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I'll be the first to admit that I was kind of a weird kid.
I saw my first horror movie when I was six.
My older brother, twelve at the time, was just entering his rebellious stage and interested in anything and everything that our worry-wart of a mother was against. Naturally, gory movies were at the top of the list, right next to Satan worship, child sacrifice, drugs, and rock music. Yes, our mommy-dearest was a Beaver Cleaver wannabe; a white-picket-fence, stay-at-home mother; the sort of woman that cooked pies for Sunday school fundraisers in high heels and pretty dresses.
Rob, in all his pre-teen suburbanite angst, thought it was an excellent idea to show his little brother the godfather of gore flicks: Herschell Gordon Lewis's Blood Feast. He brought it into our room one day after school and locked the door to keep me from running away. At that point, we had a TV and VCR in our shared bedroom. I remembered whining about how "scary movies are bad" and "Mom and Dad are gonna get angry when they find out, Rob."
We got about halfway through before Mom burst into our room unannounced. When she saw what we were watching, she started screaming and howling in a way I've never heard before or since. She grabbed Rob by the ear and dragged him out into the hallway, where she grilled him on where he'd gotten the tape. Turns out, since he was just twelve years old and neither looked nor sounded like he was seventeen, Rob had actually stolen Blood Feast from Blockbuster. Cue the screaming. He was grounded for six months. No friends over, no phone, no going out. He was to go straight to school in the morning and had to come home immediately after. And even I was inadvertently punished, because Mom sold our TV and VCR and donated the money to church that Sunday.
In spite of all that had happened, in spite of the fact that I'd only seen maybe half of Blood Feast before Mom brought everything to a grinding halt, I was mystified.
A few years later, when I was nine or ten years old, I became buddies with a kid from school who practically worshiped George A. Romero and John Carpenter. His name was John and his mom went to church with my parents, who approved of our friendship because of this. On the weekends I'd go over to his house and we would watch horror movies until dawn. Even though he had a huge collection, at the rate we were watching these movies we quickly ran out of options and had to start walking to Blockbuster to get new ones.
John was a real weird guy - even weirder than myself at that age - but he was good friend and the only other person at school that adored movies like I did. We got along just fine. Became best friends, even. He drew some disturbing stuff and said he had a lot of bad dreams, but I just chalked it up to him being a fan of horror movies. When he was a little older, John started writing weird, violently sexual stories about girls we knew from school. I got freaked out when he showed me and told him how much trouble he'd get in if an adult found his notebooks, so he promised to get rid of them and didn't mention it again for a while.
When he was fourteen, John's parents divorced, and it was nasty. To make matters worse, he was caught right in the middle of it and ended up feeling simultaneously guilty and unwanted. He grew quiet at school and spent most of his time there scribbling in notebooks. I was afraid he'd started writing those bad stories again but didn't bring it up when we sat together at lunch.
And then one day he just didn't come to school at all. I didn't see him for a week straight and was beginning to get worried. By Thursday I decided to stop by his house to see if everything was all right, but, to my surprise, he was waiting outside on the front steps when school let out. He looked like his old self again. When I asked him were he'd been for the past week, he said that there had been a family emergency on his mom's side, and they had to drive a state over at a moment's notice.
"Everything's all right now," he said.
John was at school on Friday and asked if I wanted to come over and rent some tapes to watch that night. We talked about the latest horror flicks all day and walked straight to Blockbuster after school.
Between us, we'd seen nearly every horror movie on the rental shelves. What little we hadn't seen didn't look appealing. I was about to settle on The Evil Dead for the fifth time when John came over with a new film neither of us had seen yet. I guess I overlooked it the first time around, or maybe it just didn't look very interesting to me, but we ended up renting it because it was a horror movie and because we were bored.
For those of you who don't know, Angel Heart is about a private detective named Angel who is hired by the devil to find a missing man by the name of Johnny Favourite. The detective finds lead after cold lead, because each person he interviews ends up dead. He gets mixed up with a young voodoo priestess who just so happens to be Favourite's daughter, there's an infamously graphic sex scene, and by the end of the movie it turns out that Angel is actually Johnny Favourite. Favourite sold his soul to the devil and lost his memory after an accident in the war, and the devil is just trying to collect his dues. Angel (Favourite) races back home to find his lover (daughter) dead and that he's been blamed for all the murders.
I didn't think it was bad, but it wasn't anything groundbreaking. On the other hand, John became totally obsessed with it. He wouldn't stop talking about Angel Heart. He raved on and on and on, singing its praises to anyone who would listen (that is to say, me). For the next two weeks, all I would hear is Angel Heart this and Angel Heart that. He rented it over and over again and would sometimes watch it twice in a single night.
And just like that, John's strange behavior started all over again. He resumed writing those gross stories, this time in full view of teachers and other kids. He got caught and had all his notebooks confiscated by the principal, who suggested to his mom that he see a psychiatrist.
He didn't care.
John grew out his hair and attempted (unsuccessfully) to grow a beard like Robert de Niro's character from the movie. When I spoke to him one morning and he demanded that I start calling him Johnny, I lost it and told him to shut up about Angel Heart. He stopped talking to me after that, even when tried to apologize in the hallway later that day. John apparently stopped bathing as well, because it got to the point that you could smell him before you saw him. Girls talked about him in hushed whispers when he walked past. People made fun of him until he pulled a knife on a guy who started pestering him in the cafeteria. After that they just left him alone. It was like mentioning his name was a taboo, because people would stop talking and give you 'the look' if you did.
Everything came to a boiling point one afternoon in September. School had just started back and I hadn't spoken to John in over five months. When I passed him on my way to history class, I was stunned when he stopped me to say hi.
"Uh, hey, John. How've you been?" I said.
"I told you. It's Johnny."
I glanced down at his shirt, saw the words Angel Heart, and nearly flipped my shit. That was the last time I actually saw John. The rest of what I'm going to tell you is he-said, she-said rumor, most likely fabrication with some inkling of the truth.
Apparently John went home from school early that day. His mom said she didn't actually see him come in, only heard his footsteps on the stairs and the slam of his bedroom door. She thought nothing of it until she called him down for dinner and he came to the table drenched in blood.
John slaughtered a chicken with a straight razor in his bedroom and proceeded to draw 'voodoo' symbols on the walls and floor in the chicken's blood. She ran back downstairs, intending to take him to a hospital, when John attacked her from behind and slit her throat with a knife. She would have died if a neighbor hadn't seen the whole thing go down from their window. The police spent a long time searching for him, but John was nowhere to be found.
Ms. White recovered, but she and the entire community was traumatized. The neighborhood lived in fear for a long time, but eventually John's story has gone the route of urban legend. Some people have theories that attempt to explain his whereabouts. A particularly popular idea is that he went crazy and ran off into the woods behind town, where he presumably died of starvation and the elements.
The only reason I'm telling you this story all these years later is because of what happened to me the other night. I was out shopping with my wife and wanted to grab a movie before we headed home. We stopped by the bargain bin and, lo and behold, there was a DVD copy of Angel Heart staring me smack in the face. Just seeing the cover was enough to bring all those memories crashing back like a tidal wave. I wanted to watch it again, just to see if I could get some kind of grasp around what had happened to my best friend so many years ago.
I watched it with my wife.
I think it was a mistake, because now she won't stop talking about that damn movie. I keep finding books about black magic tucked away neatly in the back of the closet. Yesterday I found a journal beneath the mattress. It was loaded with page after page of bizarre rites and religious symbols.
Today I came home from work and found her drenched in blood, hacking away at a chicken in the back yard. I'm too afraid to confront her because I fear that I'll be next.