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Commentary On The Writing Life: Creativity Is A Terrible Thing To Waste, So Why Are You?

June 13, 2019

cropped-12301412301.jpg“Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality.” Edgar Allen Poe.

“Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.”  Ray Bradbury.

What is the human fascination with horror or terror stories either book or film? It is certainly where I began in my imaginations beginnings. Let’s start there. What makes good horror or terror in a story? What elements do such tales have to actually possess be good let alone a classic? The problem with horror/terror is that it has become to common a subject and no thought goes into actually writing a good story that doesn’t sound like it’s been done before; which it usually does after a while. Good writing has gone the way of the dodo for just getting the story out there whether it’s good or not. Just get it out there and hopefully there will not be too many plot holes, bad character development, and vague scenery that leaves the reader wondering what is going on and where it was going on. Sloppy writing is not caring about those three elements of a good story of horror/terror. Writing good horror/terror stories requires one a belief that what you are creating have not been done before or if it has it can be written better or at least different; vampire stories come to mind on this writing problem. But the original question is the main question, what is the fascination with such horror/terror tales that draws people into that realm of the fictional life of horror/terror as something worth reading or observing via movies? The horror of a story is seen, terror is felt is obvious and simple enough to understand. Why do people like it so much? The simpler answer is that people simply enjoy a good story whether it’s horror/terror or simply a daily life story. People like good stories and it sounds cliched of an answer but it’s true. The appeal of Edgar Allen Poe’s, (1809-1849), tales, of Bram Stoker’s,(1847-1912), “Dracula” or Mary Shelley’s, (1797-1851), “Frankenstein” or even Robert L. Stevenson’s, (1850-1894), “Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde.” are great horror/terror stories but they are great stories to begin with. The elements around the horror/terror work to make those two elements work even better. Other writer’s would be Sheridan Le Fanu, (1814-1873), M. R. James, (1862-1936), and Oliver Onions, (1873-1961). All great story tellers who ventured into the realm of horror/terror but always kept in mind the art of the story and how to tell one. Even Charles Dicken’s, (1812-1870), wrote such tales. Where does the love of such things begin?

Mine began in my junior year of high school; Kubasaki High School, Okinawa, Japan. It was a literature class taught by a female French teacher. We were of course discussing the master of the horror/terror story, Edgar Allan Poe. My knowledge and reading of Poe at that time was probably small to maybe very little; I doubt I had even read a biography on the fellow at that time. I’m sure I read a few of his tales. But the assignment we in the class were given was to write a Poe type story. Mine was called, “The Love Of Death.” Don’t remember how long or even if it came easily to write this short story assignment, but it was written and it passed with the teacher liking it much. I don’t recall where the title idea came from but I had the title and the story followed. I remember most of it takes place on an old bridge with a lone figure talking; think talking like the person in “Tale-Tell Heart” if I remember correctly; which I am pretty sure I do. I’m sure I read Poe stories before this class because the teacher actually commented on how much Poe it sounded to her. My memory is that the lone figure was standing on the bridge at night contemplating his own attempt at murder, of his own father I remember, but at the end it’s only himself he kills; it was a split-personality story I think. (I should attempt to rewrite it again I suppose one day). It was as much a Poe story that I could have made it but the point being it was a story worth reading according to the teacher; and would a pretty French teacher lie, no! But where did such ideas of my story come from? Well, the obvious of course is Edgar Allen Poe on some or at least a major part of the story? But that’s for that story, what about the others that would eventual follow?

