(this is kind of a loooong article, so be warned)
When I sat down to knock out this bio I read about a dozen others on
author websites. Mostly, they were what you might expect. Just the facts,
ma'am, and nothing but the facts. The straight scoop: where I came from
and what I'm doing now. But the more I thought about it, the more I
decided that wasn't what I wanted at all. Yes, I had to write about
myself--something no one is entirely comfortable with--but there was no
reason to make it as dry as a newspaper article, I decided.
So I decided to write about my childhood.
Because, like most horror writers, I'm tuned into my childhood and the
elemental fears most adults hide away in the closet I exploit. So here goes.
As a boy, I had an active fantasy life like any other
kid.. I loved adventure and action. And these things
were summed up for me in one figure: Batman. I
was obsessed with the caped crusader! Make no
mistake about that. I watched the TV
show--Addam West, of course--and read the comic
books, lived, breathed, and dreamed of Batman.
Much to the annoyance of my sisters and parents,
I'm sure. But, heck, who was better than Batman?
He's much bigger today, of course, than he was
back in the 1960s. Nobody would have dreamed
of a multi-million dollar epic about
the Dark Knight back then. He was
just something for kids. Sure. And
we ate him up. I used to run around
the house with a blanket tied
around my neck shouting:
"BATMAN! BATMAN!" and it drove
everyone crazy. Very crazy, I
recall. Finally giving in, my mom and
dad bought me a Batman costume
and then it only got worse.
I wouldn't take it off. I played in it. I lived in it.
Tried to sleep in it. I remember my dad yelling at me at the dinner table to
take that "damn" mask off while I was eating. He didn't understand. I had
found my vocation: I was going to be a crime fighter. He was a cop, after all,
so surely he should have understood. But he didn't. Nobody did.
Of course, Batman wasn't the only thing feeding my runaway imagination.
There was also Jonny Quest. Another obsession. What boy--or girl--wasn't
obsessed with Jonny? Damn. Here was this kid fighting against evil and
menace in all its forms--sinister spies, prehistoric monsters, werewolves,
voodoo dolls, pirates, robots--what more could you want? Right away I
latched onto this show. And not just for the action or pulp adventure,
but for the monsters. Because Jonny had 'em. The
energy-sucking protoplasmic spook with the one
glaring eye in "The Invisible Monster", the
crumbling, stalking mummy in "The Curse of
Anubis." Hey, this was the greatest show in the
world! Just ask any sixties kid! So while Batman
may have introduced me to action, Jonny
introduced me to monsters.
Maybe that was a mistake...
Now let's have a brief discussion of toys. We're talking the late sixties here.
Beatles. Flower power. Vietnam. And the Apollo space missions. They were all
the rage and so it wasn't surprising that the toy industry reflected this.
Hence, the first toys I remember were things like plastic moon rockets,
battery-operated robots that would march about and spin their heads, water
missiles you'd hook up to a garden hose, and Major Matt Mason. If you're
old enough you'll probably remember what a trip these toys were. Mason was
an astronaut (of course) and he had a cool green alien named Callisto as his
sidekick. I loved Callisto and carried him
everywhere with me. In the late 1960s,
Matt Mason was hot. The toy line all boys
had to have and I had quite a few. It was
at this time I also got into G.I. Joe and
also got the first true monster toy I'd
ever owned. It was a model kit put out by
Aurora: The Forgotten Prisoner of
Castel-Mare, the cool glow-in-the-dark
version. My dad helped me build it and
I remember watching it glow at night
after the lights were out. A plastic skeleton in rags chained to a dungeon wall
with rats crawling around. Never had a toy so totally captivated my young
imagination. I was even willing to set
Callisto aside for the Prisoner. And that
was something in of itself. So with the
monsters of Jonny Quest and my little
green Callisto alien lurking in the
background, my love of horror was
born as I stared at the Prisoner
glowing in the dark...
Now enough about toys for a bit.
At this point I was beginning to love monsters, but my true love of horror
was not yet born. That would come when my sisters dragged me--poor little
frightened me--to see the horror movie that would forever twist me: The
Oblong Box. Yes, it was 1969 and I was six years old. I knew we were going
to that movie and I was terrified. Literally terrified. But I was a boy and,
hell, I couldn't let on. Didn't want my sisters thinking I was a sissy and all.
