What was your first exposure to horror?
Sarah: Dirty Dancing? Truly horrific?
Carla: I hate you. My first horror movie was The Howling. I don’t remember how old I was, but I was under 10, I think. I spent part of every summer on the road with my dad, who was a long-haul trucker, and one night at a truck stop, I saw The Howling in the trucker’s lounge. It was amazing, and I have loved werewolves and horror ever since.
(We were never allowed to watch horror growing up, mostly because just the sound of horror movies scared my mom. I used to read a lot of horror, though. Dracula was the first horror book I remember reading.)
Sarah: The first horror movie I saw was Gremlins. I was probably about six at the time, and we lived in an old farmhouse and none of the carpets fitted right. Mine bulged in weird places, and I spent at least a year convinced that gremlins were hatching under there (slow hatching, admittedly, but damnit, they were coming for me!) … it just occurs to me that we can probably trace my insomnia back to that time.
Carla: Ouch, that sucks.
Sarah: Fuck that, insomnia is a life saver when it comes to Freddy Krueger.
Carla: I’ve never been so glad that sleep and I broke up.
What do you like about horror?
Sarah: I like spooky entities. I’m not so much about the monsters or the serial killers, although if you add a supernatural element (killing in dreams, possessing a doll, etc), then suddenly I am all over that. Mostly though, ghosts and demons, preferably invisible, really powerful, and nobody knows how to help. I like the scary to be completely impossible to deal with in real-world terms. If a serial killer walks towards you, shoot it. As many times as possible. In the head. Or bludgeon with something heavy. If an invisible growling entity picks you up by the ankle and throws you around your house, the only option you have really is to scream.
Carla: Depends on what I’m after. For pure entertainment, I love creature features and cheesy horror movies and horror-comedy and pretty much everything but cannibals (boring) and torture porn (yeah, no). If I want to be scared, spooky, isolated locations and creepy descriptions and the unknown. Written stories are always scarier to me than visual horror. My imagination is better than any special effects.
Sarah: I second Carla’s hatred for torture porn.
What scene scared you the most in a horror movie?
Carla: Like I said, generally written stories are scarier for me than visual ones, but that damn image of Samara climbing out of the tv and stop-motioning across the floor in The Ring never fails to make me shudder.
Sarah: Yeah, that was the one that sprang to mind immediately for me. And I have to put my hands up and say that it’s The Ring for me, not Ringu. The Japanese ones just didn’t do it for me.
Carla: I found Ringu pretty creepy when I was reading it in translation, but the movie didn’t get to me. Maybe in part because I saw The Ring first and have had to tell myself that crawling-out-of-the-television-Samara is really just Lilo (from Lilo & Stitch) in a costume ever since. (Daveigh Chase is both Samara and the voice of Lilo.)
Sarah: Agreed on both counts. The last paragraph of the book was horrifying – the way the story will mutate and people will need more people to see the tape… creepy.
Sarah: Oh, I just have to add this. There’s an episode of the animated series Dungeons & Dragons, where a portal to another dimension opens up underneath the beds of children, when they stand up, it drags them down into a hellish place where they have to work as slaves. I swear to god I didn’t sleep for a month after seeing that.
Carla: That is AWESOME. I really missed out, never watching that series.
Who hangs out in the scary dark corners of your basement?
Carla: I live in an apartment in a converted hotel, so the basement is the laundry room and the gym and it actually is on the ground floor anyway, not really underground. There was a basement in the house where I grew up, though, and have always had a recurring dream in which a t-rex lived in the basement. (I am nearly too tall for the basement. This is clearly impossible.) I also was never able to play music in the basement there until I was an adult thanks to that Are You Afraid of the Dark? episode about the thing in the basement that ate people and came out when music was playing. (Episode 1×1 “The Tale of the Dark Music”)
Sarah: Nobody. I live in a new-build house without a basement. I do have a cubbyhole under the stairs though, and a cold draft comes through there, so maybe it’s ghosts. But they’re going to be pretty cramped, because it’s a 3’x3’ space, filled with all the crap that came with the house that we didn’t want and can’t get rid of.
Who writes the best ghost stories?
