My obsession with horror began when I was two or three years old. While kids my age were sipping on Juicy Juice, eating pretzel sticks and watching Sesame Street, I was sipping on Juicy Juice, eating pretzel sticks and being shouted at to cover my eyes when Lynda van der Klok’s boobs graced the screen. Even when I was watching alone, I knew to cover my eyes because I was a good kid (and a dweeb) and that’s what good kids (and dweebs) do.
Though I’d eventually find my love for supernatural and psychological horror, slasher films are the seeds that sprouted my undying affection for the genre. Born into the 1990’s- a time of grunge, colorful commercials, and more boy bands than you could shake a stick at- I was fortunate enough to grow up watching the classic films of the subgenre, in addition to witnessing the deconstruction of the subgenre in the Scream series of films.
When I was old enough to go to school, these movies were all I wanted to talk about with my friends, but of course, none of them had any clue what I was talking about. I vividly remember sitting in the cafeteria while they admired each others Pokémon cards and Power Rangers merch, attempting to start a conversation about how stupid Michael Myers’ mask looked in Halloween 5. Of course, at the time, I was 70% convinced that Myers actually existed, so I contained my shit-talking to a hushed tone.
Within the same vicinity of time, there was an instance on Halloween night that I’ll always look back on with embarrassment and humor. See, of all the slasher films that I’d been watching, Halloween was my favorite. As mentioned, part of me was ultra-fucking convinced that Michael Myers was real and that he’d show up at any given moment and pin me to a wall with his kitchen knife or strangle me to death with a phone cord. On this particular night, while trick ‘r treating with my family around my grandmother’s neighborhood, I came face to face with The Shape.
The porch light was on, the very symbol of having candy to spare for children on their sugar-filled dream of a night, and the front door was open. Only a glass door with a rusty black handle divided the dark hallway and the kids (me) waiting outside of it. At the back of the hallway, a bright white mask could be seen, appearing to float in the thick darkness of the inner house. As the mask drew closer, so did the body it was attached to. For a moment, I was frozen- palms sweating with the anticipation of a tragically young and particularly brutal death. I didn’t even see the bowl of candy in his hands when he arrived at the door. I was focused on the eyes behind the mask, searching for a soul that was hidden by the darkness. When he pushed against the door handle, I snapped out of my state of shock and I did what many characters before me had already done- I ran.
I was a chubby kid and I loved my candy, but even that didn’t fucking matter to me in that moment. I flung my bucket to the ground and hauled ass across the man’s yard, as well as his neighbor’s, until I tripped over my feet and scraped my knee. Expecting Myers to be standing over me when I looked up, knife in hand, I was instead met with the laughter of my family as they explained my fear of Michael Myers to the elderly gentleman wearing his mask. Not my proudest moment.
Though they were laughing at me like a couple of assholes, my love of horror is undeniably an extension of my parents. I grew up with the genre because they allowed me to, and that’s something I’ll always be grateful for. Although, looking back, there’s a solid chance that they introduced me to the genre just to torment me.
There’s no better example of that than our Friday night viewing of Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.
A Nightmare on Elm Street was one of my favorite slasher films growing up, but I’ve always felt that New Nightmare was a superior and more frightening film. My family and I turned off all the lights in the house and watched horror movies together every Friday night, and about halfway through this particular viewing, my mother excused herself to the dark kitchen and let out a frightened scream when she got there. My dad, who probably came up with this scheme in the first place, paused the movie and called out to the silent darkness, waiting to hear if my mom would respond. Only silence was returned, so he rushed to the kitchen and fell silent himself, leaving only my little brother and I in the dark living room, assuming that Freddy Krueger had entered the real world and killed our parents. No Rex to save us, we spent several minutes waiting for our deaths (I suppose we could have ran out of the house, but I was like six so I didn’t think of that shit). When our parents finally ended the joke, they unfortunately did so by suddenly rushing out of the kitchen together, shouting in deep, raspy monster voices to catch us off guard.
Falling between my love for the Halloween and Elm Street franchises were Scream and Friday the 13th. Fortunately, those series of films wouldn’t lead to psychological torment from my parents, but would continue to shape my love for the genre. Though I’m a huge fan of the franchise, I’m quick to admit that the original Friday the 13th falls more towards the middle of my personal favorites. Don’t crucify me- I still dig it, it’s just not the film that stuck with me growing up. My favorite entry, and the one I believe to be the best of the series, is Jason Lives.
Putting the camp in Crystal Lake, Jason Lives wore its cheesiness like a badge of honor, turning Jason into a Universal Monster-like creature. It was both funny and frightening to watch as a kid, and to this day it remains one of my all-time favorite slasher films. The most frightening that Jason has ever been to me, however, was in The Final Chapter. Perhaps that fear stemmed from being a horror-loving child and connecting with young Tommy Jarvis. Watching a child go up against a seemingly unstoppable killer always made me feel as though that type of thing could happen to a kid, and putting myself in those shoes was goddamn horrifying.
More-so than the other slasher films, Scream and Scream 2 had a vast influence on my childhood. Though Halloween remains my favorite, as a child of the 90’s, Scream was my slasher franchise. I instantly connected with the self-aware dialogue, tropes, and the horror knowledgeable characters. Though Ghostface wasn’t as scary as the big three villains, the character became the subject of games I’d play with my brother and cousin. Each of us would take turns as the killer while the others ran around the backyard and tried to survive. While it was fun to be Ghostface and torment everybody, it was equally frustrating because none of us wanted to fucking die. “No, I’m not dead!” and “You can’t kill me!” were often shouted and fought over, which isn’t quite how mortality works, but we were young.
Of course there were other slasher films that I’d frequently visit too- The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Child’s Play, and Sleepaway Camp to name a few- and each of them, though maybe not as significantly, molded a loving appreciation for horror that continues to grow and evolve all these years later. That love has heavily influenced my life and the career I’m chasing, and it all began with Juicy Juice, pretzel sticks, and slasher films.