Saturday, January 4, 2014

A History of Horror - My Relationship With the Genre

I have much to say about my history with horror, but first, visit me on Twitter! I'm not much for social media - I really am not - but Twitter is nice.

Anywho, I'm here to talk about how I got into horror.


In about first or second grade, I read an abridged version of Bram Stoker's Gothic novel, Dracula (the Classic Starts version). It promptly became my favorite book. Then I watched Francis Ford Coppola's film, and it became even more dear to me.

The conflicting Draculas in Coppola's film - The handsome, respectable aristocrat (Gary Oldman), and the blood-stained, foul Nosferatu.

To be sure, that film is not appropriate for first or second graders. It's rated R. But my parents were - and are - awesome.

So, with Dracula my favorite novel and film, I cheerily went into a literary world of madness, murder, and horror.


My next big discovery was in third grade and it happened quite by chance. I was searching through books at a book sale when my friend's older sister asked if we liked Great Classics Illustrated. She produced a book entitled Tales of Mystery and Terror by Edgar Allan Poe.

My friend and I did like that series to some extent. I daresay I read it a tad more than my friend - or perhaps I read less 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea stories as I did The Mysterious Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde tales.

Now, as my interest in horror had been exited a year or two previous, a book with a title like Tales of Mystery and Terror was intriguing and a must have. Edgar Allan Poe...where had I heard that name before? Oh yes - my father had read a bit of The Raven to me a long time previous, saying it was the best Halloween poem ever. Yes, yes...I definitely must read that book.

But my friend (whose name was Kyle) was apt to snatch up the book before I did and quickly bought it (while I desperately tried to persuade him to give it to me). I offered him the rest of my money. I offered to take up his tedious job of taking guesses in a jar. I offered him a lot of things. But nay, all was in vain.

Kyle did read the book. He told me something of The Tell-Tale Heart. Yes, he did say something of the Vulture Eye. But I do not believe he enjoyed it as much as 20,000 Leagues. Jules Verne will always be more of his author, although I do love that writer.

Call me spoiled, but when I got home, I asked my mother if she could order the book on Amazon. She did, and, what's more, she also ordered Gris Grimly's adaptation of four Poe tales (Edgar Allan Poe's Tales of Mystery and Madness) and ANOTHER unrelated book called Grimmericks (like "limericks") illustrated by Gris Grimly and written by Susan Something-or-other.

When these generous packages arrived, the first book I opened was, surprisingly, the Gris Grimly Poe adaptation. I read the entire tale of The Masque of the Red Death - which, mind you, was only adapted to the point where sentences and words were being clipped but the real body of text was still there. It immediately became one of my favorite stories, and eventually my favorite Poe text, and even to the point where it was my favorite short story (period!).

The cover of the Gris Grimly Poe adaptation.

Thus encouraged, I went forward down the dark and dismal path.


One day in Barnes & Noble, I was debating between two Goosebumps books. As a children's series, it remains one of my favorites. The fact that it was all scary stories (and the gateway drug to reading for billions of kids) keeps it close to my heart. I met R.L. Stine once and I still have the autographed book!

The books were Phantom of the Auditorium and The Five Masks of Doctor Screem. This was a difficult choice. I was about to pick one when something caught the corner of my eye.

It was the Classic Starts adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux.

It wasn't just the fact that Classic Starts and I had a good history that prompted me to ask for THAT book over the two Goosebumps tales. It was the facts that:

  • It was supposed to be a great classic horror story with a dash of romance. I liked that because of what Francis Ford Coppola had done with Dracula.
  • I had seen commercials for the musical on TV and it looked pretty good.
I read the pseudo-detective-horror-romantic-historical fiction-tragedy and thought it was pretty good (although the ending with the torture chamber was a TAD overdone). I enjoyed it very much.

Turns out that I got the book because Mom was taking me to the dentist that afternoon. Shoot! Should've seen that coming...

Then, on the way to my annual trip to Ireland (I have family there), Mom mentioned the smash-hit musical that had classics like "All I Ask of You" and "The Music of the Night." She said that I might like to see it. I would.

Shortly into the beginning of fourth grade (towards the end of September or October), I went to see my first Broadway show - The Phantom of the Opera.

On the train to the city, I remember wondering how they were going to do Erik's Mazandaran torture chamber. I forgot the fact that they might cut and change some things! My father also mentioned that he'd heard the chandelier fell and wanted to know if I'd be scared. I couldn't believe it! I thought it was amazing that they made the chandelier really fall!

I remember a sense of anticipation during the Prologue and fear during the Overture. I'll never forget those moments. I really did love that chilling Overture - that's a marvel of timing and direction! I loved everything about the show. My dad detested the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber - he said it was dated (kind of) and the theme was just a scale (kind of), but one man's noise is his son's music.

The Phantom and Christine on the lake in the titular song.

I've recently collected a large selection of Phantom memorabilia, and even boast a signed, illustrated (by Anne Bachelier) copy of which there are 1,000 of. That thing cost $150, but Anne Bachelier did very well (although I didn't like her drawings of Christine). I've seen the show thrice and hope to see the tour production when it stops in Philadelphia.

And then I saw a gloomy, blood-stained inn where black cats find out the guilty, where plagues ravage the land, and where eyes intimidate strangers. I knew this place - this dusty old house of guilt, murder, and insanity... 


Sometime in fifth grade, I started reading Poe again. More, and more, and more Poe. I know the first two stanzas of The Raven by heart. I know, more or less, the opening paragraph of The Masque of the Red Death. The Tell-Tale Heart? Easy!

And slowly, Edgar Allan Poe rose to the title of Favorite Author in my mind.

The Ultima Thule daguerreotype of Poe.

Recently, the help of the Vincent Price films spread my growing love of the creator of the detective story, the king of the horror genre, one of the founders of science fiction and dark romanticism, and so on.

But the grim journey was not over.


Recently, I discovered Lovecraft. I knew that he was an acclaimed horror writer - thanks to the anthologies I devoured previously - but I really knew very little. I knew Cthulhu, for as a little kid I had a book on monsters and Cthulhu was one of them - but I really knew very little of his work. So I picked up Barnes and Noble's 20 story edition and read a few of them. I enjoyed them very much.

Thanks to great sites like the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, or amazing concept albums like Dreams in the Witch House, my interest in Lovecraft has been fed well. I do oh so love his work. I give great thanks to the aforementioned.

The Dreams in the Witch House poster (note how it says "Autumn 2013" in the bottom right corner). Nightmarish cover art by Carlos Garcia Rivera.

I recently got my younger brother into Lovecraft, and I really would like to thank those people.


So, here's the overview.

  • Dracula is my favorite novel.
  • Edgar Allan Poe is my favorite author.
  • The Phantom of the Opera is one of my favorite detective stories and my favorite stage show.
  • H.P. Lovecraft is my second favorite author and has the impact on my brother.
And there is my history of horror.

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