Why Horror?

My family is a little different. I guess everyone thinks that about their family. Tell you what, I’ll try to explain why my family is different and you can make up your own mind about it. 

I was born in the mid 70’s, and did most of my growing up in a townhouse in Brampton, Ontario. The youngest of four kids, I tormented my three older sisters at every opportunity. My oldest sister, Kim, is black. After my grandfather died, my grandmother had a relationship with a black man. She got pregnant. Then she died. So, my mom adopted her. She is my aunt and my sister. To me, she’s just my sister. She practically raised me and in my humble opinion, did one fine job of it. My other two sisters, Alana and Tammy, are only ten months apart. Yup, ten months. Alana was first and in my parents wedding photos, you can see her as a bulge in my mother’s belly. 

My parents immigrated from Newfoundland to Ontario because there was no work in their home province. There are a lot of Newfoundlanders in Ontario today for the same reason. Yes, I know, Newfoundland is part of Canada. How can you immigrate to Canada from Canada? My Dad was born before Newfoundland became a part of Canada. In his own mind he’s a Newfie first, a Canadian second. 

The Newfies I grew up around spoke using half words, ended most sentences in ‘by’, and exclaimed surprise or disgust with the phrase, ‘Lord Tunderin’ Jesus by’!” This was normal for me. I understood my parents and their friends and it wasn’t until my friends told me my parents talked funny that I stopped to actually listen. It wasn’t funny or different to me.

The townhouse I grew up in was small and what made it even smaller was my mother invited her family members to stay with us until they found work or an apartment or both. So, in my home there was me, my three sisters, my two parents, my two aunts, one uncle, two cousins and a nanny my mother met in subsidized housing. My mom decided to invite her to move in with us. Just some random lady. Who does that? My sisters tell me Kay, the random lady, was sometimes mean to me. I don’t remember if she was. I do know I missed her when she died. 

Maybe we weren’t all in the same house at the same time, but it felt like it. I remember my aunt Cindy came to stay with her boyfriend. They slept in the furnace room on a hammock. A hammock! It was a busy house and I liked it. Always someone to talk to, sneaking treats or sips of beer from those stubby necked bottles that always seemed to be around. A lot of music, a lot of laughter. I was the youngest and as my sisters would tell anyone who listened, I was the spoiled one. They were right. My sisters, who complained about it, spoiled me the most. Pretty normal family, right?

I was six, maybe seven, when I saw my first horror movie. It was Halloween. It played on TV on Halloween night. I lasted until Michael Myers escaped from the asylum. The scene when he crawls over the car like a spider while the nurse is frozen inside still plays in my head. I ran from the room and spent the next few weeks sleeping at the foot of my parents bed. I was hooked. Such a strange feeling, to be excited and terrified at the same time. I lay awake some nights, too afraid to go to the washroom, thinking as soon as I put my foot on the cold floor, a hand would grab my ankle. After I couldn’t hold it for much longer, I’d launch myself off the end of the bed and into the hallway, looking over my shoulder, convinced a white masked man would be watching me, sliding out from under the bed to pursue me. Why would I watch the movies if they affected me this much? Seems stupid right? I can’t really tell you why. I don’t really know myself. All I know is that I was afraid to watch and also afraid to not watch them. 

I became a fixture at the movie store. Every time I found a new movie, it was Christmas Day for me. There was no real concern for what I rented. As long as it wasn’t pornographic, the vendors never cared what movie I walked out of the store with. I miss the video rental places. Blockbuster, Video 99, Jumbo Video. They’re all gone. 

Nothing else has ever affected me the same way that horror does. Comedy never kept me up at night. Action movies are great, but once the credits rolled, the movie was over. Some sci-fi movies, like Altered States, had my brain burning long after it was over, but there wasn’t the excitement, the fear that would have me checking closets and under beds. 

Then I was introduced to Stephen King and Richard Matheson. Woo-hoo, watch out! I read everything I could get my hands on and I read all the time. Even during French class in high school. Writing was what I wanted, no, needed to do. I wrote off and on in high school. Then life intruded, pushed aside those plans and it wasn’t until twenty years later I started writing again. 

