Today’s edition of 5 Films That Made Me Love Horror comes from Halloween Man creator Drew Edwards.
Picture with me, if you can, a time and place: rural Texas. The 1980s. Little options for things to do except play in the nearby woods or lose yourself in whatever was on the scant few channels available through local TV. There was also, of course…the local drive-in. All of these seemingly-unrelated elements formed an open door to another world– one filled with monsters. While other kids were pretending to be Han Solo or Luke Skywalker, in my imagination I became Jason Voorhees, the Wolf Man, or Godzilla. My name is Drew Edwards and I’ve been a lifelong “monster kid.” I’ve been asked to name five films that made me love the horror genre. It’s sometimes tough to specifically tie down the correct pop culture alchemy that creates a lifetime of fandom, but below is a pretty good shot.
The Wolf Man: When I was kid, my “babysitter” would often be one of the Universal monsters. I love Universal’s entire stable of creepy creatures, but the Wolf Man is without a doubt my favourite. With its mythic screenplay by Curt Siodmak, make-up effects by the legendary Jack Pierce, and star turn by Lon Chaney Jr., it’s easy to see why this film lit my young imagination on fire. Unlike Count Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster, who were locked in their monstrous states, Larry Talbot was a complex figure, both the hero and the villain of his own story. I think his cursed nature is a perfect blank slate for kids wrestling with their place in the world. I saw myself in the Wolf Man and became fascinated with werewolves. Maybe a little too fascinated, as I still very vividly recall begging my mother to let me draw werewolves on choir pamphlets during Sunday service. Religion and monsters weren’t strange bedfellows in my innocent mind. Which brings me to my next film…
Horror of Dracula: It was an unhappy accident that I stumbled onto Christopher Lee’s Count on a rainy afternoon. At the time my home town only had two channels on the TV and beggars could not be choosers. Up until this point, I had only seen black-and-white vampire movies. The elegantly gothic terrors embodied by Bela Lugosi and Gloria Holden were very different from the vividly colorful world Hammer Studios spewed out on my TV screen. The blood was thick like paint and stop-light red. Dracula’s bloodshot eyes gave him the appearance of an almost dinosaurian predator. I thought he was going to jump out of my TV screen and eat me. I slept with a make-shift crucifix made of sticks under my bed for weeks. Lee’s Dracula was larger than life. He seemed unstoppable, but perhaps not as unstoppable as another…more contemporary horror icon.
Friday the 13th Part 3-D: Time renders everything quaint, even the undead slasher known as Jason Voorhees. The Friday the 13th films are now seen as kitschy artifacts of the 80’s, but at the time they were controversial to the point that some critics and viewers thought the films to be legitimately evil. I very vividly remember my Sunday teacher telling us not to go see the National Drive-in’s showing of the now-cult classic. You see: when they finally made 13 Jason movies, the end of the world would be at hand. Naturally I begged my father to let me strap on a pair of 3-D glasses and enter the EC comics-tinged universe of Camp Blood. Between the 3-D and the make-up effects, my mind was blown. Jason didn’t live in a far off European castle like Dracula– he lived in a forest that looked very much like the woods next to my home. He wasn’t a Count; he was a social misfit in a hockey mask. This All-American, blue-collar, movie monster felt like he belonged in my world, and in turn, to my generation. I never missed a Friday the 13th movie after that. To date, they’ve made 12 movies. No word if a 13th film OR the apocalypse is coming or not.
Ghostbusters: Not a horror film, you say? A comedy, you say? Dig a little deeper. The 1980s were an era of innovation in terms of the creation of movie monsters. Animatronics and make-up effects helped create new icons of fright. So, I ask you this: is there another film of the era that is more crammed to the gills with more original, bizarre, and outlandish creatures than Ghostbusters? Slimer is a pop culture icon naturally, but the Terror Dogs and Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man are also instantly recognizable. Each creature in the film is as weird as they are memorable and at times, they’re effectively frightening. Especially if you were an impressionable kid when you first encountered them like myself. Ask just about any genre fan of a certain age, and they’ll tell you that the Library Ghost was pure nightmare fuel.
Nightbreed: If the prior four movies represent my childhood innocence, Nightbreed is my sloppy, scrappy, punk rock-fueled teen years. Clive Barker’s film isn’t perfect, but what it did do is filter a lot of what I loved about many movies from my youth through a kinky, hormonal lens that was perfect for a teenage outcast that spent a lot of time hanging out at the local cemetery. Gone was saintly Peter Cushing as Van Helsing, in the world of Nightbreed, the monsters were the heroes. And what monsters they are? The ‘Breed are ghoulishly gorgeous, beyond the morbid dreams of Jack Pierce or even Rick Baker with their rock star vibes. In the film’s climactic battle scene, they take on members of the police and clergy, and you root for them! If there’s a more effortlessly rebellious, anti-establishment, rock-n-roll, moment in horror history, I haven’t come across it. Which is why I still find my way back to Nightbreed even as a man in his 40’s.
Horror and monster movies have made a lasting and important impact on my life. Without them my life’s direction would have been very different. I’ve hopefully given you a small glimpse into why I’ll always be a horror fan, and hopefully will inspire you to check out these cult classics with fresh eyes.
Drew Edwards is the writer/creator of the long-running underground comic Halloween Man and its related spin-off Lucy Chaplin: Science Starlet. He is a Ringo nominee and a member of the Pen America Fellowship, and can be heard regularly on the Castle of Horror Podcast. His work is currently published by Comixology: https://www.comixology.com/Sugar-Skull-Media/comics-publisher/5811-0