Black Candies: The Eighties visual design inspired by… the nineties??

The thematic idea for Black Candies: The Eighties came about more or less as a whim. After Stranger Things came out, I fell down a wormhole of nostalgia-heavy entertainment and ended up rewatching all the horror ‘80s horror that became intrinsic to my formative years: Evil Dead, The Re-Animator and Romero’s Day of the Dead.

But when submissions for the issue began to trickle in, I noticed how much seething anger there was among them. Analog deaths, slashers, the past made present, political allegories. Ironically, The Eighties seemed to reflect the horror of our current era with more vehemence than any other issue of Black Candies.  

So co-editor Julia Dixon Evans and I wanted The Eighties to reflect this hostility. This is the first issue that I’ve not had the help of a creative director, and it’s quite different than those that came before it. It’s purposefully abrasive. Analog-like glitches fill the corners. We didn’t want blurbs on the cover. We wanted it to feel like a dangerous object that you’d find tucked away in footlocker. An unmarked VHS; a cursed cassette. We wanted readers to feel like they were reading a book produced by a haunted printing press.

For inspiration, I turned to two well-known albums: Nirvana’s In Utero and Nine Inch Nails’ Broken. Both albums are considered sharp left-turns because they veered deep into abrasive, harsh, alienating waters from artists who experienced commercial success from their previous albums. I always find it fascinating when artists willingly show their ugly side when money’s on the line.

There was a long period in my life when I stopped listening to Nirvana because I thought “grunge” was a boring genre and—ugh—everyone listened to Nirvana. The songs were ubiquitous on the radio, and it came to a point when I didn’t know if “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was actually a good song, or if it was just lionized it after Cobain’s death.

It wasn’t until the 2013 reissue of In Utero that I decided to give Nirvana another chance. My brother owned that CD when we were young (the Walmart edited version, with “Waif Me” instead of “Rape Me”), but it had been maybe 15 years since I listened to it. In the intervening years, I had become familiar with In Utero producer Steve Albini’s other projects (Big Black and Shellac) and considered myself a fan of his curmudgeonly subversiveness and provocation. I was interested in seeing how In Utero held up.

That first dive back in was a jarring experience, especially since I was so used to the radio polish of songs “Come As You Are” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Yes, In Utero has “Heart-Shaped Box” and “All Apologies,” but the rest of the album is fucking insane. There’s nothing gentle about it. The vocals sound like they’re sung into a trashcan, and the drums are relentlessly pummeling (the drum sounds on In Utero, especially on “Scentless Apprentice,” may be my favorite of all time). The corporate hesitancy to release such an abrasive record is well-documented, but I would’ve loved to be a fly on the wall when a record exec—hoping for another “Teen Spirit”—turned on “Tourettes”.

Nine Inch Nails’ Broken EP, is another one that I wasn’t really familiar with until recently. I mean, growing up in a Mormon household made all Nine Inch Nails’ music inherently scary— it didn’t matter if it was from Pretty Hate Machine or the Downward Spiral, so I can’t say I had the mettle to analyze both until later.

But then I read this essay by Aaron Burch, which tackles Broken better and more in-depth than I plan to do here— and again, I was infatuated with the idea of an intentionally-abrasive piece of art. I finally got around to listening to Broken, and, yeah, it’s harsh. Its predecessor Pretty Hate Machine is not exactly gentle, but it contains nothing as trashy as tracks like “Wish.” The whole EP, sounds drowned in industrial beats and distortion, but it’s an obvious keystone to understanding the brilliance of The Downward Spiral and The Fragile that came afterwards.

Plus, according to the wiki: “Reznor said he wanted the album to be ‘an ultra-fast chunk of death” for the listener, something that would “make your ears a little scratchy’.”

“A little scratchy.” I love that. So, if The Eighties can make your eyes a little scratchy as well, then my work is done.


You can order Black Candies: The Eighties here.



This is what happens when your mom designs your book ad

Oh boy.

So, recently, I published a book. It’s called Horror Businessand as the title suggests, it’s a horror novel.