It got so I didn't even like the word "oblong"...why it was obscene, it was
unnatural, it...it was oblong. For several days before, we had walked past
the old Delft Theater on Main Street and
I had seen that poster, that dread awful
poster that scared me to the bones. Then
the night came. We were going. My sister
had a magazine and there, on the back
cover, was some promotional shot of a
casket that was nailed shut. Oh God.
What was in there? Would I survive the
movie? Would I scream? Would I ever be
the same again? Dear God, what was
inside that oblong box? My mom was
taking us and I tried hinting to her that
I'd rather stay home. But I was six. You
can't leave a six year old home all alone.
My dad was on the four-to-midnight shift
out in his patrol car. No, I would go with
them. A family night. Mom. My
three sisters. A cozy little horror movie. It was worse than I thought.
Never had I known such terror! I spent much of the time staring at the
walls--they had rows of palm trees on them--anything to avoid that hideous
thing in the box. Well, suffice to say, I had vivid nightmares that night and
for many nights after. My bedroom was on the other side of the house
from the others. When I looked out my door at night there was only the
darkness of the wide kitchen--black, impenetrable--I used to imagine that
the box, that cursed oblong box, was out there in the dark and I could hear
those nails being forced from the lid from within. I knew terror. True
(Sidenote: Years later I would write a book called Skin Medicine, a horror
novel set in the old west, and would unconsciously recreate a scene from
The Oblong Box...at least, my imagination's version of it rechanneled from
Okay. Now you know where I was in 1969. This was also about the same time
that my sister, Terry, would make us run home from school so we could
catch Dark Shadows. It was a pretty scary show at the time. The vampires
scared me the worst. But I developed a weird sort of crush on Angelique,
the resurrected witch, admired Barnabas, and
wanted nothing more than to be the werewolf
that stalked Collinsport. Dark Shadows came on
at four in the afternoon. Even in the stark depths
of winter, four is a bright, well-lit time of day.
But don't believe it. Dark Shadows scared the
hell out of a lot of us kids back then. Four might
as well have been the witching hour as far as we
were concerned. Regardless, I became a Dark
Shadows fanatic. I had a Barnabas Collins poster
on my wall (the one you could order from the
back pages of Famous Monsters magazine), I collected the Dark Shadows
bubble gum cards (if you collected them all and put them in order, the
backs formed a poster of Barnabas), and I built the model kits of old
toothy Barnabas and the werewolf of Collinsport (who had an extremely
large, ungainly head for some reason).
You see, what I had despised so much in The Oblong Box I was now coming
to embrace. This was my thing and I was beginning to realize it.
But complete fruition had not arrived yet.
I needed a catalyst, you see.
And that arrived one Friday night when I slept over at my cousin Mark’s
house—partly because it was fun (him having a room in the basement and
all) and partly because his older brother Kevin who’d just gotten back from
the Vietnam War had an extensive collection of Playboys. It started out as
an ordinary night, lots of
fooling around, passing gas,
looking at tit magazines, and
then, just after my cousin Kevin
got home, a show came on—
Eerie Street. Just your average
horror movie theater, this one hosted by a creepy guy in a beard and a
fifteen-foot cape on a dark, cobwebby set. I remember Mark saying—as
we huddled in bed—that if the movie was about vampires, he wasn’t
But it wasn’t about vampires.
It was called Revenge of the Creature and was
the second film in the Creature from the
Black Lagoon trilogy.
From the moment old Blacky thrust his finned
arm up out of the swampy Amazon and lunched
on a pelican…I was hooked. There was no
turning back from from then on. I begged and
pleaded and bribed my parents into letting me stay up until two in the
morning so I could watch Eerie Street every Friday night. I had to have
my fix. And I got it—Universal classics like Frankenstein Meets the
Wolfman and The Mummy’s Tomb, and not-so classics like Tarantula and
The Deadly Mantis. Soon enough, I had all my friends and classmates
hooked on this stuff, too. I let them read my magazines—Famous Monsters
and Castle of Frankenstein, Eerie and Creepy.
They ate it up.
And I was an addict.