Sarah: For me, nothing will top the ghost stories I read as a kid. I was forever picking up anthologies of ghostly short stories, and I loved them. I did actually pick up a copy of the first ghost story book I ever bought myself recently… it does not stand the test of time, unfortunately.
Carla: Oh, what was it?
Sarah: The Bumper Book of Ghost Stories, edited by Mary Danby. I’ll lend it to you when I see you.
Carla: Thanks. I don’t actually have a favorite ghost story author. However, I, too, have an anthology from my childhood story. I recently picked up old copies of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones by Alvin Schwartz, with drawings by Stephen Gammell. I know they have a new version out with different artwork, but the new artwork is not nearly as creepy as Gammell’s. I bought them because I’ve always wanted copies, but also, because I’m looking for a young adult horror short story I read as a kid, and I thought it was in one of these books. It is not.
I remember there was a creature (maybe a werewolf, maybe not) scratching at the walls of a house, and there were at least two kids inside while their parents were gone. (The main character may have been a pre-teen or teen girl.) At one point, the main character shuts the creature’s paw in the window downstairs, forcing it to retreat. The scratching returns, though, and she’s up in a loft(?) with her sibling, and they hear the window open and the creature coming for them. They see a paw at the top of the ladder, but then headlights sweep over it, their parents are home, and the creature flees. I am desperate to reread this story. Ping any bells for anyone?
What was the last book you read, last movie you saw, and/or last game you played that made you want to double and triple check all the locks on your doors?
Carla: Nothing, really, though I saw The Woman in Black at the cinema with some of my siblings and was suitably tense throughout because of the atmosphere. I quite enjoyed it. (Besides, I double and triple check all the locks anyway. I hate it.)
Sarah: Megan Is Missing. I have never in my life been so horrified by a movie. Everyone should watch that movie, so they can understand how threatening the world is. And on the other side of, nobody should ever watch that movie, because it’s so damned disturbing.
Have you ever been frightened by music?
Sarah: Have you ever fucking played Silent Hill? Jesus fucking Christ. It’s amazing I can play to the end because sometimes I hit a corridor and the music is so threatening, I just want my character to curl up in a corner, give up and die, because I don’t want to know what the fuck has prompted the makers to put that sound/music on there.
Carla: Best answer. I’m stealing it.
You’re going to be a monster’s victim. Choose which one.
Carla: Werewolf. End of story.
Sarah: Colour me shocked.
Carla: Or maybe not end of story. I mean, it would be awesome to be a werewolf. I already feel like a werewolf emotionally, adding the physical aspect would just be entertaining. (Long story very short, I have bipolar disorder, and it very much feels like a monster just beneath my skin trying to break out much of the time. No wonder I love werewolves.)
Sarah: Vampire. A proper one though, like in the The Lost Boys.
Carla: Not proper teeth, though. Have you ever looked closely at their fangs? So wrong.
Sarah: Just remember being disturbed by Laddie’s kid teeth/fangs, and never really looked after that.
Carla: It’s like they’re one tooth in too far on each side, I think.
Are you afraid of the dark (or were you afraid of the dark)?
Sarah: Yes. Still am. Don’t judge. Or mock. Or anything or I will KICK YOU IN THE SHINS! HOW COULD YOU MOCK ME? WE’RE SUPPOSED TO BE BEST FRIENDS! WHAT KIND OF A MONSTER ARE YOU?
Carla: Werewolf. Wasn’t that the last question? And I wasn’t going to mock you. I was going to threaten people on your behalf, but no more.
Sarah: Well, it’s less the dark, and more all the oogaty-boogaty monsters/murders/general threats that might be in it and wanting to kill me.
Carla: I also am afraid of the dark, mostly because I don’t see very well in it. Anything could be in it, just beyond the edge of my crappy vision. I face this fear by forcing myself to be in the dark, though. (I try to force myself to face most fears … except that s-word. DO NOT EVEN MENTION THE S-WORD.)
What is your favorite work of fictional horror (books, movies, games, etc.)?
Carla: This is like asking a wrestling fan to name their favorite wrestler. I love werewolf movies and stories, Stephen King, I could go on and on. I am going to stop talking now.
Sarah: Too many to list without missing something out, but I’ll give it a shot.
