Sunday, May 17, 2009

Me and Horror, Part One

When did I start liking horror?  That's a hard question to answer.  My guess is I was probably about 4 years old and living in Tallahassee, Florida when I (or my parents, I don't remember) turned on the TV and there was this guy in a shiny silver suit battling a fierce-looking lumpy reptilian creature.  It was about the coolest thing I'd ever seen.  The show was "Ultra-Man," and I fell in love with it immediately.  

Now, I never much liked the silver suit dude -- but those creatures he fought, woo boy!  Boy, I always hoped he'd get his chrome-plated ass handed to him by those cool monsters.  He never did.  It's still a fact I regret to this very day.

Well, anyway -- Ultra Man led to Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, Gamra, Gidra and the Smog Monster.  I could not get enough of those Japanese men in suit movies.  And as a kid, I loved the way they kept upping the ante on these movies.  DESTROY ALL MONSTERS was like the ultimate multiple orgasm.  From then on, I'd watch anything with a monster in it.  My choices were limited to what played on TV, but fortunately once my family moved to Ithaca, New York we started to get Channel 11 WPIX -- and they showed a lot of cool 50s monster movies.  I loved REPTILICUS (having seen it recently, I really don't know why.)  But my favorites were THE DEADLY MANTIS and TARANTULA.

A few years later, I discovered the magazine "Famous Monsters of Filmland."  I thought it was so cool, but didn't particularly like the jokey captions underneath the photos.  (I took my monsters seriously.)  Needless to say, my parents didn't much like my taste.  See, I come from a fairly academic family -- my dad's an astronomer/astrophysicist, and my mom's a shrink.  And I'm sure it was my mom who seemed to think that my love of ugly creatures had something to do with my self-image and self-worth.  Aw, fuck that.  I love my mom, but my inner reasons for liking these kinds of things have always been mysterious to me -- and I prefer not to analyze.  Some people like pretty things and cute and fluffy bunny rabbits, but I liked lizards, snakes and monsters -- and I never really thought twice about it.

So I kept watching these movies, kept finding new favorites, and found some that were too damn scary for me to cope with.  HORROR EXPRESS traumatized me -- I had bad dreams about blood and fluids running out of eyeballs for years.  I probably haven't seen that movie since I was ten or eleven, but at that point it was the most horrifying, scary and traumatizing movie I'd ever watched.  

The next turning point came when one day in 1979 I went to Mayer's Smoke Shop (our local magazine store) to get the new issue of "Famous Monsters."  I bent down on my hands and knees (they always put these on the lower shelves) and started searching, when -- holy shit!  I found a new magazine.  One that would alter my life completely.  It was "Fangoria" Issue Number One, and I'd found my people.  I knew then that I wanted to direct horror films someday.  I devoured every issue of Fango -- I distinctly remember reading the same article with John Landis in it about AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON ten times before I got bored of it.  

Hold on, I'm getting a little ahead of myself.  It was Fangoria that got me to go see FRIDAY THE 13th when it came out in theaters.  For all my love of giant monsters and everything else, I'd never really seen one of these movies in a theater -- and let's just say I wasn't emotionally prepared.  When the kid leaped out of the water and grabbed the chick in the canoe, I was so startled it felt like I had died.  (My dad didn't really like this either -- the movie was rated R and, being a good father, he was my guardian that night.)  I shook for three days.

In 7th grade my friend Jonathan and I made our own horror movie.  We called it THE LAWN CHAIR MASSACRE.  We shot it on Super 8 (of course) and it consisted of us crudely trying to emulate those Tom Savini blood tube gags on Jonathan's sister's friends.  We never developed the film.  My next magnum opus was an 8th grade school project.  I conned my teachers into letting me "write" (ie, made up as I went along) and direct an originally titled slasher film, FRENZY.  I did this completely unaware of the '72 Hitchcock film.  Ah, youth.  I even did a cool stop motion title sequence using chalk, a blackboard and some red food coloring.  (That film somehow never got developed, either.)  I think I passed the project on enthusiasm alone.  If either Jonathan Kramnick or Matt (I think that was his name) have these films, please let me know.

Soon, names like "Romero," "Carpenter," "Hooper," and "Cronenberg" were as familiar to me as the names of my friends and family.  As a matter of fact, these directors whom I had never met or corresponded with felt like family.  And in a lot of ways (while it's much more complicated now), they still do.

After I graduated from high school, I went to Bennington College, where I entered my arty stage.  I started listening to a lot of Dead Kennedys, Minor Threat, and The Misfits and reading William Burroughs, Hunter S. Thompson, Jim Carroll and Hubert Selby, Jr.  I still saw all of the horror movies I could and majored in drama, still hoping to direct them someday -- but I have to admit that at this time I was more interested in taking drugs, listening to punk rock and trying to get laid.  This would all change when I moved to Los Angeles...TO BE CONTINUED

Blood, guts & pussy,
Adam G


  1. I love that you are such a horror guy Adam. You don't shift around the subject refusing to be pinned down you just say you're horror and I respect you for that. I hope we get Jace's origins too. And Crocodile 3! Seriously I'll direct!

  2. The Lawn Chair Massacre! I forgot we actually gave it a title. The undeveloped film might still be somewhere in my parents' house. I did develop something we shot (might have been that or Frenzy) in college when I dragged that old super 8 camera out for a road trip to Graceland. Watched it once. I think Gordon Edgar was supposed to transfer all of it to VHS but never did. Maybe he has it! But you're forgetting your first effort at a co-authored screenplay: ONE STEP TOO FAR, our lab experiment gone wrong monster movie. The screenplay was left with Bobby Schneider and then never seen again.

    WPIX, Creature Feature! Every Saturday. That's where we saw all those Karloff, Lugosi movies, no?

  3. Ah yes, Creature Feature, with the six-fingered hand coming up out of the quicksand.

    Adam, I enjoy your blog. It gives me a glimpse into the horror movie world -- one I have very little contact with otherwise. I think that "The Hills Have Eyes" and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (original versions, both) scarred me too deeply to keep watching. (Maybe that's a little dramatic, but both freaked me.)

    I was not aware you were at Bennington while I was across the state at Marlboro...

  4. I always had this weirdly sympathetic view of monsters. When I was a kid I was obsessed with Frankenstein's Monster and the Wolf Man--with whom I was acquainted through Abbott and Costello--but I didn't think they were scary... I wanted to love them! They were so misunderstood! Similarly, my favorite horror film in high school was American Werewolf in London. Poor David! He hated killing people but he couldn't help himself. I pretty much gave up horror for a long time because it was never pure gore that got me (unless it was campy gore like Bloodfeast, the kind it looked like it would be fun to make). I got back into it after 9-11 (psychoanalyze THAT) when I started back in with the Universal classics, moved on to Charles Laughton and Val Lewton, and then saw the Ginger Snaps movies. And I was hooked again. After that, I got less picky and will watch just about anything horror now, though I still avoid pure slasher, cuz it's kinda dumb, and torture stuff, unless it's Japanese. Just don't get much out of it.

    One odd point: at the time I didn't even know it was horror--I didn't know WHAT it was--but I saw part of Suspiria on USA Up All Night when I was about 13, and never forgot it. Hardly surprising that the Italians are now my favorites, bar none...

    Not that you asked or anything...

    Keep writing the blog. Love it!