Childhood Genre Favorites: Horror edition.

 

How often have you heard this one?

“I was reading Stephen King when I was [insert number generally 12 or under] years old!” 

It’s a curious boast. I understand where it comes from, in some respects. The comment seems to be used to claim some combination of the following: advanced reading skills for age, distance from cutesy or mainstream children’s fare, quirky individuality…or something else.

I’m not saying I think it’s wrong. My befuddlement usually runs more along the lines of “Who didn’t?”

So, really, I’m as guilty of not thinking about audience and context. If I’m interested in horror and I gravitate toward fellow horror fans…the math is pretty simple. I’m going to know a whole bunch of early King fans. Outside that circle, the statement may have a lot more traction.

The fact is, I’m very interested in learning about early favorites for the horror fan. Despite my introduction, I want to hear about what fed that interest in the dark.

This is a relatively free-form list of things I remember from my youth…and, oh yes, it’s going to date me. That’s SCARY. But I’ll go for it anyway.

I’ll skip some of the obvious ones—disobeying the order to not watch The Omen, all the classic slashers, and so on.

These are mostly elementary and middle school choices.

TV and movies:

  • Rikki-Tikki-Tavi
    • I watched the Chuck Jones cartoon show every year it was on. I loved the mongoose for his heroism, but I think it was the fear that thrilled me. The narration struck the perfect balance for kid terror, equally comforting and filled with tension. The cobras, Nag and Nagaina were so menacing—they starred in a couple of my nightmares.
      • There's a pattern here. Lots of these feature snakes and bugs. I'm still not fond of them, but the fear has faded some. The 70s and 80s featured a lot of creature based horror.
      • For some reason I never got into the Jaws fear. Okay--it was probably because I knew freshwater and seawater are different and there aren't many oceans in Wisconsin.
      • So Piranha was worse for me, but I think I was more grateful for the new variation of the Hot Lava game--(Don't fall into the water!).
      • I will not joke about the Killer Bees movies. I was convinced we were all doomed to die in their swarms. For real. 
  • The Third Eye (TV series)
    • This show aired on Nickelodeon in the eighties and I loved it. It was an anthology collection of shows from the UK and New Zealand. My favorite was Children of the Stones. It was set in an odd village within a stone circle and it had some of the creepiest incidental music ever.  There was a relatively complex storyline and decent acting.
  • I remember being freaked out by what I little I saw of a couple old movies. The first is (according to internet research) called Bug. It featured mutant cockroaches that could start fires. The other was called Sssssss. The movie features a scientist who turns men into snakes. There’s a scene mid-transformation that still freaks me out.
    • They are all really cheesy, but I was young.
  • Honorable mention goes to the Ray Harryhausen films. That wasp! Those skeletons! The statue, the scorpion… brilliant.
  • Twilight Zone merits its place in TV history, but I was all about Night Gallery. I always thought it was such a score when I stumbled across it.

Books:

  • I’m too old to have been a kid during the R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps heyday. I would have been all over those titles, I’m sure. Same goes for Bunnicula. (My brother loved that one and I read it too). 
  • My go-to author was Lois Duncan. My favorite was A Gift of Magic, but that one wasn’t really scary. The others were. I liked Down a Dark Hall (boarding school setting, talented students, nefarious plans, spirits); Summer of Fear (Rachel is the only one to sense the evil in her cousin); and Stranger with My Face (perfect for those identity crisis years).
  • William Sleator’s House of Stairs was disturbing as hell. It’s about a group of teens trapped in a huge space made of nothing but stairs and a couple platforms—think M.C. Escher meets Skinner. The setting was so compelling that it’s stuck with me over the years. Add in dystopia and awful psychological experiments and you’ve something unsettling. I read that book over and over.
  • My main sources for horror stories were the novels I picked up after my mom was done reading them. I remember John Saul stories—in particular Suffer the Children and Comes the Blind Fury.
  • There was a collection of short stories called Claws or something. I had to hide that one under my bed at night. I would later do the same thing with King’s Salem’s Lot. I think the move had more to do with the covers than the contents, but I may just be fronting.
  • I remember some Straub in there too.
  • Poe obviously.
  •  Dracula.
  • H.G. Wells. 
  • There were probably a lot more. I would grab just about anything I could. I was lucky that if I got scared or confused, my mom was really good about explaining it.

All that gruesome and scary stuff fired my imagination.

It still does.

So, yeah, did I tell you all I was reading Stephen King when I was eight or nine? Or better yet, do you guys remember reading King when you were a kid?

It was awesome, wasn't it?