Horror Business: Zack Wentz

Horror Business is a novel I that wrote. It’s coming out in February 2015. Horror movies play a huge role in the narrative.

“Horror Business” is a sporadic column where I ask influential/invaluable writers and people of interest the following question: What scene from a movie has scared/troubled/shaken you the most?

The first time I saw Zack Wentz, it was in the basement of a Santa Cruz community center over ten years ago. I was there to see Blood Brothers, who were touring their Burn, Piano Island, Burn album (which, in terms of hardcore/punk music, was as influential as Refused’s Shape of Punk to Come, and probably still the scariest album you can dance to). Wentz’s band Kill Me Tomorrow was the opening band.

I remember being disappointed in the Blood Brothers’ performance. They sped through their already-fast songs to the point of incomprehension, and they weren’t very tight. But Kill Me Tomorrow was a different story—one of those rare occasions were the opener upstaged the  headliner. Wentz sang while pounding away at his stand-up drums like a madman, backlit by a hellish red light. It was a little scary, entirely captivating and seemed ahead of its time.

And that’s pretty much how you could classify everything Wentz does. Aside from his musical projects (currently, he plays drums in the very rad, very haunting Dabbers), he’s a fantastic writer and editor. He’s currently the editor for New Dead Families, a journal that’s as admirable for its dedication to showcasing the newest in weird as it is to its editorial integrity.

(Side note/disclosure: I had a story published in New Dead Families and Wentz really put it through the ringer. It was one of those invaluable instances where he made me know the story better than I imagined I could.)

Also, he wrote The Garbageman and the Prostitute (a companion book to the Kill Me Tomorrow album of the same name).  There’s more grotesque lyricism and seediness packed into that less-than-200-page book than most sprawling novels I’ve read, and it seems to influence a lot of transgressive literature I’ve read recently. It’s challenging and creepy, yet deceptively accessible. If any publisher was smart, they’d snatch up the rights to this and put it back into print.

What scene from a movie has scared/troubled/shaken you the most?

zack

ZW: Return of Return of the Living Dead Part II (1988)

I still have a surprisingly weak stomach and peculiarly vulnerable inner-eye for horror, considering how much horror media I consumed at a fairly young age.

My father had a tremendous collection of old books stored on tall dark wood shelves alongside the stairs that led up to the bedrooms on the second floor of our house. Bookshelves also lined the slim hallway leading to the upstairs bathroom—looming all the way up to the ceiling. Nights, I crept past these.

The most recent books were well-worn paperbacks from the fifties, sixties, and early seventies, at the very latest. Some of those paperbacks were my first exposure to horror: Poe, Bierce, A. Merritt, Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, Leiber, Bradbury; those Weird Tales “best of” anthologies Leo Margulies did for Pyramid, as well as other anthologies, such as my childhood favorite: Book of the Werewolf.

There was no shortage of visual imagery. In addition to the vivid covers of those paperbacks, there were a decent number of large-format volumes dedicated to vintage pulp-art. Virgil Finlay was chillingly addictive to flip through, in particular, and tucked between some taller hardcovers were several issues of a copiously illustrated magazine titled Coven 13 that I could never summon up the guts to take to my bedroom and read because I actually believed those magazines might possess genuine “diabolical powers” (and I was an already-skeptical rural Northwest boy, used to the damp and dreary dark, raised Orthodox-Atheist).

None of that early, almost anachronistic, horror exposure really prepared me for “modern” horror movies, which became plentiful at the few video rental places we had in our small Oregon town by the late eighties. The covers of those chunky VHS tapes were even more troubling—often stretched stills from the films, or realistic paintings, almost always of something unspeakably gruesome about to happen to a conventionally attractive, partially-clothed female.

I generally did not experience these films at my house. These things I usually viewed at Carey Voeller’s in his garage, which had been converted into a family room. Over many a weekend we’d set up our sleeping bags in there, supplied with a reasonably ambitious quantity of junk-food provisions, and commence with our horror movie marathons.

We saw a lot of awful things. Some of those movies I still can’t believe we were legally allowed to rent (I’m still not certain if I Spit on Your Grave should even exist). But we also saw a lot of wonderful stuff that was truly mind-expanding and, occasionally, delightful (such as Eraserhead, and a number of the early Troma films).

