Monday, August 27, 2012

The Birthday 44 - My Personal Path To Horror, Part Two

Here's part two of my journey to horror.  This got a bit long-winded in parts. But I won't apologize because you'll either read it or you won't.  Missed part one? Click here.

Onward:

 23) The Woman in Black. Not just the book.  Not only the movie.  All of it.  Every version. It is the STORY. So frightening.  I read this book in my early twenties and thought at first that it was written back in the early 1900's.  It has the classic feel of an M.R. James story.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered it was written in 1983! Susan Hill has crafted such a legitimate tale of dread and terror that I've yet to find something I enjoy more. Simply put, it is my favorite ghost story. 

24) Marble Hornets:  A prime example of what the internet can do to you. Experience it.
Marble Hornets is a found footage-type of internet series that you can find easily on YouTube.  In it, a narrator tells the story of his friend Alex, who while filming his first film project (aptly titled Marble Hornets), seems to become more and more paranoid. He is convinced someone (later known as Slender Man) is following him and that he is in danger.  The film idea seems to fly out the window and Alex starts filming himself almost exclusively to try and get footage of the enigmatic Slender Man.  All I will say is that this simple online series scared the utter bejesus out of me.  Don't watch it before you settle in for the night's sleep.  Consider yourself warned.

25) My grandparents basement.  As a kid, I lived in the parsonage (which is another word for the house that the minister lives in, usually beside the church) with my mom and grandparents until my mom remarried when I was seven.  My grandparents also babysat me until I was old enough to be home alone - so I have a vast set of memories from their house.  And their fucking terrifying basement. For one thing, it had a fruit cellar.
A FRUIT CELLAR!! Hello, Norman Bates! Welcome home Mother!  Obviously I hadn't seen Psycho yet at that age but can totally understand now why it scared the shit out of me.  The fruit cellar smelled like dirt and had a single bare bulb dangling on a string.  The basement also had a primitive bathroom - just a toilet sitting in a wooden stall with a door on it. Good god almighty it had me wigging out every time I had to go down there. And going down the steps was a fright because there was no back on the steps - anyone could grab your feet from under the steps!  But worst of all, it had a huge clawfoot table that had dragons (well, they looked like dragons) carved into them. It was a dusty red color and I could swear the eyes of those dragons were staring at me.
Eeep! I can't even talk about it anymore.

26) M.R. James - "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad": A brilliant and scholarly Englishman, Montague Rhodes James wrote an unbelievable collection of ghost stories that are truly some of the scariest tales you will ever read.  My most favorite is the above mentioned story, and follows his usual strategy of an ordinary man put in an extraordinary and supernatural circumstance. I could write about James and his chilling works for ages.  So I'll stop here and hope that this prompts others to discover him and his fabulously spooky tales.

27) Vincent Price:  Saturday afternoons with The Pit & The Pendulum, The Masque of the Red Death, and Theatre of Blood.  Too many more to mention. Vincent Price entertained my mother and I for hours at a time with those old Castle & Corman flicks.  It really was my first introduction to Edgar Allan Poe, too.  And once I learned how many of Price's films were adaptations from the writings of Poe, I had to start reading the original stories. I still have a very special place in my heart for Vincent Price. I feel like he was my tutor, my guide into the world of horror.  And I thank him.

28) Black & White horror:  Carnival of Souls. Night of the Living Dead.  Black Sunday. Freaks. Psycho.
Some of my favorite horror films ever are not even in color. There is something that makes me pause when I am channel-surfing and land on an older movie like that.  Probably my first horror film in black and white was Night of the Living Dead.  Being from the Pittsburgh area meant there was no escaping that film, and I remember well watching it on Chiller Theater late Saturday nights with our host, Chilly Billy Cardille. Ah, those were the days.  But even now, black and white is one of my favorite ways to experience horror. Look how awesome those black and white scenes are from Blair Witch...

