Horror Half-Life Part One

by Chris Conway
I recently turned 43 years old.  While the number itself does not bother me much, it made me think about the numbers in general.  By most estimates, based on my current health, family history and personal lifestyle, I have lived half of my life.
An existentialist by nature, I firmly believe that I molded my past, which in turn created the present me.  In reflecting on that notion, it occurred to me that I have had very few constants in my life- family being chiefly among them.  Another aspect of my being that has ‘been there’ all along has been the horror genre in its various forms.  It has never been less than a sea of white noise, sometimes a howl breaking the silence of night, and often a scream from the unseen depths of a blackened void.
The editors of HNN have graciously allowed me to chronicle my relationship with my longtime companion.  Through this series of articles, I hope to not just present my version of the History of Horror 1970-2013, but to relive my journey alongside horror and my attempts to explore its roots and the various masks it has worn thus challenging all of us to come face-to-face with the essence of not only what scares us, but why.
Part I: 1970-1974 – Celluloid Dreams
Psychiatrists say that our brains do not gain the ability to retain concrete memories until we are around 3 years old. What we do get are fragments – mostly of images – that tell a disjointed story of our first 1,000 days on this mortal coil.
My flashes, for the most part, take place within the sickly green-walled confines of a Bronx walk-up starting in 1970.
My father’s shoe, my “Bear He Talks”, my world under a coffee table – a black & white, moving image of a man peacefully (and silently) playing an organ, only to be interrupted by the woman who sneaks up behind him tearing his face off and turning him into a monster… the feeling of butterflies in my stomach.
Before the world of Betamax, Laserdisc, VHS, DVD and On Demand Digital Download was the Super 8 film.  The envy of our building, my parents not only owned a state of the art movie projector, but their own screen and a collection of films that would act as my babysitter for hours on end.
My personal favorites were single reel versions of the Dana Andrews cult horror classic The Night of the Demon and the previously alluded to Lon Chaney Sr. version of The Phantom of the Opera.  In what would prove to be one the first manifestations of my above average fine motor skills, I taught myself to string the projector at 3 ½ years old. This allowed me to feel those familiar chills whenever I wanted.
As a toddler, I never wanted for anything.  I had great toys, good playmates and a loving family.  While my days were filled with healthy doses of Sesame Street, Electric Company and Bugs Bunny, nighttime viewing was that of my parents’ fodder. From the comfort of my finished maple floor, secondhand smoking a pack of Winston Light 100’s, I watched with the grown-ups.  Of course at times we were like anyone else in the TV network’s crosshairs – enjoying Mission Impossible, Ironside and The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts.   My personal favorites were seeing Kim Darby dragged to hell by a band of goblins at the climax of Don’t be Afraid of the Dark, joining the Night Stalker as he fought any manner of vampire, werewolf or specter and our Saturday ritual – Chiller Theatre.
While by today’s standards the aforementioned might at the very least warrant a visit from DCF, I would not change a thing.
By the time I was 4 years old, I had unknowingly developed a skill very few can master.  It was not until college that I first heard the term lucid dreaming or the ability to manipulate the action of dreams.  Nearly 20 years after the fact, I uncovered the truth about my ability to direct my own dreams.  Baby Me had enjoyed being scared to the point of creating my own nightmare world.
To be continued….

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