Can’t you feel the tension creeping into your very soul?
Just an innocent walk home after a long day of work and suddenly a hand comes out of nowhere, grips you by the throat and hurls you into oblivion. Soon you’ll feel the fangs in your throat and the very life sucked out of you.
Or maybe you’re not at work. Maybe you’re enjoying the beach. Casually splashing about as you paddle around offshore on your inflatable raft. How can you possibly know that a killer is lurking beneath the surface, gliding silently, purposefully, ignoring all the other swimmers just to zero in on you?
How about some hill climbing? The villagers are desperate to show you the view from the top. How are you to know that a prehistoric creature, awakened by Man’s foolish atomic experiments, will stick its head over that hilltop and issue filmdom’s most frightening and memorable roar? You don’t care as you’ll be fleeing in abject horror from a creature that will soon turn thousands of your fellow countrymen – innocent men, women and children – into funeral pyres.
Might as well seek the peacefulness of the country. Nothing can go wrong there, right, not like in those big cities? Hmm, sure are a lot of cats and dogs missing. Should I leave my window open tonight? What’s the worst that could happen? Maybe an eight-legged neighbor and about a million of his closest friends will drop in?
Hello and welcome to the world of my nightmares, better known as the horror movies that inspired and influenced me.
If you haven’t guessed, I am talking about The Night Stalker, Jaws, Kingdom of the Spiders and Godzilla.
These films were highly influential on me as a kid and even as an adult. Each one had a different effect on me, effects that I now find myself using a lot in my horror and science fiction.
I remember not going into the water for a long time after seeing Jaws in 1975. An intelligent shark? Who would’ve thought it? I mean, getting Chrissy Watkins for swimming nude at night was one thing, but ignoring allthose people at the beach to zero in on the kid on the raft? Well, that did it for me. If I was really brave, I’d go out waist deep at Revere Beach or Cape Cod, and I had trouble getting close to the gunwales of the ferries on school field trips to Nantucket (where they really filmed Jaws).
Now, you’ll find me using that silent, creeping-up style of terror in my short stories like the prologue to Red Herring that I told everybody not to read right before bed. Are those cockroaches on your legs or just the wind caressing your hairs?
The Night Stalker was the highest-rated TV movie of the time when it aired in 1972. Of course, I was only 5 when it aired originally, so I didn’t see it for a few years. And then when I did see it, it was on late at night. Right before bed. Good timing, eh?
Darren McGavin’s stark, matter-of-fact narration and the vampire's running battles with the police certainly didn’t look like Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee’s Dracula.
Somehow, I think McGavin’s Carl Kolchak might have inspired me to become a journalist. I didn’t cover the weird, the supernatural or the horrible (no, I left that to the guys covering the Cubs) but I had the writing bug nonetheless.
Now, Kingdom of the Spiders could have fallen flat because of the hammy William Shatner as the lead guy Rack Hanson. But, director Bud Cardos was
[caption id="attachment_3560" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="No beaming out of "Kingdom of the Spiders""][/caption]
able to overcome that with some tight direction, good camera work and about 10,000 real tarantulas. Yes, folks, those actors and extras really were covered with live tarantulas!
One particular scene that creeped me out was when the sheriff (played by the Marlboro Man) has to tell Altovise Davis that her husband, played by Woody Strode, has been killed by the tarantulas. As the scene unfolds, a tarantula sits on a fence, watching it. When she hears the news and bursts into tears, the spider slowly crawls away as if it had been waiting to see if the handiwork of its companions had the intended effect.
From that movie, I got the idea to use nature against Man and to do it in a way that could not be solved at the last second by the military or by some hastily-created weapon. William Shatner couldn’t overcome the tarantulas (and actually had to be rescued by Tiffany Bolling), so why should my characters in Crawl be one-man armies? That relentless wave of eight-legged horror (especially the scene where they’re leaping at the shoes of the little girl on the swing) was light years better than the CGI in Eight-Legged Freaks.
And, finally, last but not least is Godzilla. I’m referring to the American version with Raymond Burr.
You see, up until then, monsters created or affected by nuclear radiation threatened mankind only to be taken out by the military (Them!, Tarantula) or by science (Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, It Came From Beneath the Sea). But, here was Godzilla, a creature that withstood Man’s weapons and even wiped out a tank corps. He melted electrical towers with radioactive breath and burned thousands of innocent people to death. Yes, he was finally stopped by science, but the scientist responsible didn’t make it to the end nor did he get the girl. That never happened to Kenneth Tobey, Jeff Morrow or James Arness.
No giant monster movie has affected me like Godzilla. Not even Jurassic Park or Cloverfield. Those films were gimmicks or cliché plots about people trapped in confined spaces against monsters. Godzilla predated all of those “nature takes revenge on Man” films that have followed since. The black & white photography, the realism (the ship burned up in the beginning was based on the real-life incident of the Lucky No. 5 that wandered too close to the H-bomb test), Raymond Burr’s stark narration, the monster’s relentless assault on Tokyo, they all worked together to create a sense of dread and doom like no other, pushing a sense of helplessness.
Is that what we are truly supposed to feel when we watch horror? Are we supposed to feel helpless, like Dennis Weaver in that beat-up old car trying to outrun that maniacal trucker in Duel?
Is that my job as a horror writer? Am I supposed to yank away your security blanket and leave you hiding in the closet hoping, with baited breath, that the person opening the door is there to save you?
Well, am I?
Okay, okay, just relax, folks. These are all just movies. Nothing to really be scared about. In two hours or less, they’ll be over and we can all get back to the horror of the real word, right?
Oops, getting late. Better get ready for bed. A nice warm shower…ah, that hits the spot. See, all of the terror I created is washing down the drain.
Wait, did the bathroom door just open?
Hello, is anybody ther--