I was a monster kid. For as far back as I can remember I’ve loved Jaws and Godzilla. One of my favorite toys was my Remco 8″ Frankenstein figure, which always fought my Mego Batman. I saw Jaws 1 and 2 and Alien on cable over and over. I loved monsters. My favourite part of The Empire Strikes Back was the Wampa scene. I, however, did not love horror and I drew a very distinct line. I remember back in 1980, when the TV spots for Fade to Black started running the image of Dennis Christopher’s face half painted like Dracula, they scared the shit out of four year old me. Four years later I had nightmares for two weeks when I caught the TV spot for Friday the 13th; The Final Chapter. I think that was a pivotal moment when my fear became fascination and over the next couple of years I started dipping my toes into horror more and more. I really started with the TV series Tales From The Darkside, but my first two true horror films were Halloween II and Night of the Living Dead.
I caught Halloween II the week of Halloween 1987. I wasn’t allowed to watch it, but I kept sneaking into my parents’ bedroom to watch extended moments on their little black and white TV. I didn’t understand anything going on, but I was scared and riveted. I wanted more!
I got more only a couple of hours later, with everyone in the house asleep. I always had problems sleeping, so being up late wasn’t unusual, neither was turning on TV with the sound nearly off. What I caught was Night of the Living Dead, the seminal George A. Romero film that marked the beginning of the modern age of horror. I really didn’t expect an old film to rock me so hard, but I was gutted by the final scene.
And speaking of final scenes, one of my favorite and most formative TV shows was Commander USA’s Groovy Movies on USA. The Commander was a super hero horror host playing all manner of gruesome goodies. I always tried to catch every episode, but one day I was late and jumped in after the title card. It was about some people trapped on a haunted ship that became overrun with hooded skeletons. I remember laughing to myself, loving every minute, wondering what the hell this movie was called, but what clinched it, was the ending. Two people had escaped to the shore and were lying on the beach, believing they were finally safe…and then the hooded skeletons rose from the sea and marched on them. I was on my damn feet! The film turned out to be The Ghost Galleon, the third movie in Armando de Ossorio’s Blind Dead series. (You wanna know how much I love those films? Check out the literary tribute to the Blind Dead I just published, HERE.)
Even after getting into the Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street films, Friday the 13th still scared the shit out of me just with the trailers alone, but probably around the time Part 6: Jason Lives was coming out Fox started running the films late at night, and I couldn’t help myself, I stayed up and watched them, starting with Part 2, which confused the absolute shit out of me. Where was the hockey mask? It didn’t matter, by the time we got to the final girl, I was cowering on the couch. I wound up seeing the first six films out of order, but I really fell in love with them, particularly Jason Lives which was such a great film it solidified my undying love for this franchise.
The biggest one of all though, George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, the first sequel to Night. Fangoria had a special feature on Dawn’s ten year anniversary and the gory pics made my jaw drop. I was quickly becoming a gore hound and had to see this damn movie. So that weekend, I hit the horror section at my local video store and grabbed both Dawn and its follow up, Day of the Dead. I was not prepared for these films! The level of realistic gore was not something I was used to, but on top of that, I was engaged intellectually. I obsessively rented these movies for weeks, studying how they were structured story-wise, trying to improve my own craft as a fledgling horror writer.
Honorable mention would have to go David Cronenberg’s The Brood, which I caught one late night on USA and it scared the hell out of me. I made note of the director’s name and was excited to learn that he was the guy who made that remake of The Fly, which I had been waiting to see. Cronenberg wound up becoming my favorite director after seeing The Fly and Naked Lunch.