29) Horse Camp (tent camping) - As a young girl and into my teens, I used to go to a church camp for a week or two every summer.  Besides the obvious religious overtones, there was a theme.  Some kids went to White Water Rafting camp, some went to Explorer's Camp. I went to Horse camp. (See, I've always loved horses, since I was a little wee one.)  When I was in high school, campers slept in well-appointed cabins, but when I was in elementary school, campers slept in tents.  For a week.  In the woods. Granted, they were fairly big tents - slept around 8 kids and one counselor.  But hot damn it was scary!  I recall one summer night we had a horrific thunderstorm - and when you're eight, that is a major deal.  It was creepy as hell in those tents. But deep down, I liked being scared.

30) Willy Wonka / The Wizard of Oz:  Nasty stuff indeed for impressionable young children such as myself. Funny enough, what scared me the most in The Wizard of Oz wasn't the Wicked Witch of the West, or even Ms. Gulch...it was that freaking twister!  (That twister that was made with a muslin sock and some dirt...) Probably why I have such a thing for extreme weather now.  As for Wonka, I was particularly unnerved by the boat ride down the chocolate river.  Think ol' Wonka was tripping on acid a bit...
These two films scared me enough as a kid to realize I enjoyed the tense feeling.

31) The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew:  As a pre-teen, I read every Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew book that was written.  Did you know they first appeared in 1927?  They were a mystery series written by many different writers but under the pseudonyms of Franklin Dixon and Carolyn Keene.  Those books sharpened my crime-busting skills and kept my nose in a book for most of my childhood.  With titles like The Secret of the Old Clock and The Mystery of Cabin Island, you knew you were in for a spooky adventure.  Until I graduated to Stephen King and Agatha Christie, the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew mysteries kept this girl's time occupied for countless hours.

32) Vampires: I've always had a soft spot for the fanged wonders.  From reading Dracula as a kid, to True Blood today, I just cannot get enough vampires.  For several years, I only read vampire fiction.  I've since broadened my horizons, but I still prefer a little toothy adventure sometimes.  Vampires are nasty. Vampires are sensual.  They can rip your throat out or dazzle you with their Colgate smile.  They will always be my favorite monster, and my fave horror sub-genre.  Thank you Bram Stoker, for bringing these creatures into the mainstream where they have thrived for so long.

33) The Bible:  Yes. "The" Book. I was raised in the house of a Methodist preacher and was taught all those bible stories as a youngster. I always gravitated towards the scarier elements, like when Jonah was swallowed by the whale and lived to tell the tale. Think that one got me prepared for Jaws. Then there was Lazarus - raised from the dead! A probably precursor to my love for vampires? Or maybe Night of the Living Dead?  And oh my! Jesus being crucified? What is up with these Romans!? And don't even get me started on the book of Revelations.

34) Lucio Fulci and Eye Trauma:  (From the Bible to Fulci.  Don't see that too often.) Nothing bothers me more than something oogy happening to the eyes. That scene from Hostel where he cuts her eyeball and all that goop comes out?  Bad, but still not as gruesome as my pal Fulci's penchant for all things optical messiness. In The Beyond we get eye-eating spiders, in Zombi 2 we get a splinter piercing the eye, in The New York Ripper a guy cuts a woman's eyeball with a razor blade, in City of the Living Dead we get bleeding eyes...even in Fulci's historical Beatrice Cenci we get a spike drove through the eye...
So picture me as a fourteen year-old, getting my first taste of serious gore - and it had to be eye trauma.

35) Ozzy Osbourne.  I should add Black Sabbath in general here.  When I was thirteen, I went through a stage where I listened to Ozzy and Black Sabbath continuously.  I'm sure it had something to do with me being a minister's granddaughter and trying to get out from under that stigma, but I just wanted to go dark. Listening to the lyrics of some of those songs made me want to kill myself  made me more interested in things I knew nothing about. Dark things. When you added in music from the likes of Kiss, AC/DC, and Alice Cooper, I liked being the bad-ass.  While my friends were listening to The Go-Go's and Rick Springfield, I was listening to Diary of a Madman for the 300th time. Nowadays this wouldn't even be considered "dark" music but back in the day parents cringed and prayed for their child's soul if he was listening to Blizzard of Oz...

