Your Horror Influences or From the Cradle…to the Grave

Welcome back all you freaks, creeps, and ghoulunatics, to another piece of cerebral sewage from everyone’s favorite grave robber, Renfield. Taking time out from robbing, uh, I mean, taking inventory of another grave, so that I can annoy, explain, and enlighten all you young witches and warlocks out there.

As the next generation of horror whatever (fill in the blank to suit your needs) we must look back at what it is that got us here in the first place, our influences. Much like our family heritage, our influences are the contributing factor to whom and what we are today. When I was a young grave robber an older beatnik (yes, she actually was a real beatnik) in my literature class in college approached me and handed me a book by Jack Kerouac entitled “On the Road”. She said to me “You’re already a rebel; know you just need to find out why. Read this.” I have to admit, it was different than anything I was used to reading. But the point was that I won’t forget what she was trying to tell me. You have to know where you come from to figure out where you are going.  

When you start creating a film, book, or band, you immediately start replicating ( the industry likes to call it “paying homage”) the things that influenced you from an earlier age. If you are part of the 25-40 age group, this would most likely be splatter films. If you are 30 something and up and raised around the Bible belt, you may be influenced by the Exorcist, the Omen, or the Rosemary’s Baby movies that created the “Satanic Panic” of the late 70’s. (At seven years old, my mother sat me in front of the Exorcist and said “Here, watch this. This is what happens when you’re bad.” And they have no idea why I ended up in therapy.) Maybe you are a purest and prefer the quintessential ghost story like that of the “The Haunting”. Today’s younger heathens may prefer the torture porn genre of Turistas and Hostel that was popular early in the new millenium. In Europe there are the Italian giallo films which cross the mystery genre with horror. Then you have the hybrids that use take a little from each genre and blend them (for evidence of these, please see the original “Saw” film which could be considered giallo as well as fall into the torture porn category).

How about all you authors? Poe anyone? Maybe you enjoy your cosmic horror from Lovecraft. Maybe you prefer the modern writings of King, Barker, or Saul. Or perhaps you look to other genres. Maybe your inspiration is true crime, history, or even romance.  I’m not saying any of these is wrong. With your own twist, you can look into any story and “bastardize” it to fit your agenda. (Google images of MacFarlane’s Twisted Fairy Tales for what I’m talking about.)

Finally, look around. Your resting place is a vital influence to you. Your surroundings come into play in a major way when trying to set the scene for your work. Stephen King has the cold small towns of Bangor, Maine. Anne Rice is influenced by the voodoo bayous of New Orleans. I come from the Lone Star state of Texas. It has plenty of legends that would keep any artist full of ideas for a lifetime. It’s home of all sorts of weird crap like the UT clock tower shooting, president Kennedy assassination, Marfa lights, Bigfoot forests, ghost pirates off the coast, UFO abductions, cannibal native Americans, Bonny and Clyde, the Waco cult, satanic Mexican cults, and Anna Nichole Smith.

I have always been a fan of the old Tales from the Crypt comics and television show. The segments had incredible writing with a plot twist. Then, the real rock star of the show was the Crypt Keeper himself. The old dead bastard had the best dark humor puns and influenced my use of “plague on words” today. “Leave it to Cleaver”…that’s awesome.

Music is another source of misguided influence. Music has always been the redheaded step child that people love to point fingers at when something goes wrong. But music is a good influence on many things as well. Musicians like David Bowie (known mainly for his music ability) and Sid Vicous (not known for his music ability) defined a generation of punk fashion. KISS redefined the way a brand could become marketable when they slap their name on everything from toys to condoms (Kondoms?) to coffins (Koffins?).  I know that judging by my gothic good looks, long black hair, black clothes, pale skin, and motorcycle boots that people are quick to blame rap music for the violent stories that I’ve shitten, er…written, but they forget that Johnny Cash was “The Man in Black” that sung “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die”.

Think about how all these things can cross over. Alice Cooper has been an influence to me in my music, writings, and even my films. Some of the most visual ideas did not come from his onstage antics, but rather his music videos. To give you an idea, I have a full size gothic/electric chair in my man cave (see “He’s Back” video). There are multiple size chains seen hanging from the rafters every few inches in the barn scene of my short film, “County Road” (see “Poison” video). A huge topic of most of my writings contains mentally unstable patients in psych wards (see practically any Alice Cooper video). I probably watched too much Headbanger’s Ball on MTV when I was younger. Again, my parents wanted to know why I needed therapy.

So the next time you set out to create something, think back to what influenced your choices that went into your work. Was it music, a person, literature, or maybe a restraining order? Stop for a moment, reflect on it, and pay your respects. Whatever it is, do it right and make it your own. You just might be the new influence on the next generation.

This week check out Adam Wingard’s movie, “You’re Next” and the book “Too Much Horror Business” by Kirk Hammett.

Now, I have to get back to work. This grave isn’t going to rob itself…

Until next time, rest in pieces.

Renfield Rasputin

Renfield curses the living in Texas and Louisiana and writes horror stories and movies…badly.

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