been ruined for me five or six years prior.
  5. Hellraiser: I watched the whole thing!  More or less!
  6. Piranha 3D: Saw this one in theaters, spent fully half the movie in tears.
  7. Alien: You know that scene where that one guy is in the ducts, and there’s a probe on him, and a probe on the alien, and you see the probes getting closer and closer together, and the rest of the crew keeps telling the guy that it’s heading right for him, and he’s like, “Naaaaaaaaah”, and then the alien jumps on him?  It’s the most forecasted jump scare in the history of cinema, and it made me pass out.  Literally.  I lost consciousness.

Conversely, the number of horror movies I have failed to complete could fill a fucking book.  Here are a few samples:

  1. The Ring: Made it to that cutaway scene of the girl’s corpse in the closet.  You know, that cutaway scene that happens 10 minutes into the movie?
  2. The Thing (the 1981 version): Made it until the dog gets back to the base and starts acting funny.  Not even transformed.  Just funny.  I knew what was coming, and couldn’t take it.
  3. Hellraiser II: I made it until the guy in the asylum starts scraping his maggot-covered arms with a straight razor.
  4. Re-Animator: Tried it twice, the second time I made it exactly halfway!

To date, in my opinion, this is one of my most grievous personal failings.  I would LOVE to watch horror movies.  I love reading their summaries on Wikipedia.  I read reviews avidly.  Goodnight Mommy is coming to theaters soon, and I am rabid to watch it.  It’s getting incredible reviews.  Will I watch it?  Will I even come close to watching it?  History says no.  I have a vivid imagination, and I have a tremendously exaggerated startle reflex.  Therefore, every movie–horror or not–I watch is tainted by my fear of jump scares, which seem to lurk around every corner.  (Which reminds me!  If you can think of a horror movie that has ZERO reliance on jump scares, add it to the comments.  I’ll be on that like white on rice.)

But I’ve loved horror for as long as I can remember, despite these innate limitations.  How did I get my start?  How ought a horror lover to be raised?

For the next few days, instead of talking about classical or modern weird fiction, I’ll head back to my roots.  And so, to start, I’ll be tremendously unoriginal and say:

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, written by Alvin Schwartz, illustrated by Stephen Gammell.  Alvin Schwartz is a folklorist proper–every book in the trilogy is concluded with an extensive series of sources and notes on the particular horror tradition, regional variations, etc.  Stephen Gammell may very well be the King of the Damned Incarnate.


I mean that in only the kindest and most loving way.


The stories were okay, a few of the ghosts were spooky, but the illustrations captivated me in a way that nothing had ever done before.  And now, 28 years old, well into the age of the internet, I see that I’m very far from alone.  Every person who loved SStTitD loved it because of the illustrations.  The illustrations make the books.  The stories minus the pictures are only mildly scary, even for a children.  And I feel like everyone who loved SStTitD had an illustration that came to define the books in their mind–it was the epitome of horror, so terrible you couldn’t look at it for very long, or maybe you had to avoid the story altogether.  Maybe it was the girl with the boil on her cheek, staring in horror at the explosion of baby spiders and eggs.  Maybe it was the disgruntled, all-too-human scarecrow named Harold.  For me, it was this:

scary stories to tell in the dark

Jesus.  I know, right?

The story, eh.  I can tell you it by heart.

Haunted house, no one stays overnight, then a pastor stays, he hears ghostly footsteps, compels the wraith by invoking the bible, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost*, the wraith appears and tells him she was murdered by her boyfriend, skeleton underneath the house, put her pinkie bone in the collection plate at church, a man touches it and goes crazy, he admits the murder, he’s hanged, the wraith appears one last time to tell the pastor where her money is hidden, he finds it and donates it to the church, her ghostly fingerprints are forever singed into his jacket.  The end.

There’s really not much to it, alone.  But my god…that picture.  It burned itself into my skull.  I memorized more or less where in the book it was, and skipped around it for years because I couldn’t bear to look at it straight on.

I don’t think I was a particularly masochistic child.  I think that some kids–maybe all, I don’t know–like to be scared.  It’s a way of putting the self to the test.  A mountain climb for the myopic, pudgy, and asthmatic (okay, maybe that was just me).  The void is there.  Can we face the void and come back unscathed?  When it keeps us up at night, trembling, terrified of feeling its fingerprints burning into our covers, will we have the strength to come back and face it again the next day?

For me, at least, that feeling was addictive.  It’s morphed into something more subtle with age, but even now, scrolling back up the draft to stare at THAT FACE fills me with a shock of something primal.

Stephen Gammell, I salute you, wherever you might be, and whatever you might be.

The Cultist

*Despite being born and raised an atheist, I memorized this well, in case I ever needed to confront the undead.