36) Twin Peaks:  I've rambled on and on about this cult favorite here on the blog and elsewhere.  The very first night I sat down to experience Twin Peaks, I remember I couldn't wait to see episode two. It was a truly quirky yet atmospheric television show. The deep, dark woods of the Pacific Northwest took center stage and proved the perfect backdrop for an underlying evil that permeated every pore of the infamous logging town.  All it took for me was a single stoplight, blowing in the wind as Angelo Badalamenti's haunting score set the scene...I was hooked.  If only it had been on HBO - I believe it would have had several seasons. I still miss it.

37) Disney films - So many villains, so little time.  My favorite was Maleficent, the evil antagonist from Sleeping Beauty.  Not only is she the most bad-ass of the villains, she can turn into a goddamned bitchin' dragon. Now tell me - how cool is that?  As a sensitive youngster, I was fairly terrified of her - and still am to this day.  Cruella de Vil ain't got nothin' on Maleficent. Nor does the old hag from Snow White or the horrible step-mother and step-sisters from Cinderella. Maleficent even goes as far as to say that she will unleash "all the powers of Hell" to stop Sleeping Beauty's true love (a prince, natch) from finding her. You know, that's some pretty heavy stuff for a Disney film.  I mean, telling kids about Hell at that age?  So many of the Disney films have extremely dark premises. Kids love 'em, parents love that their kids love 'em, and so scores of children experience evil - unintentionally, but it's there nonetheless.

38)  The Blair Witch Project:  One of the most successful independent films of all time, Blair Witch is such an exceptionally simple premise, but packed a punch and terrified millions of people 'round the world. Three twenty-somethings head into the woods, prompted by a local legend of a child-killer who murdered seven children and claimed that a witch that lives in the woods forced him to do it.  The trio head off to look for the witch and get lost in the woods.  The last five minutes of this movie caused me not to sleep for probably three weeks. Once you've seen it, the thrill is gone and it's not the same the second time around. But that first viewing - it's burned on my brain for all eternity.  I can still close my eyes and see that last scene.  I will never forget this movie.

39) Grimms' Fairy Tales:  1812.  The stories collected by the Grimm brothers were some of my first bedtime stories. Yep, my family was warped.  Can you imagine telling your child the story of an evil witch who lived in the forest and lured children to her cottage so she could EAT them?  Cannibalism? Really? Or how about Rapunzel, where a teenager was locked away in a tower so no boys would have sex with her one would find her.  Or Snow White, who was ordered to be killed by her evil step-mother, poisoned by an apple, and put in a glass coffin?  All of the tales originated in Germany, which perhaps explains a lot. I too, am half German - which perhaps explains a lot as well.

40) J-Horror: The captivating sub-genre of J-Horror is just that.  Japanese horror films. Most of them have been remade into Americanized versions, and some have been done well (i.e. The Ring, The Grudge), but the original versions are almost always superior.  Ringu is a chilling example of J-Horror done well. If you're not affected by seeing this movie, you're either lying or full of shit.  Dark Water, Kwaidan, Ju-On, and Premonition are all really effective as well. They are creepy, unnerving, and if you've only seen the American remakes of these films, you are missing out.

41) The X-Files:  The truth is out there:  I wholeheartedly miss The X-Files.  I was a die-hard from episode one.  I recall it not being very popular when it started out, seemed like a show that no one was watching.  But I was.  More a fan of the stand-alone episodes (like Home, Squeeze, and Irresistible) than the conspiracy episodes.  But the mythology of The X-Files is what drove the show to multiple awards and a huge fan following for nine seasons and two films.  It left a huge imprint on me and I've never found another show that meant as much to me. Still waiting....

