When I first got the idea to blog about horror for the entire month of October, I needed a healthy distraction. I got real excited, real fast, and immediately plotted out an entire 33 days of content. My plan was to post every day in the month of October, starting with October 1st and plowing right through October 31st and beyond. I even started writing posts well in advance. Like an entire month in advance.
Even with all that preparation and enthusiasm, I haven’t started off October with 33 Days of Horror as I envisioned.
I don’t know how to write/blog right now without acknowledging the larger context of my current life. Coping and survival mechanisms were the subject of my last post, and instead of being vague about my life, I’ll just talk about it.
Recently, my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. In stages, we found out that it had metastasized to her bones. Most recently, the doctors found that it’s spread even further. As I write this, I’m on a plane back home to be with my family as my mom gets her first radiation treatments to target the small tumor that’s made a home in her brain.
The doctors have said that my mother’s cancer is incurable and terminal.
My first horror movie memory is a scene from Friday the 13th. I couldn’t tell you which one. All I know is that hockey-masked Jason is chasing a young woman through the woods. She screams as she runs through the trees, and Jason ambles along after her, his long strides somehow closing the distance between them.
That’s all I remember. I must have been maybe 4 or 5 when I saw this. It was probably on in the background at my mom’s friend’s house. Even though I was so young (too young), I wasn’t terrified or scared. I was too young to know what was going on or to be worried about death.
While death and mortality were not things that worried me as a child, what actually did terrify me was the banshee in Darby O’Gill and the Little People.
I was in second grade when I saw this scene, and second-grade Rachel was like
I couldn’t go outside after dark by myself for quite awhile after the introduction of the banshee into my imagination. The facelessness of the banshee, its alarming electric blue color, its ear-splitting shrieks.
When I watch it now, it seems a little (a lot?) hokey. But it still stirs some fear in me.
By the time I hit middle school, I was no longer crouching in the dark, covering my ears and eyes, just in case the banshee decided to pay me a visit.
Instead, I was running full-speed toward the spooky shit.
I loved ghost stories and always had my ear open for a ghost anywhere — the school bathrooms, the abandoned property next door, the janitor’s closet. I read Nancy Drew and kept returning to the ones that seemed supernatural. I was always so disappointed that Nancy’s ghosts were always just people, trying to get away with their crimes.
And then I found Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. And More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.
Not only were most of these stories fairly horrifying, the illustrations were the stuff of nightmares. I would read the stories and find myself simultaneously repulsed and drawn toward the accompanying images.
The story I remember most clearly featured a girl who thought she had a gigantic pimple on her face. It got bigger and bigger until one day it burst and thousands of tiny spiders leaked out of her face.
On its own, this story is pretty silly. The illustration gave me nightmares.
There was another story about a fleshy lifelike scarecrow named Harold. Another about a hairless dog a girl picked up in Mexico that turned out to be a flesh-eating sewer rat.
The illustrations are imaginative, earthy, dark, oozing. There are no defined edges, where the image ends and the white page begins. It’s as if the figures are appearing onto the page, and hovering there. They make your neck feel itchy, your toes wiggle.
I loved it all and I wanted more.
My original goal with 33 Days of Horror was and still is to dissect my love of horror, the supernatural, the spooky, the dark. Sure, it’s an escape from reality, but I think that’s an overly simplistic understanding of my inclination.
Because though I love horror, not everything I love is necessarily feminist or feminist friendly. Because when shit hits the fan, I want to curl up with my favorite scary movies. Because even though I love horror, I hate real-life violence and gore. Even though I love horror, death-too-soon in real life is too much for me.
My mother’s diagnosis is one of my worst nightmares come to fruition. When we first found out, I couldn’t stop crying. And then I went into survival mode (see previous post). I’m still in survival mode.
The older I get, the more acutely aware I am of mortality. Even before my mother’s diagnosis, on a weekly basis, I thought something along the vein of “One day, your parents will not be around anymore” or "I will die someday" or "I could die tomorrow" and it was enough to scare the shit out of me. Or, at the very least, bring a sense of gravitas to whatever I was doing at the moment.
For my mother’s sake, I want to say that I’m done with the weeping. The last time I spoke to her on the phone, I had a runny nose. She thought I was crying again and said, “Don’t cry so much, okay?!"
So here we are with 33 Days of Horror.
Now, let’s get a few things straight.
First: Violence and death in real life makes me sick and angry, but in horror movies I can (sort of) tolerate it. Just because I love scary movies doesn't mean I'm desensitized to violence. I close my eyes during violent and gory scenes. And I’m not here for torture flicks, like Saw or Hostel. I know Saw is iconic, but I’ve never watched it and probably never will. I watched Hostel and kept my eyes closed for 80% of the film. Not into any of it.
Second: I am not an expert. I’ve seen a lot of scary movies — both good and bad, mainstream and indie, classics and B-movies — but I definitely have not seen everything. There are films and shows that I should probably see, if I’m a self-respecting horror fan. There are things that I haven’t seen that will probably shock some people, but they’ll just have to deal with it. I’ll get to American Horror Story eventually.
Third: While I’m not an expert, I’ve still seen and love a ton of shit. My 33 days of planned content crams in as many of my favorites as possible — at least 40 films — but I’ve forgotten to include so much. For example — I completely forgot to squeeze in Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hitcher anywhere, and I’m a little panicked by it. But I can always write about them later.
Fourth: I want to explore my favorite spooky films and books. I want to dig into why I love them so much, and why I’m drawn to the things I’m drawn to. Not only that, I also want to examine how my favorite horror rates on the Bechdel test, how they’re feminist or not, how they treat people of color, and how they treat queer folks, even though those folx are few and far between in my favorite flicks. As Ani Difranco sings, “We have to be able to criticize what we love, say what we have to say.” She’s talking about free speech and being an American. I’m talking about horror. Both contexts are legit. (Right?)
I don’t know where I’ll end up by the time October finishes. I originally planned daily posts, but, obviously, that’s not going to happen. I’ve got 33 days of content planned out, though, and I haven’t been this excited about a project in a long time. So I’ll go with it, and see what happens. Maybe I'll be writing about the spooky shit well into December and beyond. I'm okay with that. Excited about it, even.
So here goes, y’all. Day 1: complete.