Meredith O’Hayre's “The Scream Queen’s Survival Guide” is subtitled “Avoid Machetes, Defeat Evil Children, Steer Clear of Bloody Dismemberment and Conquer Other Horror Movie Cliches.” Just in time for Halloween.
Growing up, Meredith O’Hayre was mesmerized by the horror section at the local video store. The grotesque eyeballs on the VHS jacket of “Dead Alive” freaked her out – in a good way.
“My parents didn’t want me watching that stuff,” said O’Hayre. “I have a brother who is two years younger and they didn’t want us to go all Freddy Krueger on each other.”
“We tried to put some control on watching those movies. They didn’t watch them at home, that’s for sure,” said Dayle Dickinson, O’Hayre’s mother.
However formidable, parents are no match for late night cable – especially when the movie in question is “The Shining.” On vacation in North Carolina with her family, O’Hayre was just middle-school age when she happened upon Jack Nicholson’s psychotic killer. She watched it alone... in a strange place... and has never been the same since.
“That was the first scary movie I ever saw and it’s still my favorite,” O’Hayre said. “It’s the scariest thing I’ve ever seen.”
Little did she know that the seed was planted for a lifelong obsession with scary cinema, which 15 years later would lead to a book: “The Scream Queen’s Survival Guide,” released in September by Adams Media, where she is employed as a book editor. (A “scream queen,” by the way, is the last lusty young lady standing in a horror flick.)
Despite her best efforts, O’Hayre’s mother, a literacy specialist at Wellesley Middle School, couldn’t keep her daughter away from horror movies.
“She likes to get a good scare,” Dickinson said. “She’s also always had a flair for the dramatic. She was a very dramatic little girl.”
O’Hayre continued to feed her horror habit on the down low.
“I snuck into ‘The Crow’ and got totally busted, but not before I was totally hooked. In ninth grade, I got kicked out of ‘The Craft’ three-quarters of the way through and had to go back to ‘One Fine Day.’ And I hate romantic comedies. Horror movies, even when they are bad, they’re good, unlike romantic comedies.”
No matter the parental interference or her subsequent rebellion, O’Hayre, now 29, never lost that love of creepy horror flicks. Her book comes just in time for Halloween. A tongue-in-cheek self-help tome with R-rated language, the book is subtitled: “Avoid Machetes, Defeat Evil Children, Steer Clear of Bloody Dismemberment and Conquer Other Horror Movie Cliches.”
These macabre movies and others of that ilk tend to be void of any redeeming value, but O’Hayre writes in her book that there are some serious life lessons to be learned from watching “Psycho,” “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Carrie,” “The Ring” or “Drag Me to Hell.”
“If you are in an abandoned house in the woods and encounter a disfigured guy with a machete, well, you don’t have to die,” O’Hayre said. “Rules to live by and rules not to die by can be related. But it’s a pretty intense life if you find yourself in these situations.”
With 150 survival tips that include “Never Baby-Sit,” “Be Nice to the Creepy Loners,” “Avoid Children With Old Souls” and “Stay on the Ground Floor,” the book does have a message of empowerment for women as it teaches life-or-death lessons learned by watching classic scream queens such as Jamie Lee Curtis (“Halloween”), Neve Campbell (“Scream,” “The Craft”) and Jennifer Love Hewitt (“I Know What You Did Last Summer”).
“Horror movies always have a female protagonist who has to claw her way out of danger to avoid being killed. If someone like Jamie Lee Curtis can come out kicking butt, then maybe you can face your demons, too.”
O’Hayre is featured in the October issue of “Glamour” magazine. She’s part of a panel, which includes Elvira, that was asked to pick the seven scariest movie moments of all time. She picked the shower scene in “Psycho.”
“That is a freaky movie,” O’Hayre said.
A lifelong jolt junkie, O’Hayre loves to be scared and she drew on these experiences for her book. She used to baby-sit across the street from a creepy cemetery. While at school, she and a group of friends trespassed onto the grounds of an abandoned insane asylum.
O’Hayre hasn’t finished unpacking the boxes in her new home, but the lone trunk in the living room contains her DVD collection. She opens it and pulls out titles like “Psycho,” “American Werewolf,” “Scream” and “Carrie.”
“My Netflix queue is also full of horror,” said O’Hayre, who wrote the book in six weeks. “I did it while searching for a house, too. I spent the weeknights watching movies and the weekends writing. My boyfriend now limits how many horror films we watch.”
O’Hayre, who received her degree in English from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, said she always wanted to write a book.
“I just never thought I’d write this one,” she said.
On the Web, niche horror movie sites have embraced the book. Dreadcentral.com gave it four out of five bloody knives and Crushable.com awarded two disembodied thumbs up.
“I tell everyone that my mom and dad raised me better than this, but I think they’re proud,” O’Hayre said.
“We were hoping for the great American novel, but this is a stepping stone,” Dickinson said.
Rules of survival:Be wary of days that begin “much like any other.” (The residents of this sleepy little town had no idea what was in store for them.) Dress modestly. (I’ll just throw on my teddy and investigate that noise on the front lawn.) Keep your playlist light. (You ever hear of anyone getting cut when they’re cuttin’ “Footloose”?) Stay on the ground floor. (I know how I’ll get away from this psycho – I’ll run upstairs.) Watch for any clowns in the family. (Killer clowns are no laughing matter.) Be a good girl. (The punishment isn’t worth it.)
-- “The Scream Queen’s Survival Guide” by Meredith O’Hayre
Dana Barbuto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.