Sunday, July 13, 2008

Real Life with a Twist

''Horror is an unknown actress, perhaps the girl next door, cowering in a cabin with a knife in her hands we know she'll never be able to use.''
- Stephen King

The Strangers, Liv Tyler:
''Why are you doing this to us?'' she whispers.
To which the woman in the doll-face mask responds: ''Because you were home.''
- -
And from two amazing screenplays by Kevin Andrew Walker:
8mm, The Machine talking to Detective Welles
"What did you expect? A monster? You want to know why I do this? Daddy didn't beat me. Mommy didn't neglect me. I do it because I like to do it."
- -
Se7en, Detective Somerset, Detective Mills, and Police Captain talking..
What about the trace on his bank account
and the guns? There must be something to
connect him with a past.

So far it's all dead ends. No credit
history. No employment history. His bank
account's only five years old and it
started as cash. We're even trying to
trace his furniture, but for now all we
know is he's independently wealth, well
educated and totally insane. We may never
know how he got that way.

Because he is John Doe, by choice.

- -

There's an excellent article by Stephen King in this week's Entertainment Weekly (thanks for the heads up, John) about horror and what it really is, and why Hollywood Studio Suits should put the crack pipe down and get back to the nuts and bolts of what scares the shit out of people.

You can check it out by clicking here

But I've been thinking about it a lot lately myself and the things that have made that odd little tingle go up my spine. Not just in movies, but in real life - because that's the basis of things that work in horror books and movies.

It's real life with just a tiny little twist... looking at reality with a pair of shades on. When I was in Philadelphia going to college and for a good while after I graduated, I used to clip out newspaper clippings of bad crimes or oddball stories.

I've got one about some guy in Milwaukee that police arrested on charges of cannibalism and "as yet unconfirmed necrophilia." Some swell guy named Dahmer.

The things that I've seen that have unnerved me?

When I lived in Philadelphia in front of my apartment building.

A four inch piece of leather belt from some guy on a bicycle that was run off the street into a plate glass window. The blood was washed off the street but somehow the cops and the clean-up crew forgot that little piece of sliced belt.


One of the first homeless people I saw in Philly; some girl, looking all of maybe fifteen, sixteen at the most. Her face was a little slack and you could tell mentally she wasn't quite together. Her face was dirty and she held a flannel blanket tightly at her side as if it was life itself. The expression she held was one of immense confusion and she looked about as lost as anyone I'd ever seen. It was the expression you see in Emergency Rooms at three in the morning when someone has just been told their husband or child is dead. That look of not knowing what to do next.. not now... not ever again.

I slipped her a few bucks here and there for the next few weeks - always on the same street corner. Sometimes she was awake, others she was sleeping near the steam grate. And then, suddenly, she was gone and I never saw her again. I often wonder what happened to her.

If that happened now, I'd most likely try to help her.. steer her somewhere so she could be taken care of. But back then, I was a young stupid 19 year old living in the largest city he'd ever been in before.

I often wonder what happened to her and worse, how she got there in the first place.

- -

On my honeymoon, my wife and I drove back through alligator alley and up into Georgia on our return trip from Florida. I didn't realize that major routes on Rand and McNally maps sometimes turned into dirt roads in Georgia. I also didn't realize that many homes in that region are built from nailed together warehouse skids, their bottom edges gradients of rich red Georgia clay.

I don't think - even while traveling through the gypsytowns of West Virginia - that I've ever been as sketched out while on a trip. I had a healthy fear - a legit one I believe - that if our car broke down, my long-haired self would have been in some dire jeopardy.

In the city, gangstas will shoot your ass.

In the sticks, hillbillies will turn you into the family pet.

- -

The summer after I got out of seventh grade, my parents decided to move to Pennsylvania from Maryland. Like most of my friend's parents, they were hard working blue collar stock, and moving to the cheaper land prices of Pennsylvania meant they'd be buying their first house.

To say it was a fixer-upper would be putting it mildly. But my mother saw opportunity. My father saw a lot of busy weekends with a power saw and a 16 oz carpenter's hammer.

The property was just shy of three acres if I remember correctly, and beside the main house that we were going to live in, there was another house, a medium sized work shop/garage, and two small mobile homes.

There was a man there by the name of Jack Lease and he was insane. I've got to go back through my blog archives, but I'm pretty sure I may have mentioned him before and the pranks of my mother while cleaning up Jack's utter messes. The remnants that he left behind... to imply that they were the rantings of a very disturbed mind would be a huge understatement. It was like reading the journals of Satan with a hangover. There were very logical statements mixed with absolutely ridiculous sentences. Ramblings with a list of names with large angry underlines with the words "These can be disposed of" beneath them.

50 Gallon oil drums dragged into the trailers. A small campfire circle of cut off telephone poles. Canned tomatoes, stewed vegetables. Dirty forks and steak knives with odd stains on them. Correspondence from strange companies. A few nudie magazines and piles upon piles upon piles of dirty clothes. Jack had no legal right to be there. He was a squatter. Came upon the place - abandoned - one day, and decided it might be a nice place to live. He was known to ride around the property on a lawn mower with a pair of overalls and a wool Elmer Fudd hat.

Crazy. Absolutely bugfuck crazy.

But I remember thinking what in the hell was wrong with this guy? What happened in his life to make him like this? Was he born like that or did some tragedy happen? Was he in a war? Post-war stress? A little Agent Orange cocktail turn his mind into silly putty?

This unknown, this person who I'd seen but didn't know. This unstable frame of mind freaked me out. At least I knew where vampires and werewolves stood. There were rules man... silver bullets and holy water... full moon, sleep in a coffin. They were predictable.

Not this guy. He'd as soon mow a lawn for you as do a little Ginsu magic and put you in some canning jars for a long cold winter.

After he left and we moved in, I'd see him from time to time in town. He'd see my grandfather drive in to pick up feed from the grain mill or else I'd be riding my bike and see him walking around. He'd look. And I knew he remembered me.

Worse than vampires or werewolves. Worse than that queen bitch Alien dripping acid blood. Worse than Freddy Krueger messing with my dreams or
the serial killer wearing a pale white William Shatner mask wanting to snuggle up to Jamie Lee Curtis...

Jack... was real life with a twist.

And that made him freak me out more than anything Hollywood could pump out.

So.. what does horror mean to you?


Anonymous Anonymous said...


As a kid, my overactive imagination scared the crap out of me on a regular basis, without much effort. Unlike today's kids that are jaded from watching too many movies and understanding how they did the effects, I allowed myself to believe completely while reading/watching, and let my imagination take each scene to the next level.

As an adult, while I still have a crazy imagination, horror has developed into something different. Done correctly, someone else's vision/idea can still scare the crap out me, but on a more personal level, it's what I either cannot control, or have lost control of--and yes, it is often real life with a twist. I.E. My new neighbor, the pedophile. Or when my son [then 2-1/2] got an infection from another doctor's shabby stitch job and the doc fixing the situation said, "we're keeping him for observation until we're sure this isn't going to break through the membrane behind his eye and infect his brain." Ever swallowed your heart? I have.

7:32 AM  

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