42) Cornfields:  Combined with alcohol and the company of my ghost-hunting pals in high school, cornfields are pretty fucking scary. I went to the theater in 1984 to see Children of the Corn, and could never get those images of Malachai and Issac out of my head.  We used to run through the fields in the dead of night, trying to purposely get lost and scare the crap out of each other. We were obnoxious and stupid and probably ruined our fair share of crops, but it was scary as hell and we loved it.  I even went as far as to spend the night in a cornfield with a couple friends.  Issac never showed up, but the morning dew did and we got soaked through and through.
My niece Alaina already loves cornfields, as you can see!

43) True Blood: I already prattled on about my love of vampires. But as a die-hard horror fan, True Blood is like my catnip.  I'd already read Charlaine Harris's Southern Vampire series of books about the goings on in Bon Temps, but to have Sookie, Bill, Eric, and (thank you Alan Ball) Alcide brought to life has just about made my life.  Season 5 has just concluded and I am more anxious than ever to find out what is going to happen to all the vamps, werewolves, shifters - heck, even the fae - next season.  The show is campy good fun, and no one - I mean NO ONE - can make a vampire death as much fun as True Blood does.  Splat! doesn't even cover it.  Just awesome stuff. Long live True Blood.

44)  The Shining:  There's no getting around it. The Shining is one of my biggest influences in my horror existence.  I love the Stephen King novel (it's my second favorite novel, next to Straub's Ghost Story), but here I am talking about the Kubrick film.  There are so many wonderfully spooky images in this movie - and even with Jack Nicholson's suppposed over-the-top performance (I for one, LOVE it), it still stands as one of the best horror films of all time. 
I have loved it since the first time I saw it, and watch it at least two or three times annually. It is just the true definition of horror, and it scares me to death. What a great feeling!

*Thanks for reading part two.  At this point I'm glad I only turned 44.  I don't think I could have done it if I were 60. 

4 comments:

Emily said...

LOVE this series miss! And I don't know about you, but I simply can't walk through a cornfield without screaming "Outlander!," much to the chagrin of my pals.

Christine Hadden said...

Ahh yes! "Outlander! We have your woman! She lives!" Love it!
And thanks for the compliment. These two posts are pretty random, at least I know someone is reading them!! :)

Michele (TheGirlWhoLovesHorror) said...

Christine, if you love vamp fiction, you've got to read Chuck Hogan and Guillermo Del Toro's The Strain trilogy if you haven't already. I don't know if they would be the kind of vampires you like, but I thought these books were awesome. Really good story, good characters, and the vampires are all ancient, badass monstrosities like they are supposed to be!

I don't agree about Blair Witch Project (that one has never done it for me) but I definitely agree about cornfields and J-horror, or as I like to call it, A-horror because I love all the Asian horror movies! One Missed Call is my favorite, but Ringu, Ju-On, Bloody Reunion, Premonition... love them! And seriously, what is scarier than a cornfield at night? That's right, NOTHING. I can't wait for Halloween this year because there's this gigantic corn maze not too far from me that we went to last year and it immediately became my most favorite thing ever. That and haunted houses, of course.

Christine Hadden said...

Michele: I've read The Strain, but not the second one yet... And yes, I agree: those vamps are like old-school vamps. Nasty! And yes, I like that type too....I have an affection for all kinds of vamps :)

I think regarding The Blair Witch that most people either like it or hate it. There doesn't seem to be an in-between with it. Kind of like Paranormal Activity. That film did nothing for me except give me motion sickness. It was waaay to long and boring. I could have just closed my eyes (so I wouldn't puke) and waited for the last ten minutes to open them. Gah.

And I like your "A-horror" thought. Perfect. Because then I could have added in Shutter, I Saw the Devil, The Host...and a slew of other Asian gems...

I'm most jealous of the corn maze you've got near your house. That sounds incredible!