The most unforgettable scene I ever saw, we weren’t at all ready for, in spite of the fact that we’d watched the previous movie in the series. The film was Return of the Living Dead Part II, the second of these then-recent, somewhat tongue-in-cheek “punk rock” zombie movies, inspired by Romero’s iconic Night of the Living Dead. It was a virtual remake of the first Return of the Living Dead, which we had enjoyed, but the creators did something very sneaky.

I haven’t kept up, but I’m sure it’s now a thoroughly tired and typical zombie-movie cliché to have the zombified boyfriend stalk his still-human girlfriend, and beg her to allow him to zombify her. Being young and relatively innocent, the subtext was pretty much lost on us, but in the first film, when this same scenario took place, the girlfriend had managed to avoid this fate. In the second film, however, the girlfriend was cornered in a church, and the zombie boyfriend pled more convincingly, describing the scent of her brains as irresistibly “spicy.”

We should have turned it off right there, but I still believe, even from decades of distance, that we both thought something would happen at the idiomatic last second, and the girlfriend would be saved. No.

By scrunching her eyes closed and hunching into a semi-fetal seated position, the girlfriend apparently “consented” to the zombie. He went up to her, and gently leaned down over the top of her head with his rotten mouth gaping.

The screen then showed only the expression on the girlfriend’s face: lips parted, her eyes surprised, confused, and just possibly excited. The sound was like having your ear next to a walnut being crushed slowly beneath a boot on rain-wet pavement.

It was terrible. Both of us yelled at the TV, and turned the movie off. We were absolutely furious, and I’m positive mutually overwhelmed with the desire to edit this out of our fresh memories, or rewind and watch it over, but somehow have the scene magically turn out a different way: someone to burst into the church with a shotgun and blast the zombie boyfriend’s head off; the girlfriend to suddenly fall through a trap door into some subterranean tunnel and run away; white winged angels to arrive and carry her off. Something. Anything.

The two of us were miserable. We didn’t know what to do about it. We kept talking. Ranting. We hated the people who made this movie. We hated the people at the store who let us rent it. We hated the world where this sort of imaginary scene could be imagined, and then developed into a part of some awful product people could use for a while to for some fucking reason pretend this sort of horrible totally imaginary bullshit scene that some bunch of sick shithead assholes just thought up together because they are fucking dicks could be real. Our night was ruined. Our weekend was ruined. Our lives were ruined. My life is still ruined. Look at me. Listen. Shit.

We went ahead and finished the movie. I don’t remember any of the rest. I think everybody died at the end, pretty much like in the first one.
return of the living dead

Horror Business: Julia Evans

Horror Business is a novel I that wrote. It’s coming out in February 2015. Horror movies play a huge role in the narrative.

“Horror Business” is a sporadic column where I ask influential/invaluable writers and people of interest the following question: What scene from a movie has scared/troubled/shaken you the most?

As some of you may know, I serve as a volunteer/Creative Director for a nonprofit literary group called So Say We All in San Diego, and one of the creations to spring forth from that organization is the monthly live reading series called VAMP (Visual, audio, monologue/performance). Authors submit and, once accepted, are subjected to a month-long bootcamp of workshopping, editing and performance coaching. I can’t tell you h0w much my own writing has benefited from this regimen.

For those who always dreamed of being a writer but never had the support or inclination, it’s usually a heartening process that rewards people who are willing to put in the work. But every now and then someone comes along whose talent is so natural, so nonchalant—someone who infuriatingly just gets it, that you can’t help but feel jealous every time you read their work. Julia Evans is one of those people.

No doubt, Evans’ writing is dark, but it’s also sad and funny—and she somehow weighs those precarious emotions with a sense of unease. The honesty with which she writes about marriage, family or motherhood is admirable, if not a tad collar-pulling. She’s not afraid to paint herself as an unlikeable character, which is probably on par with “loving horror movies” as a way to my heart.