Movies (in no particular order): The Exorcist, The Ring, Blair Witch Project and The Woman in Black are the scariest movies I’ve ever seen. Honorable mention to Megan Is Missing for being the most threatening. As for fun horror, nothing will ever top Zombieland, although Tucker & Dale vs Evil comes pretty damned close. When it comes to franchise horror, I’m a Nightmare on Elm Street and Final Destination girl.
Books: It, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Needful Things and Duma Key, The Breathing Method, all by Stephen King. I’m a passionate fangirl when it comes to his works.
Games: Silent Hill 2 and 3. Terrifying stuff.
Carla: Actually, yeah, I can name favorite horror games. I like Silent Hill 2 and Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem. Most horror games I can’t play, because they are first person, and that kicks off my vertigo. Alas.
Freddy v. Jason?
Sarah: Freddy. Always Freddy. If you choose Jason, you’ve gone wrong. This shouldn’t even be a question. It should just be a statement: Freddy.
Carla: I choose Jason.
Carla: Look, Ma, I’m a troll.
Ghosts or goblins?
Sarah: Ghosts. I can’t imagine a world where we would write goblins… garden gnomes, on the other hand…
Carla: I could have gone on with my answer, but I knew Sarah would take it.
(And I do love “Goblin Market” by Christina Rossetti. There’s an untapped mashup market.)
Vampires or werewolves?
Sarah: OMG! I WONDER WHAT CARLA WILL CHOOSE! ARE ALL ON TENTERHOOKS?
Sarah: Good answer.
Fairies or witches?
Carla: Witches. I hate fairies.
Sarah: GOBLINS! I GET THIS GAME NOW
Carla: I hate you, too.
Have you ever had a paranormal encounter?
Sarah: … goblins?
Carla: Do the broken garden gnome salt and pepper shakers count?
Sarah: Amazon is haunting you!
Carla: … valid.
Do you believe in ghosts?
Sarah: I believe that there are thousands of scam artists out there who want you to believe they can talk to the dead. Sarah does not approve. For ten seconds, I’ll stop shouting “goblins” as my answer. These people are scum of the earth and I don’t know how they live with themselves.
Carla: While I do believe, I think Sarah makes a really, really good point. Anything I say will just take away from her answer.
Favorite Halloween costume (yours, someone else’s, a character’s, etc.)?
Carla: I went as a werewolf one year when I was in my 20s. (Shut up, Sarah.) Of course, I went in plain clothes. After all, it wasn’t a full moon.
Sarah: *sigh* I’m English.
Carla: Are you? I hadn’t realized.
Sarah: I think you’ll find it’s “realised” and would you like a cup of tea?
Carla: Thanks, dear, I have my own Tetley already.
Did you go trick or treating as a child?
Sarah: English. English. A world of non-trick-or-treating fucking ENGLISH!
Carla: My parents raised me in an English church. No, I kid, but they did raise me in a church that didn’t believe in celebrating: Halloween, Christmas, Easter-that-involves-bunnies, or birthdays. We also couldn’t eat unclean meat. (Pork is an unclean meat, for the record.) I had an interesting childhood.
What is your most vivid horror memory?
Carla: I was telling Sarah I didn’t have an answer to this, then I realized that back at the beginning of September 2013, I started having really vivid, horrible nightmares in which my mother was trying to kill me and my family and friends. The end of September 2013 was the first anniversary of her death. That was a less than fun month.
Sarah: I remember watching Nightmare on Elm Street for the first time when I was eleven. In broad daylight. I had to turn it off twice before I got all the way through it. And then mostly I just watched because, I have this strange theory (that Carla also kinda subscribes to, we discussed this years ago), that if you don’t finish a movie or a book, you kind of leave the genie out of the bottle. You have to finish and reset the world.
Carla: Oh, I definitely subscribe to that. If you don’t finish it, they could come for you.
Sarah: Tiny little demons living inside the VHS tape, that can crawl out of the machine and EAT YOUR SOUL.
Carla: Way to show our age. Next thing you know, we’ll be making Blair Witch references that the kids these days won’t get or something.
Sarah: “mom” jeans, VHS, betamax, mix cassettes with songs taped off the radio, only rich people could afford portable CD players, minidisc players were THE NEXT BIG THING, crop tops, side ponytails on the top of your head…
Carla: I never had a minidisc player. Though this makes me want to know, what was the first tape you ever owned? Pretty sure mine was Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell by Meat Loaf.
