Monday , 6 February 2023

Horror in the Garden State

Jersey Devil

New Jersey is known for a lot of things – the birthplace of baseball (Hoboken-also the home of Ol’ Blue Eyes, Frank Sinatra), its wiseguys, both real, and fictional (The Sopranos), the Jersey Shore, Atlantic City, diners and rock & roll (Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi). And you don’t have to pump your own gas before traversing one of our number of traffic circles. The Garden State is also synonymous with horror – from some of the most iconic films of all time to our greatest actors, from literature, music and more, to the legendary creature, the Jersey Devil itself. Hell, even our NHL team is named the Devils. And since the Gore 4 is based in New Jersey, we thought we’d take a look at many of the connections between our beloved state and the genre we hold so near and dear to our bloody hearts.

So, where do we begin? Let’s start with the movies and one which changed the industry forever, while continuing to scare people and keep them out of the water even today – Jaws.

Way back in 1916, what was believed to have been a great white shark (or, perhaps, a bull shark) swam up the coast of New Jersey, and killed two swimmers, one in Beach Haven and one in Spring Lake, before entering Matawan Creek and killing two more and injuring another. It is these horrific attacks, still the worst in recorded history, that are said to have been the inspiration for Peter Benchley’s 1974 novel, Jaws. Benchley himself worked on the novel while living in Pennington, NJ, and subsequently lived in Princeton up to the time of his death.

Jaws - Shaw Scheider Dreyfuss

Further cementing the Jersey ties, the character of Quint, played in the 1975 Steven Spielberg movie by Robert Shaw, is said to have been based on the adventures of shark fisherman Frank Mundus, who was born in Long Branch and later ran a charter fishing business in Brielle. Roy Scheider, so memorable as Police Chief Brody, hails from Orange, NJ, graduated from Columbia High School in Maplewood, and studied drama at Rutgers University as well. Incidentally, the man who played the movie’s 4th victim, the one whose head pops out of the hull, was played by Craig Kinsbury, from South Orange, which borders both Maplewood and Orange. Kinsbury, who had moved to Martha’s Vineyard, where the movie was filmed, was first hired to teach Shaw how to speak like a crusty old fisherman before being cast as the doomed Ben Gardner. In addition, director Spielberg spent some of his youth in Haddon Township, NJ. It’s safe to say that Jaws wouldn’t be the same, if it even existed at all, if it weren’t for its New Jersey origins.

It’s no secret that the Gore 4 are huge fans of John Carpenter’s 1982 version of The Thing. We also love the Howard Hawks 1951, The Thing From Another World. Both are based on the novella, Who Goes There?, written by John W. Campbell, Jr. under the pseudonym, Don A. Stuart, and published in 1938 in Astounding Science Fiction (later becoming Analog Science Fiction and Fact, for which Campbell served as editor for decades.) Besides his own written works of science fiction, Campbell also nurtured the careers of such celebrated authors as Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Theodore Sturgeon and Robert E. Heinlein.



While the Hawks’ film, noteworthy for its snappy dialogue, made the alien a humanoid plant-based creature that fed on blood, the Carpenter version, revered for its incredible FX by Rob Bottin, adhered more closely to Campbell’s story of a shape-shifting alien that could take on any lifeform it encountered. Campbell’s own lifeform began in Newark, NJ in 1910, and ended in nearby Mountainside in 1971. The Gore 4 is proud to hail from the same state as the originator of these undisputed and treasured classics.


Grover's Mill WOTH monument

While we are on the subject of alien terror, another classic tale is that of H.G. Wells’ 1897 The War of the Worlds, which took place around London and depicted a Martian invasion of Earth. On the night before Halloween, 1938, Orson Welles narrated a radio version and moved ground zero to the very real town of Grover’s Mill, NJ. This broadcast started a panic begun by listeners who were convinced the attack was real. On the 50th anniversary of the radio transmission, the community, located within West Windsor Township, near Princeton, erected a bronze monument commemorating the event. The first time Wells’ story was committed to film occurred in 1953, produced by George Pal and starring Gene Barry. In 2005, Steven Spielberg directed a blockbuster adaptation, starring Tom Cruise, who played a crane operator living in Bayonne, NJ, which served as a filming location. The first terrifying attacks by the tentacled tripods were filmed in Newark, along Ferry and other nearby streets. Additionally, Tom Cruise spent time growing up and going to school in Glen Ridge, NJ, and, as mentioned earlier, Spielberg himself lived for several years as a young child in Haddon Township in Camden County, nurturing his imagination and furthering the New Jersey connection to one of the first accounts of an extraterrestrial assault.