I lived for it and I really could think of nothing
else. I filled my walls with horror and monster
posters. I collected monster masks. The cheap
ones of Frankenstein, the Mummy, and the
Teenage Werewolf that you picked up over at
Woolworth's were cool, but the Don Post masks were incredible...and also
very expensive. Thirty-some bucks piece and that was a lot of money
back in 1972. But I got a few of them and they decorated my room along
with heaps of magazines--Horror Tales,
Monsters Unleashed, Ghoul Tales, Monster
Madness, Psycho, Terror Tales, Movie
Monsters, Witches Tales, Tales from the
Tomb, Voodoo Tales etc. etc.--and I woke up
with them and read myself to sleep with them
at night. No longer did I see fear as a bad
thing. Now it was the only thing. What better
thrill was there than being scared? And
better than that--at least as far as my
parents were concerned--was that horror was
really making me read. Not just comic books,
but horror novels and anthologies. And it showed: my grades which had
always been lagging (I preferred to stare out the window at school and
draw pictures in my textbooks) had suddenly started coming up. So my
parents were cool with it.
But not all were, of course. Many thought it rotted minds.
Brief sidebar here.
Like any kid who grew up back in the '70s, I loved martial arts. There
was a kid I chummed with in grade school. His name was Steve. We were
obsessed with kung fu and karate. We knew nothing of real martial arts,
we only knew what we saw on TV. We loved all those moves that Billy Jack
and Black Belt Jones did when they stomped butt. We never missed David
Carradine on Kung Fu. So I bought a book on judo. And mainly
because I wanted to be able to flip people
around like Captain Kirk did on Star Trek. I
mean, how cool was that? Remember how
Kirk kicked Khan's ass in the "Space Seed"
episode? He did it with judo and karate, we
knew, despite the fact that Khan was
genetically engineered to be physically
superior and had five times his strength (we
knew that because Khan bragged to Kirk
about how badass he was, being a product of selective breeding and
eugenics and all that stuff). Still, we knew Kirk could take him.
By this point we should have known better,
Steve and I. Particularly after he had
"demonstrated" Japanese stick-fighting to me
and nearly split my head open and I had
"demonstrated" my flying drop-kick on him and
knocked him down the basement steps. That's
how we were, though. We had broken vases,
doors, fences, all kinds of stuff while we were "playing." It was not
unusual for us to return from an afternoon of goofing around with torn
clothes and blood on our faces. I guess our relationship was pretty
similar to that of Cato and Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther
movies: we lived to attack one another, whether that was jumping out of
trees at one another in the fall or breaking blocks of snow over each
other's heads in the winter. Regardless, Steve never went to the Friday
night spookshows with us or seemed to have any knowledge of Dracula,
Frankenstein, or the aliens on Outer Limits. And, though he would
not admit it, I don't think he even
ever saw Night Gallery.
Which was kind of a mortal sin as
far as I was concerned. But what
concerned me more was that we
never played much at his
house--only when his mom and dad
were gone--and he did not go on
sleepovers or sleep out in
anybody's backyard in a tent. Then one day, it was all revealed to me. I
slept over his house and the only model kits he had were of cars. We
had to be in bed by nine. He had no horror comics. And we had to say
grace before we ate (which in my neighborhood was like something out
of the Dark Ages). It was like sleeping over at Beaver's house or
something. And it was that night that I began to realize what the cause
of it all was: his mother. I had suspected there was something creepy
about her, but that night my worse suspicions were confirmed: she
hated horror. A TV commercial came on that night--while we watched
some drab wholesome family entertainment--for The Other (the good
one based on the Thomas Tryon novel) and Steve's mom got all upset.
How can they make such trash? How can they make such filth about
children? Granted, The Other is a nasty book and the movie is pretty
disturbing. Steve's mom got so upset that she shut off the TV. She then
proceeded to rail against horror while we sat silently by, how it was
rotting innocent minds. I wanted to tell her that she had no idea what
she was talking about...but, of course, I couldn't. Back then, you got out
of line, it was perfectly fine for a neighborhood adult to swat you.
Regardless, what I wanted to say was how my own grades had come up,
how I was reading, how my studies had seemed much easier to me all of
And I knew why: horror.
Anyway, back to our regularly scheduled program already in progress...
Now whereas my comic book tastes had been limited to Batman and Sgt.
