Oh, the Horror

An October tradition gets sliced and diced

Every October, my wife and I throw a theme party at our house known as “Halloween Horror Movie Fest.” It’s a tradition I actually started back in the late 1990s (shortly after graduating college), which may or may not have been inspired by this scene from the movie, Scream.

On that night (usually the last Saturday before Halloween), we drop our kids off at the grandparents for a sleepover, and then play hosts to a large group of our adult friends. The socializing (with lots of food) goes on upstairs, and loud, scary movies play on a wide-screen projector in our basement. Guests can pick their poison (though pretty much everyone ends up downstairs by the end of the night).

We show two films. The first is always an unintentionally funny, cornball movie that’s a few (sometimes more than a few) decades olds. Last year’s selection was “Ben” from 1972. It’s about a lonely boy who befriends the rodent-leader of a pack of killer rats. A few years back, we watched “Squirm,” a 1976 low-budget flick about a small Georgia town that becomes overrun with lightning-enraged, flesh-eating worms. My personal favorite is still “Shakma,” the story of a drug-driven baboon who wreaks havoc on a building full of medical students (gallantly led by 1980’s heartthrob Christopher Adkins).

Shakma is perhaps best remembered (admittedly by few) for its many jaw-dropping scenes showing a real monkey (pre-CGI) taking his seemingly genuine rage out on doors. (Someone on YouTube actually put together a great compilation). As you can imagine, the conversations carried on by guests during the early movie tend to sound a bit like what you’d hear on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. It’s a lot of fun.

For the second and final film of the night, we choose a newer, well-done, legitimately frightening film — one that commands less cross-talk and more real scares. If we can get five or six good jumps or ear-piercing screams out of the screening, we know we’ve done our job.

I’m fondly musing over past Halloween Horror Movie Fests, as I write this, because that’s unfortunately all I can do… at least responsibly. Like so many other events and traditions this year, it has become a casualty of the pandemic. While a COVID-19 super-spreader situation would certainly lend itself well to the night’s theme of “horror,” my dedication to the subject matter does have its limits (a global health crisis being one of them).

It’s a bummer and also a reminder of how much I miss getting together with friends. I miss the conversations and laughter of a large group of people. I miss celebrations, and I’m guessing a lot of you feel the same way. But it’s important right now to stay safe and keep others safe, and also recognize that many others have had to make much harder sacrifices over the past several months.

My family is fortunate in that no one close to us has become infected, and we do what we can to minimize that risk. Still, we’ve found creative, in-person ways to catch up with people, one couple at a time (outdoors and sitting at least 6 feet apart). Of course, that’ll be hard to do once the weather turns cold, so I guess I’ll be missing that too, before long.

On the bright side, we can all still watch horror movies… including some hilariously bad ones.

Here’s a short list of some of those “so bad they’re good” horror flicks from past Halloween Horror Movie Fests, which I highly recommend (I mentioned some of them above):

  • Shakma (1990)

  • Ben (1972)

  • Bats (1999)

  • Squirm (1976)

  • The Swarm (1978)

And if you’re interested in some well done, legitimately scary or freaky movies, these were some crowd favorites:

  • The Descent (2005)

  • Get Out (2017)

  • It Follows (2014)

  • The Mist (2007)

  • Let Me In (2010)

Our Impressionable Youth

As an author, I’m occasionally invited to speaking events to discuss my books, or more broadly, storytelling and writing. I typically enjoy them, whether I’m talking at a charity event, book club meeting, library forum, or classroom. For obvious reasons, I haven’t done any in-person events in some time, but I have participated in some virtual forums.

Last week, at the invitation of a local educator (a fan of my books), I spoke to students at an online high school. It was a blast. Frankly, kids always make for a fun audience because they typically ask questions that adults don’t, and are genuinely interested in the writing process (not just what inspires the stories).

Speaking of the writing process, here are a couple tips I like to pass on to young writers, some of whom are working on their own stories:

  • When you’re not physically writing, make sure you’re reading something — ideally a book that’s rich in narration. It really does get the creative juices flowing, and puts you in the right frame of mind for writing quality content.

  • Keep reminding yourself that the rough draft should come before the final draft. That may sound obvious, but the truth is that it’s very easy to make the mistake of typing out your story as a final draft. That’s what I did through much of my first book, From a Dead Sleep. I was needlessly (and counter-productively) consumed with getting every paragraph right the first time. I was a perfectionist in that sense, and though I don’t think it hurt the quality of my writing, it definitely slowed it down. That first book took six years to write (granted, that included some extended breaks). For my second book, I disciplined myself to write a rough draft, before going back later and shaping it into a final draft. That one took only about eight months, which was a huge difference.

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Random Thought

There’s something I’ve noticed since March. People wearing covid masks (that cover the nose and mouth) are still easily identifiable. This makes me wonder how bandits back in the Old West ever got away with anything.

Featured Vinyl

Those of you who follow me on social media — and if you don’t, what are you waiting for? (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter) — know that I’m into vinyl records. I admit that a good part of my interest is nostalgic. Back in the early 1980s, when I was kid just starting to form an ear for popular music, vinyl records were just barely hanging on as a preferred format for music distribution; smaller and more affordable audio cassettes were on the verge of a major takeover.

Still, the first three full-length albums I purchased were on vinyl: the Flashdance Soundtrack (the sexualized cover of which made my parents pretty uncomfortable at the time), Lionel Richie’s Can’t Slow Down (I used to imagine myself singing “Hello” to a girl I crushed on at school), and Huey Lewis and the News’s Sports (one of my all-time favorites). I also bought a ton of “45” singles back then (aka ‘those small records with the big hole’), since they were only about $3 each, and were available for just about any song played on Top 40 radio stations.

I spent countless hours listening to them all on an enormous wooden RCA record player in my parents’ basement. Like everyone else, I eventually evolved on over to cassettes (you couldn’t beat the portability), but there was something about the crisp, warm crackle of vinyl that remained a memorable staple of my childhood. When used-record stores began popping back up about a decade ago, I found myself almost immediately drawn to them, sifting through crates and picking up old albums from the 70’s and beyond. I initially bought one of those novelty suitcase-looking turntables to get me back into the mix, but soon after spotted a 1970s BIC turntable for sale on Nextdoor, which I quickly picked up for a measly $25. It has facilitated my appreciation for vinyl ever since.

I bring home some interesting records these days (some are new, but most are used), so I figured I’d make a regular Daly Grind feature out of it, to spread some retro joy.

Today’s selection is the 1972 debut album by Foghat. Most people around my age (if they’ve even heard of the band at all) identify them by their classic (and quite lengthy) tune, Slow Ride, which released a few years later. But Foghat was putting out great music from the very beginning, including the very first, hard-hitting rocker on this fantastic album: I Just Want to Make Love to You.

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That’s all for now. Thanks for reading today’s Daly Grind.

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Also, if you’re not caught up on my Sean Coleman Thrillers, you can pick the entire series up at a great price on Amazon.

Take care!