Librarian and friend of Writing Bloc Becky Spratford is hosting a series titled 31 Days of Horror on her blog. She’s invited our authors to tell her readers why they love horror. Here’s G.A. Finocchiaro, author of GRACE FALLS.
I was born with an overactive imagination. As a kid, I spent every waking moment adventuring outside, exploring the woods, and living in my own reality. I was fearless, battling villains, discovering lost treasure, and solving grand mysteries. Nothing could stand in my way—except the dark basement corner behind the stairs.
Every creeping journey down into the dark, cold, damp, concrete block basement was filled with dread, as I imagined a clawed hand swiping at my feet through the open stairs. And every return journey back to safety was taken at top speed, running as if my life depended on it.
The old oil-tank and heater was a bastion of evil. A hidden relic of archaic danger nestled behind the creaky wooden stairs, it was impervious to my Jedi attacks. I was weak in its presence. My imagination had twisted my own fears into something so horrible that I feared for the safety of every family member who ventured into the darkness alone.
The terror was like an infection, and it soon spread into the silliest of things. I was no longer a fearless child, braving strange new worlds, exploring the woods and building forts—I was terrified of the darkness. The thing that creeped under the stairs had escaped the basement and now lurked in every nighttime shadow.
I couldn’t watch or read anything scary. The very mention of monsters shook me. Every stranger was an agent of the thing below the stairs—the babysitter, the gas station attendant, the neighbors—everybody. There was no escaping it.
Even vampiric rabbits tormented me— after bearing witness to the cover of “Bunnicula” at the book fair, every albino bunny with red eyes was a blood-sucking fiend. Every shadow in my room at night formed a humanoid shape with terrible sharp claws and teeth. Every pop or creak in the floor was the creature creeping up to snatch me. Every commercial and TV show featuring a monster or masked killer was something that sent chills up my spine—the very same chills the creature under the stairs instilled in me.
In the matter of a year, I went from a heroic young boy saving the planet from Skeletor, Darth Vader, and Mum-Ra, to a crumbling mess—a cowardly kid afraid of his own shadow.
The 80s had no lack of heroes. From cartoons to the movies, there were so many iconic, colorful characters to inspire me and my imagination. From He-Man to Schwarzenegger, to the Ghostbusters and Atreyu—I was overwhelmed with heroics. People who rose up to fight the bad guys. But it wasn’t until I met Rudy Holloran, the badass, leather-jacket-wearing punk from The Monster Squad, that I found my true hero.
“I’m part of the goddamn club, aren’t I?” said Rudy as he stepped forward and lifted a wooden stake to take down Dracula’s Three Brides. Since that day, I never wanted to be anything else. I wanted to be a badass monster hunter.
Darkness be damned, I learned to embrace the fear. I learned to defy the darkness. I was the badass that wouldn’t back down. I was the survivor who fought back.
The final girl became a horror trope because “she”—the least likely to survive—was pushed too far and rose up to defeat the darkness. The Loser Club faced off against the clown-embodiment of fear itself, Shadow Moon ventured into the otherworldly plots of the gods, while John and Dave fell into the mind-altering clutches of the “soy sauce”—these characters made me feel a connection. I found belonging in being an oddball.
I saw the world differently than others.
The outcast, the humbled survivor, and the punk rock badass—the archetypes have not changed much over the years. Popular culture has redefined them into varieties that aren’t so various—from Buffy to Blade, Hellboy to the Winchesters—the snarky tough guys and gals always came through. Their inner darkness shone like beacons. Despite their own troubles, doing what’s right was never in question.
I survived the horror under the stairs when I learned that I could be as badass as Rudy Holloran. As I got older, I learned that the more terrifying the monster, the more I looked forward to their demise. How would the hero, the last man or woman standing, survive? How would I persevere through bullying? Through high school? Through college and corporate life?
I learned to slip on that leather jacket and to let my inner badass take down monsters.
Every horror creator makes it their own. We are all terrified by something, and in our terror we find common ground. Some horror stories can be funny, and others can be outright gory. Sometimes the most effective scare is a disarming laugh before the quick swipe of a knife.
I will forever be grateful to the five kids who took down Dracula, Wolf-Man, The Mummy, and Creature (with a little help from Frankenstein) for redefining monsters. Without them, I may have grown up in a world where fear defeated me.
G.A. Finocchiaro was born and raised in South Jersey. He is a self-described goofball with a taste for bad jokes and good burgers. Finocchiaro currently lives in Philadelphia. He is the author of THE KNIGHTMARES and GRACE FALLS, and his story “Quibbles” appeared in the Writing Bloc Deception! anthology. Find him at gafino.com.