Turkey! Of! Terror!

Happy Thanksgiving, folks. Om-nom-noms.

I’m typing this from the comfort of my couch (thankful) where I am currently channel surfing between the James Bond marathon on Syfy and the Buffy marathon on Chiller. (doubly thankful) Oh, modern dilemmas. Or embarrassment of riches. Either way, it feels like a TV feast. (Also, I’d forgotten how much I love Xander.) Oooh, Buffy just got Giles in a head lock. Okay, right now, Buffy is winning. My Joss Whedon love cannot be denied. I love him almost as much as pie. But I have to wait for pie. Protocol says no pie until after dinner. Protocol is a killjoy. * wears look of annoyance * * touches pie box lovingly *

On the TV: 
Obnoxious Frat Boy: Hi sweetheart. I’m Richard. And you are?
Buffy: So not interested. 


Watching Buffy reminds me of how much I love horror. I know this is a strange topic for a Thanksgiving blog. Go with me. My methods, they are unorthodox. But full of the kind of creepy-crawly, flesh-eating monsterrific-ness that says, "Hey, is this liver we’re having for Thanksgiving…?" 

Anyhoo. Things that go bump in the night. My love for. Continuing.

I grew up on horror. It is my genre of choice. I used to race home from school in time to catch "Dark Shadows" at 3:00 PM every day. (For the uninitiated, "Dark Shadows" was the world’s first gothic soap opera, featuring vampires, witches, werewolves and the like as well as your run-of-the-mill secrets, dysfunctional families, affairs, betrayals, etc. Can you say catnip? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_Shadows)

My love for "Dark Shadows" was supplanted by my love for Hammer Horror films. The ones I watched were circa late-1960’s, 1970’s-era films with names like "Dracula Has Risen from the Grave," "Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed," and "Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb," and starred Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee (you know, Sauramon–I had a crush on Christopher Lee; I’m not sure what this says about the young me…). My favorite part of these movies were that, despite their being period pieces, the men looked like they just stepped off of some Gothic Carnaby Street and the women all had 1960’s beehives and false eyelashes like Marianne Faithfull gone Mary Shelley. They were so sixties glam. I am thoughtfully providing a link so you can see for yourself: www.youtube.com/watch I was also a bit chuffed that they were filmed at Bray Studios. It made me feel vaguely British and cool when I was very firmly neither. 

Hammer Horror was my on-ramp to the very campy Roger Corman adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe stories starring Vincent Price. "The Pit and the Pendulum," "The Fall of the House of Usher," "The Raven," and a non-Poe movie about a vengeful Shakespearean actor called "Theatre of Blood." There was Rod Serling’s TV show, "Night Gallery," and a short-lived TV show hosted by Sebastian Cabot (who had been the kind butler on a seminal show of my youth, "Family Affair"–one of those shows that made me think I’d be living large on Park Avenue if I moved to NYC. Um, no. But that’s a different kind of horror story.) The show was called "Ghost Story/Circle of Fear" (not exactly sure when the name change came about) and the first one, the one that haunted my nightmares for so long, was called "The New House," and it was penned by Richard Matheson. Yes, that Richard Matheson, of I AM LEGEND fame. www.youtube.com/watch (Honestly, what did we do before YouTube?) I watched these shows every week, and then, in 1974, came one of my favorite TV shows of all time: "Kolchak: The Night Stalker" starring Darren McGavin. It was about a rumpled, snarky, slightly unethical reporter for Chicago’s Independent News Service named Carl Kolchak who always found himself investigating the paranormal without meaning to and having to convince people that strange things were afoot in the Windy City (and beyond). en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kolchak:_The_Night_Stalker This is the show that Chris Carter credits with being his main influence on one of my later faves, "The X Files." It was a time of paranoia in America, and this was the perfect show to capture that feeling.

Sometimes, I would buy horror comics with my allowance. Sadly I don’t remember the titles of any of these comics, but my favorites often seemed to be retelling of Grimm’s fairy tales (which I also loved), vampire tales, and anything gothic. I do recall some horror tale I read that started in medieval Germany and involved sacrificing girls (always girls…what up, horror?) to some unnamed demon. For my fifth grade story project, I wrote some hideously macabre, fully illustrated tale of bloody death. I do remember that the cover, in perfect ape of Hammer Horror films, featured my color pencil rendition of Dracula fanging the neck of some buxom Victorian-era-looking maid who was chained to a wall in a dungeon. See, this is the sort of thing that today would guarantee your folks would get a visit from CPS. Instead, I got a check plus (the equivalent of an A+) from my fifth grade teacher.

I graduated from these to the harder stuff of my teen years: Dario Argento’s "Suspiria," "Halloween," "When a Stranger Calls" (I didn’t babysit after that for a long, long, time), "The Omen," and "Rosemary’s Baby." I read Stephen King, The Amityville Horror, Frankenstein, Shirley Jackson, Peter Straub, Edgar Allan Poe, Hawthorne, Flowers in the Attic (I think this might be a rite of passage read), The Turn of the Screw, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and Helter Skelter, among others. I’ve seen "Jaws" so many times, I can almost quote it. On Saturday nights, my friends and I would pile into somebody’s car and go out to the drive-in to watch really awful flicks like "It’s Alive!" or "The Legend of Boggy Creek." Occasionally, we’d get revivals of George Romero movies, and I even saw "The Exorcist" for the first time at a drive-in, which did nothing to dull its scariness if only because I could not get the sound of "Tubular Bells" out of my head for ages. Even now, if I hear the opening notes of that song, I have the urge to reach for my blankie. 
There were real horrors going on in the world and in our lives, things we had no control over, and I think this may be horror’s biggest attraction for children and teens: You can name the monster and kill it. It is not the unsettling raised voices behind closed doors. The divorce that takes one parent away. The terrible feeling that you do not belong, that no matter what you do, you might never belong, that, in fact, you’re somewhat alien and unnatural. The frightening/thrilling specter of sex. The secrets that seem to lurk beneath the banal facade of every town. The growing realization that you can never really know somebody, even people you love. The soul suck that is junior high and high school and its complicated hierarchies, its boredoms. Pep rallies and forced readings of Moby Dick. 🙂 

In horror, there is a Big Bad (thanks, Joss) and a moment of stand-off with the Big Bad. It is a moment in which choices are made and sometimes people are made in that moment, too. What can I say? I’m crazy about horror. That’s one of the reasons I’m really excited to be writing The Diviners, my new four-book series, which I will talk about more as it progresses. What I can tell you is that it’s a 1920’s, New York City-based, supernatural, four-book series that’s going to edge into that territory I love so much, of things that go bump in the night. I’m excited to see what develops. I’ll keep you posted.

And now, speaking of horror, I have to go watch The Cowboys/Saints game. It’s already looking ugly and we’re less than two minutes in. Oy. 

I wish you all a happy Thanksgiving–and maybe a good ghost story or two. And pie. Lots of pie. 


P.S. Let’s let Kate Bush sing us out, okay? Okay. www.youtube.com/watch

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