I was raised by a single Korean mom, but I was also inadvertently raised by pop culture. My mom worked countless hours in a computer factory during the week and had a store at the flea market on the weekends. Just like most other immigrant parents, she had no time for fun activities or family vacations because she was constantly working to provide for her family. My mom was always so tired when she came home from work, so I never expected her to come up with clever ways to amuse me and my brother. We discovered our own hobbies to occupy our time, and mine included playing Nintendo, recording my favorite radio songs onto cassette tapes, and being scared.
I loved to be scared in any way, shape or form. I attribute this to my father because the few times that he was around when I was younger, we usually ended up watching movies. We’d go to Blockbuster and he’d let my brother and I pick out as many VHS tapes as we wanted, even if they were rated R. He rented movies like The Exorcist and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and my 8-year-old self would be glued to the screen along with my 10-year-old brother, too scared to say a word but too intrigued to turn away. I had nightmares of Leatherface coming out of my closet or Linda Blair lying next to me in bed. But once I got past them, I became addicted to the genre.
Fast forward a few years later in middle school when my parents divorced, and an adolescent me was left to find ways to pass the time. Yes, I watched Saturday morning shows like Pee Wee’s Playhouse and X-Men: The Animated Series, and after school shows like Small Wonder, and evening shows like In Living Color, but my absolute favorite shows came on late at night. I was fortunate enough to have cable growing up, so that is where I religiously watched cheesy B-rated horror movies like Sleepaway Camp on USA and yes, as much as it pains me to admit it, Friday the 13th: The Series and Freddy’s Nightmares (a spin-off A Nightmare on Elm Street). Hey, I never said that I had good taste.
We also had HBO, and that is where I first encountered Tales from the Crypt. The show is based off the 1950s EC Comics series of the same name, and it features a corpse-like, cackling host called the Crypt Keeper who introduces each half-hour episode. The first time I saw it I was hooked! It had everything that I had grown to love: blood, murder, suspense, supernatural elements and of course, profanity. Plus, this crazy puppet constantly cracked jokes, and it was refreshing to laugh out loud one minute and jump out of my seat the next. I loved that the show appealed to my weird, sarcastic self, and never missed a chance to watch it late on Wednesday nights or later on syndication. Maybe I felt a kinship to the Crypt Keeper because I myself was a bit strange, and maybe I admired him because he said and did what he wanted to, whereas I was a shy, nerdy Asian girl who never got into trouble. It was probably both.
Remember this intro?
After learning that the show was based off a comic series, I was eager to read the actual comics. Luckily for me, the 1950s magazines were reprinted during in the early 1990s by Gemstone Publishing, so I was able to convince my mom to buy them for me. She was avidly against anything horror-related, but she knew that she couldn’t stop me from pursuing it, so she reluctantly gave in. I stocked up on Tales from the Crypt and two other horror anthology series created by EC Comics, The Vault of Horror and The Haunt of Fear, and read them before I went to bed. I loved their old school 1950s feel and their amazing artwork, which was very macabre and graphic for the time period. I was still interested in more mainstream comics like Betty and Veronica, X-Men and Fantastic Four, but these were my favorites, and they made me happy.
Around this same time I also watched the George Romero-directed horror films Creepshow and Creepshow 2, both which were made in the ‘80s and paid homage to the 1950s EC Comics. The films, which include several separate short horror stories, are tied together with animated sequences of a young boy named Billy reading a horror comic. I felt like little Billy was me (except that he was a boy and not Asian), and he got the same rush that I felt when I read these tales of terror. I loved these comic-infused movies, and to this day I just don’t think that they make films as good as them (but that’s a whole other NOC post).
So that’s how I grew to enjoy comics and zombies and the supernatural. That’s why I love The Walking Dead and watch John Carpenter’s The Thing whenever it’s on television, and why horror-themed comics-turned-movies like Blade and 30 Days of Night are my preference. My mom still shakes her head whenever I visit her and she sees that I’ve rented a horror movie from RedBox, but she realized the damage was done years ago, and she still loves me.