Friday, October 19, 2018

Why Horror?

If you're already a horror fan, this isn't much of a question. You know, you understand. It's an unspoken common ground we all share. But I hear this often from people who don't like horror, who don't understand the compulsion to read, see or experience scary things. "Why would you want to be scared?"

There's more to this question than one might assume at face value. For one thing, there are different levels and variations on fear. There are jump scares, and then there is lingering dread. There is discomfort and anxiety. There is a visceral recoil. They all have their own reason for existing, and different reasons why people might seek them out. 

It's easiest to discuss the type of scare that makes us jump, gasp or scream. It's adrenaline. It's roller coasters and sky diving. It's getting on a stage to sing or tell jokes or act. The thrill of being alive in the face of the fear of failure. "I did this and I survived." That isn't difficult to comprehend.

What about the rest? Why do some of us want to be haunted? Often it's a way to process things we're already scared of, already worried about. If we can stare it down, look at it without blinking, examine the details and feelings and come out the other side, we feel we can survive it. I am terrified of spiders, for example. But I will stare at a spider, I will look at spider photos online, I will read about them and learn about them in an effort to master my fear. I am afraid, and so I am obsessed. 

Body horror has a similar motivation. We are mortal beings of flesh and blood, and the idea of that being mutilated or morphed into something alien, something unnatural, causes a physical and mental recoil. But many of us will encounter bodily fears over our life: chronic illnesses, injuries, surgeries, failing organs. The feeling of a part of your body rebelling against you, or even trying to harm you, is a unique experience. I myself have a chronic auto-immune disease and it's a challenge to reconcile the idea that my immune system wants to destroy essential parts of my body out of a genetic misunderstanding. It feels like I am at war with it. In my mind, I think about my body as a separate being that hates me and wants me to suffer. It makes sense to see that reflected in horror, and helps to process that feeling. 

Lingering dread is perhaps the most uniquely human experience. We know we are mortal creatures who will die someday. Either by age, disease, accident, purpose, or disaster. When I was a child I would think about death, wonder what it was like. I tried to imagine what "nothing" felt like. It was terrifying. But I kept doing it over and over again. What drove me? The unknown. The worse option. If I knew what was in store, I could feel resolution. Not knowing was worse. This is why in horror, not understanding the source of terror is always worse. If you don't know where the monster came from, why the serial killer was killing, what was causing the haunting, it was so much scarier. Because, you wonder, what if there is no reason? Then the world is chaos, then we can't know what's going to happen, and we will be alone and afraid when we die no matter what the cause or reason. 

Personally, horror is also a way to process the nightmare of my own mind. Ever since I was very young, I had nightmares. Countless nightmares. Some of them I still remember now, after 30 years. There were particular types that I had so often and were so distinct that I had to name them. Apocalypse dreams and dream loops. In the former, I always saw the world end. In the latter, I kept thinking I woke up only to find myself in a new nightmare, still sleeping. I learned how to lucid dream while very young, because I couldn't handle the recurring nightmares I had and needed a solution. I had to learn techniques for escaping dreams in case they became too scary. Then I started having sleep paralysis, and it felt like my entire body was betraying me and thwarting my efforts to escape fear. Even when I was technically awake, I was still living the nightmare and couldn't escape. I had to wait it out until my brain released my body and I stopped seeing and hearing things that weren't really there.

People-- even family-- say this is because of the scary books I read, the scary movies I watch. But the sad truth is that my nightmares sparked my interest in horror, not the other way around. Horror made me feel understood. It made me feel like I had control of an otherwise uncontrollable situation. It gave me the escape I craved.

I'm not weird because I like horror. And I don't like horror because I like being scared. I like horror because I am weird and scared and I long to find a place where I can belong and control my fear.

Horror is the way to process this. We can face our fears, face the chaos, and yet come out alive and well at the end of the story. Because it was just a story... wasn't it? 

Saturday, November 4, 2017


I'm very excited to say that thanks to generous donors, we've raised $325 for Lurie Children's Hospital! Since we hit the $300 mark, I've agreed to do a Spooky Storytime from one of my spooky pop-up children's books.

Problem: I can't seem to find a way to full-screen the webcam through Xbox's Twitch app. So I'm going to have to switch to my laptop for book talks and the Spooky Storytime, which means I have to schedule the book talks and can't do them between games. I've also updated some of my games/times, so my new tentative schedule is below.

