Two of the biggest horror-comedy films of the 1980s debuted on the exact same weekend in June 1984. Ghostbusters was the bigger success of the two, but Gremlins has remained a fan favorite amongst ’80s kids, and for good reason. It’s silly, with eye-catching character designs that just scream MERCHANDISE OPPORTUNITIES, but it’s also a pretty wicked and nihilistic horror movie. I remember both reveling in and being quite frightened by it as a boy. Gwendolyn Kiste, too, was heavily influenced by Gremlins in her youth, and she’s got some pretty cool ideas for carrying the long-dormant franchise forward.
I love anthology horror movies. You get a variety of stories, often exploring wildly diverse themes and subject matter, presented with the compactness and plot-driven fun of a short story. While anthology horror movies had certainly come before it — including the iconic Trilogy of Terror and Black Sabbath — it was 1982’s Creepshow that really set the standard, paving the way for an explosion of anthology horror shows and movies in the ’80s. Creepshow being one of my favorite horror movies, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the film helped inspire a love for horror in author Paul Michael Anderson.
Of the countles sub-genres of horror, body horror is one that I don’t often turn to. There’s just something too real, too personal about it. Sure, a madman wielding a weapon is scary, but you can (unless he’s teleporting Jason Voorhees) theoretically escape from that. You can’t, however, run from a horror that’s coming from within your very own bones, your blood. Author Chad Lutzke doesn’t have such reservations. As a matter of fact, he got into body horror as a kid, courtesy of the 1965 horror flick Curse of the Fly.
Chad Lutzke is a writer from Battle Creek, MI. He has written for Famous Monsters of Filmland, Rue Morgue, Cemetery Dance, and Scream. He is the author of dozens of short stories and books such as Of Foster Homes & Flies, Wallflower, Stirring the Sheets, Skullface Boy, The Same Deep Water As You, and The Pale White.
The works of Ray Bradbury have inspired countless horror and dark fantasy writers over the years, myself included. Bradbury’s vivid imagery and dreamlike, poetic prose is something to behold. But how do his works translate to the screen? Is it possible to capture the thrills and magic of Bradbury’s work in television or film? I absolutely adore his 1962 novel Something Wicked This Way Comes (it’s one of my all-time favorite books), in which a dark carnival descends upon Green Town, Illinois, but I’ve yet to see the 1983 film adaptation (to be honest, I’ve only seen a handful of episodes of the ’80s anthology series The Ray Bradbury Theater). After my conversation with horror author Scott Thomas, I think I need to add the movie to my queue. The film had a deep impact on Thomas as a child, one that informed his sensibilities and led him to create dark, twisted tales of his own.
The Twilight Zone is one of the most respected and beloved television series of all time. Horror writers regularly cite it as an influence on their writing, like Christopher Golden did for this very column. But what about the 1983 film adaptation? Twilight Zone: The Movie is an anthology, featuring (mostly) remakes of famous episodes by famous directors like Steven Spielberg and John Landis. It wasn’t well-received upon release, and it gained notoriety for a helicopter accident that claimed three lives, but it’s achieved somewhat of a cult status over the years. For some, like author Josh Malerman, it was their first real exposure to horror, an eclectic blend of spooky, fantastical storytelling.
What was your gateway to Stephen King? The Shining? It? Pet Sematary? These are a few of the more common examples, but being that King has written approximately fifty thousand books, it’s not that unlikely to get into the author through some of his less-famous (though, really still quite-famous) works.
For author Gemma Amor, it wasn’t The Losers’ Club’s adventures that sparked her love for King, nor was it Jack Torrance’s escapades at the Overlook Hotel. It was a gnarly, rabid St. Bernard named Cujo. In fact, the 1981 book had such an impact on Amor that it inspired her to pursue character-driven horror and short stories.
I can’t tell you how many speculative fiction writers I’ve interacted with over the years who have expressed a deep respect for, if not a rabid obsession with, The Twilight Zone. It’s basically reached “sacred cow” status amongst genre writers, whether or not it’s had a direct influence on their writing (I know a few authors who pitch their books at cons as being “like The Twilight Zone,” myself included). In fact, the only author I can think of who I’ve ever seen express a somewhat-negative view of the show was Stephen King in his 1981 nonfiction book Danse Macabre. We’ll let this one pass, Mr. King.
I grew up with two younger sisters who probably owned five million dolls between the two of them. They had plenty of mass-market stuff like Barbies and Cabbage Patch Kids, but also a few “lifelike” porcelain dolls. I wouldn’t say that these dolls “scared” me, but there always was something more mysterious and unsettling about them, with their stiff, white bodies and old-timey dresses.
From Child’s Play to Annabelle to the Twilight Zone episode “Living Doll,” dolls have been mined for their horror potential for a long time. What is it about dolls that makes them so freaky? Author Ania Ahlborn has some thoughts. She saw a doll-centric horror movie early on in life that left such a impression on her, she went on to write scary stories of her own.