Sarah: You’re really making me do this? Fine. Fuck you. It was The Twelve Commandments of Dance by The London Boys.
Carla: You know, if you hadn’t responded so defensively, you could have convinced me it was cool.
Sarah: That alone proves you’ve never heard anything by The London Boys. (BTW, RIP lads, you were awesome in the 80s.)
Carla: … there’s really no way to respond to that in a funny manner.
Sarah: Real deaths have stolen our funny.
Do you have nightmares? What’s the worst?
Carla: See above. I mostly don’t have nightmares, I have horror movie dreams, which are awesome. They’re scary, but fun. The only time a dream crosses into nightmare is when it is something like my mother trying to kill me, or all my family being dead and me unable to bring them back to life, etc.
Sarah: I spent the past couple of weeks being killed by things. In a very video game way. Something would kill me, I would die, and then respawn and have to figure out how to get past it. Thankfully, that stopped.
Are you superstitious? If yes, what are your superstitions?
Carla: Finish the story or they will come after you. Don’t let your foot hang over the edge of the bed. Don’t say “blood mary” any number of times in front of a mirror.
Sarah: I don’t say anything into a mirror more than once, just in case.
Carla: I’ve just realized what a death trap this apartment is. There are mirrors everywhere.
Sarah: I know I have more quirks, because I’ve told Carla, and she’s mocked me about it, but honestly, they’re just not coming.
Carla: I would never – not mock you. That’s what I’m here for. My biggest quirk is not actually a superstition, because it could happen. Check for the s-word everywhere. You never know where they’re hiding. And once you kill one, its friends and family will come hunt you down.
Sarah: I’ve just remembered my real-life horror moment! One night I was talking to Carla on AIM, and Craig was in France. I heard a strange sound outside my apartment door, and told Carla about it. Then I lampshaded the fact that I was home alone, chatting about horror in a frivolous manner, and was about to check a strange noise. So, went to my front door, nobody out there. I wrote it off as being my neighbour getting home (although it would be a weird time for him, about 4am our time). I shut the door and double locked it. I turned quickly and nearly screamed the apartment down as I caught sight of a murderer. Or, you know, a coat on a hook, just sitting there, minding its own business. I laughed, and made a note to tell Carla what an idiot I was. Then I moseyed down the hall, in the dark, and as I was doing this, one of my cats bounced out of the bedroom and landed at my feet, hissing. I screamed again, but this time I ran to the computer, knowing that two false scares mean imminent death. I made Carla promise to get in contact with the emergency services if I stopped IM-ing. And then I was murdered. No, I made the last part up. But I really did feel like the warning shot in the opening ten minutes of a slasher movie.
Carla: And now you know our secret. Sarah’s really a ghost. She’s a ghost writer. It’s awesome.
We’ve since upgraded to talking over Skype, and we tend to live the call on while we do other things, so we spend some time looking at an empty screen. I’m always sure one of us is going to see someone else in the house even though we’re alone.
Actually, this happened not too long ago. Even knowing Sarah’s future hubby was home and getting ready to go make dinner, when he walked past and I caught a glimpse of him in the doorway, I nearly shat myself. All I saw was a shadow and movement and OMG MURDERER.
… This is also the guy who answered Skype once with his face about a hair’s breadth from the camera. I was not expecting that. I nearly knocked over my laptop. He’s a troll.
Sarah: Cannot deny that. He is a troll with manly facial hair.
Carla: He has ginger chops! They’re amazing!
What are the best parts of the horror genre?
Carla: Using scary stories to look at the world. I love analyzing horror stories for layers and themes and meanings. People bonding together, creating families (if maybe only temporary ones) to survive. I want to be scared. I like exploring the monster within (hence my love of werewolves and, really, the Hulk). I love an oppressive atmosphere, the way you can really ratchet up the tension without anything horrific happening for a long, long time. Mood and description, always a good way to go in my book. And I love gallows humor, the laugh-so-we-don’t-scream response. I love stories that turn the “final girl” trope on its head. (Not that all the women die, but that not only one can survive.)
