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Surviving Cinema: Slowly Mutating Into A Horror Fan

When I was a kid, I had little interest in horror movies.  I've known (lucky) people who were raised by horror-fan parents and exposed to the genre from the time they knew what movies were, but I was not one of those kids. 

My parents were not big film fans in the first place, and they were definitely not horror fans.  In fact, they seemed very eager to avoid horror movies.  When I expressed any interest in horror films, my curiosity was met with disapproving scowls.  I think my parents were in that mind-set that letting me watch Texas Chain Saw Massacre or Friday The 13th would cause me irreversible psychological, emotional, physical, and spiritual harm.  So, as a result of growing up in this household, my under-the-parents'-radar introduction to the horror genre was as gradual as it was wonderful.

I was 8 or 9 years old when I first sat down to watch a horror film on TV.  It was actually two films, and the viewing was completely unplanned - these movies just happened to be on, back to back, the evening I was spending the night at a friend's house.  It was late, we weren't tired, so we turned on the television.  Beaming from that black 'n' white 13 inch cathode ray TV came the first two horror films to sink into my bloodstream and spark my life-long love for the genre: Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1956) and The Blob (1958).

I remember feeling more transfixed watching these two movies than I had been watching other films.  These were not films made for 9-year-olds, yet my eyes were glued to the screen, indicating something new and special was born in me that night.  I had been brought up to believe that horror films would fill me with paralyzing terror that would obliterate me emotionally - an experience I did not want to have.  These movies were indeed scary to me, but I was excited to discover they were scary in a thrilling way, not in the life-crushing way I had expected.  That night, it started.  I had taken my first step towards mutating into a horror fan.

For about a decade, I thought The Blob was a black and white film, because I had only seen it on a black and white television!  Also of note, the friend who's house I had spent the night at was Chris Hill, who years later I would learn is a cousin to Jeremy Wallace - who has been my producing partner for about fifteen years.

When I was 11, my family and I moved to Pittsburgh, and simply because that city embraced George Romero's films so enthusiastically, I was introduced to Night Of The Living Dead (1968).  This one had a huge impact on me and it really opened the floodgates.  Having discovered my local video rental store (back when Betamax was still a rental option), I eagerly sought out Romero's Dawn Of The Dead (1979) next.  Not only was I mesmerized by these two incredible films, the fact that I was living in the vicinity of their shooting locations impressed me.  Until that time, my perception was that motion pictures only came from California - a far off, foreign area on the map.  (I did not know at that time that The Blob had also been shot in Pennsylvania.) 

The first seeds of wanting to make my own movies were planted, I believe, by being just the right impressionable age, living in Pittsburgh, and becoming enamored by a director that the city eagerly celebrated.  My future as a horror fan and horror filmmaker had been set in motion.

As my frequent trips to the video store continued (supplemented by late-night horror film TV broadcasts) my education in and fascination with the horror genre advanced - despite the various tactics my parents employed, trying to distract me and disperse my growing fascination with horror. 

In that time period, age 11 through 15, in addition to Romero's films, the flicks that had the most impact on me were probably The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Don't Look In The Basement, The Toxic Avenger, The Changeling, The Gates Of Hell, Alien, Psycho (and its two sequels), and Sam Raimi's Evil Dead.  (Years later, when I embarked on my first professional feature filmmaking venture, my movie Savage Harvest was heavily influenced by Evil Dead.)

Today, I am still a ravenous fan of horror films.  Since those childhood years, I've seen many additional horror pictures that in many cases have left a more lasting impression on me - and have had more influence on my own work.  But nothing beats those early years of discovery and getting to know a genre of film that continues to be a part of my career and my life today.

Thanks for reading.

-Eric Stanze