I grew up watching horror/terror films. I watched all those Roger Corman films with great delight and fun at the story plots. I grew up watching Vincent Price, (1911-1993), and all his horror/terror movies. He was the master of such tales via film and I don’t recall any of them I didn’t like. I am certain though I analysized them to death, which I still do but even more so as today’s horror/terror have nothing if even very little worth taking note of. But I grew up on Vincent Price and his films. Chances are good that due to his films I read Mr. Poe; it would make sense to me to have done so. My favorite films of Price? And why? Beginning with the “The Fly” (1958). A good horror/terror film of man turned into a fly; how could a kid not like that idea. As a kid I probably liked that idea as a story. The transformation of a human being into a fly just sounds horrible on so many levels. It’s from the short story of George Langelaan, (1908-1972), of the same name; I have yet to read this short story and I should. The next on my list would be “House Of Wax” (1953; with a young Charles Bronson). Another short story by Charles S. Belden, (1904-1954), called “Wax Works”. This story served as the basis also for the 1933 “Mystery Of The Wax Museum.” with King Kong’s Faye Wray. I remember this movie as being a good horror/terror story. I have never seen the second movie mentioned; something that I will fix one day I suppose. As a kid I am sure the actually horror/terror of the idea of what Price’s character was doing would have caught my attention. The “House On Haunted Hill.” (1959), by Robb White III, (1909-1990), I will have to admit is not a favorite as it is too campy, too silly, and just not anything to stoke a person’s imagination because it did nothing for mine; sorry Vincent, but it didn’t. (Though to be fair to Vincent Price, the remake of the film in 2007 was simply awful in every way and made Vincent’s look like a masterpiece of horror/terror). The next film that I certainly do remember and remember with a sense of dread because it really did scare me as a kid with too much imagination, “The Tingler.” (1959), also written by Robb White. A human-spine living creature that feeds and lives off people’s fear; how could I not like it. The Roger Corman films of Price, “The Pit And The Pendulum” (1961), “Tales Of Terror” (1962), “The Comedy Of Terrors” (1963), “The Raven” (1963; with a young Jack Nicholson), “The Masque Of The Red Death” (1964), “The Tomb Of Ligia” (1964). All good for what they were, campy yes, absurd yes, but also very good for what they are and who made them-Roger Corman! And these were some of the influences on my own short story “Love of Death” in my writing class. I also remember Price in “The Last Man On Earth” (1964), by Richard Mathewson, (1926-2013) of his novel, “I Am Legend”, as being fairly good; though the remake with Will Smith in 2007 is far better; excellent vampire story and one of the few good ones made into a movie.

So, what’s the point of this long winded paragraph of Vincent Price praise, well, someone sat down and wrote those stories that’s why and it’s influence was felt by a fledgling kid who had no inclination quite yet ready to claim writer as their future profession. Though I had actually written a story before this one for a class, (Honolulu Junior Academy, Oahu, Hawaii), but I don’t consider that story being created or formed due to the purpose of this commentary; Jules Verne yes, the fact the movie “Star Wars” just came out yes, but not Poe or Hammer films or even Vincent Price. It was another writing assignment but this one I never finished because I simply couldn’t finish it as I was enjoying the writing of it; the teacher was amused and passed me. The point being these works of film were an idea somewhere the mind of an author. Who sits down and writes about a human being being turned into a fly? Who writes about a strange creature living in the human body feeding off the human’s fears? Where does the idea for a wax museum with actual corpses beneath the wax? Horror/terror has to come from somewhere and for a reason from the depth of the human imagination. The imagination is a living, breathing, demanding realm of the human mind. It has something to say and the movies/stories mentioned show that and they have influence on those who watch/ read them. Creating horror/terror worth watching and certainly learning from takes a understanding that even the worse of tales can have merit for one’s own work. These writer’s of these good or even not so good stories sat down and created from an imagination that wanted to tell a tale of horror/terror that hopefully would be read. Writer’s do not create in isolation and no writer writes to be ignored; maybe not paid, but never ignored.