Check out her  story “Leona Never Happened,” published in Hobart earlier this year. She’s also got a story in States of Terror, an monster anthology featuring creatures, folklore and legends from each state in the USA. That’s coming out in November.

julia

What scene from a movie has scared/troubled/shaken you the most?

JE: My fear is a many-branched thing. There’s the obvious things, things that make me either realistically, physically afraid in situations where I’d once felt safe (I’m thinking of a scene in the recent final season of BBC’s Luther, where a psychopath freakishly murders a random couple together in their own home), or the types of circumstances that I’m unlikely to get myself in to (that murderous threesome chainsaw scene in American Psycho and my heart is racing just thinking about it).

Then there are the less obvious things, things that aren’t exactly scary. The stuff that fills me with more intrusive, obsessive fear than a chainsaw threesome. In my youth, it was always stuff like dying kids, divorce: the kind of tragedy I didn’t have in my life, but only thanks to sheer probability. The kind of plot lines that would make me look around and count my friends because one in five of us would surely die soon. Now it’s the farfetched worst-case scenarios. The potential of a flick of a wrist on a highway overpass. Accidentally killing someone. Back to the dying kids.

Natanya Ann Pulley’s Horror Business post got me thinking about that too-early horror, when we’re too young to process it, too young to be soothed by the make-up, the fiction, the sensationalism of it all. For me, it’s the Hitchhiker scene from Creepshow II. I’ve chased this memory before.

I was raised in a small, sheltered village in rural England. It was the 1980s and America was an oddity, this twangy, saturated beast in denim and golden curls. I was somewhere between age 5, when the Glaisters moved to town, and maybe age 8, when Emma Glaister got her own tv set in her room. Because before that, we’d watch the telly with her teenage brother. One afternoon, he said he wanted to show us something “right funny.”

I don’t remember much of the plot. I remember a darkened highway, an American car, a solo woman. It’s always a solo woman. There’s a shredded, mangled figure, bits and pieces of dangling undead flesh or maybe they were fresh wounds. It was the idea that something dead could seek me out, sneak up on me, or, I don’t even know, drip on me. I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared or grossed out, and maybe this chilling reaction as a too-young child solidified what would be a lifelong aversion to the zombie genre, to the idea of the undead. I just tried to rewatch the clip and stopped it right when the woman looks behind her a second time and the waving, distant hitchhiker had disappeared. I couldn’t go on to see when he pops up right next to her. Is it because, when I watched it at 8, I didn’t know enough to know that it was pretend? I don’t want to feel that again.

And then, probably thanks to repression, I can only hear the hitchhiker’s voice.

Well, it’s muddled with Emma’s brother’s voice, relentless, teasing, preying upon two scared kids, and (notably) a terrible attempt at an American accent. He was actually kind of cheery. “Thanks for the ride, lady!

I watched the full American Psycho chainsaw scene a few hours ago in my car, parked on a darkened side street downtown. My heart still raced but all I really feared was that a passerby might think I was watching porn. But I still can’t face the hitchhiker.

hitchhiker

Horror Business: Aaron Burch

Horror Business is a novel I that wrote. It’s coming out in February 2015. Horror movies play a huge role in the narrative.

“Horror Business” is a sporadic column where I ask influential/invaluable writers and people of interest the following question: What scene from a movie has scared/troubled/shaken you the most?

Aaron Burch is one of my biggest influences.  I remember a couple years ago, I was reading stuff like McSweeneys and Miranda July and thinking that those were the pinnacle of subversive, underground lit. Then I got a copy of Hobart 13—the journal that he founded/edits—and it completely opened my eyes to what people were producing: it was dark, funny, real, and troubling in ways that I hadn’t ever read before.<

This year, Queen’s Ferry Press put out Burch’s extraordinary story collection Backswing.  Just like the spirit of Hobart, the stories feel unleashed, like pumped full of feral blood, that veers wildly without feeling disconnected. Only a talent like Burch could create something as touching as “Scout” and as unsettling as “The Apartment” or “Night Terrors.” Also, he may be the only person who could ever write a nostalgic body horror story, “Unzipped.” It really is the best story collection to come out this year.

aaron burch

What scene from a movie has scared/troubled/shaken you the most?

