There’s something terribly wrong with me: my favorite horror movie is Young Frankenstein.
When you write mystery novels, people immediately assume you have an unusual taste for the macabre, an interest in death that transcends the usual “heaven, hell, purgatory or Cincinnati?” arguments and goes more to the Charles Addams area. They figure that because we have to concern ourselves with ways to off fictional people, we must really revel in the details, the very stuff of death, that we must seek out every possible avenue of information on murder.
They also think we must love horror movies. Our favorite books must be written by Stephen King. Our musical tastes? Black Sabbath, Slayer, Megadeth: what else? Our deities must be Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper and Betsy Palmer, who played a killer in the first Friday the 13th movie.
Well, I must clearly be a poor excuse for a mystery author, because I am not in the least attracted to the depiction of death, torture, dismemberment, mayhem or really deep paper cuts. I don’t even like roller coasters. I am a wimp of epic proportions.
It’s worth noting that Alfred Hitchcock once told an interviewer that he was “more scared than (the audience) of things in real life,” but I don’t care much for the fake stuff, either. I teach screenwriting at Drexel University, and one of my students this week mentioned Saw as a wonderful example of a fun experience. I would have been more vehement in my opposition to that statement, but I make it a policy not to yell at girls.
So when Halloween comes around, and suddenly every television network remembers that some people care for this stuff, we are rapidly bombarded with Freddy Kreuger, Michael Meyers (not the one from Wayne’s World), Leatherface, Jason and whatever other demons live in movies with Roman numerals in their titles.
We also get Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolf Man, and I love those guys. Here were some monsters you could sink your teeth into (or vice versa) without having to make sure you’d taken your seasickness medication first. They had personalities. They had flaws. They had angst (well, Dracula wasn’t really all that guilt-ridden; for that, you had to go to Barnabas Collins), regrets. They didn’t kill you for sport. And they didn’t kill you in the most grotesquely nauseating way possible just because they could.
Many of us spent a good deal of our childhoods watching horror movies on television, in showings that were aimed at children specifically. I somehow doubt Saw III , opening this week, would have passed muster with Zacherly or Captain Jack McCarthy.
So I’m a scaredy cat, but still, I have written novels in which people have been shot, knifed, shot (it’s convenient; what can I tell you?) and poisoned, and I’m writing another now in which a man will be… well, no. I haven’t entirely decided on that one yet, and besides, it’s two years away. You’ll forget. But my purpose is never to scare the reader; I’m more interested in the laugh. Does writing about violent acts when I abstain from watching them mean I’m a hypocrite?
I don’t think so: there’s a certain aspect of control freak in any author: sure, we read books, but we have to write some of our own because we want to decide what happens by ourselves. And in writing about things that frighten us, we get to conquer them, because we get to decide when and how they happen.
And to whom. It’s almost never to us.
So if you come by my house on Tuesday, we’ll be handing out what my children like to call “the good candy, which is anything that has chocolate in or on it. But if you’re wearing a really disturbing costume, or you look especially fierce or threatening, do me a favor and ring the bell twice. That’ll be our code.
I’ll make sure my son answers the door.