I grew up on a lot of the Hammer Films movies. I grew up on watching Christopher Lee, (1922-2015), Peter Cushing, (1913-1994), and host of others but mostly those two great actors of Hammer Films. It was the best of the horror/terror films that a kid could grow up watching with too much imagination. One of my most treasured books was the “Movie Treasury Of Horror Movies.” I read it countless times as a kid. Horror/terror stories simply became something I really enjoyed. How can one not still watch these great actors in their Hammer Film roles as Dracula, Frankenstein, Doctor Frankenstein, and the Mummy; classic monsters of horror/terror of all time. I grew up on these stories retold by these films and their telling of the story as only a Hammer Film can tell a story. Horror, terror, and of course the ever present cleavage to add the sexual nature to the story of what it is to be in a Hammer Film; oh, the ladies of horror/terror of Caroline Munro, (1949-   ), Ingrid Pitt, (1937-2010), Veronica Carlson, (1944-   ), and others. I grew up on the movies of this film company and it’s story telling via older classics. This fueled the imagination of a kid like me with indeed too much imagination who would write eventually his own stories of the darker side of human behavior and it’s man-made creatures of reality or the imagination. Those movies simply are better than the Universal Films of the same creatures of horror/terror in that there is a reality to them. As much as I did enjoy those Universal Films, and I still do, but to watch a Hammer Film is to see and feel blood is red and death is painful and sometimes doesn’t stay dead long. There is nothing wrong with Boris Karloff’s (1887-1969), “Frankenstein”, in 1931 was and is still a classic of horror; but it’s not Lee’s nightmare of a monster in the “Curse of Frankenstein” (1957). Karloff was a monster you felt a sorry for but as with Lee’s Monster you felt horror/terror at the sight of it. The writing in the Karloff film is too clean, it has horror/terror elements but it’s clean of blood and sanitized; Lee is pure red blood and messy. There is also of course the acting of Peter Cushing who makes the other film’s Doctor Frankenstein seem pale and one dimensional. Cushing is brilliant and simply far more multi-dimensional in all the Hammer Films. It’s all in the writing and it should always be in the writing. My imagination grew up on these stories and films. I even prefer the Lee version of “Dracula” (1958), than Bela Lugosi, (1882-1956), version of “Dracula” (1931). Lee just comes across as a more evil, more dangerous, and certainly more king of the undead, than Lugosi’s charming but just below the surface evil vampire. Once again the writing is the key to all these stories either being good or simply okay. I prefer Lee’s Dracula because he is indeed very good at being dangerous without saying a word as his physical presence is enough to know to not mess with this vampire. Lugosi’s vampire seemed reserved in his actions; Lee wanted to rip your throat out. Lon Chaney’s (1906-1973), “Wolfman” (1941), and Oliver Reed’s (1938-1999), and his “Curse of the Werewolf”, (1961),  are tied in my love of such movies. There both fairly good for what they were. Though I must admit I did like the “The Wolfman” (2010), starring Benicio del Toro. Will admit that Karloff and Lee’s “The Mummy” (1932, 1959 versions), are a toss up as both are excellent. Again the story telling is very good and so is the writing.

The point being of course for all this is to point out the influences on my young life and why I would have written that story in my creative writing class so long ago.  I have not mentioned my favorite of the horror/terror films as it doesn’t deal with the classic creatures of the Hammer world, but I have always considered it my favorite of the type I am discussing, “The Creature From The Black Lagoon.” (1954). It has it’s faults but as a story and as a creature indeed it is the best of them; the two following sequel’s are not so much. I have always loved the movie because the idea is so well done and written to my young kid mind; I still see it that way. Other films that influenced me in my growth of imagination? Cannot go far in that question without mentioning the 1954 “Them”. Greatest of all the 1950’a monster movies. What is there to not like about giants ants terrorizing humanity in the desert and then Los Angeles. Great movie about giant insects that this guy loved as a kid will never get old; unless it’s one of the bad ones. And even bad one’s can be quite good for generating creativity. And creativity is the point. These films generated an imagination despite their obvious horror/terror landscape. Other films of imaginary interest that caused the seeds of imagination to grow? As a kid I enjoyed such movies as “It Came Beneath The Sea” (1955), because who couldn’t or wouldn’t like a movie about a giant octopus? I certainly did. Who couldn’t see imaginary potential for a future writer in such movies as, “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms.” (1953; based on a short story by Ray Bradbury). How about “20 Million Miles To Earth.” (1957). Or even the bad movies such as “Monster On The Campus.” (1959). Campy yes, slightly dumb at times yes, but still worth watching even if it is slightly silly; and besides it gave me my favorite fish-The Coelacanth. Probably one of my favorite bad movies to watch. Others of questionable good or bad or somewhere in the middle would be movies like, “Tarantula” (1955), “The Black Scorpion” (1957), “The Giant Gila Monster.” (1959), and the list goes on for the 1950’s movies of my young imagination into the horror/terror and everything else to help with the create life of a young kid. Some of them may have been bad and simply awful but the imagination takes care of those things by not caring and simply seeing the potential of the stories behind the movies.The point being is that somewhere along the way imagination/creativity was planted and grew and helped create my imagination. Of course that most of those creatures and monster’s were created by one man of create genius, Ray Harryhausen, (1920-2013), also helped. His creations in the movies from his “Beast From 20,000 Fathoms” to his last, “Clash Of The Titans.” (1981), were the landscape for my imagination to grow and create my own stories. I grew up on his creative talents through his countless films and creations in those films. I grew up on his love of creating creatures such as in “Mysterious Island” (1961), “The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad.” (1958), “Jason And The Argonauts.” (1963), “First Men In The Moon.” (1964), “The Valley Of The Gwangi.” (1969), “The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad.” (1973; with the wonderful and beautiful Caroline Munro), and “Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger.” (1977). I grew up on this stuff and it’s no wonder I have the imagination I have. The films I left out that effected by imagination and creative output could be longer; a lot longer as I still have fond memories of them despite their good or bad worth as films themselves. Just to name three, all with Doug Macclure, (1935-1995), being, “The Land That Time Forgot.” (1974), “The People That Time Forgot.” (1977), and “At The Earth’s Core.” (1976; with of course Peter Cushing and the still perfect Caroline Munro). All campy, all silly, but worth watching because creativity and imagination created stories in the first place from the pen of Edgar Rice Burroughs, (1875-1950).