Sarah: Can I say “boobs”? No. I’m better than that.
Carla: Yes, pretty sure you’re old enough to say “breasts” now.
Sarah: Ok, breasts aside, I do like that women seem to feature prominently, and the sole survivor of a slaughter is usually a girl. Good start. I love bad horror movies. I love sitting there with my cup of tea and my cigarettes, pointing out every wrong move everyone makes, it makes me feel superior. As for good horror, I love the threat, the panic, the how the hell are we going to get through this vibe of it all. I love unusual settings, or movies with particular attention to set dressing – Silent Hill and Necromentia get major points for putting fairly bland films into the most beautifully distressed environment ever (add to that both have a killer soundtrack) and making them far more enjoyable for the effort.
What are the worst parts of the horror genre:
Carla: Torture porn. “Crazy people are all dangerous.” Dudes get to be fully dressed, but women run around in next to nothing. Stupidity. (Though, as Sarah says above, it can be so much fun to point out the errors.) Black character always dies. All straight white folk all the time. Oh, it’s on an “Indian burial ground” of course there are vengeful ghosts. While I do think it is possible to tell a story set in an asylum without disrespecting the actual experiences of people who have been in them, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it done.
Sarah: Torture porn. I always think that torture porn is horror for people who don’t really like horror. Horror is being frightened, not disgusted. Bad characterisation, a desperate grasp on the idiot ball in order to separate the morons so they can be killed separately, scattered writing in an attempt to be clever (recently watched a film with about eight different plots, none of which were resolved and not a single one related to the title the film had).
Carla: I love your description of the “idiot ball” life plan…Sarah’s just told me that’s a TV Tropes thing. And here I was going to crow about the cleverness of her, but no.
Sarah: I’m well read when it comes to that site.
Carla: By which she means she wastes hours we should be writing.
On the subject of tropes, what are your favourites and the most hated?
Sarah: I love: abandoned places; people thrown together, preferably in some kind of youth hostel or psychiatric ward due to their supernatural issues, which everyone in authority takes to be standard teen angst bullshit; super badass characters with strange side-quests (Tallahassee and his twinkies in Zombieland, for example); anything in the found footage genre – but only if they play by the rules, I hate it when it suddenly cuts back to a movie cam. That’s cheating!
Carla: I wish I could watch more found footage, but vertigo! Shame. Tropes I love: People with monsters inside, especially if it is a struggle (maybe a losing struggle) to try to control it. (See again, werewolves. The Hulk.) This goes beyond just horror stories, but chosen/created families. (Family isn’t just about blood, people.) Monsters as heroes. Characters being both crazy and having supernatural things happen to them. Groups of strangers/near strangers/enemies must find a way to work together to save the world. Boarding school stories. Girls and women getting to have grand adventures. Horror stories set in nature – woods, mountains, beaches, corn fields, etc. – where part of the horror is simply to survive the nature, not to mention the supernatural.
There are also tropes I hate: rape as dramatic backstory, particularly when male characters can have nuanced backstories, but the women are always raped and/or lost a child. Adopted families aren’t “real” families. Killing female characters to create dramatic tension for the male characters. Characters who think they’re crazy, but oh, no, they’re not crazy, not like those real crazy people, they’re just experiencing the supernatural. Don’t worry, ghosts are fine, it’s just lucky you aren’t actually crazy, etc. Fuck that noise. Stalking treated as a romantic and positive thing (I say hypocritically because Sarah and I joke about her being my stalker).
Sarah: I hate: pretty much everything Carla mentioned features, but my super “OMG I HATE THIS TROPE” trope is dead parent. I fucking hate this trope. I don’t mind having dead or absent parents, but I hate it when it’s written in such a way that the character spends 90% of their time, staring soulfully out a window, watching the rain, thinking about how fucking perfect life would be if mommy/daddy was still here. The other 10% of the time, they recount tales of how dead parent is their BFF. Life would not be perfect if dead parent was still alive. It would just be different. Who knows, if dead parent had lived much longer, maybe your parents would’ve got divorced. Or maybe he’d be there, but they’d be fighting about paying the mortgage when one of them lost their job. Or grounding you for failing a test/dating someone they don’t like. It wouldn’t be perfect, it would just be different.