OR: How post-traumatic stress & a near-death experience created a horror fan.
Perhaps the most common question I get not only from press, but friends and family alike is: Why horror? Why write it? Why read it? Why consume it? From family, the question is always tinged with an air of, “What the hell is wrong with you?” To which, I usually say something like, “Well, you enjoyed Mac Beth, didn’t you?” Or mention someone’s extensive Leonard Cohen collection, “Why love music that makes you want to slit your wrists?”
So why horror?
According to legendary director and personal hero mine, John Carpenter, “Horror is a reaction; it’s not a genre.” A sentiment shared by Nightmare on Elm Street director Wes Craven who described the craft as not so much being in the business of creating fear, but rather releasing it. But it was Clive Barker whose explanation most matched my own, “[Horror] shows us that the control we believe we have is purely illusory, and that every moment we teeter on chaos and oblivion.”
I was a bit of a latecomer to horror, mostly having ignored the genre (aside from Alien) until the mid-2000s. As a child, my imagination conjured up plenty of terror-inducing images on its own, and the last thing it needed was more help—a fact later proven true at age nine when an uncle took me to a screening of the original Star Wars. Except when the theater went dark and the projector started rolling it wasn’t Star Wars on the screen. It was Poltergeist.
It wasn’t an honest mistake. That uncle is a sack of shit.
Due to that one experience, I avoided horror in all its forms. I simply didn’t want those images in my mind. Then I hit the ripe old age of twenty-eight and begun to crawl out of a decade’s long descent into madness that had been brought about by a random act of gun violence. Two weeks after graduating high school myself, my sister, and a friend became the unfortunate targets of a lone nut with a gun. Four shots were fired. One bullet landed. And I ended up on an operating table, very close to death.
My body survived.
My mind? Not so much.
Sure, when I left the hospital I thought I was fucking bulletproof. I’d been shot, but kept my wits. Everyone else had panicked. Everyone else was screaming. When I saw the blood on my hand, sure I panicked. But then snapped into a cold, hyper-awareness hell-bent on surviving. I was the one who made the decisions that got us out of the fire. I was the one who called 911. I’d faced death and I knew I could take it.
Yeah. Right. Nobody comes back from something like that without scars.
Over the next ten years I slowly went insane as all the trauma I’d buried clawed its way back into my consciousness. When the terror found me, I found the horror genre.
When Barker says horror shows that every moment we teeter on chaos and oblivion, he’s right. That’s what true horror does. When that 9mm round punched through my ribs and tore into intestines I didn’t see the cliché “life flashing before my eyes.” I saw the abyss. Everything I am. Everything I was. Everything I knew. Everybody I love. Every hope and dream I ever had. Gone. Torn away by a random, meaningless event. Five minutes was all I thought I had left, then nothing. I would cease. That is the chaos and oblivion we all teeter on.
When I was finally ready to come to terms with that hard reality, I submerged myself in all forms of horror—good, bad, and everything in between. I literally watched and/or read whatever I could get my hands on—from the most gut wrenching of slasher flicks, to the more terrifying of cerebral horror. I craved stories of people struggling through the most extreme of situations. Stories where the masks come off and show humanity at its rawest. I consume horror the same way I do war stories. It’s a crucible. It’s seeing how we respond to worst of all possible realities. Who breaks? Who fights? Who sacrifices themselves? Who survives? Why?
Good horror stares into the abyss and refuses to blink. It looks directly, unflinchingly at what we most fear.