AB: Last week, Ryan linked to Juliet’s “Horror Business” and said part of what he liked about her selection was that “it’s not from a typical ‘horror’ movie. Having been a kid who was scared of a lot of non-scary stuff, I relate to a lot of nonsensical fears.”

I thought about the question, What scene from a movie has scared/troubled/shaken you the most?, and nonsensical fears and being scared of non-scary stuff and being a kid—and one scene jumped immediately to mind. The one scene that always stands out as having scared me the most. It’s more traditionally “horror” but maybe less traditionally a “movie”?

That moment in Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” when Michael Jackson’s eyes change.

I wasn’t allowed to watch scary movies when I was growing up; I think I still might not have ever seen a Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street. There was no precedence, I had no preparation.

“Thriller” was released in December, 1983, but the first time I saw it, the moment of my memory, must have been 1987 or ’88. I would have been 9 or 10. I know this because I remember the music video upsetting and disturbing me so much that, as a family, we had to watch something more lighthearted to settle me down, to allow me to let go of my fear and at some point be able to go to sleep. I remember said lighthearted distraction was one of those “flip-flop”/“trading places” movies, though whether those trading places were Judge Reinhold and Fred Savage, or George Burns and Charlie Schlatter, or Dudley Moore and Kirk Cameron, I can’t recall. (The late 80s loved this plot scenario, apparently.)

Thing was, it wasn’t even the music video itself that I found scary. In fact, I kind of loved the theatrics of it all—the Vincent Price narration, the fact that it was a music video but had a narrative, the choreography, the song itself. That’s what got me in trouble a few times—I’d see it on MTV and think maybe the moment, early in the video had passed, that I’d missed it, that I was in the clear…and then Jackson’s eyes would turn into werewolf eyes and I’d lose it.

I was too young to have ever heard the phrase “the eyes are the windows into the soul,” but I had some subconscious knowledge of their power. I knew eye contact was important for most effectively expressing yourself—for holding someone’s attention, for telling the truth, for letting people know you were listening. And so maybe it was thus that Michael Jackson’s eyes so scared me. He, right before my own eyes, had literally turned evil, his eyes into the eyes of a monster. If he could, might anyone be able to?

IloveMichael28-2650144_616_500

Horror Business: Natanya Ann Pulley

Horror Business is a novel I that wrote. It’s coming out in February 2015. Horror movies play a huge role in the narrative.

“Horror Business” is a sporadic column where I ask influential/invaluable writers and people of interest the following question: What scene from a movie has scared/troubled/shaken you the most?

I met Natanya Ann Pulley while getting my Bachelors in English at the University of Utah and she’s the only friend I’ve retained from my time at the U. I believe that attending creative writing workshops is a practice in self-control anywhere, but in Utah, there were so many times that we were analyzing Mormon-centric stories where writers applauded the virtues of chastity and it makes you feel a little insane. (I guess that kind of stuff spawns multi-million dollar franchises now, so what do I know?)

But Pulley‘s writing was dark in a way that felt new—and still does. Never have I met a writer who can mix menace, surrealism, Brian Evenson-ian unease, body horror, history, humor and mythology like she can. She’s written for A Bad Penny Review, District Lit, Ducts and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, where her essay “An Open Letter To Johnny Depp’s Tonto” made the national rounds.

She is also a hell of an editor, having served as Fiction Editor for Quarterly West and currently South Dakota ReviewIn fact, she is usually the first person who sees anything that I write: Horror Business would not have been a possibility without her invaluable feedback six (!) years ago.

What scene from a movie has scared/troubled/shaken you the most?

natanya
NAP: 
There’s a mason jar in a barn and it is filled with something red and oozing. Not the blood red that one might expect, but a glowing red like lava—actually now that I think about it, lava is orange. But it was glowing. It was red. It reminded me of lava.

That’s all I remember from the scene. Something caught on late night TV when I was 8. When I seldom had the clicker to myself. When I was still a kid to my 13 year old brother and his pack of friends turning all wolf and howl. Not the sexy and full-coated beasts, but the boy turning into something with wild hairs and rankness and fuel teen wolfs. I loved their world.