mathesonI Am Legend

Next up is an author you may not have heard of, but you’ve definitely seen his work on either the big or small screen – Richard Matheson, who was born in Allendale, NJ in 1926, and only recently died in 2013. Matheson wrote numerous sci-fi, horror and fantasy novels, short stories and screenplays, including several Twilight Zone episodes, the best known of which was “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” starring William Shatner , who sees a monster sabotaging the wing of an airplane during a flight, and the classic Star Trek episode, “The Enemy Within“. Matheson also wrote the short story, and subsequent screenplay for Duel, which ultimately became Steven Spielberg’s first feature film, and the screenplays for the two Night Stalker TV movies. But Matheson’s most influential work may well be his novel, I Am Legend, the story of a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by vampire-like creatures. It led to three feature film adaptations – 1964’s The Last Man on Earth, starring Vincent Price, 1971’s The Omega Man, led by Charlton Heston, and 2007’s blockbuster, I Am Legend, with Will Smith. It’s most important and enduring impact on the world of horror was that it served as inspiration for George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, which not only ushered in the age of zombies, but influenced practically every horror film which followed it. If it wasn’t for Matheson’s seminal novel, today’s horror landscape would be a very different place, and everything from The Walking Dead to World War Z would probably not even exist.


GOT White Walker

Another influential writer hailing from the Garden State, known more for his fantasy work, but who has written horror and science fiction too, is George R. R. Martin. Born and raised in Bayonne, NJ, near one of the largest and busiest ports in the world, Martin’s imagination won him many literary awards, including the Hugo, Nebula and Bran Stoker. He wrote for and served as story consultant for The Twilight Zone revival in the mid 80s, had his novella, Nightflyers, made into a theatrical feature, but is certainly best known as the author of the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, which have been made into HBO’s worldwide hit, Game of Thrones. (Incidentally, Emmy-winning star, Peter Dinklage, who plays Tyrion Lannister, hails from Morristown, NJ.) While GoT‘s stories are mainly considered fantasy, like everything from Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter, there are a number of horror elements throughout (malevolent spirits, fire-breathing dragons, beheadings, and the indomitable White Walkers and their armies of the undead). And all springing from the mind of a lad who grew up by Port Newark.

Jason Voorhees

OK, now onto straight-up horror and the two films that launched the era of the slasher movie, and spawned franchises that continue to this day. In 1980, a low budget film about an unknown killer dispatching a bunch of camp counselors in horrific and gory ways began a wave of slasher films featuring serial killers and holiday themes. Friday the 13th, featuring a young Kevin Bacon among a cast of unknowns, took place at the fictional Camp Crystal Lake, but was filmed in and around Blairstown and Hope, in western NJ, including the actual Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco in Hardwick Township, which still exists today. Though the state is never actually named in the film, the New Jersey license plates are clearly seen throughout. And while true horror fans know it was Mrs. Voorhees who did all the killings in the first film, her son, Jason, who took over in F13th, Part 2 (donning his infamous hockey mask in #3), has become one of the most iconic horror characters in film history, spawning multiple sequels, a TV series, a reboot in 2009, comics and countless other serial killers in his wake. It should be noted that although Friday the 13th is the film which is known for starting the boom of creative deaths in horror movies, it was an Italian giallo film a decade earlier in 1971 by Mario Bava, entitled Twitch of the Death Nerve, aka, Bay of Blood, which featured victims being killed in a variety of gruesome ways. In fact F13th, Part 2 re-created the scene of a couple being impaled together on a bed while having sex, right from Twitch.

Halloween - Michael Myers

— to be continued —


  1. Great article. I’m sure the list goes on and on. Susan sarandon went to Edison High school (my alma mater) and hit it big with Rocky Horror (as well as Atlantic City).

    • Thx! but still have a ways to go with all the New Jersey and horror connections, including the many actors from our state who’ve gone onto to film and television stardom, like, as you mention, Susan Sarandon, along with Meryl Streep, Jack Nicholson, John Travolta, so many. And pretty much everyone has some work in horror on their resume. Thanks for reminding me to get back to working on this particular page.

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