Be Scared of Everything
"An incredible voice in horror"—Tor Nightfire
Horror essays that read like Chuck Klosterman filtered through H. P. Lovecraft.
Slinging ectoplasm, tombstones, and chainsaws with aplomb, Be Scared of Everything is a frighteningly smart celebration of horror culture that will appeal ... Read more
"An incredible voice in horror"—Tor Nightfire
Horror essays that read like Chuck Klosterman filtered through H. P. Lovecraft.
Slinging ectoplasm, tombstones, and chainsaws with aplomb, Be Scared of Everything is a frighteningly smart celebration of horror culture that will appeal to both horror aficionados and casual fans. Combining pop culture criticism and narrative memoir, Counter’s essays consider and deconstruct film, TV, video games, true crime, and his own horrific encounters to find importance in the occult, pathos in Ouija boards, poetry in madness, and beauty in annihilation.
Comprehensive in scope, these essays examine popular horror media including Silent Hill, Hannibal, Hereditary, the Alien films, Jaws, The X-Files, The Terror, The Southern Reach Trilogy, Interview with the Vampire, Misery, Gerald’s Game, The Sixth Sense, Scream, Halloween, The Blair Witch Project, The Babadook, the works of H. P. Lovecraft, Slenderman stories, alongside topics like nuclear physics, cannibalism, blood, Metallica, ritual magic, nightmares, and animatronic haunted houses.
This is a book that shows us everything is terrifying—from Pokemon to PTSD—and that horror can be just as honest, vulnerable, and funny as it is scary.
"Be Scared of Everything is a heady mix of memoir and critical essays. Discerning, unafraid to examine larger questions without easy answers, the collection is also warm and entertaining. "—Paul Tremblay
"Counter’s brilliant essay collection Be Scared of Everything is a poetic and deeply thoughtful exploration of all the ways that horror permeates our everyday life. "—Rue Morgue
Peter Counter is a prolific television and video game critic, originally from Toronto, who writes about culture and technology in Halifax, Nova Scotia. His essay "Saint Tornado-Kick" was published in the 2019 Eos Award-winning anthology Empty the Pews. Peter writes about horror on his website everythingisscary.com.
Please Add Me to Your Zombie Survival Network
Gwen asked if I’d kill her. I had to think about it. The two of us sat in a theatre in downtown Toronto, paper programs in our laps. Black walls, black curtains, black metal legs supporting grey plastic chairs, all lit by the white glow of the house lights. The kind that bring out the red in your cheeks. Blood vision.
“I could do it,” I said. “Emotionally, I think I could. ”
I took silent inventory. With me, I had a messenger bag containing a notebook and a bottle of red wine. The pockets of my jeans were empty, save for my old leather wallet. My keys, a ticket stub, a small black cellphone, and a handful of unused tissues cluttered the various compartments of my theatre-school-grade corduroy blazer. I was unarmed. “But I don’t think I have anything that would really help me with the dirty work. ”
“You can kill a zombie with your hands,” she said. “You do karate. ”
I pictured the hypothetical scenario. A raspy moan, Gwen’s eyes covered in the instant cataracts of undeath, mouth gaping with angry eyebrows. She’d go for my exposed flesh first, probably—my face and neck. I’d guard myself, either through the automatic reflex of a karate high block or by cartoonishly palming her head to keep her at bay, the Bugs Bunny to her flesh-eating chicken hawk. Honestly considering my abilities and the implements at hand, I couldn’t imagine any way to remove Gwen’s head or destroy her brain.
“I don’t know. Is karate even enough?” I said. “I’d have to run. ”
Gwen raised an eyebrow. People crowded near the edge of the stage, looking up at the risers, squinting and doing basic math, trying to find a place to squeeze their party in with the rest of us spectators.
“Let’s say you had something,” she said. “Let’s say you had a bat or a shovel. Let’s say you could definitely do it. ”
I asked where she was headed with this. Judging by the densely packed seating, we didn’t have a ton of time for zombie talk before the curtain’s rising.
“Okay,” she said. “If I attack you first, having not bitten anyone to spread the zombie virus, and you karate me back to death right here, will anyone believe you did it to save the world? Or will they all think you’re a murderer?”
