Being a parent who loves the horror genre has made the journey of fatherhood I daresay more interesting (at least to me) than it might have been had my interests stayed in a somewhat less controversial arena. For instance, no one ever called my dad out on trying to pass along to me his appreciation for fishing under a cloud of the sport’s dubious morality, or his love for hanging out on a Sunday afternoon watching football. (However, some might have objected when he gave me a 30.06 rifle and tried to spark in me an interest in deer hunting.) But I’m a dad whose idea of fun is talking my daughters into joining him for a double feature of The Fearless Vampire Killers… and Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised if some eyebrows get raised, especially since both daughters are still classifiable as pre-teens. (One of the things I love about being a Horror Dad is being part of a group of like-minded daddies who all understand…)
Rest assured, I try to be as responsible as possible in attempting to pass along some of the love I’ve had for horror movies and a genre in general that I’ve been interested in for as long as I can remember. (Exactly when that interest went from an ember to a flame is a subject best left discussed when I get around to this week’s quiz duties.) No, I’m not one of these parents who drags their kids along to Saw VII or Final Destination 5 just because I can’t get a baby-sitter. And when I do sense curiosity on the part of my kids, I try not to overstep boundaries and scare them off or otherwise induce mental trauma with something I know they’re not ready for. (A certain friend of mine and I look forward to the day when suddenly Chucky becomes cool instead of mind-scarringly terrifying.)
However, part of learning to love the genre, I think, has to do with overstepping those boundaries on your own occasionally, testing the waters to see what you can take. That kind of experimentation has to be self-motivated. I was 10 years old at a time when Dark Shadows was already four years old, a prime time for bathing in the bloody waters of Hammer, American International Pictures, Famous Monsters of Filmland and untold others areas of interest that would slowly reveal themselves to me over the next few formative years. And I was extremely lucky that my junior high school library, though it may have been wanting in other areas, had a copy of the collected works of Edgar Allan Poe, which I snapped up and began reading at an age that some might have judged to be much too young to be soaking up Poe’s doom-laden tales of obsession, paranoia, misanthropy, ill-fated romance and, most intriguing to me, taphephobia, the fear of being buried alive.
(Come to think of it, my junior high school experience was a great one for being exposed to Poe, and to taphephobia, for that matter—as a reward for scoring highest in some academic endeavor or another, my homeroom class was marched to the auditorium one morning and treated to a movie, which we soon found out was a 16mm version of Roger Corman’s adaptation of Poe’s The Premature Burial. Just imagine the hue and cry that would result from a school-endorsed entertainment choice like that one today!)
So when my youngest daughter Nonie, who cannot bear the visage of Chucky but whose literary and visual imagination paradoxically runs toward the distinctly morbid, unearthed a copy of The Big Book of Horror that I’d purchased for her and her sister a couple of years ago and announced she wanted to read a story from it to me, the news was received by me with a distinct shiver of happiness (and with some trepidation by my wife). The Big Book of Horror features tales edited and adapted for preteens by Alissa Heyman, with illustrations by Pedro Rodriguez, from original works by Edgar Allan Poe, Guy de Maupassant, Charles Dickens, Sheridan le Fanu, Robert Louis Stevenson and several others, and while I would prefer she read the real thing—I have a sneaking suspicion she will eventually—right now these stories have served as a tantalizing introduction to the literary side of horror. Heyman has, by necessity, lost the poetry and skillful language of a story like Poe’s “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” or Stevenson’s “The Body Snatcher” or de Maupassant’s “The Hand,” but the intrigue within those stories, especially for young readers, remains intact.
So does the occasional morbidity and gore, as we found out when Nonie decided to read aloud to me the adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat.” As I said, I had read the original when I was about her age (10), but I still wondered how she would respond. I needn’t have worried. She dug into the experience with relish, and I have to say it was a delight hearing her wrangle fairly elegantly with some of the sophisticated wording, which again is nowhere near the level of Poe but pretty complicated for a nine-year-old nonetheless. And she loved the story’s morbid fatalism and inevitability.
As Nonie finished on the final note of horror, she began laughing and immediately wanted to read another one. So she did. And soon we’ll get through the entire volume, I’m sure. But I was so taken by her youthful enthusiasm, which makes a pretty heady and unlikely combination with Poe’s ghastly narrative, that I knew I would have to find some way to share it with you all. And now, through the magic of YouTube, that day has come, just in time for Halloween. So join with me now, or cluck your tongue in disapproval if you must, as we take nine minutes and 10 seconds out of a busy day to get sucked into the world of fear, murder and madness as could only be conjured by the tag team of Edgar Allan Poe and my beautiful little girl Nonie. What lurks behind the wall? What is that awful yowling? You will be terrified when you discover the secret of “The Black Cat”!