DULUTH — Portrait of Kelly Florence, the child: drawn to scary movies, rooting for King Kong, wonders why everyone is being so mean to Frankenstein’s monster.
In first grade, she wondered why Halloween couldn’t have the heft of other holidays — one day only of zombies roaming the streets.
“Christmas is real ... why can’t Halloween be real,” she recalled thinking. “I wanted zombies to be real. I like that feeling of being scared, a safe way to be scared. I’m not actually in peril.”
Florence and fellow aficionada Meg Hafdahl, the author of female-driven horror novels, have collaborated on a book that looks at the details of specific movies from a scientific perspective — a rare disease can present as vampire-like traits, projectile vomiting is not common in adults, Cujo’s actions are on-point as a rabid dog. “The Science of Monsters: The Truth about Zombies, Witches, Werewolves, Vampires and Other Legendary Creatures,” released by Skyhorse Publishing, is a fact-and-fun filled collection that includes interviews with and sourced quotes from experts in the fields of medicine, taxidermy, space travel and cannibalism.
Twenty years of shared horror
Hafdahl got her start in scares and case-solving when she was very young, she said, starting with the episodes of “Matlock” and “Murder She Wrote” that she watched with her mother, and continuing with spooky books.
“I came across a movie about Lizzie Borden when I was 7 or 8,” she said, referencing the infamous case of a woman who used an ax to murder her family in the late 1800s. “Then I got every book about Lizzie Borden.”
Hafdahl, who grew up in Duluth and now lives in Rochester, Minn., was in high school when Florence walked into the gift shop where she was working, wearing Hafdahl-bait: an “X-Files” T-shirt.
“That was all I cared about in life,” she said.
They chatted, exchanged contact information, and started watching the 1990s sci-fi suspense show and other scary movies together. It was an instant friendship. Neither had ever met another horror fan.
Twenty years later, they are steeped in the culture. Hafdahl has written two novels, “Her Dark Inheritance” and “Daughters of Darkness,” in addition to the short story collection “Twisted Reveries.” Florence, who teaches communications courses at Lake Superior College, produces their shared 2-year-old podcast “Horror Rewind.” Each 30-minute episode deconstructs movies ranging from “The Fly” to “The Terminator” to “We Have Always Lived in the Castle.”
The duo has become a go-to for all things horror. They were sponsors of Rubber Chicken Theater’s production of “Carrie: The Musical” and presented during “For Legal Reasons We Can’t Call This a TED Talk” at Duluth Superior Film Festival.
‘The Science of Monsters’
Both of the authors are word people — so fun, non-esoteric science seemed like a new and interesting way to look at the genre, Hafdahl said.
They divided the 200-plus page book by themes, like slashers, serial killers, the possessed and more, then tackled specific titles: “Halloween,” “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “Jennifer’s Body.”
In a chapter about “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” Florence wrote about the relatively rare disorder, Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome. Seemingly healthy young men, most often of South Asian descent, suffer with a middle-of-the-night heart condition. It was the basis for Wes Craven’s popular movie about a sharp-fingered, crusty-faced character who chases victims in their dreams.
And in a chapter about “Jennifer’s Body,” the dark humored story of a vampire-like cheerleader-demon on a killing spree, Hafdahl found that serial killer motives typically differ between men and women.
Their next collaboration is “The Science of Women in Horror: The Special Effects, Stunts and True Stories Behind Your Favorite Fright Films” due out in February, which is — not incidentally — Women in Horror Month.
Good scares, bad scares
Good horror, according to Hafdahl, features likable characters whom you want to survive. The scariest thing for her, though, is birds.
“Everyone who knows me knows I hate birds,” she said. “I don’t like things flappy by me. I don’t know what it is about them. I find them unnerving. They’re everywhere, and we’re supposed to be OK with it.”
Her favorite movie is “The Shining,” based on the Stephen King novel about an isolated family whiling away the winter as caretakers at a closed Colorado hotel.
Florence’s biggest scares come from real, human monsters and Japanese picks like “The Grudge” or “The Ring.”
“When someone is moving in an unnatural way,” she said. “That’s creepy.”
She’s also into Norman Bates of “Psycho” and the real-life inspiration for him — serial killer Ed Gein.
Earlier this week, the writers were in New York for book promotions. While there, they planned to catch "Beetlejuice" on Broadway.
Halloween is a biggie for both of the horror fiends. Hafdahl tries to watch a few extra flicks during the season, and Florence has given over the entire month to the holiday.
“You’re allowed to put up a skeleton in your house, and people don’t ask questions,” she said.
Title: “The Science of Monsters: The Truth about Zombies, Witches, Werewolves, Vampires and Other Legendary Creatures”
Authors: Meg Hafdahl and Kelly Florence