Being a horror movie fan for pretty much my entire life, there really isn’t much that can scare me these days, but I will point out that there was a time – way back when – that something on the big screen did manage to put the jolt of white-hot fear into me.
In my opinion, the best horror stories, whether they’re in movies or in books, come from reality. I think there’s something truly frightening about the people and places of our normal, everyday lives being turned upside down and transformed into something terrifying. Sure, I enjoy the occasional monster movie and they’re always good for some fun popcorn entertainment where you basically just check your brain at the door, but stories of terror that are ripped from the headlines or taken from the unassuming corners of everyday life – now that’s horror that hits home.
Stephen King, known as the literary master of macabre, is hands-down the best at bringing scares out of his readers from stories written about the twisted, inside-out versions of human existence.
Take ‘Cujo’, for instance. Many of us own or have owned a dog or two in our lives. King’s story about a friendly, unassuming St. Bernard who literally sticks his nose where it doesn’t belong and pays the price for it – a bite from a rabies-infected animal – is basically ‘Old Yeller’ with the volume turned up to 11. It’s Stephen King, so you know where it’s going, but you still go along for the intense, heartbreaking ride. Cujo gets more and more violent, ultimately going on a killing spree, until he finally meets his own demise. Or, more accurately, he’s finally put out of his misery.
As many of you may know, we have a St. Bernard in the office who serves as the unofficial mascot of The Outlook. Luckily, Weiss is more Beethoven than he is Cujo.
Speaking of misery from just above, that’s also the title of another classic King story of which the origins can just as easily be read in the news headlines in any city across the globe. When an author named Paul Sheldon finds himself the victim of a car rollover due to treacherous winter weather while driving in the mountains, he awakens to find himself in the care of who he believes is a nurturing and trustworthy home care nurse named Annie Wilkes. It turns out that Annie is Paul’s ‘biggest fan’, having read all his books, and Paul, grateful to Annie for taking him in, lets her read his latest manuscript. Things take a bad turn when Annie detests Paul’s latest book, in which he kills off the main character of a series he’d written. Annie then basically keeps Paul hostage in her out-of-the-way country home as he recuperates, and also demands that he write a new book in which the main character lives after all. The story has twists and turns that are uniquely King-esque, and I’ve always thought there was a little bit of realism put into the author character from King himself.
But even when we stray from the literary world, we find that some of Hollywood’s most notorious monsters and horror icons have roots in reality.
Freddy Krueger – you’ve heard of this guy, right? Burned all over, ugly red and green sweater, wears a glove that’s fixed with blades on the end of each finger, and tops it all off with a fedora hat? No, the wise-cracking and dream-stalking serial murderer of the ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ franchise didn’t really exist, at least not in that context. But creator Wes Craven did conjure up Freddy from an event that happened in real life.
The basic premise of the ‘Nightmare’ movies is that Freddy stalks his victims in their dreams, where they’re most vulnerable. Craven, looking for that next big horror story to scare his audience, came across a news article in which a young boy had, for all intents and purposes, died in his sleep. The boy kept having night terrors and had refused to go to sleep. It wasn’t until he’d been medicated that his family believed he would finally get a good night’s sleep. Minutes later, the young man’s piercing scream woke up the whole house, and his family found him dead in his bed. In the immediate aftermath of the young man’s terrible demise, investigators found a coffee machine hidden in his bedroom closet; one of the many ways in which the petrified man tried to keep sleep at bay.
It’s unknown to this day what exactly was terrifying the boy at night, but the article in the L.A. Times did state that the family had survived and managed to escape the infamous Killing Fields in Cambodia. Nightmares, indeed.
Halloween brings with it all sorts of supernatural beings, but the truly terrifying stories that get goosebumps soaring up my skin come from a very real place.
Our world can be a nightmare in itself.
For this week, that’s been the Ruttle Report.