I love horror movies. I'm reassured in this because I know I'm not alone. Lots of people love them - just not many of my friends who look at me funny when I confess.
I was raised on them. I get it from my Mom. She was a hard-core veteran, scared to death as a child by the old black and whites, like Dracula with Bela Lugosi and The Mummy with Boris Karloff and The Phantom of the Opera with Lon Chaney. She and her friends used to get so traumatised they'd hide under the seats on the wooden floor. The usher would come along and tell them they either had to sit in the seats or leave.
As youngsters growing up in Seattle, my sister and I were often bundled up in bathrobes, pyjamas and slippers, loaded into the car and taken to the drive-in movies. I guess it was one way that my parents could have a night out without all the hassle of getting babysitters. Mom's passion for horror meant the movies we went to were double features in brilliant, ghastly Technicolor, bright red blood everywhere. My sister and I took all of this in as we chugged down hotdogs and Coke, and then, satiated with salt and sugar and fat, nodded off to sleep in the midst of the gore and screams emanating through the drive-in. All these years later, I can still remember the title of a film we saw at the drive-in, The Atom Age Vampire, a film produced in 1960. You can see it on YouTube. Of course!
These days though, I am continually disappointed. I haven't seen a really good horror in ages, and I see plenty. I have a friend, a stalwart horror fan, who watches even more horrible movies than I, and it take something pretty special to impress her. She's tougher, a real critic. It takes a mega-horror/slasher/blood-spattered mess to shake her foundations. However, in saying that, there have been a few memorable times when we've been watching something hideous together, and take terrified glimpses through fingers-over-eyes. I'm not ashamed to admit it.
So what makes for great horror? If you're going to write in this genre, whether it's for film or written word, I reckon you need to do some homework because it's an art form, a talent, and it takes study and diligence. Watch lots and read lots.
Stephen King is one of the best horror writers in my book because he has this unerring talent to turn the everyday - the routines, the surroundings, the actions we live with - into horror. He understands our fears and turns them into stories.
For example, take his novel It, set in a small American town. It features average, kind of normal families and kids doing kid-like stuff, and begins with a little boy chasing his paper sailboat down a roadside gutter in a rainstorm; the little boat sails down a drain, the kid is upset, peering down the culvert, and then there's a clown down in the drain who says hi and asks the kid if he wants his boat back. Of course he does. Every kid likes clowns, and they're fun and trustworthy right? Maybe a bit cheeky but OK, yeah?
And then the horror comes.
You have to love ghosts and goblins, ghouls and gremlins, and the evil and horror that lies within all of us.
Have a go. Write that scary thing.
As Stephen King says, "... as a writer, one of the things that I've always been interested in doing is actually invading your comfort space. Because that's what we're supposed to do. Get under your skin, and make you react."