In the 90s, I worked two jobs (video store and book store—awesome) to pay my way through college, which, between my undergrad and Masters, took all ten years of the decade to accomplish. Aside from school and work, I spent weekends dancing to booming house and techno at the big clubs in New York City, where you could hit up the old school disco rooms for a little retro action.
This resurgence of everything 1970s in the 1990s brought back memories of my single-digit years dancing to the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. But it was also a reminder of how much my childhood was filled with horror! The decade was a biggie for the supernatural. Mysterious creatures and life forms were totally trending—the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, aliens, the killer bees.
In 1975, when I was just six, for the entire summer, the movie theater near my house was bombarded by move goers; the box office line wrapped around the entire block and parked cars took up both sides of the residential streets. Everyone was going to see Jaws.
The occult and the supernatural were also a cultural obsession. The commercials for The Exorcist in 73 destroyed my young mind, as did the commercials for the rip-off Beyond the Door a few years later.
My mom had the 8-track of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells; it wasn’t The Exorcist theme song that terrified me, but a section of the music later on that featured a growling, grunting, howling beast reminiscent of Regan’s outbursts. I imagined being that evil little Damian kid and having that satanic choral music following me wherever I went.
The book and movie of The Amityville Horror came out in the late 70s, combining stories of a total slaughter of a family by a sibling in a Long Island home (just like the one I was growing up in with my own big family—including my Ronald DeFeo-esque oldest brother in full beard and long bushy hair) and a haunted house (just like the one I was growing up in, which you can read all about here).
It perfectly bookended the first ten-years of my horror life, which began in 1969, only four months before Charles Manson’s family committed their heinous crime.
So working in the bookstore in the 1990s, I spent a lot of time perusing the shelves in the true crime section. The 1974 book Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi with Curt Gentry, seemed like a natural choice for a must-read true crime book. Along with it, I picked up a book called The Ultimate Evil about the Son of Sam. This story really hit home, because the Son of Sam actually shot my babysitter just across the border from Nassau County on Long Island, not four blocks from my house. I go into more detail about that here.
Even though it concerned the elite Hollywood lifestyle and hippie culture—two worlds so far removed from my own—the details of the sadistic incident described in Helter Skelter chilled me to the bone. No other true crime book had ever hit me that way. And matters only got worse when I moved on to The Ultimate Evil right after. Little did I know this book was going to basically be a “sequel” to Helter Skelter, and therefore bring the Manson incident much closer to home—only four blocks away from my house, to be exact.
See, The Ultimate Evil, written by Maury Terry, does an incredible job of building a case that David Berkowitz did not do all the .44 caliber killings alone, something he himself has claimed. The sketches of the Son of Sam and descriptions by eyewitnesses often describe a man who looks nothing like David Berkowitz.
The book also presents an argument for something much more deeply terrifying: a belief that the Son of Sam and the Manson clan were part of a larger underground cult that has existed for decades and been responsible for major murders and assassinations nationwide. By the end of the book, I was convinced my own neighbors could be a part of this evil organization.
But here’s where things got really horrific for me. I read these two books in the early 90s when I was going to Queens College. At the time I was reading them, I happened to be without a car so I was taking the bus to school. This required me to walk a few blocks away to catch a bus in Queens. One evening as I’m coming home from school on the bus, I just happened to reach the part in The Ultimate Evil that describes in detail the moments leading up to the Son of Sam shooting my babysitter. He was apparently on the same bus she was riding with her friend, and after they got off, he got off as well, followed them home, and shot them on the front step.
So just as I was reading this account, the bus reached my stop. I was taking evening classes so it was already dark. I got off the bus, it pulled away, and it suddenly hit me. This was the same exact bus route my babysitter was riding…and the same exact stop she and her friend got off when they were pursued by the Son of Sam. Right across the street was the block where it happened, the house only a few doors in. Needless to say, I fucking ran all the way home that night.
After that night, I wrote a fictional short story based on my true experience and everything I’d learned in that damn book The Ultimate Evil. Not even sure if I still have the story somewhere. It was typed out on one of those Brothers word processors! If I find it, I’ll post it.
Just as The Amityville Horror brought the 1970s to a close when it was released in July of 1979, Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam brought the 1990s to a close when it was released in July of 1999! Trippy.