Many fans of horror, amateur and professional alike, have devoted themselves to blogging about the thrills, chills, and no-frills side of the genre as seen in cinema and print. In this ongoing series that highlights the writers behind the blogs, we meet the unique personalities and talents that make the online horror scene so engaging. Up close and personal.
In this installment, John Kenneth Muir of Reflections on Film/TV shares his adrenaline rush with horror, writing, and blogging.
It was a Saturday in 1975, and close to Halloween. As dusk approached, my parents sat me down in front of the TV and, in particular, an episode of a new series called Space: 1999. The episode airing that night was titled “Dragon’s Domain” and it concerned a malevolent, tentacled Cyclops entrapping and devouring hapless astronauts in a Sargasso Sea of derelict spaceships. In an image I’ve never forgotten, this howling, spitting monster regurgitated the astronauts’ steaming, desiccated bones onto the spaceship deck. The episode was one part 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, and one part precursor to Alien (1979). But the direction of this five year old boy’s life was set in stone during those 50 minutes.
By the time I was in sixth grade, a viewing of Tobe Hooper’s intense The Funhouse (1981) at a girlfriend’s Friday night movie rental party – a big thing in those days -- deepened my obsession with the horror genre. The film terrified me on a level I had never before experienced (or even imagined, frankly…), but I survived it. And afterwards, I couldn’t stop thinking about the nerve-tingling experience of being really frightened by a film, or about the specific details of Hooper’s grisly narrative. I wanted to know more, to understand more, and most importantly, to talk endlessly about the experience and what it had meant to me. Many of my friends thought I was nuts. It's just a scary movie, right?
Almost thirty years later, nothing’s changed, as far as I’m concerned. With horror, I still love the adrenaline rush, the smashing of taboos/movie decorum, and the sense or artistic integrity and honesty you often find in the very best examples of the form. I enjoy the fact that many of our best horror filmmakers are reacting against “The Establishment,” and offer something insightful to say about the way we live our lives. And I’m still thrilled when I encounter a fresh, well-made scary film that surprises or unnerves me. Recently, that happened in the last act of [REC] (2007).
In high school, college and beyond I tried my hand at making no-budget horror movies on home video (with titles like Rock ’N’ Roll Vampires from Hell, Slaves of the Succubus, Salvation’s Eclipse and Annie Hell), and I learned how difficult and time-consuming it was to produce, shoot and edit a film that would legitimately scare people. This is an exercise I frequently recommend to aspiring movie or TV critics: go out and actually attempt to make a film of your own so you can better understand all the processes and tasks involved. And, if for no other reason, try filmmaking just so you can develop your “empathy” muscle. Although I’ve been told before that I too easily grant an “A for effort” in my reviews -- my personal and professional philosophy has always been that I would always rather write a positive review than a negative one, if feasible. Or see a good film rather than a bad one.
Today, I make my living writing books about film and television of all stripes, but blogging is a daily passion…and some days, a real addiction. I work out of a home office, in close proximity to my wife of 13-years, a psychotherapist named Kathryn, and my (almost) three-year old son, Joel, who is already fascinated with skeletons, Mummies and ghosts. His favorite video is Scooby Doo Meets Batman, which features Joker and Penguin dressing up as ghosts and trolls to scare those “pesky” Mystery Machine teenagers. So I’m afraid the indoctrination of the next Muir generation has begun in earnest.
I relish my blog because unlike the milieu of book writing, I face no space limitations, battle no editor gazing over my shoulder, and bear no responsibility even to write anything at all if I’m feeling out-of-sorts. Furthermore, I can choose my subject matter and tone, depending on my mood, time constraints, and the research materials at hand. And the blog also provides me the benefit of instantaneous feedback: I get to interface with readers in “real time,” to recruit an overused cliché, and I enjoy that exchange of ideas. Lastly, no one ever tells me my blog is over-priced…
I hope that blogging about film and television has made me a stronger writer. Blogging certainly gives me daily, or almost-daily, practice. And reading other horror blogs has been a highlight of the last few years for me as well. On pretty much a daily basis, I have my mind opened, see powerful ideas asserted, and even personal biases re-considered by the likes of And Now the Screaming Stars, Theofantastique, Classic Horror, Zombos' Closet, Groovy Age of Horror, Vault of Horror, Made-for-TV Mayhem, The Lightning Bug’s Lair, Final Girl and other great genre blogs. This community of great writers, I hope, has made me a better writer, too.
What do I hope horror fans take away from Reflections on Film/TV? Just, I suppose, that I evidence true passion for the genre, and offer my own, internally-consistent way of interpreting it. I never want to presume to do anybody else’s thinking for them; just explain my own thinking. And if that thinking should resonate with the reader, then it’s all the better.