We've talked about some of the basics thus far in this series, but now's the time to dig a little deeper into the things that led The Mike to where he's at today. After all, not EVERYTHING I've ever known or done was directly inspired by a book or a movie or the TV. I know it's shocking, but it's true.
Sometimes, it's just the little things in life that have a random yet profound impact on someone. And for me, there's no way to deny that these are some of of the things that inspired me to love the seemingly dangerous side of life that is horror.
(If you missed the explanation behind this series, you should know that all credit for this idea belongs to the wonderful Mrs. Christine Hadden over at Fascination With Fear, who does lists better than anyone in the Western Hemisphere. For that, I salute her.)
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
This could have gone under books or movies, but I couldn't remember which came to me first - so I listed it here. The point is, I'll be darned if the idea of the Headless Horseman wasn't one of the very scariest things in the world to me when I was a wee-Mike. I remember reading and/or being told the story as a kid and being totally afraid to be out at night, but most of my fear comes from the harrowing vision of said creature shown in Disney's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow segment of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, which I still think might be one of the most horrifying visions ever shown on screen. Proving, once again, that Disney movies know everything there is to know about making little kids pee their pants in fear.
My Great-Grandparents' Basement Stairway
I don't remember being too afraid of going in the creepy Silence-of-the-Lambs-style basement in my childhood home. I don't remember being scared of most basements, either. But I remember the stairway that led to the basement at my great-grandparents' home. I still believe that the open stairway at the end of their entryway, with no door to protect us from whatever lied below, always seemed to hold nothing but the darkest darkness I've ever seen. At one point I think us kids said we were brave enough to go down there, which I think was about the point when we were told there was a bear monster down there, right before someone jumped out and scared us. In the end, I never went down that stairway. Ever.
The Black-and-White TV
This one applies as much to my love of classic cinema as it does to my love of horror. I love the fact that I was one of the last kids ever to grow up with a black-and-white television set. Now, don't worry too much, we had color in the living room...but I was somehow blessed enough to get the old black-and-white TV in my room and it. was. awesome.
Remember when I told you about how scary Unsolved Mysteries was? It was so much scarier in black-and-white! And when I got lucky and got the VCR hooked up to this TV, I had a heck of a lot of fun. My first viewing of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds happened on this 13 inch screen - and a confused me forgot about that and spent a few years wondering why I couldn't find the "original" black and white version of that movie when he grew up. You think an army of angry birds (not the video game kind) is creepy? You shoulda seen it in black-and-white!
Audio Horror Chillers
If you're like me, you hated the stupid art classes you had to take in elementary and middle school. Man, I was the worst art-er of all-time. I was so bad, I made up the word "art-er" to avoid calling myself an artist. It was kind of embarrassing to realize how unartistic I was.
Luckily for me, one of my favorite things about school lived inside that art room. Behind his desk, our teacher kept a tape player and a selection of short audio tales that today remind me of The Twilight Zone. Alongside these audio chillers - which I have almost entirely forgotten at this point, though I think he may have had some Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark tapes - he had one of the stories that most made me in awe of what horror can do.
As alluded to in the picture, that audio tale was Orson Welles' infamous adaptation of The War of the Worlds. First of all, the story was engrossing. Second of all, the presentation of a "real" radio broadcast was thought provoking. And then, when I learned about the nationwide panic that surrounded Welles' performance of this story - I was in awe. This might have been the first time I really understood the showmanship that a horror storyteller could possess. I was enamored with the fact that a dramatic presentation of a horror tale could incite such widespread fear - and I wanted to find more stories/presentations like it.
My Pet Monster
If I was going to approach monsters as a child, I'd be better off if I had a little bit of monster on my side, right? Enter My Pet Monster, which has to be the coolest toy ever created (except for the Cabbage Patch Doll that my mom turned in to Mr. T. and put an Iowa State outfit on). While us children of the '80s were being bombarded by the unforgettable advertising of My Buddy and Kid Sister, I took the logic that applied to those toys - namely, "Wherever I go, he's gonna go" - and applied it to My Pet Monster. Even after his big toe was ripped open and he started to smell, I was attached to him. Probably to the point that I got in trouble for trying to take him everywhere, or maybe just to the point when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles happened. Either way, My Pet Monster was awesome and I wish he was still here with me now.
(And yeah...if you didn't know already, watch that My Buddy ad and see who you think looks like him. I guess you could say he's one of the Good Guys when it comes to dolls.)
The Iowa Countryside at Night
Y'all know we have ghosts in our cornfields, thanks to Kevin Costner and that darn baseball movie. But I'm here to say that there's something about a full moon over acres and acres of fields and dirt roads and no other houses within running distance that is totally creepy. (Even if I never did live out of running distance for normal people. But I was fat, so there's my excuse.)
Even as I grew up, I still remember being outside the house at night and looking around at miles of open ground and just feeling so much unease about the world around me. Nowadays it's creepier because I think of films like Inside or The Strangers where homes are invaded by real people with real sicknesses, but back then I was mostly worried about more pressing dangers - like aliens or werewolves. Ah, it would be great to be a kid again - but I ain't goin' into no field after dark anyway.
(On an aside, one of the side effects of this fear is that I never got around to seeing and/or reading Children of the Corn. To quote a wise man - "I don't have to see it, Dottie. I lived it."
I've already written at length about how much Joe Bob Briggs inspired me to become the host of my own online horror hotel, and I could have talked about his stint as TNT's host of Saturday night entertainment earlier in this series. Since I didn't, I feel compelled to mention it one more time, because Monstervision was the first thing that really pushed me to learn more about horror cinema and not just grab things off the rental shelf because they looked cool. Without this program and Mr. Briggs' leadership, I'd have never started this blog. I know that for sure.
The Haunted Hayride
When my parents decided that I was ready to experience the Haunted Hayride in my home town at a young age, it quickly became the scariest night of my life. To this day, I will swear under oath that a real chainsaw was right above my head sticking through one of the slots in the back of the hay rack. I was made to sit in the middle and the back - with warnings that I might be grabbed on the edges - but I was not safe enough, apparently. Oh, and remember that time when I told you I was afraid to watch Pumpkinhead because I was afraid of creatures with pumpkin shaped heads? Yeah, that came from the haunted hayride too. I can picture that image, with the strobe lights and the fake fog and the piped in sound effects still - and it is scaring me as I think about it.
I'm pretty sure the night ended with my parents bringing over the guy who ran the chainsaw or grabbed my foot or did something else that made me scream like a banshee so I knew that it was just someone in a disguise and not a normal demon or whatnot. I think they were playing me. I was too scared that night to not have faced at least a little bit of real evil.
And - after I checked my pants for wetness - I wanted more of it.
By now, you probably realize that I was a scaredy cat once. Heck, I still am at times. But all of these creepy experiences and the thoughts that they put into my head only made me more fascinated in what horror stories had to offer. And I never looked back in fear.
There's something to be said for the cathartic effect of horror. The fact that you can experience something horrific - whether it's a story about a killer scarecrow or a man in a costume swinging a chainsaw or images of people killing in the name of killing - and come out the other side knowing you survived is a heck of a feeling. I've always loved that in horror, and even when I tread lightly around some things horror has to offer I'm always a little interested to see if my resolve can hold up. And I can test that strength more successfully because I had these random fears in my life since I was a young pup.
Here endeth the lesson regarding How The Mike Met Horror, but the comments are as open as ever for you to share your own inspirations. Thanks for reading this October, and keep coming back for more horror - you'll be stronger if you do, I promise.
After all - monsters need friends too!