Lucifer’s gathering forces: A Satanic Panic interlude, no. 1 (My Life as a Horror Fan)

A few years ago Bryan Alexander at Infocult blogged about a horror entrepreneur who, for a fee, would take on the guise of a terrifying clown and stalk a person of a client’s choosing over the course of days, culminating with a dreadful arm’s length meeting and a cake in the face. It was both the inversion and evolution of the haunted house, the dark ride, and the freak show. Whereas those experiences allow the ticket buyer to enter and then leave a dark underworld, the clown stalker slips into the world of his subject, the real world from which there is no exit. It is a deeper immersion into terror.

It’s a 2,000-word creepypasta, however, compared to Satanic Panic. The bulb-nosed menace stalks his quarry for a week or so, alone, creating a realtime play for a cast of perhaps a couple dozen. Satanic Panic, on the other hand, alleged a global network of robed, chanting Devil-worshippers with adherents in every town – your town – the imminent threat of which was shouted from televisions, pulpits, newspapers, magazines, and person-to-person. They were everywhere. They were after children. And it went on for a decade.

None of it was real, but that didn’t matter once enough people believed it.

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Phantasmagoria of the Library (My Life as a Horror Fan, Part 6)

The library at John Tyler Elementary School was not a place of welcome. When I was in second grade, it became a battleground.

That’s a strange reminiscence from a librarian. My mom found it odd back then too that her son, who read everyday, loved the public library, and always left it with a pile of books, complained that he didn’t like the school library and couldn’t find anything to read there. I was quick to explain. There were books there that I wanted to read, but I wasn’t allowed to read them.

The school library was divided into three large sections. The low shelves under the windows held picture books and early readers for first- and second-graders. The floor-to-ceiling shelves facing the desk and lining the two alcoves across the reading area from the windows were for grades three and up, offering YA fiction and nonfiction. An additional wall of tall shelves on the east wall at the end of the reading area were off limits to everyone but fifth- and sixth-graders. And as far as the librarian Mrs. Huffle was concerned, those age restrictions were absolute.

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The Devil and Kevin Tanner (My Life as a Horror Fan, Part 5)

Folklore and urban legends have a verisimilitude no found footage movie or false document fiction could ever match, because we receive them from real people in the real, everyday world. A novel or film might be a window into another place or time, but the reader or viewer is aware they could close the window whenever they like. Even a true crime book or documentary offers that solace. 

But when we’re told a true (or allegedly true) frightening tale in person, we’re not peering at a rectangle of printed words or projected light. We’re surrounded by material things that we can see and hear and touch – often our day-to-day surroundings. You can’t close the book against an escaped madman or vanishing hitchhiker because it “exists” in the real world that we inhabit and is placed in the context of daily life.

I don’t remember how or why I started hanging around with Kevin Tanner, but I remember we bonded over stories of Bigfoot, flying saucers, and psychic premonitions of the Titanic sinking. Kevin and his gift for storytelling are central to one of the most cringe-inducing memories of my childhood.

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