Constant exposure to these ghouls numbed their impact on me and my distress gave way to fascination. I would observe them silently, diligently, like a scientist would with a specimen in a petri dish. I can’t expect you to understand, but I reached a level of contentment in their company that I would be more unnerved if an evening passed without being visited by them. I had become accustomed to them being around, like that recurring dream where you fall and fall but you’ve practiced it enough times to know you’ll never reach the bottom. I came to the conclusion that within the dream environment I had become one of them; I was meandering, Zombified, with my own kind. Whilst I never suffered the urge to bite, I was, in my memory of the event, complicit in their decadence.
It was so recurring that by my late teens I could recite every step of my journeys across this parallel image of New York and so I started to document what I could see in a little notepad. It was the only form of release I had. I’d find that when I woke up I’d write for 10 minutes and it would help my brain to categorise the fantasy and allow me to get back to sleep. Second time round, I usually could enjoy an orthodox rest.
That notebook filled up with some really interesting material that stretched beyond my personal dystopia. You’ll know that bizarre sensation where you recall the intricacies of a dream for seconds, minutes after waking up, but by the time you’ve tried to tell the story, it’s been erased completely. All of that weird, boundary-hopping subconsciousness became realised in the strokes of my pen. Whilst I had written them and they had come from my head, it read like a script produced by someone else. It became comforting to me to know that my mind was being exercised and ideas were forthcoming, even if the vessel was far from conventional.
By the time I was heading to University I had already decided what I wanted to be. I was an avid reader from a young age, as I suppose many of my generation were, because we didn’t have the multitude of distractions available now; we played in the street, tried to avoid trouble, went home for our supper and went straight to bed. Instead my school friends and I would regularly raid our parent’s closets and find books they had read years before and so wouldn’t notice were missing. My father in particular had a considerable collection and I made myself moderately popular when I would arrive for class with a bag full of forbidden fruit. The topics of interest varied depending on the friend; sex, crime, war…. horror.
I had most interest in the last genre, despite my conflicted relationship with it. I craved that sensation of being vulnerable and frightened, being on the edge of uneasy, teetering on the brink of fear. As I turned the pages the adrenaline would flow through me and I’d begin to sweat as the antagonist edged closer to their prey. That brief period of anticipation was so difficult to recreate and was always over too quickly but it was, to me, an unspoiled, uninfluenced emotion.
Yet I would always go too far, chasing that anticipation head first into passages that proved so effectual I would lie with eyes closed, my imagination transforming every creak in the walls of our apartment into something evil. In New York, the buildings would groan under the weight of too many people squeezed into the same block and so any movement you made would be intensified tenfold. I thought it feasible that the creations from my books were waiting me out, selecting their prime moment to attack. When they eventually did, I should hardly have been surprised, but it helped to shape my love of storytelling in all its forms. Those books, I’m sure, led to those ghouls, which led me to film school at Carnegie Mellon University.
TV and cinema were emerging as mediums for the masses and I had no doubt what I wanted to achieve; what if I could show the world my dreams and pass on that feeling of fear to those who dared to accept it? I could see for myself the longevity of monster features produced by Hammer Studios, the likes of Frankenstein, Dracula, the Mummy and the Wolfman. They had been remade, recast and repackaged countless times even by 1960 and although the content was diluted the desire to be frightened seemed, to me, to endure. Some of us enjoy being taken out of our comfort zone and shown something our normal lives will never give us. I knew that my notepad could have the ability to do precisely that. I had the material; I just had to learn the craft.
School, therefore, merely became a facilitator to get me closer to my calling. Juggling my extracurricular activities at dusk with my homework was tough sometimes, but the long nights paid off when I graduated and was accepted to Carnegie Mellon, in Pittsburgh.
For around two years I adored that place, not just the class but Pittsburgh itself. It was enlightening to be out on my own, away from the Bronx and my visions became more diverse as a result, as if feeding my experiences helped to create a richer basis for the ghouls’ existence. When you visit a place your mind allows you to inhabit it within the dreamscape. And, therefore, my ghouls had to come with me.