YA fiction is given a lot of flak some of it earned; some of it baseless. With the popularity of dreck like Twilight (not to mention its mommy porn fan fic counterpart, Fifty Shades), its somewhat easy to understand why the genre is condescended by those who consider themselves serious readers (or merely passive consumer literary critics, filling the Amazon.com review section with vitriol). On top of being poorly written, these books extoll odd value systems upon their audiences, teaching them weird lessons about relationships and lycanthropy that may be best learned elsewhere. However, one key component is usually lost in the discussion whilst slinging mud at the Stephenie Meyers of the world, and thats the fundamental fact that these novels can often act as a gateway drug for other, better entries into many art forms. We all have to start somewhere, dont we?
For this writer, a fascination with horror fiction began on a rainy afternoon in Uniontown, Pennsylvania in 1992. There was a double feature being programmed at the local drive-in, but the weather was causing any grown up with car keys to suffer from a serious lack of motivation. So there I was ten years old, out of channels to scroll through on my grandmas old wooden box of a television (which only had thirteen stations to begin with), and bored by the alternative of watching A New Hope for the 900th time via a battered VHS tape; the spitting image of child on the brink of dabbling in paint huffing (this activity would obviously come later). My cousins were older by four and five years, respectively, and as if sensing my potential gravitation toward the dark side of those Sherwin Williams cans in the garage, instead pulled out a stack of skinny paperbacks whose edges were stained a garish piss yellow. They smelled musty, and the majority of the pages were dog-eared, but there was something utterly captivating about their covers.
Almost all showcased beautiful girls, not too far off from my cousins ages, either cowering in fear or peeking over their shoulders, terrified of what might creep up behind them. In the backgrounds were shadows of bad men, ghostly apparitions or skulls, threatening these poor vixens with the most rotten of final fates. Each title was etched in an ominously jagged font The New Girl, The Wrong Number, The First Evil with an overarching moniker hanging above them in Halloween hues. Fear Street was the name of the treacherous avenue I was about to journey down and, needless to say, I couldnt wait to begin this sojourn into the heart of teenage sex and murder. My two cousins promised me the books wouldnt disappoint, and who was I to question their refined judgment? After all, they had just seen Bram Stokers Dracula the other day, and couldnt stop chatting about how awe-inspiringly porny and gory it was. That sounded awesome!
I devoured three of the roughly 150-page potboilers over the next week, going as far as to refuse a make-up drive-in trip one evening because I was coming down the home stretch of The Overnight and just had to know who was picking off these campers, one by one. I had never experienced anything quite like the Fear Street books before, and wouldnt get the same visceral rush from another piece of horror until later the same year, coincidentally I would watch Halloween on a local broadcast from beneath my parents queen-size bed. To put it more succinctly I became a junkie, and I now needed my fix. Soon after, I graduated from RL Stine to Stephen King and Dean Koontz, never able to get enough of the creepy, slimy, scary occurrences that the pages of these books contained. But no matter what other authors were introduced to my sill, I always found myself back at Walden on the first of every month; the money in my pocket going toward whatever lurid teen tale Stine had in store for me. At one point, Im fairly certain I owned every Fear Street novel that was published between1989 and 1996; a veritable library of slasher pictures put to paper.
Looking back on my original horror fiction addiction, I cant help but view Fear Street as my own personal gateway drug; that first taste of a new high that rewired me to want need to chase the genre dragon in any and all forms I could find it (leading, inevitably, to me becoming a video store horror rack lifer). Sadly, my collection of Fear Street novels (along with all of my Stephen King first editions) were lost in a fire started by a Mexican exchange student my parents decided to house while I was away at boarding school (dont all the worst stories end this way?). But since Stine has decided to recently resurrect my initial hit of smack (in the form of Party Games and Dont Stay Up Late out now via St. Martins Press), I thought itd be appropriate to take a stroll down my favorite bloodstained suburban boulevard. So come along and return to Shadyside, as I wax nostalgic about my favorite entries into the series that arguably gave birth my horror fandom.
Jacob Knight is an Austin, Texas based film writer who moonlights as a clerk at Vulcan Video, one of the last great independent video stores in the US. You can find find him on Twitter @JacobQKnight.