Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Drago Goes to the Movies or How I Learned to Love Writing Horror Stories (Pt. 1)

Why I Write Horror (Pt. 1)

This is the first in a series of entries about what inspired me to write horror stories. I've started with movies as they've always been an integral part of who I am as an artist. My first ambition was to be a filmmaker. As children, my younger brother and I would spend hours pretending our bedroom was a movie studio. We'd develop scripts and act at our stories as if the cameras were rolling. Those are some of the finest memories I have of my childhood. You'll notice a concentration of movies in the early 80s. This is when I first started writing with intent and absorbed everything I could as an artist. I kept this list to ten. It isn't intended to be a reckoning of the scariest or the best horror movies ever made. Not even close. It's only a compilation of what influenced me at various moments in my life.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
The first of a handful of scary movies I watched on Saturday mornings while growing up in NYC. This film was really my first introduction to the classics: Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man. It might surprise you to know that the character who resonated with me the most at the time was the Wolf Man. Lon Chaney Jr.'s portrayal of a disconsolate, misunderstood villain incited my early interest in monsters and my portrait of compassion for those less fortunate. He's the reason I give my heroes flaws. We're compelled to shoulder those who are imperfect.

The Blob (1958)
Clearly, no movie has ever frightened me more in my entire life than The Blob. I shudder even now when I picture that mournful old man digging around in the molten meteor as the film opens. The power to consume is frightening. I have a dread of being eaten alive. Many of the villains I create in my stories are the Blob, often in human form.  

Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster (1972)
My horror stories include their fair share of science fiction. Godzilla as a metaphor for nuclear destruction; the Smog Monster as the embodiment of human corruption and waste. Even as a child I understood these concepts. They scared the shit out of me. Still do. I love cheering for monsters. Godzilla was my ultimate childhood hero.


The Shining (1980)
The first horror movie that gave me pause as an artist. This was before I read the novel. I now understand the film to be something completely different than what Stephen King wrote. Stanley Kubrick used only the title of the source material and the character names. Nothing else is the same. I love both. I watched this movie dozens of times on bootlegged HBO and VHS. It made me start thinking about how characters evolve, interact. The vulnerability of children. The destructive force of humanity. The power of love and thought. I embrace all these themes in my writing. It forced me to understand how films tell stories with camera shots and editing. After seeing this movie, I wanted that authorship and control.


An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Another film watched endlessly on HBO and VHS. Looking back, the movie reminds me more of Dracula than anything else. The mystery of the moor, the insidious locals, the haunting zombies, the graphic violence all quenched my thirst for everything graphic. I appreciated the understated humor. The special effects and rhythmic chords of "Bad Moon Rising" during the initial transformation sequence were enough to captivate my youthful vigor.  A big influence on the early horror stories I crafted with pen and paper in my bedroom after dark.

Silent Rage (1982)
This critical and box office failure retells the Frankenstein story. I loved it. I often wonder if my Sheriff Brad Gleason is the reincarnation of this Chuck Norris character, but without the martial arts expertise. I'm often impressed with the subtle presence of science fiction in horror. The medical lab and genetic modifications are in Queensboro. Like the Wolf Man, I have pity on the monster, a mentally ill patient who violently murders members of his family. I appreciate how the film blurs the lines of good and evil and punches home the notion that evil can never be stopped. It's why I enjoy placing cliffhangers at the ends of chapters and entire novels.

Poltergeist (1982)
Probably my all-time favorite horror movie. Spielberg doesn't get credit for directing, but his signature's all over this nail-biter. My mom lost a baby girl a few short months after this release. In some ways, I always connected her loss with the little girl who gets taken in Poltergeist and equated the terror and heartfelt anger of JoBeth Williams with all the pain my mom endured. This film infuses everything I've ever written.

The Fly (1986)
Jeff Goldblum's best role. My heart breaks for him when that little fly gets caught in the pod. His decay and futile attempts to resist the transformation only serve to increase my empathy. By this time, I was reading and writing horror at a rate I've never equalled. The Fly fed my appetite for the grotesque while massaging my compassion for the diseased. The special effects of Brundlefly impress me even today. The tagline "Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid." could be the best ever.

Event Horizon (1997)
After a lull in writing once I graduated college, I had a short run publishing short stories again in the late 90s. This film reinvigorated my passion for horror while feeding my literary stroke for more science fiction. The mysteries of the universe and the isolation of deep space create an intriguing landscape for this disturbing film and my creative output. I visit its domain in my latest novel Winter where villain Amanda Simmons attempts to build a bridge through space-time and across parallel dimensions.

Super 8 (2011)
This movie was Stranger Things before Stranger Things ever happened. It re-awakened my soul to everything I did and wrote while growing up at the dawn of the 80s. Super 8 is directly responsible for my Crow Creek series. The film explores the relationship between father and son and exposes the challenges of dealing with loss. I watched not only with a nostalgic yearning for my childhood but also with the hope and longing for what the future held for my writing. Since its release, I've written five novels, six short stories, and two plays. The second most prolific run of my career.

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