As you get older, you find that many of the things that scared you when you were little are actually so tame, so silly, that it was crazy that they ever frightened you to begin with. For example, I used to dread the 1988 version of The Blob (the part where the titular monster devours this kid Eddie in the sewer was particularly traumatizing). Now I can watch it and laugh at the dated effects and ridiculousness of it all, at least with the light on….
Paul Tremblay, whose 2015 novel A Head Full of Ghosts “scared the hell” out of Stephen King, had a similarly mortifying experience as a boy. While Tremblay sees that film as “pure cheese” today, it did help instill a love for horror in this award-winning author, and for that reason it’s worth looking into.
(Interview conducted by John Brhel)
CEMETERY DANCE ONLINE: What was your “first fright?” Describe it briefly for those of us not familiar with the work.
PAUL TREMBLAY: Having been scared of just about everything for as long as I can remember, I can’t guarantee the following is my first fright, but it’s close enough: the 1962 movie The Brain that Wouldn’t Die. It’s a cheesy black-and-white movie with a mad scientist-type keeping the head of his fiancé alive in a tray of goo. Oh, and there’s some sort of monster/mutant kept in the basement (can’t remember how it got there) that the head can control/communicate with.
How old were you when you first saw The Brain That Wouldn’t Die and how did you come upon it?
Let’s say somewhere between the ages of 8 and 10.
I caught it on a local Boston program called Creature Double Feature. Channel 56 played two horror movies back-to-back on Saturday afternoons. The first was a Godzilla movie, generally, and the second was a black-and-white flick, or a Hammer film. The program ran throughout the ’70s and early ’80s.
What was it about the movie that struck a chord with you?
The monster/mutant kept behind some locked basement door was what scared the hell out of me. I still can’t sleep unless the closet door is shut.
There’s one scene in particular that sent me over the edge. The monster breaks out and attacks the doctor. In my memory, the monster rips out a chunk of the doc’s brain and throws it on the floor. Splat and yuck, and I remember the visceral feeling of disgust that made me a little queasy.
Now, according to Wikipedia the monster bites a hunk of flesh from the doc’s neck, not his brain. Isn’t it so weird how memory works and morphs? I still have this (apparently) false memory of a piece of the doc’s brain on the floor rather than a shank of neck meat. Shank of Neck Meat is the name of my band.
How do you feel about the movie now? Is it still scary?
It’s pure cheese and only at all scary because of my memory of it. Having seen most of it again fairly recently, it doesn’t hold up at all.
How did the movie inform your writing? Have you ever touched upon some of its themes in your own work or tried to emulate it in any way?
That movie in particular doesn’t inform my writing other than adding to my nascent general love and appreciation of horror and heads in tins. Since it’s a terrible movie, it does serve as a reminder that it’s okay to say a horror book/movie isn’t good, to be critical. We horror fans should demand and expect more from our genre.
Should Cemetery Dance readers check out The Brain that Wouldn’t Die?
I recommend readers check out the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment of the movie. Very funny.
Anything else you’d like to add about your first fright?
Wait, what is that noise coming from behind the basement door?