I hated mine. The only interesting thing about my 8 year old world was the doll my mom made for me. It was my size. My shape. My eye color. My hair color. We saw Poltergeist on video often and the doll was always that scary killer clown inside. I was afraid of an inner scary killer clown self. Nothing like those eventually wild and beating boys. My brother and I hid the doll away from us as often as possible. My mother or the nanny returned it regularly to my bed.

When I had the TV to myself in some late hour that only happens when one’s nanny is propped up on pillows in the other room talking to a boyfriend, I could sit around waiting for Duran Duran or Billy Idol to show up on my MTV. Or I could bypass the things I knew and head toward the channels that seemed out of my reach, even though back then there weren’t nearly as many as now.

That’s when I saw the jar of lava-but-red ooze. It was the devil. Or a demon. Or a possessed soul. I knew ghosts from Ghostbusters and Nancy Drew books. I knew monsters from sitting oh-so-quietly in the corner of my brother’s bedroom when I was given entrance to the latest D&D game (if I hardly breathed). I knew slashers from behind my dad’s hands—somehow always only hearing the cries of teens and never seeing the thing that caught them again and again. I knew vampires from the black and whites (not yet from love, Fright Night and Lost Boys were long away). But I didn’t know demons except for this jar.

Maybe I watched some of the scenes before and after. I remember a kid running from barn to house or house to barn. I remember night time and shadows. Scary music and that film-type from a decade earlier, not yet shiny. Hair and pant bottoms out of bounds. The strange squawking of over-acting and too long beats of people listening. And still listening. And that jar. For many years, I couldn’t sleep because I’d close my eyes after a day of yard-play and pushing about objects in my room and crying over having to learn how to read and play the piano. The cries of my new baby brother the soundtrack to that time. I’d close my eyes and there it would be: this thing left forgotten in the barn pulsing, never taking shape, like the weird swirl of atoms and stardust I use to see in Star Trek when they were beamed up. But this time, something different. Something too menacing in its continual pull around the glass of the jar. Like it might pull everything inward. The jar wouldn’t break or open, it would just disengrate one day and all the things I knew, including the monsters and evils that played out safely in front of me on the screen and the ones of childhood that play out in slow motion like watching a parent cry or being lost for three seconds at a carnival, would be swallowed by a new type of lava—one that didn’t burn, but undid us all. One that worked at any barriers we had. Angels, hymns, the strength in my brother’s arms when he’d pick me up after a fall, the soft fleece of my baby brother’s blanket, even the idea that I could walk safely through my yard or could imagine which stickers I wanted to buy next for my sticker collection. Something told me in those late hours lying in bed listening to the baby fuss and the strangled sound of my parent’s bedroom TV that nothing could ever be stored or contained. There was always—right then and right this now—a lure in our plasma to our own undoing.

redjar

 

Horror Business: Juliet Escoria

Horror Business is a novel I that wrote. It’s coming out in February 2015. Horror movies play a huge role in the narrative.

“Horror Business” is a sporadic column where I ask influential/invaluable writers and people of interest the following question: What scene from a movie has scared/troubled/shaken you the most?

Just like everybody else this year, I fell in love with Juliet Escoria‘s Black Cloud

Being a horror guy, it’s easy to use the genre to make everyday darkness into something more palatable: anxiety, depression, anger, fear of the body, fear of strangers, abuse—give it a knife and dress it up in a mask and suddenly it’s a horror film.

Considering that, I’m of the opinion Black Cloud is a collection of horror stories without a mask. True horror. These stories are full of drugs, sex, smart people doing mean things to each other, lies, and mental illness.

What I find most riveting about her book is that there’s no outlet for moral rubbernecking. There are no lessons, no happy endings. And, just like Dr. Frankenstein’s admission of his own monstrosity, only the most perceptive of us will recognize ourselves reflected in Escoria’s stories.

What scene from a movie has scared/troubled/shaken you the most?

juliet escoriaJE: “Breaking Out” scene in Raising Arizona (1987)

My parents were big into this movie when it came out on VHS. We were, coincidentally, living in Arizona at the time.

My mom and dad had met each other through skydiving. My mom stopped for the most part after I was born, but still on most Saturdays the three of us would go out to the drop zone.