And if you'd like to donate but haven't done so yet, you can still contribute anytime before, during or after the Extra Life Game Day stream! Visit my Extra Life fundraising page here and be sure to say hello or hang out for a while during my stream here on Twitch. Thanks to everyone who has donated, I'm excited that together, we'll be making an even bigger contribution than I imagined for my first year in Extra Life!

9:00 a.m. - 11:00 a.m. Minecraft

11:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. Portal Knights/Fortnite

1:00 p.m. - 1:30 p.m. Book Talks Part 1 with mini-break

1:30 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. Trivial Pursuit

3:00 p.m. - Spooky Storytime

3:15 p.m. - 4:45 p.m. The Evil Within 2 or Prey

4:45 p.m. - 5:15 p.m. Book Talks Part 2 with mini-break

5:15 p.m. - 6:00 p.m. Dead by Daylight

6:00 p.m. BREAK!

7:00 p.m. - 8:45 p.m. Trivia Murder Party
(or Dead By Daylight/Fortnite if no one is available)

8:45 p.m. - 9:15 p.m. Book Talks Part 3 with mini-break

9:15 p.m. - 12:00 a.m. Layers of Fear
(I might switch to something else the last hour if it gets too intense)

12:00 a.m. - 12:30 a.m. Book Talks Part 4 with mini-break

12:30 a.m. - 2:00 a.m. Dragon Age Inquisition
(Multiplayer for a bit, then campaign)

2:00 a.m. BREAK!

3:00 a.m. - 5:00 a.m. Trivial Pursuit/Scrabble

5:00 a.m. - 9:00 a.m. Probably some kind of nap break and Minecraft

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Extra Life Game Day Countdown!

Game Day for Extra Life 2017 is less than two weeks away! Thanks to everyone who has donated so far! If you haven't yet, there's still plenty of time. Every dollar helps, and it will go towards medical care for Chicagoland kids at Lurie Children's Hospital. You can submit your tax-deductible donation through my Extra Life fundraising page here.

Whether you're able to donate or not, I invite you to join me during my 24 hour gaming marathon on November 4th! I'll be streaming on Twitch from my Xbox (gamertag: Rachel Storm), and it would mean a lot to see folks pop in during the stream, whether it's just to say hi or to join me in a game. I'll have adventure games, horror games, peaceful games, book talks between games, and I will even be playing a game or two that anyone can play along with from their mobile phone. You can see way more details in my original blog post.

And speaking of the games, I've put together a schedule of what I'll be playing and when. These are all Central Standard Time, and could change depending on how the day goes. In between games I will do quick book talks, so if you're looking for reading suggestions then tune in around the time I switch games.

9:00 a.m. - 11:00 a.m. Minecraft

11:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. Portal Knights

1:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m. Fortnite

2:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m. Trivial Pursuit

3:00 p.m. - Spooky Storytime

3:15 p.m. - 5:00 p.m. The Evil Within 2 or Prey

5:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m. Dead by Daylight

6:00 p.m. BREAK! in Minecraft Library of the Dead

7:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m. Trivia Murder Party
(or Dead By Daylight/Fortnite if no one is available)

9:00 p.m. - 12:00 a.m. Layers of Fear
(I might switch to something else the last hour if it gets too intense)

12:00 a.m. - 2:00 a.m. Dragon Age Inquisition
(Multiplayer for a bit, then campaign)

2:00 a.m. BREAK! in Minecraft Library of the Dead

3:00 a.m. - 5:00 a.m. Trivial Pursuit/Scrabble

5:00 a.m. - 9:00 a.m. Minecraft

Friday, October 13, 2017

Invasion of the Podcasts: Friday the 13th Edition

Happy Friday the 13th, Library patrons! I'm so excited that one of these infamous days occurred during October this year. At my real-life-work library we're running a special Friday the 13th superstition-themed escape room tonight, and I'm following that up with a special spooky night with friends. I am so much in the holiday spirit that I'm even dressing up as Jason Voorhees for the day. Just because I can, and it makes me laugh. Which is my motivation for most weird things I do at home and at work, my own amusement.

