Here’s a little public service announcement that you’ll never get on TV.
Nothing helped foster my career as a horror writer more than cutting entire days of class when I was in college. Not only that, it also provided the foundation of my marriage.
Now there’s a one-two punch I never would have gotten from another psych or communications class.
I grew up a good little Catholic schoolboy. Heck, I was even an altar boy for five years. In my schools, you couldn’t ditch class. You’d be caught immediately, and then have to suffer both in school and at home. The punishment at home would be far worse than what the brothers or nuns would dish out. The reward was never worth the risk.
Then along comes college where they assume I’m a responsible man, rather than an overgrown boy with zero sense and a bad mullet. The professors could give a rat’s ass whether I show up. For the first time in my life, I had total freedom of choice! I was never a fan of school. That’s all part of my authority issues. Who do these professors think they are, telling me what I should know? Being able to ditch a class to play cards in the cafeteria was a whole new experience for me.
Toward the end of my freshman year, I started dating this girl who worked with me in a vitamin store. She was way out of my league, an olive skinned model with long raven hair and a killer smile. I basically wore her down over a period of six months. On Valentine’s Day in 1987, she finally succumbed to my persistence, if not my limited charms.
At this point in my life, I had no intentions of being a writer. In fact, because of my infatuation with the show WKRP in Cincinnati, I wanted to work in radio. But, I was a huge horror fan who watched horror flicks every chance I got. I wasn’t doing so much horror reading then because required reading took up the time I wasn’t partying.
My girlfriend, it turned out, never watched movies, especially horror.
How can that be?
Oh boy, all that work for what? This just wasn’t going to pan out. I had a few rules about dating: they needed to have a pulse, and they had to dig horror movies.
Instead of imploding our burgeoning relationship, I decided to look at her as a wonderful blank slate, one I could fill with all sorts of frights and blasphemy. If she went running for the hills, at least I tried.
I hated Tuesdays because I had three classes that bored me to tears.
So, using my newfound freedom, I blew off a Tuesday, took my girlfriend to the video store by her house and walked the aisles. They had a great horror section, rows and rows of incredible ’80s cover art calling out to me. My girlfriend was game, not the least bit turned off by images of zombies or people being ripped in half. This was all new to her, and she looked to me as her guide into the darkness.
We rented five movies that morning. Then we stopped at the market across the street to load up on junk food, candy and soda. No one would be home in her house until later that night, so the place was ours.
I was nervous. What if she thought I was some depraved lunatic? What if she hated the movies? I worried the entire time we watched the first movie. I wish I could remember exactly what it was. I do remember that she loved it, and immediately popped the next one in (after she remembered to be kind and rewind).
The rest of the day was lost in a fog of onscreen horrors, salt, sugar and caffeine. We blew through those movies on her couch, only taking bathroom breaks…and other things teens do on the couch. When the last movie ended, I looked in her shimmering eyes (shimmering from the caffeine high) and knew I was watching the birth of a horror hound.
From that day on, the plan was to cut Tuesdays and gorge on horror. As I progressed through college, our movie marathon day would change, usually to coincide with the day I most hated going to class. Believe it or not, we avoided Fridays because I was usually hung over and not the best company.
We watched every horror movie in that video store, and all the surrounding stores, at least three times. I don’t think there was ever a better time period to come of horror age than the ’80s video explosion.
She loved flicks like Witchboard, The House by the Cemetery, House and Motel Hell. We dove into the sometimes great, sometimes awful H.P. Lovecraft-inspired movies like Re-Animator, The Unnameable, The Curse, and my favorite, From Beyond. Not only did that one star the lovely Barbara Crampton and my zombie mall hero, Ken Foree, but the scene where Jeffrey Combs munches on a brain sent her out of the house to get some air. It was the one and only time she almost lost her Cheetos.
For some reason, she loved the actress Jill Schoelen. I think it was her raspy voice and everyday girl look. When Jill was in peril, you really felt her fear. We rooted for her to kick Terry O’Quinn’s ass in The Stepfather, survive a night at the theater in Popcorn and endure the obsession of Robert Englund in The Phantom of the Opera.
We did almost have a breaking point when she told me she hated Day of the Dead. How the fuck can you hate a movie with Bub, the talking zombie? She saved herself when she fell in love with Return of the Living Dead. She even has a “Send More Paramedics” shirt today.
I was her professor in Advanced Monsters 201, exposing her to avenging Pumpkinhead (her all time fave), little Belial in Basket Case, thorny Pinhead in Hellraiser, sexy werewolves in The Howling and those kings of the sewer in C.H.U.D.
We watched them all, from the highbrow of The Fly and Pet Sematary, to the WTF of Microwave Massacre and Blood Diner. Through our now mutual love of horror, we fell in love.
I graduated college, despite all the classes I cut, with a 3.8 GPA and a Broadcasting degree that would be rendered useless by changing technology in five years. We got married soon after, and are still going strong 25 years later.
All of that absorbed horror not only taught her. It broadened my knowledge and appreciation for a genre that eventually became my career. They don’t teach horror in college. I know. I’ve checked. You have to learn it on your own, like I did.
Those days of skipping school taught and gave me more than any other thing I did in the 80’s.
So next time you come home to find your kid binging on crappy Netflix horror movies when he should be in school, give him a pass. He may be preparing for his future.
Hunter Shea is the product of a misspent childhood watching scary movies, reading forbidden books and wishing Bigfoot would walk past his house. He doesn’t just write about the paranormal—he actively seeks out the things that scare the hell out of people and experiences them for himself. You can follow his madness at huntershea.com.