Rock before…now I was into Chamber of Chills, Vault of Evil, Dead of
Night. These were mostly reprints of pre-code
1950s comics and so they were superior to any
anthology comics being put out at the time. And,
trust me, there were some really bad ones. But
the horror boom--and it was a boom--had
brought out a lot of really interesting books and
a lot that weren't quite so interesting. Marvel
led the pack with DC and Charleton lagging
considerably behind. I remember that my
favorites were Weird Western Tales, Chamber
of Chills (more reprints) Jonah Hex, Ghost
Rider, and The Monster of Frankenstein. Especially The Monster of
Frankenstein which, for its early issues had unbelieveable Mike Ploog
art. Along with Tomb of Dracula, Marvel was
really kicking ass. Not that they didn't put out
some stinkers--Son of Satan and Morbius, the
Living Vampire come to mind (Morbius was like a
vampire as envisioned by Bowflex, a steroidal
living dead dude in tights just bulging with
muscles). DC had Swamp Thing going for them,
the first ten issues with killer art by the
legendary Berni Wrightson who has to be the
best horror illustrator since Graham Ingels. I
should mention here that I still read Batman
sometimes...though only in secret because my friends thought guys in
capes and tights were extremely gay.
Anyway, about the same time I was mainlining on Eerie Street, reading
the comics and watching re-runs of shows like The Outer Limits and
Thriller, fate smiled down upon me and
sent me a new cable channel from
Detroit. Ha! Channel 50! They had
Creature Features on at noon every
Saturday and another show on Saturday
nights at 11:30 hosted by “The Ghoul”—my
all-time favorite horror host who played
polka music, tormented a rubber frog, sat
on a toilet, and held court with a plunger. And the movies—Fiend
Without A Face, Frankenstein 1970, From Hell it Came, The Giant
Behemoth, Them!…well, I was in heaven. If that
wasn't enough, Channel 50 also ran One Step Beyond
and introduced me to film noir.
So, the die was cast.
Fridays were my favorite night of the week—and not
just because I thought school was a drag—but
because they ushered in my personal weekend of
horrors. Back in those days, the whole gang from the
neighborhood would hike down to Main Street to take in the Friday
night offering at the Delft movie house. When our brains weren’t being
curdled on action flicks like The Return of Billy Jack, Foxy Brown, or
the latest Steve McQueen offering, we were hip-deep in the Friday
night double-feature—The Creeping Flesh and Frankenstein Must Be
Destroyed, The House of Dark Shadows and The Return of Count
Yorga. All I can say is that it was a long
walk from Main Street to our house on
13th in the dark night, especially after
seeing some of those movies. I wasn't
alone. The gang was there. Sometimes
there were as many as eight or ten of us.
Yet...I was very much alone in my mind
where every rising shadow was Carolyn
from The House of Dark Shadows,
fresh--or not so fresh--from her grave,
come to suck my blood.
Now let's talk toys again.
Like I said, there was a horror boom on at the time. Kids across the
country were really digging it, so the merchandising ran wild.
Remember Creepy Crawlers? Awesome. I wasn't allowed to have them
because my dad thought I'd burn myself or light the house on fire
with the little oven ( I had to go to my friend Davy's house, his
brother Guy ran an absolute Creepy Crawlers menagerie). And this
just because I'd gotten my tongue stuck in the electric motor of a toy
jet liner and my finger wedged in an electric train. Anyway, the same
company--Aurora Plastics--that put out my old friend, The Forgotten
Prisoner of Castel-Mare, were also putting out just about every sort
of plastic monster model kit you could think of. Frankenstein. Dracula.
The Mummy. The Wolfman. The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The
Creature from the Black Lagoon. The Old Witch. The Phantom of the
Opera. One cool kit after the other
and I was building them. Man, was I
ever. Lots of kids were. My room
glowed at night. Aurora got into the
whole monster kit thing back in the
early sixties. They became
synonymous with horror/monster
figures and these babies easily
outsold everything else they put
out. MPC got in the act putting out a
Dark Shadows Barnabas and Werewolf. Even Disney licensed their
Pirates of the Caribbean as model kits (ultra-cool skeleton pirates
that would move and this long before the movie franchise). Not to be
outdone, Aurora launched Prehistoric Scenes--very cool--and then
probably the wildest, weirdest, and most controversial toy line up
until that point: Monster Scenes. Yeah, baby! Dr. Deadly.
