Friday the 13th. On the list of Hallmark holidays, this one rarely makes the cut. But for Alamedan Victor Miller, it’s the luckiest day of the year. Miller wrote the terrifying screenplay for Friday the 13th back in 1980 and 30 years later, he’s still hearing from fans.
“On Friday the 13th I spend the day answering e-mails,” he says. “And smiling.”
Just how did a guy who turned a hockey mask into a symbol of paralyzing fear end up in a sleepy island town like Alameda? To understand this, you need to know how Miller’s mind works.
Sipping a coffee at Starbucks, Miller remembers his childhood and his own mother, the woman he says was the inspiration for the murderous Mrs. Voorhees.
“I didn’t have a mom who protected me,” he says, “so Mrs. Voorhees was the mother I never had. She was the most protective mother, in a very sick way.”
And all Vorhees’ creative ways of avenging Jason’s death were nightmares Miller had as a child. “Until I was 10 or 11, I checked under my bed to make sure nobody was hiding there,” he recalls. “So, that’s why I had the killer in Friday stab Kevin Bacon from beneath the camp bed.”
Another childhood fear was being hit in the face. “That’s why I had the actress get axed in the face.” For Miller, it was like driving out demons.
It worked. “It was therapeutic,” he says, “and I took care of that piece of business.”
With one of the greatest “slasher” films of all times under his belt, he
landed a plum job writing daytime soap operas in 1982. It was a perfect fit for his fertile mind, and over a 20-year span, he won three Emmys and four Writer’s Guild Awards for his favorite soap, “All My Children.”
The Emmys cast a glint of reflected sunshine across the living room of Miller’s meticulous Tudor home. Their place on the mantle lies just below a portrait of a family patriarch and not far from a wall lined with foreign posters of Friday the 13th. Oddly, just up the stairs are family photos of his mother next to Hallmark-style plaques espousing the virtues of dear, sweet Mom. Miller finds it funny, if not a little “rebellious,” and he enjoys the surprised looks from guests.
It’s probably why he drives one of those odd-looking Segways around town and plays polo on the futuristic machine most weekends. Miller’s life is like a kaleidoscope, and at 70, he’s still splashing on the colors.
The evidence is clear when he rolls up his sleeves. A mosaic of tattoos covers his arms, chest and legs: a skull of Lady Catrina from the” Day of the Dead,” a tattoo of the Hindu god Ganesh and his very first body art, a bright orange koi. Sure, it hurts, but you wouldn’t expect a guy like Miller to run from pain — especially when facing his fears is a life’s work.
“I sometimes wonder why I do it,” he admits. “To be different, I guess, but also to make a statement.”
Miller sees each tattoo as a record or diary of what he cared about at the time.
Did I mention that this tattoo-covered guy with a reputation for scaring the wits out of folks is a Buddhist? Not the kind who climbs mountaintops and sits cross-legged for hours at the feet of his teacher, but more of a “nondenominational” Buddhist. “There are lots of flavors of Buddhism,” says Miller, who keeps a shrine inside a cabinet in his office. He’s also a vegetarian with a fishing boat. “It’s a 30-foot Osprey, made for destroying tuna,” he says, “but none has ever touched this boat.”
That doesn’t mean he doesn’t cheat, on occasion, and have a little seafood. Growing up in New Orleans, Miller loved barbecued shrimp and still gets weak for it today. “I do apologize to the shrimp before I’m face down in the bowl,” he laughs. His wife of 45 years, Tina, casts a patient look his way.
“Rule No. 1 is never marry a writer,” quips Miller, who admits that Tina puts up with a lot. For one thing, he’s got this strange sleep ritual that involves streaming old-time radio shows off the Internet — all night long. His wife not only allows it, she’s grown used to it. The white noise is apparently better than the alternative.
“If I don’t listen to it,” says Miller, “I start getting ideas.” It’s the curse of a mind that’s always in overdrive.
Perhaps, in its own small way, Alameda is a calming force too. The Millers came here in 2001 to be near their two sons, but they stayed for the tranquillity of a home on a quiet, tree-lined street. Why, it’s California’s version of Mayberry. And in Mayberry all your dreams are pleasant dreams.