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Geek Love Author Recognizes the Monsters Inside of Us, but Still Can't Forgive Disney for Old Yeller
It's been twenty years since Katherine Dunn's novel, Geek Love -- about a sideshow family that manufactures its own freaks in pursuit of fame and fortune -- was published, but it remains as vivid as ever. And thanks to the movies she saw as a child, Dunn has her own traumatic memories. "I think I was four or so when I had to be carried kicking and screaming out of a Western because somebody was being dragged toward a blacksmith's fire where he was either going to be branded or burnt. No idea what the film was," she recalls. "Other than that, I identified first with animals. I still can't forgive Disney for what happened to Old Yeller."
"My first official 'horror' movie was Tarantula in 1955 when I was 10," says Dunn. "It's a classic parental betrayal, reminiscent of Frankenstein and Hansel and Gretel (which is the scariest fairy tale, by far). First they create you, then they try to get rid of you, then they bring in the Air Force with napalm." The poignancy of Dunn's memory is enhanced by its surreal setting. "I saw the flick with my little brother on Christmas Day in a tiny town in the Texas panhandle. When we staggered shaking and quaking out of the theater into the broad daylight, Santa Claus was sitting out front in a buckboard, handing out candy canes," she says. "I never want to see Tarantula again, but I'm extremely fond of Santa Claus."
Dunn has a non-fiction book called One Ring Circus coming out next April from Schaffner Press. "It's a collection of my boxing essays from the last 27 years. I've been writing about the sport of boxing since 1981." However, monsters of all kinds still fire her imagination -- and sympathy. "Most of us probably recognize as much of ourselves in the monsters as we do in the victims or in the good guys fighting the threat," she comments. "That's what makes a great monster. Maybe we believe more completely in our secret monster side than in our good guy side. We hope we're good guys, but we know we're monsters."
Katherine Dunn's Top 10 Horror Movies
The top two are a close call for Dunn, who cites Freaks as "The loveliest. Because the normal people are the monsters." The Shining, however, is the scariest: "Any writer who sees what Jack has been typing hour after hour, day after day, has to be scarred -- and scared -- for life."