I lived a good chunk of my childhood on a small, rural road. All of the homes had families and were fairly well-kempt, so my siblings and my best buddy who lived next door didn’t really have a typical “haunted house” to be afraid of; but that didn’t keep us from concocting weird stories about the surrounding property. That creepy orchard up the hill? A kid my mom used to babysit for convinced us that he had seen a severed hand from World War II hanging from a tree up there (yep, from that famous WWII battle fought in Upstate New York, of course). Then there was the turnaround where I swear I saw a UFO land one night (okay, maybe that was just a dream). When you’re a kid, your imagination runs wild, and seemingly innocuous places can transform into terrifying locales. Jonathan Janz can relate—he read a story back in seventh grade that touched on just that idea, a story that stuck with him and put him on a path to creating strange stories of his own.
In Night Gallery, the 1969 film that served as a pilot for the anthology TV series of the same name, there’s a segment titled “The Cemetery” that will forever haunt me. In this macabre tale, the lead character, Jeremy Evans, who has murdered his uncle and lives in his dead relative’s mansion, owns a painting which depicts the mansion and the family graveyard, where his uncle is now buried. As the story progresses, the painting changes. To Jeremy’s horror, his uncle rises from the grave in the painting and lurches closer and closer to the mansion, until….well, I won’t spoil it for you. But the image of that painting, of the undead uncle creeping toward the mansion, has been seared into my brain since I was a kid. Author Gemma Files knows that feeling. She happened upon a book when she was but a child, one filled with images that would haunt and thrill her for years to come.
If you’ve read Paperbacks from Hell, you know that Grady Hendrix is an expert on horror fiction, most specifically mass-market paperbacks produced during the boom of the ’70s and ’80s, with their often eye-popping—some might say “garish”—cover art. What, you might ask, inspired such a fascination for weird, macabre books? In Hendrix’s case, it was a lot of things, but it certainly had something to do with a strange book he discovered while living abroad in England in the late ’70s. A book not intended for kids.
Grady Hendrix is a writer and public speaker based in Manhattan. Along with the aforementioned Paperbacks From Hell (2017), he is the author of the novels Horrorstör (2014) and My Best Friend’s Exorcism (2016). He is currently working on a new novel.
I saw Edgar Cantero’s new book Meddling Kids pretty much everywhere I looked this year. On Instagram, Twitter, displayed prominently in both Barnes & Noble locations and independent bookstores (just look at that stunning cover!) The book is often described as, get this, “Scooby-Doo meets H.P. Lovecraft.” That’s some pitch—simple, with recognizable inspirations. I mean, who doesn’t love Scooby-Doo? So with that in mind, I probably should have seen the answer a mile away when I asked him, “What was your ‘first fright’?”
Edgar Cantero is a writer and cartoonist from Barcelona, Spain. He is the author of the punk dystopian thriller Vallvi (2011), The Supernatural Enhancements (2014), and the aforementioned Meddling Kids (2017), which, as of this writing, was nominated for a 2017 Goodreads Choice Award for Best Horror.
Usually, I avoid stuff that gives me nightmares; I’m funny like that. I don’t get much sleep as it is (father of two little ones) and when I do, I prefer to sleep soundly, my dreams free of terrifying imagery.
Michael Wehunt apparently doesn’t value his sleep. He watches movies that give him nightmares and keeps going back for more! But perhaps that unbridled enthusiasm for the macabre helped lead to his success as a writer?
Wehunt is an Atlanta-based author. His debut collection, Greener Pastures, was shortlisted for the Crawford Award and a Shirley Jackson Award finalist. His short fiction has appeared in publications like Shock Totem, Innsmouth Magazine and, yes, Cemetery Dance.
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial is a beloved family classic, the tale of a lonely young boy and a lost alien who form a deep, psychic connection and who, ultimately, have to say goodbye. Sweet, right? Touching. Tears. For Ronald Malfi, however, the film was a harrowing experience, akin to other Spielberg horror classics like Jaws or Poltergeist. Who knew that weird little alien with the glowing finger could be so terrifying?
Mercedes M. Yardley was only eight years old when she read her father’s copy of Stephen King’s It. Pretty intense material for someone so young, wouldn’t you say? But years earlier, Yardley had been introduced to what i09 referred to as “The Most Horrifying Children’s Movie Ever Made.” Perhaps she was better prepared to handle the horrors of Pennywise the Clown after repeatedly watching a scary movie starring….a pink-haired unicorn?
Yardley is a Bram Stoker Award-winning writer residing in Las Vegas, Nevada. A self-described dark fantasist, she is the author of multiple books and short stories, including 2013’s Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu: A Tale of Atomic Love and 2014’s Pretty Little Dead Girls. We had a video chat about her first fright, and her choice was unexpected, to say the least.