After recently sitting and recording my first Podcast episode, which for me was a shaky experience and I hope will improve over time, I realized that the greatest thing that the horror genre has brought to its fans is the joy of memories. Going over our Top 5 showed me that a lot of the reasons these particular films were on the lists were not always due to the content of the product, but also due to the happy place it occupied in our brain, whether it was a great film or not. The memory was sometimes more important than the art. Now that can be true of all film, but in my opinion the horror genre is where that idea reigns supreme. I cannot think of one film genre where you actually remember those key moments— where you were, the exact moment, the exact place in your life, how it made you feel. This is what horror films do to humans, whether they want to endure the experience or not.
One of my greatest horror memories, if not the greatest, is going to see the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre at the Fortway Movie Theatre in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, with my mom. It was my tenth birthday and I begged her to take me. The previous year, at the tender age of 9, I was introduced to the world of R-rated horror with a Sunday afternoon birthday showing of Alien. I never looked back. That same week, after witnessing the glory of Alien, I went on an R-rated frenzy and saw Lucio Fulci’s masterpiece Zombi at the Beverly; and the obscure, nonsensical Italian film The Visitor at the Metropolitan downtown.
Part of that underage R-rated film festival was the non-genre classic All That Jazz with Roy Schneider, which was my grandmother’s favorite film. She made it mandatory viewing for all her grandchildren by taking each of them to see it at the Plaza on Flatbush Avenue. A rare non-genre related film memory but still a great one.
After seeing the incredible poster for TCM with Leatherface (who at the time was unknown to me) terrorizing his victim, I begged my mom to take me to see it. Since it was my birthday wish, she granted it. My extremely brave Mother then ventured to the box office at the Fortway where— no exaggeration— the elderly woman looked at her and said, “are you sure you want to take him in there.” I don’t recall my mother’s reply, but I was soon sitting in the theatre waiting for what was undoubtedly going to be one of the greatest experiences of my ten year old existence. It was.
To this day there is no more terrifying scene for me than the reveal of Leatherface. The slamming of the metal door after he drags his first victim into the death chamber left me breathless, in the best way possible. It left my poor mother terrified. She bravely stuck it out, sitting next to me with her hands over her eyes for the rest of the film. When the credits began to roll and her ordeal was over, she informed me that it was the most terrifying experience of her life and that this would never happen again. I was on my own with horror.
Thankfully, I soon discovered the art of sneaking into those incredible “For One Week Only” treasures that seemed to always be playing at the now gone Brooklyn theatres like the Fortway and the Highway. Every week I searched the back pages of the movie ads in the Friday section of the Daily News, knowing that the last ad with the smallest size was going be the greatest movie to see that week. Any exploitation film playing, I was there. Being able to see classics like Zombi, The Gates of Hell, Dr. Butcher and The Evil Dead and still being able to remember what theatre I saw them in are still memories that make me smile.
So, is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre my favorite horror film because it is an unbelievable nightmare made into a masterpiece, which I experienced through the art form of celluloid? Or is it my favorite because of the memories I have of experiencing terror in a dark, grimy theater and the story left to tell? I’d say both. I don’t think any genre of film makes the viewer have these types of emotions.
I guarantee there aren’t as many people who get excited over the first time they heard Orson Welles say Rosebud in Citizen Kane, as there are people who will gladly explain to you how great it was to see a little critter pop out of John Hurt’s chest in Alien. Not taking away or detracting from Citizen Kane; it’s a classic.
But the horror genre is one that inspires fanaticism, joy and a desire to connect with a shared culture like no other. I don’t think we are going to see a Drama convention soon, where we sit in a theater for twenty four hours watching the ten greatest foreign films of all time. I guarantee if one attended a Friday the 13th film festival, there would be a packed house of horror geeks ecstatic over a chance to debate over the Shakespearean motivations of our horror Dane, Jason Voorhies, and his mother’s inspired orgy of mayhem. Film conventions all over the world bring together a community of like-minded people who are able to meet, communicate and debate over this imperative genre— and do so with incredible enthusiasm.
There is no film fan who is willing to sit through more shit than the horror fan, in order to discover a hidden gem. It doesn’t matter what reviews or critics say, the avid horror fan will still watch, searching to create a memory of “holy shit, look what I found,” and discovering a mind-blowing scene in a pile of shit, when no one else could see it. If a critic or friend says a drama or comedy sucked, most are avoiding it; but if they said to avoid a horror flick like the plague, horror fans will probably try to catch the film regardless. We are without a doubt a critic-proof community.
Time and technical progress has definitely minimized the ability to create these great cinematic memories. We no longer have to seek out these films the way we used to. Every Tuesday, as a child, I would run to the corner store and grab the TV Guide. Then I would get my Dad and we would circle all the horror movies so I would remember to watch them, hoping every week that the 4:30 movie on Channel 7 would have Vincent Price week or Planet of the Apes week. Watching that six-fingered hand pop out of the quicksand for the Chiller Theatre intro was terrifying and still eats at me. Now I get to search on You Tube and watch it whenever I want, instead of impatiently waiting for the next Saturday to come and see it again. Something has been lost in the world of immediate gratification.
Now we have streaming services and Video on Demand, where just about everything is at our fingertips. No longer do we have to travel from video store to video store to see who has the best library because everything is right there. As much as it is a dream come true for the horror fan, I honestly long for the days of seeking out a film and finally being able to put my hands on that fourth generation video copy of that obscure movie from Japan that some dude wrote about in his fanzine, that I got by sending him a dollar in the mail after seeing his ad in Fangoria. I miss trading tapes with people through the mail, like the late great Chas. Balun, who was one of the greatest champions and best genre writers of our time. If you don’t have copies of all his Deep Red magazine writings, you are doing yourself a disservice. Ordering movie catalogs from the back of Fangoria and other magazines, I’d hope to come across a hidden gem, rather than some horrible pieces of shit. But again, that was the fun of it all.
Fanzines. A lost art form. I still have collections of Rick Sullivan’s Gore Gazette and Michael Gingold’s Scareaphanalia, now all wrapped up in plastic and stored away with a ton of other wonderful homemade magazines. Now we have blogs like ours, which are a little too impersonal for me. There are still some great paper mags around, like Rue Morgue, Monster and The Dark Side.
I remember going to Chinatown, to the now defunct theaters like the Music Palace and the Sun Sing, and having no idea what they were showing. They never advertised, but me and my cousin would still travel there by subway on a weekly basis, hoping to catch the latest Jet Li or Chow Yun Fat film, or even better, some sick Category III masterpiece starring Simon Yam, like Run and Kill or Dr. Lamb. I loved heading over to the mecca that was Kim’s Video to talk to Steve Puchalski, who was a video clerk there and who is still writing and publishing the amazing Shock Cinema, and hear his recommendations on what was new in their incredible catalog. I had two VCR’s dedicated to making copies of all these movies so I can watch them over and over again, and still have the copies. I am a hoarder who refuses to get rid of memories.
So, in conclusion, the start of this latest venture has shown to me that horror cinema, and all related to the genre, has given me great bliss and elated memories. And I am hoping that the website and podcast create new ones. I’m looking forward to meeting new people and expanding this vast community of horror fanatics, as we make a positive mark with our terrorizing culture. As much as I yearn for the discovery ridden past, soaking in nostalgia baths, I’m hopeful that the future shines as bright as all the memories.