Horror Mounts

Horror Mounts
A guest post by Sandi Leibowitz

The noive of me, to agree to write a blog post for the Niteblade blog train.  (Forgive me, I just returned from California and am at my most New Yawkish.)  I have a confession to make:  I don’t “do” horror.  Don’t read it, don’t watch it.

The more I thought about it, I realized—well, I do in fact “do” horror, in my limited way.

I was one of those kids who rushed home from school every day to see “Dark Shadows.”  When I went off to sleep-away camp in the summers—it was agony to miss what was going on with Barnabas and the rest.  What was the big draw?

Setting, I think, came first.  Seriously, I was meant to live in the Old House at Collinwood.  I need mahogany-paneled corridors, a west wing unused by anyone but ghosts, a widow’s walk overlooking the sea, portraits of someone’s ancestors on the walls.  When the day arrives that I must use a cane, I positively will insist on one with a silver dog’s head.  Jonathan Frid, requiescat in pace.

Did I merely accept the horror aspects, because of the setting and the casting?  No.  I adored them.  I wanted to know more about vampires and witches and Tarot cards and werewolves and alternate time.   A good friend of mine, who I met in college and also was a DS fan, once mentioned that she was often scared by the program.  I never found it frightening.  I guess this version of horror lured me in because it was completely devoid of gore (which I detest), but reveled in the fantasy elements of horror.

Now that I think of it, in those days Channels 5, 9 and 11, which often aired old movies, sometimes—especially on Sunday afternoons—showed hokey horror films like the ones Vincent Price starred in.  Having gravitated towards “Dark Shadows,” I could hardly resist those.

When I was 11 or so, I discovered Poe.  My parents’ bookcase contained an old, hard-covered copy of Poe’s collected short stories, which I delved into out of curiosity—and then kept going.   I read them ravenously (no pun intended).  The main thing that attracted me was his use of language—that delicious, erudite vocabulary, that poetic use of alliteration!  Secondly, I relished the strange worlds he took me to—torture chambers, Italian castles, decaying mansions.  That shiver when you see the dark corridor he’s been leading you to all along…  The corpses that refuse to stay quite dead.   LOVE IT.

So—I DO “do” vampires and werewolves.  And ghosts.  And witchcraft.  Just no zombies (decomposition–yuck).

Ah, and later on, I was absolutely addicted to the “Night Gallery” series.  I remember going to school the morning after “Night Gallery” was on, and all my friends excitedly discussing the show.  I gave it up, however, after “The Doll” episode because it freaked me out.

So, so much for me not watching horror.  Well, I don’t READ horror.

Oh, unless you’re talking about the Anne Rice books, which I devoured in the 80s.  OK, I guess I do “do” horror, after all.

However, I’m not a horror writer.  I’m a fantasy writer, often dark.—Well, in fact last November Niteblade published my poems “The Cat Accursed” (based on a friend’s story of an Eastern European Jewish superstition, as reported by her grandfather) and “Allegory of Time”, and is about to publish “Crimson-Hooded,” a dark take on Little Red Riding Hood, where Granny devours more than just muffins.  And I’ve recently written two stories about the unruly dead and a poem about an island of creepy blindfolded crows, based on a dream.  Son of a gun, I guess I’m a horror writer.  Who knew?

So, I’ve been musing, why do people gravitate to horror?  What does it do for us?

I’m not one to run to Aristotle for my literary theory, but I do think that we enjoy horror, just as we enjoy tragedy, for the sense of catharsis.  I’m sure this isn’t a profound or novel analysis, but I think it must be true.

Life is filled with horror.  Filled.  This summer I’ve been dealing (albeit second-hand) with a lot of real-life horror.  A good friend of mine is spending over a month in Sloan-Kettering trying a new treatment for leukemia, since the last one didn’t work.  At the same time, another close friend has spent most of her summer in Florida looking after her hospitalized mother.  She’s in the same hospital where my mother died in 2008.  Talking to my friend brings me back to a place I don’t want to be.  Horror.

This year, two former students of mine were in the news.  The first was a teenager arrested for attempting to bomb synagogues and rabbis’ homes.  This would-be murderer was once a child to whom I read stories and taught the ins-and-outs of the Dewey Decimal System.  I helped him pick out books.  I wonder if he was one of those boys who only read R.L. Stine—I can’t remember.  Horror.

The second one was a boy who, with his older brother, was the victim of a freak accident; a metal laundry pole crashed onto them while they were playing in their back yard, injuring one and killing my student, the kindergartener.  Horror.

As I started thinking about writing this blog, the tragic shootings occurred in Aurora, Colorado.  What better example of real-life horror does one need?

We all know that at any moment, we could be hit by a car, or stricken by a disease, or become a victim of a fire or a mugging.  In July, I stayed home from my beloved monthly writers’ critique group meeting because of a massive thunderstorm going on at just the moment I was leaving my apartment.  I’ve never seen such intense, frequent lightning strikes.  Next day the news reported that a woman was killed by lightning not far from where I live.

Part of the pleasure of reading/watching horror is that we get to contain the things that terrify us.  Leukemia, mad gunmen, lightning—nothing you can do about those.  It will happen to you or you’ll be spared.  But ah—the horror in a book or movie—you feel the terror—but, no matter what happens to the characters, you survive unscathed.  And you don’t have to suffer from survivor-guilt.

What’s curious about the Aurora killings is the fact that they occurred in a movie theatre.  The people attending the movie were there to experience violence and horror and adventure vicariously—not in the flesh.  What was the gunman’s reason for picking a movie theatre?  This movie?  Is it that the vicarious experience of horror for him wasn’t enough?  It didn’t provide him with catharsis.  It only egged him on in wanting to partake of the creation—but not in an actually creative way.  Instead of writing a horror novel, or a dark fantasy poem, he felt the need to make it happen in real life.

Here’s to facing our terrors, our dark sides, in creative rather than destructive ways.  Read Niteblade, paint a portrait of a vampire, write a poem about succubi.  Keep the nightmares where they belong: in our actual dreams and in our art.

Well, I have survived my trip to California.  I’m afraid of heights and not keen on driving.  I’d been concerned about all the driving (alone) on Route 1, along the coast (but not down on the shoreline; up on the cliffs).  Parts of it were just as terrifying as I had feared.  Some parts worse.  I mean, no guard rails?  One false step and it’s—car off the road, tumbling down the cliffs, splashing into the ocean.  I spent days and days and days driving.  As time progressed, my fear didn’t lessen; it grew.  I cut three days off the northernmost portion of the trip because I was incapable of enduring yet another moment of “cliff-crawling.”

Having lived through terror (the red lines incised in my palms from gripping the steering wheel while cliff-crawling are proof), I am now ready to sit back, relax, and ride the Niteblade blog train.


A Note From Rhonda: The blog train continues on with a stop at Andrew Patterson’s blog tomorrow, and in case you didn’t see it, yesterday’s stop was at Sharon K. Reamer’s blog.

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