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Ghastly Grinning founder and editor Ryan Larson sits down to talk about his new charity partnership, his love of the genre, and the way horror healed him.

Horror heals. For the uninitiated, who know the genre primarily by homicide and hockey masks, that might sound like a contradiction in terms. But the passionate and the faithful know — you can’t put it much better than that.

Ghastly Grinning founder and editor-in-chief Ryan Larson knew it, too. In a few weeks, his charity partnership with the Texas-based non-profit Stop the Stigma will go live at HorrorHeals.org. Their mission is pure, simple, and right on time: breaking down the barriers of mental illness. Accepting it. Living with it. Finding help. Educating friends and family on the effects.

Stop the Stigma has been fighting that good fight since 2016. And now, with Horror Heals, Ryan is mobilizing the genre that gave him so much to give something back. Horror saved his life, and now he’s paying it forward.


INTERVIEW WITH RYAN LARSON

Jeremy Herbert: For the folks at home, you are the founder and editor-in-chief of Ghastly Grinning. Obviously horror is not a fad for you that you decided, one morning, to get into.

Ryan Larson:  [laughs] It is not.

JH: So what is your origin story? What movie did you see on basic cable that you shouldn’t have?

RL: Oh man. I have two origin stories, really. One that got me interested and then one that made me fall in love. What got me interested, when I was three or four-years-old — it’s one of my earliest memories — I watched Jaws on TNT, USA, some network. It scared the hell out of me and, immediately after, my mom comes downstairs and goes, “What are you doing? We’re going to the lake. You’re supposed to be getting ready!” And I was like, “…we’re going where?” So I think that’s what got me interested in that feeling of that fear, that kind of adrenaline. What really made me fall in love was, not very long after, my mom bought me my first comic book, which was Uncanny X-Men number 159.

JH: [laughs] Wow. Good for you.

RL: [laughs] Yeah, I literally have it tattooed on my body. It’s X-Men versus Dracula. I fell in love with comics and horror, I think, at the same time. That singular issue just fascinated me, these characters fighting this entity. So I immediately started chasing down both characters and that led me to the Universal Monster movies for Dracula. My mom wasn’t religious and she wasn’t particularly strict, but she did have a thing with rated-R movies. I couldn’t watch rated-R movies til I was a little older. When I was a kid, she wanted to allow me my pursuit of this passion, so she made me a deal that I could watch any horror movie as long as it was black-and-white. Looking back now, I realize I could’ve exploited that, but I was too young to realize that then.

JH: You could’ve gone for the Eraserhead defense.

RL: Yeah! Eraserhead, Psycho. Lots of stuff that was a lot darker than Universal. But I stuck with Universal and fell in love with the Monsters.

JH: Were you disappointed that there were no X-Men in Dracula?

RL: I don’t know, actually. I don’t remember. I have numerous pictures; I think I was Dracula two years in a row for Halloween. So the character definitely fascinated me. And he also reminded me a lot of Batman, which was another one of my early childhood fascinations.

JH: Just two different batmen.

RL: Exactly. And then it just carried on from there. So I was always lightly involved in horror, always wanting to watch horror movies. And then it wasn’t really until probably I was like 14 or 15 and I started staying the night at my friends’ houses and their parents would let us rent whatever we wanted. That’s when I started watching anything I could get my hands on. And Scream became the movie that really was my big influence in the horror world and it’s been pretty much nonstop since.

JH: At what point in your love affair did you start understanding the very human storytelling of the genre?

RL: Not until much later. I fell in love with it, but it was very much “me and my friends get together, put on a cheesy horror movie, and have a blast watching it” for a really long time. But I was probably 22 or 23. I was always interested in writing, and film had become a passion of mine. I started just pitching for freelance gigs anywhere, and Ryan Turek was still managing Shock Til You Drop back then, before he became the big shot over at Blum. [laughs]

He gave me a shot with some freelance work. The first review I ever wrote, he messaged me back and said, “Hey I can’t publish this — it’s too mean. They’re still trying to get this distributed.” I think that actually was the first time where I really had a reality check and was like, “Whoa, I need to not approach things from how I think film analysis goes, but approach it from the fan perspective and from the human perspective.”

JH: The Roger Ebert definition of movies as “empathy machines.” That’s when you realized you can’t try to outsmart these things, that’s not what they’re there for.

RL: Absolutely. Yeah, Ebert’s a huge influence on me. I think a lot of people in my generation grew up with the internet. I had dial-up internet in the fifth grade. I think so much of our generation spent a lot of time with people who saw and were inspired by things like Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Joe Bob Briggs, but didn’t have the refinery to realize that those programs weren’t taking digs at things. They were still analysis and still trying to highlight things. [Some people] instead just took the most negative aspect and were like, “How can I look at this and criticize it and be funny about how mean I am?” There were things like Angry Video Game Nerd.  I used t