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, monster scholar Jeanette Laredo of Monster Land reveals how she overcame her fear of horror movies and discovered the rich vein of horror literature.
My love affair with horror cinema is a fairly recent one and unlike some of my fellow horror bloggers, I wasn’t really exposed to horror films as a kid. I was never traumatized by Linda Blair’s spinning head or haunted by nightmares of Freddy Krueger and his nifty bladed gloves. Instead I was raised on Nick at Night’s weekly lineup of wholesome shows like Mork and Mindy, Dick Van Dyke and I Dream of Jeannie. The nearest I got to experiencing horror in my youth was watching Goosebumps, Are You Afraid of the Dark? and the odd episode of Unsolved Mysteries.
I got my first real brush with horror my senior year of high school. I was taking dual credit courses at a community college when I met my best friend Stacy. Stacy was a theater student and an avid fan of horror, something that struck me with awe and admiration. I remember once she was reading Poppy Z. Brite’s Lost Souls back stage when another actor asked to take a look. She handed it over cool as anything at a time when I was embarrassed to be seen reading Laurel K. Hamilton in public.
Stacy tried many times to lure me to horror’s dark side with films like Re-Animator, Evil Dead and Night of the Living Dead, but I refused to watch anything more hard core than Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie.
That was until we went to a screening of Rob Zombie’s House of A Thousand Corpses. I fought the urge to bolt as the lights went down in the crowded theater and the screen in front of me filled with bloodthirsty psychos, rotting corpses and killer clowns. I watched the movie from between clenched fingers and tried not to scream uncontrollably as Dr. Satan vivisected his teenage victims. I don’t remember getting home or crawling into bed, but I lay awake half the night petrified that the Firefly clan was going to get me.
Needless to say, my relationship with the genre was one of love/hate, and for the next few years I avoided horror with exception of a few films like Saw and Hostel. Nerdily enough, it was my academic career that turned horror around for me.
My current appreciation of horror stems from my academic experience with two fantastic professors. As an undergrad, my interest in monsters flowered thanks to Barbara Vielma and her classes on the Literary Vampire and Monsters in Literature. I had hit the monster jackpot and I devoured the works of Frankenstein, Varney the Vampyre, Dracula, Jekyll and Hyde and The Beetle. I made up my mind then that I wanted to study monsters and I immersed myself in exploring their stories and the fears they represented.
This love for monsters in literature was translated into film when I took a graduate class with Harry M. Benshoff, author of Monsters in the Closet: Homosexuality and the Horror Film. The class was Gender and Sexuality in the Horror Film and it made me realize that there was so much more to horror than just fear. I think the light bulb went off when we were watching Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive as an example of a postmodern horror film, complete with in-jokes and over the top gore. As I watched the scene where Lionel dispenses of the zombies with a lawn mower, it was like the magician’s trick had been revealed and I didn’t have to be afraid anymore.
In that way my analysis of horror texts can be considered my own special coping mechanism. When I found that I could examine horror instead of simply being scared by it, I felt I could face the monsters instead of losing sleep over them.
Monster Land was born out of this impulse, as well as a desire to think critically about horror films and literature. Through the wonders of the Internet, including e-mail and Twitter, I have become part of a large community of devoted horror fans who have made me feel at home in my study of the genre. The amount of support I’ve received from readers and other bloggers is staggering, and I’m constantly amazed that other people care about what I have to say. So stay tuned monster devotees, because there’s plenty more where that came from.