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It's human nature to be fascinated by the macabre, to be intrigued by death, despair, and weirdly sexual tentacle monsters. How else are you going to spice up the average laundry day? But have you ever wondered where all those disturbing stories that populate our movies, books, and TV shows come from? It's easy to assume that they spawn from the minds of truly degenerate, even sadistic, writers.

The twist is that, while we use these stories about humanity's darkest impulses to escape our everyday lives, many of these byzantine horrors were thought up by writers standing in line to buy a new mattress -- or something equally boring and mundane.

Game Of Thrones Was Inspired By George R.R. Martin's Pet Turtles


Long before HBO lured millions of people to Game Of Thrones with the promise of real boobs and fake dragons, George R.R. Martin spent years -- decades -- carefully crafting every unexpected death in A Song Of Ice And Fire. But beyond the obvious inspiration of his literary series being Tolkien meets that Shakespeare play where everyone gets stabbed, Martin had another, equally important influence: turtles.

When he was a young tyke, Martin could buy "dime store turtles" as easily as kids today can get their hands on penny candy or guns. So young Martin did what any of us would do: buy a shitload of turtles before someone realized that giving out unlimited tiny turtles to kids is like making Godzilla honorary mayor of your cardboard town. He then set his turtles up in a toy castle, and since the '50s hadn't heard of reptilian ninjas yet, he pretended they were "knights, lords and kings." Before long, the little-but-still-bearded Martin began writing a "whole fantasy series about the turtle kingdom."

Martin would then spend all night stuffing cotton balls into a shoe box while muttering "Winter is coming."

The thing about dime store turtles being nurtured by an absentminded kid is that most won't live to see retirement. Martin, utilizing some excellent coping mechanisms for a grade-schooler, incorporated the turtle deaths into his fantasy world, having them bump each other off in "sinister plots" in the war of succession for the turtle throne -- leaving the part where they'd wandered off and died underneath the refrigerator out of the history books.

Eventually, Martin grew out of his terrapin Hamlet, but he clung onto the valuable narrative lesson they'd taught him about the fragility of life. Which was the right thing to take away from that experience, because it wouldn't be the same show if Cersei Lannister was just munching on some lettuce for 45 minutes.

The Author Of Fight Club Got The Idea After Being Beaten Up By Rowdy Campers

20th Century Fox

Fight Club was a bold statement about fighting back against homogeneity, corporate America, and people becoming mindless drones -- mostly aimed at people too young to accept that IKEA furniture is rather convenient and that at least Starbucks doesn't make you feel shitty about which bands you think are cool. The tale is made even cooler with the knowledge that its author, Chuck Palahniuk, was inspired to write the story of Tyler Durden after getting into a fight himself. Unfortunately, this career-defining fight didn't take place in some dingy basement full of sweaty men and techno music. In fact, it wasn't really so much a fight as it was Palahniuk getting his ass handed to him at a campsite for being a nerd, presumably within earshot of some children singing songs and roasting marshmallows.

20th Century Fox

20th Century Fox
Still, Fight Club was accurate in its prediction of how much people would want to punch Jared Leto in the face.

According to Palahniuk, while he was on a camping holiday, some neighboring campers showed up looking to "to drink and party all night long." After a few sleepless nights, he got fed up and summoned the nerve to tell them to quiet down. The rowdy campers the proceeded to "beat the crap" out of him. The whole experience left him pretty sore. But when Palahniuk returned to work, no one asked him why his face looked like he had spent a weekend fighting truckers for meth money, almost as if they were too afraid to deal with his deviant lifestyle. The realization that his bruises were actually normal-people-repellant gave him the idea for Fight Club.

20th Century Fox
"I am Jack's creative writing assignment."

Considering that getting your ass kicked by some dickheads in the woods and then getting shunned by your peers is something most nerds experience before they even leave middle school, it's a true testament to Palahniuk's singular genius that no one thought of writing Fight Club before he did.

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Se7en Was A Suburban Kid's Reaction To The Abject Horror Of Working At A Tower Records In New York

New Line Cinema

If the documentary The Silence Of The Lambs taught us anything, it's that it takes a serial killer to catch a serial killer. That logic should definitely apply to whoever wrote the grimy, violent, very detailed '90s serial killer classic Se7en. But strangely, it wasn't some shady drifter on the fringes of society, a crime-obsessed weirdo, or even a semi-literate sociopath who created Se7en. Nope, it was a Tower Records employee from suburban Pennsylvania.

New Line Cinema
Which probably means Empire Records was written by the Zodiac Killer.

Screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker moved from the 'burbs to New York City in the late 1980s, and it's easy to see how that culture shock informs his film debut. The movie takes place in an unnamed city that's always rain-soaked and filthy. Even popping in the DVD will make your apartment smell like a urine-soaked bus seat.

According to Walker, the idea for John Doe, the seven deadly sins killer, was "a reaction to living in New York and putting myself in a John Doe head space where you could walk down the street and see every 'deadly sin' on every street corner." So he saw the movie originally from the perspective of the killer -- who apparently was just a nice middle-class white guy who freaked out over the fact that New York has more hookers than T.G.I. Friday's.

New Line Cinema
Not unlike hookers, the quality greatly differs between individual locations.

The desire to punish the wicked, however, had its own origin story. Amazingly, most of Se7en's screwed-up cavalcade of knife dildos and grotesque Macy's-Parade-Float-sized corpses was inspired by commuting to and from Tower Records, which was such a grind that Walker started hating everything around him. This pushed him to write himself out of his shitty job.

