Notes for the Wounded Rooms

essays on horror

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Notes For The Wounded Room is an exploration of the ways that horror coils itself around a person’s identity: imaginary rooms, masks, how a self makes sense of this unfolding life, and how this bruised life is interpreted through grotesque emotional veils, and the blood, the gore, and the fear that splatters, threatens to crack a life apart. Beyond this, the project conjures a definite sense of place, or places, and, in particular, cinematic places as springboards into pieces that drip, blur, weave, and form the rooms of this house.

There are wounds that I have written into this manuscript, real ones, ones that I have yet to recover from. Ones that still sting and probably always will. And, horror. Horror (as an idea) was the concept that launched me into this project. My initial concept was to allow horror to flow onto the page and to see where it would lead me. It led me to a house, to a field, to a family gathering, to a blank mask sliding over a pallid face. It led me all the way. And this beast grew from there. My obsessions and aches came pouring out and were molded, refined, enhanced. Overall, I’m very pleased with the fleshy rooms that arose from all these words, from all this fear and dread that must have been screaming to come out. I’m glad it came out.

For my research, I read essays, books, and/or fragments from writers such as Eugene Thacker, Nicola Masciandaro, Thomas Ligotti, Claudia Rankine, Georges Bataille, E.M. Cioran, Eugene Marten, Gary J. Shipley, Lily Hoang, Dante, Kathy Acker, Lidia Yuknavitch, Brian Evenson, and Blake Butler among others. These writers/thinkers helped propel my work to a richer, more fruitful, and hopefully, more terrifying, and authentic place.  

Some people have asked me, “Why horror?” or “What does horror mean to you?” I will tell you, though the answer is always slipping between my fingers like dirt or raindrops. Perhaps horror is a tone that resounds in the dark, a sharp knock in the night, or a mind spiraling itself to madness. As lived experience, horror exposes us to the unknown, to ancient dark passages festering internally, passages preparing to infiltrate and consume us with old hands dragging us off to rooms we feared we would never encounter. Those rooms exist. They are closer than we think.

I recall as a young boy growing up in northern Michigan, how, when the sun would slowly set, the woods would writhe with dark wonder. I wandered the edge of my family’s yard, drifted into the ravine to where a sagging fence bordered our property. From that fence, I could see out into the field. There was a hulking tree far off in the distance that looked like the gnarled fingers of a beast, something that could tear up from the dirt and rip solid ground to shreds. That image shaped my dreams, melding with visions of mythic characters like Jason Vorhees, Jack Torrance, or Michael Myers. Those characters and that tree continue to haunt my work.

For years, my parents left the hall light on when I went to sleep. There in the near dark, with the door to my room open, I peered into the dimly lit hall that presented the possibility of a stranger’s hand suddenly clawing toward me, a psychopath who had, perhaps, crept into the house, up from the basement, and was now staggering toward my room to smother or strangle or bludgeon or stab me where I slept. In the morning I could reflect on that horror, perhaps process its power and let it work its way through my imagination, and haunt me. Even in sunlight, horror finds its way home.

I believe that effective horror submits one’s characters (or oneself) to a confrontation with a shattering otherness. We don’t watch Zulawski’s Possession because we’ve had that exact experience of betrayal. However, Zulawski’s tone consumes us, because of how he makes us understand the torment of rage, loss, and despondency. As a writer, I want to tear into that style, devour its seduction. I believe certain works of horror prepare us for comprehending those ghastly burdens that burble into existence and threaten to overthrow our lives. As in Possession, we don’t squeal at seeing Isabelle Adjani in the throes of her tentacled lover, but rather dissolve into her husband’s horrific gaze as he watches her caught in the creature’s gross embrace. These are characters haunted by the strange world they’ve created, haunted by the choices they’ve made that have come back to destroy them. Their world mirrors their mania. I admire this, how tremendous experiences transfigure characters to metaphoric heights. To the edge of sanity. Zulawski’s film exposed, with its style and tone, that sense of fragility and all of the consequences that might arise in its wake when it’s disturbed.

Perhaps horror reminds me that we are all, in some way, like the passengers traversing the dangerous waters in Larry Fessenden’s film Beneath, where, when encountered with a situation that completely threatens their very existence, the passengers become their own vicious monsters, drawn by the will to survive no matter the price. Indeed, great horror brews within a myriad form of narrative possibilities that I am keen on unearthing: the insects ever-lurking in the grass at the opening of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, the killers who invade without reason in Bryan Bertino’s The Strangers, Julianne Moore’s sickness in Safe, or Keanu Reeves’ character in Eli Roth’s Knock Knock, who willingly invites in the two homewreckers who bury him alive.

Or, maybe horror is the threat that exists on the underside of every choice, a terrifying presence, a garbled memory that swells a situation to burst. Horror is our collective heart pumping fears to boil, splattering through the cracks of the narrative world.

I think that Notes For The Wounded Room has given me a renewed understanding of horror and, more importantly, how to craft a form of literary horror that the world has not seen. I don’t think there are any other works out there that have explored this subject through this particular lens. For that, I am ever grateful to the faculty of New England College who helped me tremendously to shape this work. Through this project I was able to release something inside of me and make it meaningful. I have captured a portion of the fear that threatens to consume a life and that fear will no longer haunt me.

Thank you.