Frankenstein. The Victim. Vampirella. And several detailing kits--The
Hanging Cage, the Pendulum, Gruesome Goodies and The Pain Parlor.
(which, essentially, were really
just kits of torture and surgical
Oh, these were unbelievable. You
could put The Victim in The
Hanging Cage or strap her down
on the Pendulum table. You could
tie her to the operating table
and let Dr. Deadly perform
experiments on her. Heh, heh,
heh! Well, the parental backlash
was only a matter of time.These
wonderful kits were
discontinued amongst a storm of
protest from parental and
women's rights groups. Couldn't have our boys torturing The Victim
with all the nasty components of Gruesome Goodies and The Pain
Parlor. Of course, I didn't know anything about that. All I knew is
that they stopped making them and I was pissed. The do-gooders
once again had
ruined all the
fun. No more
the horror of
it! The horror!
the future mad
gain any practical experience in evil experiments and sinister
schemes? I guess these groups were pretty well convinced that we
boys were far too stupid to differentiate between fantasy and
reality. Today we'd be playing mad scientist with our harmless little
toys and tomorrow we'd be doing the real thing, transplanting real
brains and putting real women in real hanging cages in our real cellar
laboratories and secret torture chambers. Yeah, okay. Mmm-hmmm.
Sure. Thanks for the vote of confidence, you assholes.
Of course, I didn't learn about any of this controversy until I was an
adult via the internet. But it still burned me. I suppose the people
who did it were the same idiots who got horror and crime comics
banned back in the 1950s.
Okay. Enough bitching.
I think by this point I should have called this article "The Education
of a A Horror-Lover" or something.
Regardless you get the picture. There was no turning back. The die
was cast. I was awash in a sea of horror and monster stuff. And to
this day I still float there, happily so.
No discussion of the horror boom of the 1960s and '70s--and my
worship of it--would be complete without a brief word about Terror
TV. Because the early 1970s was the time of the great terror TV
movie. The networks, cashing in on the horror boom, pumped out
these movies with wild abandon--Dark Night of the Scarecrow,
Crowhaven Farm, Gargoyles, Don't Be Afraid of the
Dark, Bad Ronald, Satan's Triangle, When Michael
Calls, Trilogy of Terror etc. etc.--and many were
suprisingly good (as compared with the utter shit
the SyFy Channel keeps shoving down our throats
these days). But one of the very best (and the one no kid growing up
at the time missed) was The Night Stalker. This was the one about
the vampire loose in Las Vegas. Nobody missed it. I remember when
it premiered in 1972. I remember being blown away by it...freaked,
amazed, excited. It was all kids were talking about
at school the next day. Especially that ending, man.
Good old Karl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) putting the
stake through the vampire (played to the hilt by
Barry Atwater). Still one of the scariest vampire
films ever made. It scared one of our neighbors so badly that she
slept with the lights on for a week. The movie, of course, made
ratings history and ushered in the TV series which is also
well-remembered and well-loved. I never missed an episode and my
mom and dad, by that point, were calling me "The Night Stalker."
So I was a horror freak.
No turning back and no wanting to.
Now, not only did I have a macabre turn of
mind as a boy( I used to do school reports
on things like the Guillotine and the Salem
Witch Trials), but I was also unabashedly
I would believe anything.
I believed that if you swallowed your gum, it would collect in your
belly and form a hard, inert mass that would explode one day. I
believed that empty houses were generally haunted. Bigfoot? The
Loch Ness monster? Little green men from Mars? I accepted them
as fact. When my friend Troy's older brother told us he had cut his
ears off with a scissors and glued them back on, I didn’t question it.
When we slept out in a tent in Troy ’s back yard and his dad told us
to sleep in the middle because there was a psycho in the
neighborhood that liked to stick long knives through the canvas and
skewer kids along the sides, I believed. Keep in mind here, this was
the same guy who informed us that Frankenstein was a true story and
told us the most gruesome version of that tale I have ever heard. He
also liked to drive us out to the cemetery in
the dead of night and tell us ghost stories. He
was that kind of guy. A real terror at
Halloween. Anyway, So, I was gullible. Very
gullible. When my friend Davy’s sister told me
(always before I walked home alone at dark)
that there was a child-eating night-haunter
called Old Blood and Bones stalking our town
…I kept a close eye out and watched the shadows. I lived in a
neighborhood of professional bullshit artists. We were all good at it.