And working retail did affect Walker's writing in a big way. After all, his most successful screenplay to date is about a guy who gets repeatedly shot in the face when he tries to return something he's clearly broken himself.

New Line Cinema
"No sir, I don't care that you've kept the box."

The Craziest Japanese Horror Movie of All Time Was Co-Written By The Director's 10-Year-Old Daughter

Toho Studios

When a Japanese horror movie involves children, they're usually dead and crawling on the ceiling. But some clever directors know that for true horrific madness, a live child's much more valuable. We've talked before about Hausu, the cult classic that starts with bunch of schoolgirls taking a trip to an old lady's house and ends up being 90 minutes of video evidence of the director's nervous breakdown.

There are severed heads biting asses ...

Toho Studios

Cat paintings vomiting blood ...

Toho Studios

And whatever Freudian nightmare is happening here ...

Toho Studios
Who could forget that classic movie monster, Supernova Panties?

The whole thing plays like Satan's unpublished freestyle poetry, but where did it come from? The answer's surprisingly adorable. When director Nobuhiko Obayashi remarked to his family that he wanted to make a scary movie, like Jaws, his young daughter Chigumi to suggested that it would be super scary if her reflection jumped out of the mirror and grabbed her. So no, she probably had never seen Jaws.

Instead of ignoring his child like a responsible parent, Obayashi enlisted her as a collaborator. She ended up giving her dad a laundry list of batshit crazy childhood fears and images (including the man-eating piano and a bloodthirsty futon), which he then handed off to a screenwriter who had to share writing credit with a child.

Toho Studios
"Sweetie, as soon as we're done here, your ass is going into therapy."

If more horror flicks had a Take Your Daughter To Work Day, the world would surely be a better, scarier place.

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The Scariest X-Files Episode Was Influenced By Charlie Chaplin's Autobiography

20th Television

The X-Files has had a lot of messed-up episodes throughout its run, like the one with the guy who eats human livers. Or the one with the invasion of the robot cockroaches. And how about that seven-year-long arc where Mulder goes undercover as a sex-addicted novelist? But by far the most disturbing moment in the show's history was a little episode called "Home."

20th Television
Home is where the heart medication you need to take because you saw "Home" is.

"Home" featured a mutant baby corpse, a trio of inbred creeps and, ever more nightmarishly, their quadruple amputee mother who pops out from under a bed. Some other stuff probably happens too, but it's hard to remember because it was so upsetting. Also, Fox refused to rebroadcast it.

So where did all of these awful images come from? Whose mind could be so sick as to dream up this freak show? According to the episode's writers, Glen Morgan and James Wong, part of their inspiration came from Charlie Chaplin's autobiography.

Penguin Books
It's not all weird facial hair and statutory rape.

In the book, Chaplin tells a story from his early career, in which the young Vaudevillian spent the night at a miner's house -- as one did in the 1800s. After dinner, the miner invited Chaplin to see something in the kitchen. Chaplin was probably expecting to be presented with a bit of cake or, more plausibly, a slightly rude-looking piece of coal. Instead, He was introduced to a legless man sleeping under the cupboard. The man then crawled out of his hiding place / bedroom and proceeded to perform tricks for a "horrified" Chaplin.

The insane anecdote stuck with Morgan, who reworked the details of the story to feature a totally limbless woman frightening not only Mulder and Scully, but an entire generation of kids who snuck downstairs to see the cool show about aliens and ran back up the stairs trying to unsee the incest horror.

20th Television
"Welp, at least we don't have to give them the sex talk now."

Speaking of which ...

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre -- The Idea For The Chainsaw Came From Christmas Shopping

New Line Cinema

The original Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a grimy, low-budget classic which gave the world an iconic movie killer in Leatherface -- a man so evil that he murders teens and feeds them to his family, but so sensitive that he ends his rampage by dancing to a particularly beautiful sunset.

New Line Cinema

New Line Cinema
Get you a cannibal murderer who can do both.

A big part of what makes the movie work so well is Leatherface's weapon of choice: the chainsaw. Had it been called The Texas Sock Full Of Nickels Massacre, the box office wouldn't have been so great. Writer and director Tobe Hooper first landed on the idea of making a movie starring a chainsaw-wielding maniac while in line to buy stuff to put underneath his Christmas tree. While making his way through the hardware section of a large department store during the holiday season, Hooper had to contend with a sea of thousands of aggressive Christmas shoppers. Like everyone who's ever gone Christmas shopping, his mind immediately turned to murder. His eyes then landed on a display of brand-new chainsaws for sale.

New Line Cinema
He's making a list. He's checking it twice. Gonna find out if you're naughty or nice.

Hooper gleefully daydreamed that even revving up that big chainsaw would send people fleeing. Then, on his way home, the idea hit Hooper that a chainsaw -- spinning, smoking, roaring -- had all the ingredients to be the perfect cinematic weapon. After that, all the pieces for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre quickly fell into place.

So next year, let's all remember what Christmas is really about. Not the presents, not the department store rush, but the birth of a very important man.


New Line Cinema
"I think we've learned the true meaning of ChristmaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!"

J.M. McNab co-hosts the pop culture nostalgia podcast Rewatchability, which can also be found on iTunes. Follow him on Twitter @Rewatchability.

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