To help you celebrate, I have a special Friday the 13th edition of my podcast recommendation series, and this one comes with double the podcasts because I just couldn't stop myself. So whether you want to hear about superstitions, creepy stories, the movie series, or the video game, enjoy this special prequel-to-Halloween Friday the 13th however it pleases you.

BrainStuff Audio "Why is Friday the 13th Considered Unlucky?"
Why do we consider Friday the 13th so damn unlucky? Learn more in this super short but educational entry from BrainStuff.

Nightmare on Film Street "Voorhees a Jolly Good Fellow: Top 5 FRIDAY THE 13TH Films!"
Horror fans Kim and Jon rank their favorite five movies in the Friday the 13th franchise in this week's episode. Not necessarily the best five, but the ones they enjoy the most. I was excited that both Jason X and Freddy vs. Jason made the cut, as I would also count them as two of my favorites as well. It's a fun episode chock full of franchise facts, debates and theories.

Lore "They Made a Tonic"
Today Amazon Prime premiers the TV series adaptation of the Lore podcast, so if you haven't listened to it yet, now is a great time! Start at the beginning with "They Made a Tonic," or browse through any of the dozens of episodes to learn about the very real stories in which humanity's deepest fears are rooted.

Return to Camp Blood "The Voice of Chad Kensington"
Today the physical copies of Friday the 13th: The Game are released, but for those who have already been playing-- or spectating-- and enjoying the game will be familiar with the character of "Chad Kensington." Return to Camp Blood is totally dedicated to the Friday the 13th franchise, exploring every movie, kill, fact, actor, etc. and in this episode they talk to voice actor Ben Diskin about his experience voice acting and specifically playing "Chad."

Bizarre States "Friday the 13th with Brad Meltzer"
This Nerdist podcast featuring Jessica Chobot and Andrew Bowser explores all kinds of strange topics with trademark Nerdist humor. In this episode from earlier this year, author Brad Meltzer joins the hosts to talk Friday the 13th, weird news, and conspiracy theories.

My Neighbors are Dead "Friday the 13th with Rachael Mason & Susan Messing"
In this improvised comedy podcast, host Adam Peacock interviews lesser known characters from popular horror films and stories. In this episode he talks to a couple of Christian counselors from a camp across from Camp Crystal Lake about their perspective on the slayings at the camp.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Halloween Flashback: Watcher in the Woods

One of the most memorable live action scary films from Disney that I watched back in the day was Watcher in the Woods. On October 21, just in time for Halloween, Lifetime is releasing a remake of the film directed and produced by none other than Melissa Joan Hart, also a major part of my youth. The trailer looks pretty good, although I don't know what the plague doctor mask has to do with anything:

I loved this film as a kid: spooky ghost activity, a mystery to be solved, an old manor, British accents. I have very fond memories of watching it on a yearly basis. But I suspected my memory was a little colored by youth. The last time I watched it was probably pre-high school. So I was wary when I ordered it through my library. I didn't want it to be ruined by my more experienced and savvy adult brain.

If you aren't familiar or don't remember, Watcher in the Woods is about a family that moves into an old English manor being rented out by a widow, Mrs. Aylewood, whose daughter Karen disappeared mysteriously thirty years prior. Mrs. Aylewood lives in a cottage on the property and is very picky about who lives in the house.

The Curtis family consists of musician Paul, children's book writer Helen, teenage girl Jan and a younger girl, Ellie, who talks a lot about food. They are deemed acceptable, likely because Jan looks an awful lot like Karen.

Strange things start happening to Jan and Ellie. Jan sees images of Karen in mirrors, and Ellie hears things that Jan can't. As they meet and talk to other locals who apparently live 5 seconds away and never have anything better to do, Jan starts to put the pieces to Karen's mystery together.

The cast is actually worth mentioning, as some of the actors have been in noteworthy roles both before and after this film:

  • Bette Davis as Mrs. Aylewood, and... well, she's Bette Davis, enough said.
  • Lynn-Holly Johnson as Jan was also in "Ice Castles"
  • Kyle Richards as Ellie was fucking LINDSEY from "Halloween"! How did I never know that!
  • Carroll Baker as their mom, but once she was nominated for an Oscar for a film called "Baby Doll", where she played a "sensuous nineteen-year-old virgin."
  • David McCallum as their dad, who has been in some decent stuff like "The Great Escape" and "NCIS"
  • Benedict Taylor plays teen love interest Mike, and was also a nameless fighter pilot in "Star Wars Episode I", which is probably a best case scenario for being associated with that film.
  • Frances Cuka is Mike's mother, and I was pleasantly surprised to see she had a role in "Snow White: A Tale of Terror."
  • Richard Pasco as Tom Colley, who was also in the Queen Victoria film "Mrs. Brown"
  • Ian Bannen who starred in "Waking Ned Devine"

