Today is the final day of Summer Scares 2019! Tomorrow we announce the 2020 Spokesperson. But first, I wanted to give our inaugural Spokesperson and true friend of libraries everywhere, Grady Hendrix one last chance to speak directly to all of you.
Thank you Grady for all you have done to help make Summer Scares a reality and to make it successful. For more of Grady's work on Summer Scares go to the Summer Scares Resource page. We have interviews Grady did with some of our authors, lists and essays he wrote specifically to help you help readers, and even a recording of the Circulating Ideas Podcast [recorded live from the PRH booth at ALA Annual] where Grady and I talked about the program.
But right now, here is Grady Hendrix with his take on my "Why I Love Horror" theme. And stay tuned tomorrow to find out who is going to be helping us get 2020 rolling.
Why I Love Horror
by Grady Hendrix
When I was eleven my mother enrolled me in cotillion. We lived in a suburb of Charleston, South Carolina and you enrolled your kids in cotillion because that ensured they were on the invite list for all the debutante balls that would take place when they were older, and the debutante balls ensured you had a foothold in Charleston’s social scene when you were even older and needed to get one of your clients off a DUI charge.
At cotillion we stood in a ring and rotated from partner to partner, counting under our breaths while stomping out the Foxtrot and the Cha-Cha to EPs of Quiet Riot’s “Come On Feel the Noise” and Lionel Richie’s “Dancing on the Ceiling” played at one-third speed. The girls wore white gloves because touching the bare hands of boys would get them pregnant. We met in South Carolina Sociey Hall, a former orphanage, which had no air conditioning, and we were sweaty little monsters. By the time cotillion ended the girls’ formerly white gloves were gray and dripping. Cotillion taught me that dancing in public should feel like being on a prison work crew.
Every year, I had a birthday party. My best friends came over and carpeted our garage room in wall-to-wall sleeping bags and pizza boxes. We’d get jacked up on Coke and once my mom closed her bedroom door at 9pm we’d sneak out of the house and play epic games of Capture the Flag, sneak through people’s yards, run from the police they inevitably called, then regroup for horror movies, then back outside for more mayhem.
We soaked up The Thing with its human bodies stretching and exploding, growing bundles of thrashing tentacles and fanged mouths. Videodrome with James Wood feeding a biorganic VHS tape into the gaping vaginal opening in his stomach. The gore-soaked splat-schtick of Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn. We craved the apocalyptic mayhem of Dawn of the Dead, the 80’s vampire murder party of Near Dark, the endtimes automotive apocalypse of The Road Warrior. We’d get pumped up on seeing human bodies folded, twisted, impaled, and mutilated, shot, and exploded, and torn into bits, then we’d rampage through our sleeping suburb on missions to steal lawn ornaments and moon passing cars.
At school, our dress code stated:
“All attire must be clean, neat, and in good taste, Take pride in your personal appearance and in your school. Bizarre fads and fashions of shoes, clothing, hair, and behavior have no place. It is felt that ample, within school guidelines, room has been provided for students to express their individuality.”
Male students couldn’t have pierced ears or wear sneakers. No denim or camouflage allowed. No logos on clothes. Shirts had to have collars and button up. Female students couldn’t wear culottes or shorts. No bare midriffs. No bare shoulders. No bare legs. No boots. No heels. No above-the-ankle pants. All jewlery must be “simple and modest.”
Our headmaster, vice-principal, and some over-eager faculty policed the halls and breezeways, dishing out demerits for hair that touched the collar, untucked shirts, pants that had no belt holding them up, running in the halls, or “Anything which draws undue attention.” Talking back to teachers earned you a trip to the front office, but the definition of “talking back” varied. Making an innocent joke during chemistry lab earned you laughs one day and a trip to Saturday school the next.
When we realized my annual birthday parties weren’t enough we began spending the night at Matt Gibson’s because his mom didn’t care what time we went to bed. We watched a professor at medical school get his head cut off and then sexually assault a student with it in Re-Animator. We made the mistake of thinking Evil Dead would be as funny as Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn and traumatized ourselves. We watched Ronald Reagan nuke St. Louis in a vain attempt to stop brain-eating zombies in Return of the Living Dead. Then we’d sneak out of Matt’s house and roam downtown Charleston playing Rehash, a game of tag that involved chewed-up food. It was disgusting, but in our defense, we were 14.
For eight hours a day, from 7:30am to 3:30pm (or later on days when there was choir practice), and for five days a week (six when you had Saturday school), the lives we led were regimented and proscribed. We marched around in a circle at cotillion. We obeyed a byzantine system of pointless rules at school. We were expected to be obedient and respectful. We addressed our elders as “ma’am” and “sir”, we did our homework, we ate our vegetables, we drank our milk.
But we snuck Stephen King books into our bedrooms and read about a plague wiping out humanity and a few brave survivors who started the whole circus over again from scratch. We read about abusive dads with roque mallets trying to beat their kids to death. We read about small towns like ours overrun by vampires and the adults too stupid, venal, and morally compromised to stop it. We read Clive Barker. We read V.C. Andrews.
It all made sense to us. In fact, horror looked more like the real world than the Disney movies and laff-tracked television shows we grew up on. We’d been sold a vision of a world that was homework and Saturday School and honor rolls and everyone marching around in a circle, but we suspected the real world was a lot more like those gray, wet gloves the girls wore. And the world we wanted to live in was full of mess, and chaos, and gleeful anarchy, and blood squibs erupting like an exclamation point out of someone’s skull. Tell John Carpenter that the Thing’s six foot long screaming head couldn’t wear culottes. Tell Near Dark’s hillbilly vampires their hair couldn’t touch their collars.
To us, all those monsters and murders weren’t about hurting people. They were about taking Jason’s machete and using it to hack open a door in this wall. We wanted to slide down an escape chute greased with guts, ride to freedom on Godzilla’s back, take this world that had nothing to offer us but demerits and detentions and crack it in half so the mutants could scramble out and rule the earth.
All of us loved horror, because horror loved us back. And you know what they say about first love. For the rest of your life, nothing else will ever come close.