The point being with this long list of movies and those behind those stories and acts of creativity is that someone had an idea they liked and created something from their imagination and it had it’s influence on my writing life and thinking. As Ray Bradbury said, “If an idea isn’t exciting, you shouldn’t do it.” These acts of other people’s creative imaginations excited me to create my own stories. These people who sat down and became excited about their ideas and wrote them down and created have always fascinated me. So, from all this watching and reading and observing helped create a short story for my creative writing class for a very lovely teacher of French; fairly certain she was actually French as well. But she asked for a Poe like story and I find it hard to believe that I had no background influences because of these movies and books. So I must have sat in my sparse room at that time; I think I had a Farrah Fawcett poster and that was about it on the wall and very few books. But I sat and the idea came from somewhere. Somewhere a creative spark was coming to life and a story was coming into being and written. I had my influences in my early growing up life. Creativity does not happen in a isolated life. Creativity doesn’t happen without something being observed and thought about. It’s the act of creation from a single idea that created the world’s of these movies and those who wrote them or created the creatures within them. Creativity is about thinking and feeling and trying to fathom let alone understand life and all that life is about even in the imagination of those who created those worlds and it’s inhabitants. Creativity is a living and growing organism that needs constant cultivating and pruning to grow and to create the landscape of the imagination’s reason for putting pen to paper. Without creativity what’s the point of writing let alone living life worth writing about? Life is a creative act, writing is recording that act, and one cannot live without the other, so get out there and stop wasting life by not writing as if there was nothing to write about. There is always something to write about even if it’s mundane in the beginning and seems pointless with the first draft. Creativity is a terrible thing to waste, so why are you?

“A man who limits his interests, limits his life.” Vincent Price.

“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” Stephen King.

RECOMMENDATIONS/REFERENCES.

Complete Works Of Ray Bradbury.

Movie Treasury Of Horror Movies.

Hammer Complete: The Films, The Personnel, The Company. By. Howard Maxford.

The Art Of Darkness: The Life And Fiction Of The Master Of The Macabre Stephen King. By. Douglas E. Winter.

Complete Works Of Stephen King.

On Writing. By. Stephen King.

The Dance Macabre. By. Stephen King.

The Price Of Fear: The Life And Career Of Vincent Price. By. Joel Ilsner, Peter Cushing.

Vincent Price: A Daughter’s Biography. By. Victoria Price.

Boris Karloff: A Gentleman’s Life. By. Scott Allen Nollen.

Christopher Lee: Tall, Dark And Gruesome. By. Christopher Lee.

Peter Cushing: The Complete Memoirs. By. Peter Cushing.

Ingrid Pitt: Darkness To Dawn. By. Ingrid Pitt.

Life’s A Scream: The Autobiography Of Ingrid Pitt.

Ingrid Pitt: Queen Of Horror: The Complete Career. By. Robert M. Cotter, Ingrid Pitt.

Land That Time Forgot. By. Edgar Rice Burroughs.

People That Time Forgot. By. Edgar Rice Burroughs.

At The Earth’s Core. By. Edgar Rice Burroughs.

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