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Horror Mom

Personal Essay: Of all the gifts I’ve been given throughout the years from my mother, the love of horror is perhaps one of the best I ever received.

As a child, I diligently toed the line between being in constant terror and being completely fascinated by the macabre. In my youth, I was absolutely and completely scared out of my wits by horror movies; even stuff like Signs left nine-year-old me in a state of unhinged sleepless fright. However, there was a budding horror fan hidden in my tiny body, constantly dotted with bruises — because not only was I a fearful child, but I was also an extremely clumsy child.

My love of horror started like most youngsters, with a deep, deep reverent love of creepy and spooky tales. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was formative for me and many tiny creeps in training. I reveled in all that Halloween had to offer. I watched Tremors on repeat and adored Gremlins, and I worshipped at the altar of Jurassic Park. Already I had a preference for morbidity, a kid who most desperately wanted to be a witch and soak up all the darkness that people perceived as odd, if not outright wrong.

I can fully say I am a product of my parents. We all are, for better or for worse.

Young Jamie wasn’t quite ready for her mother’s love of horror. But she quickly grew into it. 

For as long as I can conceivably remember, my mother has watched horror movies, watching them with a religious sort of fervor. I remember small me being left at home with my dad so she could go catch a screening of Halloween: H20.

Being the terrified kiddo that I was, my mom would often wait until I was asleep to watch any hardcore horror movies. However, I did often hear her talk about them with other people and was curious about the whole spooky film experience since I was already well versed in spooky stories.

There were the times when we watched horror sporadically. I can easily recall the time we watched the 2002 TV movie version of Carrie, with me sitting on the living room floor of my childhood home. We watched Gremlins all the time, and one of my first cinematic loves was Billy Peltzer. Beetlejuice, as mild as it seems now, left me in a state of fright, but I loved how bizarre it was. It was these little moments from my horror-dotted childhood that I remember with a certain fondness and joy. My parents took the time to stoke the fire of cinematic love within me.

I was around the age of 11 when I finally started regularly joining my mom in watching horror movies on a regular basis.

Some of the best times in my life have been spent close to my mom.

It started off small and slowly built into our own little tradition, one that my poor father was often roped into, though he never seemed to be dismayed. I can remember sitting around and watching a heavily edited version of Heathers and other horror adjacent fair, such as the iconic musical send up on B horror movies, Little Shop of Horrors, on television with my mom. My morbid curiosity afterward could not be sated.

The times spent watching horror with my mom became some of my most cherished memories from an admittedly turbulent youth. I was a bullied kid, so my parents were my best friends. And books and movies were the worlds that I escaped into. Mom introduced me to films that have been most influential on me as a writer myself, films that I absolutely needed when they came into my life. There’s nothing more powerful than a first watch of the original film version of Carrie when you’re stuck in the middle of abusive peer hell.

I owe all of that to my mother.

One of the moments that I think defined, not only my relationship with my mother, but our relationship as shared lovers of horror, was when she sat me down to watch the American remake of “The Ring”. Naturally, that was one my mom had on DVD already.

I settled in with mom on the couch. My dad was working nights, so we were home alone. Of course, I was uneasy because the film does carry an eerie atmosphere that is haunting to this day. On screen, when Rachel gets her call from Samara beyond the grave, our home phone started ringing at the same exact time. My mother of course made me get up and answer the phone. To make matters worse, it wasn’t a harbinger of death on the other end of the line but a telemarketer who was calling way too late in my opinion.

That tiny little rush of terror was amazing though, and to this day it makes a great story to tell every time something about The Ring comes up in conversation.

Many of my weekends as a young teen was spent watching horror movies with my mother.

Happiness is a horror movie on the screen and my mom at my side. (Photo credit: @doutorfotografo via Twenty20)

Maybe it’s not the most eventful or fantastic way to spend weekends, but that doesn’t mean those weekends meant any less.

I wasn’t often happy in my youth. Depression and anxiety hit me at a young age and took root, but I was happy when I was bleary eyed from exhaustion watching horror movies into the wee hours of the morning with my mother. Sometimes the best and the happiest moments you spend with your mom, or anyone who has been a parental figure to you, aren’t the most spectacular ones.

Sometimes simply being there is enough.