I’m not sure skydivers are the best people for a small child to be hanging out around. I remember them making a lot of jokes I didn’t understand. I remember crude drawings on chalkboards that were supposed to be there so people could diagram their jump formations. I remember a man getting naked once during a Halloween party where everyone got too drunk, and my mother grabbing me and shielding my eyes.

Raising Arizona seemed to fit in line with all the weird grown-up stuff that happened at the drop zone– things that were confusing and weird and a little bit dark and shrouded in that incomprehensible thing called sex. For some reason, this scene in particular encapsulated all of those things to me. I didn’t understand what was happening in the movie– that this scene depicted a jailbreak. I thought that, like the jokes at the drop zone, it was about more than it seemed and that it was about something dirty. The scene gave me recurring nightmares for a while. In them, I couldn’t breathe or see because everything was covered in mud, and I was screaming and clawing but I just couldn’t get the mud out of my mouth, my eyes, my nose, my ears.

When I finally saw this movie as an adult, I was really surprised to find out that it was more or less a comedy.  While I no longer find this scene as scary as I once did, there is something definitively birthlike in it, and birth is creepy as shit.

john goodman

Horror Business: Nick Antosca

Horror Business is a novel I that wrote. It’s coming out in February 2015. Horror movies play a huge role in the narrative.

“Horror Business” is a sporadic column where I ask influential/invaluable writers and people of interest the following question: What scene from a movie has scared/troubled/shaken you the most?

When I think of the term “literary horror,” Nick Antosca is the first name to come to mind. Before I read his book Midnight Picnic, I still thought of horror in a very stereotypically lurid, cut-and-dry, genre sense. Just like everyone, I was a product of the Stephen King school of horror.

Midnight Picnic changed my perception of what horror could be. It didn’t have to be flashy. It could be gentle. Subtle. It could be ethereal and sad. Yes, there are some terrifying parts in that book, but most of the horror is cumulative, one that stays reader when the book is done. It reminded me of reading a deeply-personal journal that you’ve forgotten you’ve written and realize that you’ve been haunted at one point in your life.

Last year, he put out a story collection called The Girlfriend Gamewhich is fantastic and includes his story “Predator Bait,” about a decoy used in a To Catch a Predator-like showIt’s probably my favorite thing I’ve read by him.

And if that’s not inspirational enough, he also has written for bunch of rad shows shows like Last Resort, Teen Wolf and Hannibal. Plus, he just sold a script for The Disappearance, which will be produced by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Television. Damn.

What scene from a movie has scared/troubled/shaken you the most?

nickantoscaNA: This is a well-timed question, because one of my answers is that scene in Twin Peaks when Bob climbs over the couch. That is fucking terrifying.  The way it changes the landscape of a familiar place – a living room – and shows Bob as this otherworldly sort of entity that doesn’t treat living rooms like they’re supposed to be treated (you’re not supposed to climb over the couch! normal people – human beings – in safe, familiar living rooms don’t do that!) gives you this disorienting feeling.  That’s a scene I’ve actually had a nightmare about.

One of my favorite horror movie scenes is also the scene in The Orphanage where the main character has to play the knock-knock game she played as a little girl with her friends… but all those little friends are now dead, and they’re somewhere in the house, still children, waiting for her.  She is terrified but she needs to call them to find out what happened to her missing son, so she faces the wall and knocks, knowing that when she turns around, the empty doorway behind her might not be empty anymore… It’s so scary, and it’s also elegant screenwriting, a beautifully set up scene.

Another great, scary scene is the last scene in Enemy, the Jake Gyllenhaal doppelgänger movie.  I won’t spoil it.  It’s a real “what the fuck” moment. Some people I know whose opinions I respect felt totally cheated by it. It freaked me out.

Also the scenes of the house just being watched in Michael Haneke’s Cache.

Oh wait, no – I know what the scariest scene in any movie is for me.  It’s the “borrowing some eggs” scene in Haneke’s original Funny Games.  The excruciating social awkwardness and the growing sense of dread – we KNOW these kids are eventually going to do something awful to this poor woman and her family – make the scene feel so real.  Makes me queasy every time.

