Many fans of horror, amateur and professional alike, have devoted themselves to blogging about the thrills, chills, and no-frills side of the genre as seen in cinema and print. In this ongoing series that highlights the writers behind the blogs, we meet the unique personalities and talents that make the online horror scene so engaging. Up close and personal.
In this installment, Max Cheney of the Drunken Severed Head proves he's more than just a pretty face when it comes to horror.
I am a Siamese, or conjoined twin. My other half, separate--and certainly unequal--but seamlessly connected to my self via an e-thereal broad band, is a drunken severed head named Max. We share that first name--I am Max Cheney, Jr., and I love the weird and macabre.
My love for horror started when in 1964, when I was three. I was given the 5-inch high monster figures "Pop Top Horrors" to play with. Cast in Halloween-orange plastic, they were different from other solid figures, as they had detachable heads that could be popped on and off. I had great fun switching the heads! Making an impression on me that same year was being taken to see The Evil of Frankenstein which featured a toy-like makeup design for its Frankenstein Monster. I learned from watching that film that being scared could be fun. Being born (prematurely) into a blended family, with parents whose marriage was always filled with problems, I was always an anxious kid. Finding a form of anxiety that was thrilling was a revelation!
The following year, I was watching the programs "Milton the Monster" and "The Munsters," both featuring Frankensteinian monsters, and I adored both shows. As a present for my birthday in 1965, I was given a Herman Munster talking puppet. That set me for life as a fan of monsters, but of the classic Universal Frankenstein's Monster especially.
The first memory of watching a movie with my mother also comes from 1965: I was allowed to watch Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte on TV with her. I can never forget the horror I felt at seeing a corpse dropped into a swamp or a severed head rolling down a staircase. I doubt I had one of my Pop Top Horrors with me while being creeped out by Bette Davis and company, but obviously detached heads were part of my formative experiences in imaginary horror.
I also recall performing a spooky sketch for a fifth grade Halloween party. A girl in my class and I mimed the actions described on a Scholastic record recounting the tale of "The Yellow Ribbon," where a man falls in love with a woman who always wears a ribbon around her neck, which, she tells him, can never be removed. Of course, he eventually does remove it, and her head falls off. Used my stepmother's wig and styrofoam wig stand for that effect.
My birth mother, who died when I was six, always indulged my love of monster stuff. One of my last memories of her is taking me to a drive-in to see King Kong Escapes. That was a defining real horror in my life. Somehow, embracing my taste in the macabre always helped me cope with that, growing up.
But I still longed for another parental figure who approved of scary things, and found them in in Boris Karloff--by way of television--and Forry Ackerman--by way of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine.
When Boris Karloff passed away a year after my mother's passing, I felt grief again. I remember my dad breaking the news to me, and my crying--but also the comfort I felt by his bringing me a new issue of Famous Monsters afterwards.
FM's "Uncle Forry" soon after seemed to address my grief in his "Letter to an Angel" piece in Famous Monsters, where a little boy eventually finds consolation after being shaken and saddened by the death of Lon Chaney, Sr.. I read FM from childhood all the way through my teenage years, during a time when the counter-culture was scaring my parents. Forry's attitude towards, and articles about, the films and actors of classic horror helped teach me a respect for the past. (I'm sure my father would have preferred that it had taught me more respect for HIM at the time, ha ha.)
The punning writing in FM also gave me a love of wordplay, and showed me that language could have multiple meanings simultaneously. This delighted me, and encouraged me to tackle reading books written for adults sooner than I would have otherwise--classics like Frankenstein, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and The Illustrated Man. That encouragement took me to the other side of the learning process, as I taught high school English for some years. How lucky I was to have the privilege of teaching the poetry of Poe, the novel Frankenstein and short stories by Ray Bradbury.
Horror in any medium, from its expressions in Halloween traditions, (which I'm blogging about all through October), to the latest in high culture or in its pop cultural expressions, has ALWAYS been an interest of mine. But my interest was often on the back burners of my mental stove (where something dreadful is always cooking) for the duration of my 20s and 30s. But in the 21st Century--a time that as a child I had dreamed of as being strange and fantastic--my interest kicked into the intensity it had once had in my youth.
In the spring of 2002, I was depressed. I was changing careers, and a relationship with my girlfriend of many years had begun to fall apart. But surfing the web, I had found someone with Zacherley's "Monster Mash" album for sale. I had first heard of the famous horror host of the 1950s and '60s in FM, but knew nothing of his novelty records. So I bought it. When I played the album, I laughed, and danced, and felt like I'd returned from the dead! I had the same spirit that I had as a kid again -- and it had been quite awhile since I felt so gleeful! Little did I know how big an influence on my life "Zach" would have.
I began finding more Zacherley music and audio, and watching monster movies again. I also found the message board Universal Monster Army, and got to know other people who were monster kids at heart, and we became friends. Some were local to the St. Louis area where I lived, some very far away. I began to correspond and talk on the phone with some members, such as Jane Considine, who lived in Pittsburgh. I sang Zach's "Gravy"-- one of my favorites--to her one night on the phone. (I will sing a Zach song at the drop of a hat, or a guillotine blade.) She had never heard a Zacherley song before, and was amused. That cemented the friendship.
At that point, like Frankenstein's Monster after his stitches fell out, I was unattached. Late in 2004, Jane came to visit me, and our friendship blossomed like wolfsbane into romance. She was lively and witty, and she loved monsters in print, on film, and in music -- just as I did! One afternoon over the phone I crooned Zach's werewolf love song "Baying At The Moon" to her to show her how I felt! Soon I went to visit her. My first trip to Pittsburgh began auspiciously; I waltzed Jane into her apartment singing Zach's "Come With Me To Transylvania"! She LOVED the song, just as she loved me. In June 2005, she proposed! So, when I came that month to Pittsburgh again, we went to my first Monster Bash convention, and we announced our engagement to a gathering of Universal Monster Army members who were there, our cherished friends. On October 31st of 2005, here in Pittsburgh, I married my Halloween bride at dusk in an outdoor ceremony. My friends at the U.M.A commissioned a wedding gift of an oil painting of the Frankenstein Monster and his Bride, which we are proud to display in our house.
So how did The Drunken Severed Head come to be?
I shared at the Universal Monster Army an EC Comics-like story I had written as a teenager about a kid who gets into trouble at home. At the end, his scientist parent, who is also a vampire, twists his head off for a respite, knowing that she later will restore him to life. (Yeah, subtle horror isn't exactly my forte.) A friend, Joseph Fotinos, read it, then wrote and posted a parody of my story, casting me as an alcoholic hack writer, and at the end I get my head twisted off by my own fictional characters. Oh, that made me laugh! That's when my bodiless doppelganger, Max the Drunken Severed Head, emerged from me like the Manster. I began signing my messages with that moniker, and when I decided in February 2007 to start a blog, I thought that my decapitated digital doppelganger ought to be at the helm. (Although I usually do the typing, since he takes so long pecking at the keyboard with his nose.)
Keep in mind that weirdness is anywhere you find it, and embrace your inner weirdness--that's my credo of Max the Drunken Severed Head. The blog is an expression of my delight in laughing AND my love for being scared; an exploration of the strange and spooky, from the silly to the sublime, wherever I--or he--find it.