I feel young again. This is my fountain of youth. I can be whoever I want. When I am writing, I feel like I’m on all the rides at Canada’s Wonderland at the same time. My heart pumps, I smile, I laugh and I just don’t want it to end. Writing horror does this to me. I’m a little kid again, afraid of what’s in the closet, excited, my body humming like an electric wire. It’s joy and all I have to do is sit down and take a trip inside my head. Create heroes from normalcy, villains from the everyday. As my oldest child would say, “Wicked sick!”

In the comments, let me know what got you hooked on horror. I’m curious, so please, enlighten me.

4 Replies to “Why Horror?”

  1. That Stephen King guy. That The Stand book he wrote. That got me. Still one of my all-time favourites. Then he went and put out It. I mean really. What was he thinking? I’ll never know. I never got past page 17. Had a nightmare that night. Sometimes you too John write things that make me want to cringe. Oh who am I kidding? I do cringe. It’s like you find all those “idiosyncracies” (yeah, let’s call them something low-key like that) that make my stomach curdle. If I were watching a movie, I’d be having a peek through my fingers at the screen. That’d be ok because I could hear enough to know when I could look up again. Reading though, that gets you. You’ve got to have some courage for horror. You’ve got to be willing to let the fears get right inside you. Twist your intestines. Ignite your vision. Wake you up. Hook you in. Then release you. Then hook you in again.

  2. oh come on you know I am hooked on horror, i am excited about this week starting AMC fear fest, and walking dead season 4, and i love horror books, u know me, Stephen king rocks , it makes my heart pound, and feel energized and rooting for the good guys even If i have seen the movie time and again and still hope for a new better ending, what else does that for me. anyways, horror rocks. People think I am weird for liking it, but I do not care,

  3. I am fascinated by horror stories while at the same time terrified and sleep with lights on for many a night afterward. Ask my husband your dad.

    I still remember the nights you slept at end of our bed John. I am amused how you remember your childhood days and the crowded home. When you were young parents let children watch horror movies and even let them play outside alone. I don’t know if times were really different or we were just lucky that our children were safe.

    As a child I came from family with open caskets in your own home and had many a scary night also. At 5 I lost my grandmother with open casket and the prayer beads loosened and her hands fell to her side as I knelt by casket. At 9 my cousin and friend drowned and she was buried in her confirmation dress and we children pressed on her skin while she was in her casket. At 10 my “boyfriend” died of a brain tumour. At 11 my grandfather was laid out in a wake at his home and my cousins told horror stories all night before his being buried At 13 a baby I babysat died at 18 months and her mother took her out of the casket and rocked her in her arms. Her mother died a year later. An infant only 3 months old at my neighbour’s house was the saddest thing I ever saw in a casket. It only took one person to carry the child out. My father died when I was 15 and the gravesite tribute of a flag was very emotional. And then at 20 my mom died and I was up here in Toronto but three knocks on my 10th floor bedroom window let me know she was gone. So I feel I am not so fascinated with horror but in my early years horror was fascinated with me.

    I became fascinated with horror writers early on like King. Stories that have characters who are vulnerable and beat the odds especially affect me maybe because my life has been that way.

    That is what I love about your writing. Your characters are so real. They come to life in the pages you create and I want them to beat the odds.

    Keep it up. Someday a lot of people will read your work and be cheering your characters on like I do.

  4. Thanks for sharing this story John. Its fascinating to hear how writing and horror fills your life with such joy. Sounds funny to write that but I understand. My sister was a HUGE horror movie fan and to this day will take Rob Zombie over any romance out there. She was full of ghost stories and Ouija boards…yikes.
    as I was was the younger sister I was forced to play along. I used nervous laugher as my defense and do still to this day.

    All that being said you could never rip a R.L. stine book out of my hands in my younger years. King of course and I had a strange fascination with true life serial killer stories.
    I do recall watching faces of death at newfie boyfriends very full house. Always with my eyes closed. But the one image that always stands out is the image of mike Myers popping out from behind a door. Don’t know what movie it was but boy that haunts me. Lol I still run up the stairs when the lights go out. Heart pounding and adrenaline rushing!

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