Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Scariest Ride in the Amusement Park


When I meet someone new and tell them I write horror movies I get one of two reactions. Either the person is a fan of horror and gets really excited and wants to talk shop, or I get a look from them like I just said, "I work in pornography and I'm interested in photographing your sister naked."

It's generally one or the other extreme. In fact, it's gotten to the point where I tell people I meet for the first time who want to know about my writing that "I write lots of different genres -- and right now I happen to be writing a horror movie."

They still grimace a bit, so I usually add -- "don't worry, it's not like Saw or Hostel, it's more like Gremlins, you know, old school."

What I'm telling them is true. My preferred genre is horror comedy. But I still feel like I am betraying myself. Why do I have to apologize for writing something I love?

I'm not sure why, but evil stuff seems to flow from my hands when I sit at the computer. I was recently asked to take a plot synopsis that was relatively tame and fill it with creative, nasty stuff so it could become a more convincing horror movie.

It only took me two hours to come up with seven pages of screaming, bloody, mayhem.

The stuff was so nasty, in fact, that at one point during the writing I had a strange moment where I felt sorry for the characters in the film -- as if they were inhabiting an alternate universe and I was the cruel hand of fate, twisting their pleasant lives into excruciating misery.

But man, was it fun!

It's not the only area of my life where I experience this kind of thing:

My favorite music? Heavy metal.

My favorite sport? Cage fighting.

You get the idea.

For better or for worse, I lack the patience to try and convince naysayers why horror should be a respected genre. I could link horror to Greek theater or French Grand Guignol. I could remind them that Edgar Allen Poe was a horror writer and that Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick made horror movies. If I was feeling particularly adventurous, I could spin out some half baked theory about fear and repression and the mediating role of horror movies in relation to the greater horrors of society. Strange, isn't it, that the "guy being tortured in a chair" genre came into vogue around the same time that pictures from Iraqi prisons started showing up in the media?

But the best defense -- or explanation -- for why I write horror comes from Eli Roth, whom I heard speak at the Fangoria during the summer. "I want to make the scariest ride in the amusement park."

That blows away every academic explanation of horror that I've ever heard -- from present day to the ancient Greeks.

"I make the rides that make you puke," Roth added.

In terms of my own writing, I'm not out to make anyone puke, but it's a great analogy. I strive for my own stories to be amusement park rides, more in line with the funhouse than the rollercoaster. And not the Haunted Mansion style funhouse at Disney World, but the kind that gets pulled behind an 18-wheeler and is filled with tattooed snake women and is run by a snaggle-toothed carny with a Megadeth shirt and a sledgehammer.

The scariest ride in the amusement park? Maybe not. But one helluva ride.