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.
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?