Pretty soon I was making up movies that I had seen—Dracula’s Bats,
Invaders from the Stars—that had never existed. I would go on and
on about them. Crazy thing was, my friends had seen them, too, and
could remember parts I had left out. It was sort of a collective
bullshitting. Not just movies, but experiences, too. One guy starts
some crazy story and the others jump right in. To this day, I’m not
really sure about some things in my childhood…did they happen or
did we make them up?
When I finally hit junior high school, I had read most of the classic
horror novels—Frankenstein, Dracula, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The
Island of Dr. Moreau. I started ordering paperback anthologies
from the back pages of Famous Monsters and Creepy—things like
the Pan Books of Horror, The Graveyard Reader, Horror Times Ten,
Masters of Horror,
any Weird Tales reprints I could lay my
I was in love.
Suddenly, the movies didn’t cut it anymore
(still loved ‘em, but I was on to bigger and
darker things). They couldn’t compare with
Bradbury and Bloch, Kuttner and Derleth. I
was up to my white ass in macabre treasures
like “Men Without Bones” and “Lukundoo”. Then I found Lovecraft.
Wow. Then Howard. I’ll never forget the first time I read “The
Colour Out of Space” or “Pigeons From Hell”. I knew then,
particularly after reading the Howard story (still to this day, my
favorite horror story), what I was supposed to do.
Somewhere along the way, I discovered the EC horror comics and
the other pre-code stuff...it seemed to finally cement everything in
place. I had a read a lot of 1950s reprints
via Marvel, but nothing truly prepared me
for what I saw when I finally got my hands
on some real pre-code horror comics.
Damn! Those lucky kids in the 1950s! All
those great publishers like Atlas, Harvey,
Ajax-Farrel. All put out of business (like
Monster Scenes) by the limp-wristed
do-gooders (them again!) and their pallid
comics code. EC, of course, was the best
and of all their artists nobody had a flair
for horror quite like Graham Ingels and the wonderful work he did
for Vault of Horror, Tales from the Crypt, Shock Suspenstories,
and, most importantly, The Haunt of Fear. No one could draw such
menacing graveyards, such grotesque monsters, or zombies that
looked so unbearably rotten
the way Ingels could. Not
that Rudy Palais or Basil
Wolverton were slouches
either. Suffice to say I've
been obsessed with horror
comics ever since (see
But onward we go.
Through high school I wrote
pastiches of Lovecraft, H.G.
Wells, and Robert E. Howard.
I knew, somehow, that I
could do it, too. I could write
that shit. But I had no
discipline. If I wrote once a week or once a month, I was doing
pretty good. But there are so many distractions when you’re a
teenager—girls, booze, rock ‘n’ roll. It wasn’t until I was in my late
twenties that I hit it with any seriousness. Even then, my discipline
was terrible. I’d start something, toss it aside; start something
else, toss it aside. Even now, I’m still pulling off a lot of the things I
started back then. But I knew even then I could do it.
When my first real story—“The Girl with the Moon in Her Eyes”—
was published by a very, very small magazine with the nauseating
title of Bone Marrow, I felt oddly…violated. Suddenly, my thing, my
personal thing was splashed out over those pages where everyone
could read it. There had been no less than six other stories before
it that I had "sold" to mags that promptly folded before my tales
saw print. But when it happened, when I saw my first story there,
well, it was a strange feeling.
What’s left to tell?
Too much, so I’ll end this before I get off on another tangent.
Though I’m older and seasoned like a gamy stew now, the kid is still
in me. I still believe all sorts of crazy shit. No, I don’t buy that
business about gum in your belly or Old Blood and Bones. But on the
other hand, I’m sure there’s a monster in that lake in Scotland,
giant hairy men living high in Himalayas, and little green men on
Well, maybe there is.
If I've gone way too long with this, I apologize. But this has been
fun. And I'm sure there's plenty of 1960s/1970s horror-kids that
can identify with my submergance into horror/monster culture.
Until next time, pleasant screams.
Hmmm...one of these guys is me...