Overall, the movie still had a nice eerie factor to it, and the mystery of how Karen disappeared is actually even more interesting to me now that I've been reminded what happened. I think the spoiler-expiration has more than passed, but I'll limit myself to saying that this is a great example of unexpected sci-fi horror. It's set up as a ghost story, but it's not a ghost story. Kinda cool, and I totally forgot about that part.

I think one downside is the special effects. The images of Karen are done well enough, but the computer generated colors and lights look really weird and out of place. Another downside is Lynn-Holly Johnson's performance. When her character's emotions are level, she's mostly fine. Still a little overdone at times, but acceptable. When she gets angry or passionate or excited, her voice just ramps up to irritating heights. And she goes from zero to screaming pretty fast. It's hard to take by the end.

And given that, I will point out that if and when you visit the film's IMDB page, you'll notice that it won an award. I was a little surprised-- while it will always be a favorite from childhood, it just didn't seem like an award-winner. Sadly, the award it won was a "Stinker" bad movie award in 1981. The strange part is that Kyle "I was in Halloween motherfucker" Richards won for worst performance by a child in a featured role. I would have given it to Johnson, personally, although I suppose she might not have been a "child" at the time. Girl was chewing the scenery something fierce. I thought Kyle did a fine enough job, and she has some truly creepy moments when the "ghost" possesses her.

So if, like me, you hold a certain degree of nostalgia for Watcher in the Woods, it would be worth borrowing a copy to at least indulge your inner child and remember where your love of creepy things started.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Halloween Flashback: Disney's Halloween Treat

Of all the Halloween-themed movies and specials and TV show episodes that I've seen over the years, nothing ranks higher in the nostalgia department than Disney's Halloween Treat. It's one of the first things I want to watch when this time of year comes around.

There are technically two very similar specials-- one is Disney's Halloween Treat, which features a talking pumpkin as a host, while the other is A Disney Halloween, which has the magic mirror from Snow White as a host. A Disney Halloween takes Treat and adds more clips from Disney's Greatest Villains, as well as the Heffalumps and Woozles nightmare sequence from Winnie the Pooh, the Mickey cartoon Lonesome Ghosts, and the Donald Duck cartoon, Trick or Treat.

It was interesting examining the differences, because it made me question whether the one I remember most was Halloween Treat, or A Disney Halloween. I'm fairly sure I saw both multiple times, but the odd thing is that there are clips from the latter that I remember well, and ones that I'm not sure I ever saw. Then again, I'm relying on memories from about 25 years ago.

Either way, both are wonderfully creepy specials, and they're something fun and scary that can be shared with the whole family. They still hold up remarkably well in the chills department, which says a lot about the content Disney was putting out back in the day. You may not have seen it in some time, but the very first clip in Halloween Treat features Madame Mim from A Sword in the Stone, and that scene is solidly creepy for an animated Arthurian fantasy. A lot of animated features from the 80's were delightfully dark in their own ways.

During October I'm going back over several more Halloween themed specials and shows from the 80's and 90's, so if you hail from those decades as well be sure to subscribe or follow me on Facebook or Twitter for more holiday fun!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Extra Life Update: Stretch Goals!

I’m super excited to say that thanks to your amazing generosity, we’ve already hit my initial $200 goal for Extra Life! That means: STRETCH GOALS! All of which help the Extra Life Chicago guild reach our team goals for Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago.

For $300, during my stream you get a Spooky Storytime where I read from/demonstrate one of my three scary pop-up books (see photo below). Make it $400, I will play at least 3 rounds of Dead By Daylight as a killer, while wearing my Jason hockey mask in order to channel my inner slasher.

We still have over a month to raise money for the kids being treated at Lurie, and you can visit my fundraising page here: and you can read more details about donating, as well as what I'll be doing during my stream in this blog post.

Thanks to everyone who has donated so far, you're fantastic and I hope I get to do some ridiculous things on November 4th!