Why Do I Write Horror?
By Joshua Chaplinsky
I love horror. Not everything I write could be considered straight-up horror, but I’d say a good 90% of it contains an element of the horrific. Why is that?
I could give a long-winded answer about the evolution of the campfire tale, and how it served to educate and instil a sense of caution in the most vulnerable; about euphoric catharsis, or facing one’s fears in a controlled environment and all that, but TL;DR, yada yada yada…
I write horror because it’s the fucking coolest.
I’m an ideas man. A concept guy. I love a cosmic What If? Why write about the boring minutiae of everyday life when you can create something no one has ever experienced before? And make it relatable? 665 times out of 666, a good horror story reveals more about the human condition than your run-of-the-mill wallow in literary ennui.
That’s why I write horror.
Okay, you still want the long-winded answer? The armchair psychoanalysis? Here it is. I didn’t always love horror. I used to be afraid of it. Being terrified, terrified me. As a kid, I was a total wussburger (sad face emoji).
And this wussburger loved him some Michael Jackson. The Thriller album was my jam. The “Beat It” video? Hands down THE. COOLEST. (This was waaaaay before we knew more about Michael than we wanted to.) So when MTV premiered the long-form video for the album’s title track, there I sat, front and center (in my living room).
I sensed trouble the second the title card faded in, claymation undulating to the sound of heavy breathing. An uneasiness crept over me, but I stayed put. Michael wouldn’t do me wrong. Or so I thought.
I made it through the awkward expository dialog. I’m not like other guys. (Of course not, Michael. We know that now.) But as soon as I saw those yellow contacts and pointy teeth, I freaked, and bolted from the room. I was in my bed and under the covers before ol’ Michael finished morphing into that ridiculous, tree-hating catwolf.
This marked the first in a series of traumatic run-ins with the horror genre. I was seven years old at the time.
Five months later, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, that grand inspirer of the PG-13 rating, came out in theaters. I think I was in second grade. A kid in my class saw it opening weekend and loved it. He brought a glossy, theater lobby program, the kind they used to give away opening night, to show-and-tell. He couldn’t stop talking about the scene where Mola Ram tore that dude’s still-beating heart out of his chest. There was a picture of it in the program, he told us, which he’d unveil during show and tell.
I felt sick with anticipation. Where was our teacher in all of this? Rubbernecking with the rest of the audience, if I remember correctly. Eyes wide, shoulders hunched forward. When the moment came and the boy finally turned to that frightful page, I put my head down and stared at the floor.
He saw me. He could sense my fear, the way kids do. And like kids do, he wanted to exploit that fear. That afternoon on the bus ride home, the program remained on full display. I hid in the back and stared out the window. When we got to my stop, I knew I couldn’t avoid a confrontation. Everyone stared at me. Even the bus driver. I could see the malicious gleam in the kid’s eye.
The double folding doors creaked open like a coffin. I put my head down and barreled through the aisle. The kid grabbed my arm as I passed, tried to force me to look, but I pulled away and ran off the bus. Derisive laughter followed after me. I didn’t look up or stop running until halfway down the block. When I did muster the courage to look, I could still see the kid at the back window, pressing the image against the glass as the bus drove away. It didn’t seem so frightening from that distance.
But that didn’t represent some breakthrough moment for me. I continued to shun the horrific, although it always managed to find me. Not even my dreams provided safe haven. In 1986 my parents took me to see Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. You know, the one with the whales. Anyways, during the previews, they showed the trailer for Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors. A teaser, I believe, as the movie wouldn’t be out until the following year. The one with the little girl and the dollhouse, where Freddy’s glove pops out at the end. It gave me nightmares… FOR YEARS. Seriously, I had PTSD. I would lie awake in bed, covers pulled over my head, the bastardized nursery rhyme on repeat in my brain. “One, two, Freddy’s coming for you.”
Coming for ME.
Then there was the time in 6th or 7th grade I slept over a friend’s house with a bunch of other kids. I knew there were going to be horror movies, but I risked it, because there was also going to be the Playboy channel. Before my friend’s father went to bed, he wagged his finger and grinned. “Don’t watch Playboy all night,” he said. We didn’t see him again until the next morning.
For the most part, we did watch Playboy all night. But around three in the morning, someone decided to put on Faces of Death. At this point in my life I had no idea most of the scenes were fake. To say the movie traumatized me would be an understatement. The blood orgy? The monkey brains? (Flashbacks to Temple of Doom). That night I witnessed REAL DEATH.
Afterwards, my friends decided to follow that up with The Exorcist, but I’d had enough. I called it quits, claiming exhaustion (I was exhausted, mentally). I went into another room to sleep, but my friends refused to turn the TV down. Demonic screams infiltrated my dreams and I spent the night in a semi-conscious sweat plagued by aural hallucinations. My fever didn’t break until morning.
There were plenty other moments, but none so memorable or formative. At some point, during my early teens, I decided I needed to toughen up. Desensitize myself. The hunted became the hunter. I started seeking out horror films and bloody action movies. I didn’t want to be afraid. I wanted to like them. Deep down, I think I already did.
In fact, sometimes I wish I could get a little of that old fear back. That rush of adrenaline that leaves your heart pumping and your limbs rubbery. Maybe not to quite the levels I experienced as a child, or as lasting, but in the moment, at least. It’s like chasing that first high. As adults, a lot of horror fans are trying to recreate those childhood emotions.
Maybe that’s why so many of us have turned to writing horror. To pinpoint what it is that scares us—whether to vanquish or embrace it—and to share it with others, see how their experiences measure up to our own.
Or maybe we’re just trying to see who can come up with the coolest story.
You can find out more about Joshua via his official website www.joshuachaplinsky.com
Please follow Joshua on Twitter @jaceycockrobin
Whispers In The Ear Of A Dreaming Ape
The debut short story collection from Joshua Chaplinsky, author of Kanye West—Reanimator. Thirteen weird pieces of literary genre fiction. Singularities, ciphers, and reappearing limbs. Alien messiahs and murderous medieval hydrocephalics. A dark collection that twists dreams into nightmares in an attempt to find a whisper of truth.