Funny_Games_(1997)

Horror Business: Adrian Van Young

Horror Business is a novel I that wrote. It’s coming out in February 2015. Horror movies play a huge role in the narrative.

“Horror Business” is a sporadic column where I ask influential/invaluable writers and people of interest the following question: What scene from a movie has scared/troubled/shaken you the most?

There are few writers who know horror as well as Adrian Van Young, which I consider  a fantastic quality in a human being. Most of the time. The problem with Young is that he’s got a chameleonic, writerly prowess to match—and that is subtly infuriating and jealousy-inducing.

Take his story collection The Man Who Noticed Everythingfor example. It’s by far one of the best—yet widely-diverse—story collections I’ve ever read. He can jump from Lovecraftian in “Hard Rain” (a story that left me feeling icky for days) to King/”The Body”-esque nostalgia in “Them Bones.” And yes, they are diverse, but they’re not disparate. It’s a collection of a writer comfortable with stretching his muscles farther than most others.

When he’s not rocking print, he’s saying very smart things about horror franchises for The Believer and explaining Louisiana-as-a-character in True Detective for Slate. Plus, his  story “The Skin Thing” is probably the creepiest thing you’ll read online this October.

What scene from a movie has scared/troubled/shaken you the most?

AVY_photo_lgAVY: ZELDA’S DEATH IN PET SEMATARY (1989):

 Every year on Halloween my parents allowed me one R-rated movie. I knew all the boxes: Basket Case, Pumpkinhead, The Serpent & The Rainbow, A Nightmare on Elm Street. Based on the pictures adorning these boxes, I’d cherry-pick the year’s selection. It was Pet Sematary the year I was 12—bloody corpse side-eye, uncanny misspelling—based on the book by Stephen King, co-starring the guy from Munsters (Fred Gwynne). So you’re watching the movie and watching the movie, which is pretty affecting as horror flicks go (there’s a reason that King boxed it up in a drawer to chill out a few years before he unleashed it) and then you get to Zelda’s death. This scene, literally, provoked me to tears. I cowered in between my parents, begging them to turn it off, and when they obliged me I mustered composure, sheepishly asked them to turn it back on. My reaction was visceral, primal, immediate. And even now at 32, having re-watched the movie in varying states no less than a dozen times, I cannot watch the Zelda scene without metastasizing chills. (This most recent viewing I still couldn’t watch it without my partner next to me, herself a horror movie buff. I poked my head into our room. All that I needed to ask her was: “Zelda?”) The scene happens, maybe, a half-an-hour in, an unexpected early scare and well before the bloody woes that batter at the Creed Family, who have the misfortune of buying a house at the edge of an “Indian burial ground” (ah, Stephen King and his racist nostalgia!). In it, we have Rachel Creed (Denise Crosby) narrating her husband the death of her sister, claimed by spinal meningitis. The cinematography drops into flashback. Everything looks more self-consciously staged, as though it were being performed in a dollhouse, a credit to the mis-en-scene of unsung director, I think, Mary Lambert. Rachel’s voiceover narrates the scene while Rachel in childhood relives it again: “She was in the back bedroom like some dirty secret.” Zelda, a croke-backed and hideous creature played by male actor Andrew Hubatsek (reportedly, because they couldn’t find a woman skinny enough for the role), writhes in an open-backed nightgown in bed, her hair a straggled ginger mess. Rachel has been charged to feed her. Making gurgling and groaning and strangling sounds in between calling the name of her sister—a creaking-door cackle that smote on my ears (“Raaaaaaachel! Raaaaaaaaachel!”)— she rolls the knuckles of her spine. It sounds like kindling taking up. Her head wrenches sideways, neck bunching and twisting, giving Linda Blair’s Regan a run for her money. The jaundiced and gender-ambiguous face, with its wide knobby jawbone, accuses the viewer: you let me die! Not Rachel, you! And she flops lifelessly on the side of the bed. Granted, this sequence is over-the-top; to spinal-meningitis patients, more than borderline offensive. But Lambert’s not going for stark realism. It’s filtered through Rachel, her view of events, and if she remembers her suffering sister as “some [kind of] monster” that’s what she remembers. Lambert achieves something difficult here, unreliable narration in a cinematic context, a conceit which she furthers as girl-Rachel flees from the house of her trauma while grown-Rachel narrates: “Even now I wake up and I think: is Zelda dead yet?” The terror’s inescapable. For Rachel Creed. For you. For me. That’s why I’ve watched it so many damn times: so I know every link in the narrative chain. That way I’ll see the warning signs before I have to hit fast forward.