Everyone in the theatre sat, shifting, murmuring, and turning off their phones. The collective noun is audience, crowd. But I was thinking about hordes.
“I’m just saying, the smart thing to do is let the situation get a little out of hand,” said Gwen. “Not too out of hand. Not 28 Days Later out of hand. Just enough that tomorrow’s headlines contain the word ‘infected’ instead of ‘murder. ’”
The lights began to dim. For a moment, a couple hundred bodies sat in utter darkness.
“This is probably a good time to tell you I’m coming down with a fever,” Gwen whispered. “Remember, let it get a little out of hand. ”
“What if you bite me?”
“I don’t care, I’m already dead. ”
We talk about zombies to talk about each other. In pubs, at parties, in theatre audiences waiting for plays to start, we imagine the undead uprising in present tense. In a hypothetical survival scenario, your interests, obsessions, and special skills take on heavy significance. The summer job you had landscaping could make you the chainsaw-wielding splatterpunk who saves her friends in a cloud of gas fumes and blood. Time served on your high school baseball team might elevate you to the José Bautista of blunt-force head removal. Practical firearms experience accrued on a hunting trip with your uncle can cast you as Annie Oakley in St. John’s Revelation.
As an old millennial, of the cohort who started surfing the web around age nine, I learned to write personality profiles for my digital self before learning the cardinal directions in school. Chat rooms, pop culture forums, and instant messenger programs like ICQ required me to socialize without a body. Like other people my age, I built digital avatars out of song lyrics and self-portraits. Screen name, age, country, favourite movie, favourite song, inspirational quote, uploaded image—disclosure of this data is an essential first step in communication for people who came of age during the rise of Internet society, who spend most of our social lives in collectively imagined non-corporeal spaces. That’s why zombies are such an appealing conversation topic. A zombie apocalypse discussion is profile building for the meatspace. Agreeing to a set scenario with high stakes and an internal logic established by film, TV, video games, and past conversations, we define ourselves in opposition to the undead. We laugh, we drink, and together we agree that in a world consumed by viral walking death, the people we know and love will survive by virtue of our describable utility.
Because zombies are non-human, non-living, and unable to list their hobbies in order of practicality, the shambling corpses are barely part of the conversations they inspire. Generally, actual zombie talk begins and ends with taxonomy. If we’re really going to discuss a survival plan, we need to know what kind of monsters we’re running from. Are we dealing with classic slow zombies or a newfangled strain of rage zombies that can run? Do their bites quickly transform living victims into card-carrying members of Club Zed or are we imagining a situation in which infection only means resurrection after a less supernatural death? These questions, along with the origin of the zombification vector—biomedical research gone wrong, trendy anti-aging cream applied too liberally, a novel coronavirus—help define the survival logic of the discussion. Everything else is about being alive together and staying that way.
Your zombie apocalypse profile is constantly changing with your interests, attitudes, and values. Physically active hobbies usually take up the first bits of conversation. The knee-jerk reaction is that a zombie apocalypse privileges those who can pulverize a skull. But close-contact melee with zombies is a losing battle. It’s like beating back the rising tide with a crowbar.
It only takes a few minutes to realize that survival is about creatively co-operating to make the best of the worst possible situation. Identifying friends and acquaintances with first-aid training leads to recollected adventures in babysitting. Finding shelter and foraging for food evoke shared memories of hiking, camping, and hunting. At one point, someone inevitably suggests commandeering a boat and waiting out the apocalypse on the water. This person will share stories of sailing, powerboating, or working at a marina over teenage summers. The conversation will progress, trust will emerge, and those of us with chronic medical conditions will ask if the survival party minds stopping at a pharmacy to loot EpiPens, inhalers, or insulin.
I am a lifelong martial artist, which usually puts me on guard duty. I graduated university with a performance-heavy theatre degree, which is generally thought to be useless unless you count the fact that it’s probably the reason we’re talking about zombies in the first place. I have asthma and a chronic back injury. My favourite band is the White Stripes. My favourite film is The Blair Witch Project. My inspirational quote is a haiku by Kobayashi Issa: “O snail/ Climb Mount Fuji,/ But slowly, slowly!” Please add me to your zombie survival network.