The older I get, the more special the times I spend with both of my parents is. The parents who allowed a young me to watch R rated horror with complete abandon, and encouraged my interest in everything from serious foreign horror to dark horror comedies. Some of the best times of my life were sandwiched in between my parents in a dark theatre, too young to actually buy a ticket for the movie we were seeing together. It was how I saw Jennifer’s Body, Zombieland, Let Me In, and many, many others.

My mom’s lifelong, enduring love of horror is one of the things she passed down to me.

She also passed down a healthy love of furry friends, in addition to horror. 

It’s our bond that we share. It’s something that’s special.

When I recall being in my teens I surely do remember all the heartache, all the taunts, and all of the ridicule. But I also remember going to the theatre to watch whatever horror movie was playing that weekend when dad had to work, and it was just mom and me. Those good memories make a difference, and I am glad that I had them. Because of my parents — and because of horror in general — my teen years don’t seem like such a waste. I’m grateful, and I feel extremely blessed to have had the love and support throughout some of the most difficult times I have faced.

I know many of us in the horror community are parents with equally morbid and cute kiddos who remind me of a young me. It brings me such joy to see you all passing down to your kids your love of horror like my mom did me. I enjoy seeing those tiny faces alight with pure glee. It brings back some of the best memories of my youth, the ones that aren’t tinged with any kind of pain.

You’re giving your kids a gift that they will always carry close to their hearts.

These are the moments that they will look back on with utter love and reverence when hardships come. Those ticket stubs will become beloved relics that they pull out and look at fondly. Sure, it might not be the bombastic adventure that most of us deeply crave, but it is no less important — and in a way, it is much more beautiful.

Horror loving parents: Your kids will thank you one day.

A girl’s best friend is her mom.

You have imbued them with such a sparkling passion that can’t be duplicated. You’ve given them the ability to look at the grotesque, see past all the gore, and find something that is not only alluring but actually lovely. It’s one thing to be able to look at a flower and admire it for all of the prettiness that it possesses. But it’s entirely another thing to look at a still from a horror movie and see that it is beguiling.

There are people who are going to judge you for it. More than they judge you for loving horror yourself — as plenty of people do — they will judge you for sharing that love with your offspring.

But if it makes you feel any better, I turned out completely fine and am now a fully functioning college English instructor with two degrees. So everything panned out for my parents and me in all our unrelenting weirdness.

I myself am an adult now, which as we all know is a gross and harrowing experience in and of itself.

Adulthood is its own little horror story.

Getting ready to watch “The Invisible Man” with my mom and my pup.

You move out, you get a job, you pay bills. You yearn for a life that feels desperately out of reach. You cry more often than you even want to admit. It all seems like a vicious cycle that was made to suck the joy out of life, to pull you away from your passions and dash your dreams. To add to the horror, you’re left to unpack the trauma from your childhood that’s all too tempting to push back down and bottle up. The highs and lows are never ending, and frankly, they don’t ever stop coming.

However, it’s always nice to be able to pack my bags and head to my parents’ house. To be able to see my dogs, who I will never not feel guilty for having to leave behind due to draconian pet owner policies that apartments have. To be able to sit down with my mom and have her command me to find us a scary movie on streaming to watch together when she settles down after work.

Vacation is a word that implies luxury, and for me just being able to go and watch a horror movie with my mom is a luxury. Going home back to the madness has become one of my favorite luxuries.

I see you morbid mamas out there doing your best, giving your little monsters their own horror education.

Parenting: You’re doing it right! (Photo credit: @TonyTheTigersSon via Twenty20)

Don’t even think for a second that you’re wrong sharing this love with your spawn.

You’re teaching them love and passion like no other. People like you are what we need in this bleak world. It’s that passion that nurtures us and keeps us all alive, and you’re giving that to your children firsthand. I can’t wait to see the writers, directors, and overall creatives that you rear up by passing on to them a love of horror.

Not all interests are hereditary. Sometimes you cultivate them yourself. But there are those times when they’re passed down like a beloved piece of family jewelry or a set of fine China dinnerware.

In my case, horror is most certainly hereditary, and that has made all the difference. Horror has become my non-tangible heirloom, something that I can pass on to everyone around me. It’s a way that I can spread that joy that my mother gave me long ago.

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