zelda

2. THE VERY LAST SCENE IN DON’T LOOK NOW (1973): To discuss it at all would be a huge spoiler so all I’ll say is: no. Just, no. A totally unacceptable thing to perpetrate on your viewer. Nicolas Roeg should be ashamed of himself.

Horror Business: Lindsay Hunter

Horror Business is a novel I that wrote. It’s coming out in February 2015. Horror movies play a huge role in the narrative.

“Horror Business” is a sporadic column where I ask influential/invaluable writers and people of interest the following question: What scene from a movie has scared/troubled/shaken you the most?

lindsay hunterLindsay Hunter is a writer whom I’ve admired for as long as I’ve taken writing seriously. I saw her read in San Diego, maybe back in 2010—before I had any idea that authors could exist outside the EW book section—and she basically shouted the entirety of her story “Candles” (I think), a story that appears in her fantastic collection Don’t Kiss Me. I remember thinking, not just of her delivery, but of her writing: Can writers do that? Is that allowed? Everything about her stuff seemed so fearless in a way that I’d never experienced before.

Hunter’s writing is also dark. I don’t think I’ve read a post-apocalyptic story quite as bleak as “After,” another story that appears in Don’t Kiss MeI’ve also had the pleasure of reading an advanced copy of her novel Ugly Girls (which comes out on November 15) and it was the first time I’ve ever taken a picture of text with my phone so I could remember it. It’s veiny, pulsing book, a reminder that the heart is the ugliest organ. Few books feel this alive. So you should preorder it.

What scene from a movie has scared/troubled/shaken you the most?

LH: 1. The single knock on the door in The Strangers. Liv Tyler is alone in a cabin in the middle of the woods. Not somewhere you’d expect to hear a sudden knock at the door. And–I’ve thought about this a lot–the fact that it’s a single knock, each time. Not the usual rap-rap. It gives the knock (and the knock-er) the feel of something inhuman, something outside any sort of norms we’re used to seeing. All bets are off. There is no urgency in the knock, either. It’s confident it is getting the attention it needs, and it is confident in its utter power over its prey. That single knock lets you know there will be no mercy, there will be no escape.

strangers

2. When, in The Exorcist, Reagan suddenly appears at her mother’s raucous dinner party, announces, “They’re all gonna die up there,” and then pees on the floor. The “they” is never identified satisfactorily. And up where? And is the urine Reagan’s body’s loss of control, her giving of power over to the demon, the absolute soprano note of fear in her? Or is it the demon wanting to horrify, to disgust, Reagan’s mother and her guests? It is inscrutable and never explained.

HORROR BUSINESS ep. 1: Book cover

horror_business_bookcoverCover for Horror Business, to be released by Month9Books, February 2015.

I’m sitting down to write the acknowledgments page for this, which feels surreal. Never thought this would escape the self-published trenches. Also, this thing is good. The editors really pushed me on this thing. It’s very different than all other iterations. Scarier, I think/hope.

But mostly, I’ve been thinking a lot about horror on a bigger scale. Like, what it means to me and why it’s still important. From now until the book release, I’m going to devote this place to meditations, analyses and discussions on horror.

I finally picked up some Thomas Ligotti and found this quote in the intro to The Nightmare Factory, which tied me up hard:

Clearly we… want to know the worst, both about ourselves and the world. The oldest, possibly the only theme is that of forbidden knowledge. And no forbidden knowledge ever consoled its possessor… It is particularly forbidden because the mere possibility of such knowledge introduces a monstrous and perverse temptation to trade the quiet pleasures of mundane existence for the bright lights of alienage, doom, and, in some rare cases, eternal damnation.

So we not only wish to know the worst, but to experience it as well.