The basic plot involves a horror movie-obsessed kid and the weirdness that begins to happen in the small town where he lives. The reason you need to know that is because the setting is very inspired by my own childhood and adolescence growing up in Park City, Utah.

I grew up reading The Park Record, Park City’s local newspaper, and still love reading it when I visit home. I think that it still holds a certain charm—a charm which has disappeared in most media outlets who’ve tried to make their content globally accessible.

Now, imagine my surprise and joy when I found out my mom bought a digital ad on the Park Record‘s online and mobile sites. (If you don’t see it, you may have to refresh a couple/lot of times).

One thing you have to know about my mom: we share the same sense of humor. Combine that with some decent Photoshop skills and this is what you get.

First off, it’s an animated gif, because of course it is.

(Screenshots from mobile site).


photo 1

First slide

Thought processes: All right, there’s the book cover… good, good… ‘Park City author Ryan Bradford’. Nice local angle… 

Wait. “Scarier than Stephen King”? 

“Who said that?” I asked.

“I said it!”  my mom said. And then after a moment of silence of not knowing how to respond to that, she added: “Scare quotes!… Get it?”

Also, please note her masterful use of the Chiller font.


photo 2Second slide

Thought processes:

· Wow. 

· Three exclamation points! (!!!) 

· My black-dyed, pseudo-goateed senior picture, taken over ten years ago–as if people are running to their PCHS ’03 yearbook to validate it? I dunno.

More Chiller! So much Chiller.

– G-g-g-ghost clip art.

Why is my mom’s dog Sophie, looking possessed, on there? And what’s she saying? “Scarier than Clive B—” Oh. 

Anyway, so much awesome. The book’s pretty good too. Some smart lit people think it’s pretty good. And some very smart people think it’s scarier than Stephen King.

Horror Business blog tour

To support the release of my book Horror BusinessI wrote a lot of guest posts on other people’s blogs. It was a good fun! Many thanks to everyone who let me infest their virtual space.

Here’s a round-up of what went down.

· Here’s an interview on We Do Write. Sample question: Finish this sentence: If I’m not writing, I’m probably
Shivering and scared of the world.

· Mythical Books asked me why we like to read/watch horror. I talked anxiety and Thomas Ligotti, among other things.

· Over at Book Lover’s Life, I listed the top things you need to know about Horror Business. (oh god, I hope people still like to read lists)

· I wrote about writing sexxxx scenes over at Souls Readers.

· Marlene Moss over at On Writing and Riding interviewed me. Subjects we covered were subliminal marketing and Tim Allen.

· Finally, I talked with Mommabears Book Blog about the influence the film The Evil Dead has had on Horror Business.


Horror Business: Jim Ruland

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?

Never assume anything about Jim Rulandhe’s a man of surprises.

A couple years ago, when I delivered mail, I would try to find the most quiet and secluded streets to take my breaks. It was such a harried and exhausting job that even a 15 minute moment of quiet felt akin to Buddhist enlightenment, and I always had a paperback on hand.

One of those books happened to be Ruland’s short story collection, Big Lonesome. The copy on the back promised me “hard-boiled” stories, which felt entertaining enough, and perfect for the short bursts of serenity.

During this time, I was delivering mail in a neighborhood in San Diego called Point Loma—a rich part of town that also happens to have some of the most peaceful streets in its upper regions.

I parked the mail truck, cracked Big Lonesome open and landed on a story called “Brains for Bengo,” ready for some hard crime or easily-digestible noirish fare.

That story scared the shit out of me. When I was finished, I looked up and the peaceful environment had become isolating and haunted. The soft breeze now felt menacing. I booked it out of there, eager to be around other people.

Point is: Ruland strikes when you’re not expecting it, and he’s damn good at it. His calm demeanor hides a darkness that bleeds out on the page. This year alone (in his effort to make all other writers [i.e. me] look like lazy wasteoids) he put out Giving the Fingera memoir that he co-wrote—AND Forest of Fortune, his debut novel. Forest of Fortune is a hilarious and haunting book that showcases his unparalleled skill in combining surreal and frightening elements with noir, history, and comedy. I loved it.

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


JR: Salem’s Lot.