"Be Scared of Everything is a collection of his writings, covering his family’s relationship with his mother’s Ouija board, the legacy of Lovecraft, essays on his personal relationship with trauma and horror, misanthropy in cosmic horror, and numerous other topics. Counter’s memoir-focused work is the clear standout here, though, his essays unflinching and accessible, his voice ringing out when he talks about his family and his personal life. The collection as a whole is an excellent way to get acquainted with an incredible voice in horror, one who manages to be keen, well-read, conscientious, and heartfelt all at once. "—Tor Nightfire
"Counter’s brilliant essay collection Be Scared of Everything is a poetic and deeply thoughtful exploration of all the ways that horror permeates our everyday life, in ways both mundane and profound. "—Rue Morgue
“Why are we scared? How is this thing scary? Is Hannibal Lecter actually sort of good for society?. .. Be Scared of Everything is almost like an open mic night on horror topics. It's the kind of set that makes you silently nod without realizing it and laugh despite the bluntness of it. Deep down, you even know what being said makes sense. "—Fangoria
"Orwell wrote model essays: articulate without being overdone or impenetrable, and thoughtfully engaged with each subject so that the topic becomes interesting to any reader, even those who weren’t particularly invested at the start. That’s the kind of worthy writing I found here, in [Be Scared of Everything]. "—Alex Boyd
"The essays in Be Scared of Everything are the best body horror amalgam of criticism and biography. "—The Bookshelf
"Counter has an adept critical voice and a deep knowledge of horror films, TV, literature and phenomena, which are found at play in his readings of racism in the work of H. P. Lovecraft or the existential dread of a Silent Hill video game teaser. The essays in which he draws upon his own life experience — including recollections of a traumatic moment in his life, painted with terrible, visceral clarity — are affecting and rich. "—Joelle Kidd, Carousel
"Part critical media analysis, part scathing social critique, part personal exposé, Be Scared of Everything is many things at once: a dissection of popular horror conventions and genre expectations; an almost academic-like look at the genre's social influences; and, a glimpse into the ways in which our pasts and presents, collected and personal, are reflected in the very real horrors we inflict upon ourselves and one another—and those inflicted upon us in turn. Mostly, however, it is a cutting yet surprisingly tender biography of sorts—a life lived with horrors large and small, real and imagined, and those deeply, truly personal. "—Andrew Wilmot, subTerrain
"Horror often falls prey to gruesome machismo, but Be Scared of Everything returns sensitivity and compassion to the genre. The un- or near-dead prove fine instructors on how to live. "—Canadian Notes & Queries
"I must say I adored Be Scared of Everything a lot more than I expected. I was looking forward to essays about horror movies but got essays that have changed how I look at horror and have given me a language to discuss what the genre means to me. For that, I am enormously grateful. I'd recommend this to anyone who feels the pull to the dark. "—A Universe in Words
"Be Scared of Everything is a comfy little hideout for fans of horror, sci-fi, the unsettling and the supernatural from prolific pop culture, tech writer, and media critic Peter Counter. A delightful trip into a safe space of nostalgia and vulnerability, it's like a guided tour back in time. "—Librairie Drawn & Quarterly
"Peter Counter's Be Scared of Everything is a heady mix of memoir and critical essays. Discerning, unafraid to examine larger questions without easy answers, the collection is also warm and entertaining. The link between the essays and personal reflections on horror is empathy, which is why so many of us continue to be drawn to the genre. "—Paul Tremblay, author of A Head Full of Ghosts and The Cabin at the End of the World
"Be Scared of Everything is a command directed at everyone: punks, normies, horror film fans, UFO abductees, telemarketers, pet necromancers, you, no one will leave this book in their current form who permits the devious, curious, always-illuminating Peter Counter over their mental threshold. "—Meredith Graves
"Peter Counter's writing on horror is thoughtful, lively, and strangely touching. From classic movie monsters, to personal demons, to a genuinely surprising (and funny) analysis of Frasier, Be Scared of Everything faces horror's thrills, problems, and paradoxes, with shades of Noel Carroll, Eugene Thacker, and Stephen King circa Danse Macabre. "—John Semley, author of Hater: On the Virtues of Utter Disagreeability