Salem’s Lot was released as a two-part TV miniseries that scared the piss out of me when I was 11 years old. I know what you’re thinking: You were scared of a made-for-television movie? Trust me. This one was different.

The movie was based on a Stephen King novel about a writer who returns to his hometown in Maine (I know, shocker) and discovers that it’s being taken over by vampires.

Most horror movies shown on TV where chopped-up versions of R-rated movies that had the sex, violence and gore clumsily edited out and dubbed over. They weren’t very fun to watch except that if you sat through a movie on TV, getting to see the unedited version later on a friend’s VCR was a secret thrill.

Salem’s Lot was different. Because it was made for TV, the thrills were expressed not with violence and gore but with atmosphere and mood, and it was directed by Tobe Hooper, the same guy who made The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

In the movie, a young boy named Ralphie Glick goes missing. His family thinks he’s been abducted but the audience knows the truth: he’s been turned into a vampire. His brother Danny finds this out the hard way when Ralphie turns up one night, tapping on his bedroom window. Somehow Danny doesn’t notice that Ralphie is fucking floating in the air and opens the window for him.

Now it’s on and these creepy Glick Brothers are tapping on windows all over town and going on a blood-sucking rampage. Danny sets his sights on his friend, Mark Petrie, a horror movie buff with a Luke Skywalker haircut. Mark knows his monster movies and he repels Danny with a cross. You can watch the scene here.

What Hooper does so well with these scenes is make them heavy rather than scary. There are no special effects. No CGI. No gotcha moments to make you jump. Just the Glick brothers in some make-up and creepy contact lenses. We see Danny as Mark wants to see him: as his friend, but as the vampire emerges from the fog it’s clear what has happened to him. In the scene, Mark is crying not because he’s scared – he’s the only one in Salem’s Lot who isn’t losing his shit – but because he knows what’s happened to his friend: he’s dead. Worse than dead, actually. He’s a fucking vampire.


When I saw Salem’s Lot, I lived in a house in a tree-lined neighborhood in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. My bedroom was in the basement: dark and cold and far from my parents’ room. After watching Salem’s Lot, I slept on the couch in the living room for the night. One night turned into a week. A week into two. I must have slept out there for over a month. My parents talked to me about it a couple of times but I refused to go back down to the basement. Even though I felt safer in the living room, sleeping up there was no less terrifying.

Our living room had these big ass windows that any passing vampire could float right up to. Even worse, right outside the window was an oak tree whose branches would scrape the window at the slightest breeze. The wind would blow, the branches would go skittering across the glass, and I’d expect to see Danny fucking Glick inviting me out for a bite. It’s a miracle I didn’t have a nervous breakdown.


Salem’s Lot is still a heavy movie for me. My cousin, who was also named Mark, was a lot like Mark Petrie: a guy who was obsessed with monster movies. My cousin grew up idolizing the people who made horror movies and when he grew up he made good on his childhood dream by becoming a screenwriter. If you’re still reading this, there’s a good chance you’ve seen his movie Pumpkinhead.

Looking back it’s easy to see how Salem’s Lot might have influenced Mark’s first movie Neon Maniacs, which also features a girl who loves monster movies. (She was a he in the original screenplay, but whatever.) There aren’t any vampires in Mark’s movie and Neon Maniacs isn’t nearly as nuanced as Salem’s Lot (it’s a low-budget ‘80s slasher flick) but I love how the kid’s knowledge of the secret lore of monster movies allows her to put her fears aside and beat back the demons who are making her life hell.

Sadly, my cousin’s career was cut short by mental illness. In the weeks before his death, I remember feeling a lot like Mark Petrie, helplessly watching as my cousin’s illness transformed him into something unrecognizable, something dangerously un-Mark. The knowledge that saved the day in the movies, couldn’t save my cousin in real life.


It’s been 35 years since I first saw Salem’s Lot and I’m still haunted by the Glick Brothers. The damage has been done. It’s part of who I am. The fear has been encoded into my DNA.

But if you come over to my house someday, and you catch me napping on the sofa in the living room, whatever you do, don’t start tapping on the window and calling my name.

One of us might not live to regret it.


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?


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.


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.


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?