Let Me Tell You What Scares Me

March 27, 2016

I'm aware that some people are scared of spiders. Not me. Don't get me wrong, I think they're ugly as hell; even more so when they show up in the damnedest places. Crawling on the wall beside me while I look away from my screen for a moment. Floating in a beaker of water when I'm about to brush my teeth. Crawling across the slick shower ceiling while I'm in the shower. Back to the matter. Some people are scared of spiders. Snakes. Heights. Clowns. Death. Let me tell you what scares me.
 
I'm scared of horror films.
 
When people first meet me and get to know me a little, to hear I'm an author usually piques their interest. They'll
ask what I write. I let them guess, because it entertains me to hear the guesses. Most light up with genuine curiosity when they hear it's horror and dark fiction. And then it leads to more curiosity when they hear that I don't/can't watch horror films. How does that work?

 

Let's take this back to the 70s. Back to a point where if you would have told the scrawny youngest of 3 sons that he'd be a horror author, he probably would have said, "Really?" Because he had optimism back then. So. Every once in a while, our dad used to do a Saturday night fry up, which we really looked forward to. Hotdogs, hamburgers, fried onions. The smell of the good stuff. And we'd sit with our hotdogs and hamburgers watching Hammer Horror films. Dracula A.D. 1972. Oliver Reed in The Curse Of The Werewolf. And so on. Back them, our dad had the utterly annoying and stupid habit of sneaking up behind us and going, "Whoa!" as the tension built in the film. More stupid in the fact that those films weren't really scary for us then, and we were eating and watching TV with the lights on, anyway.

 

Fast forward a few years to the 80s. Dad thankfully had stopped this dumb shit, and the three young sons were now watching horror films alone. Mama used to work nights as a nurse: Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights. So. Come Friday night, our oldest brother would have rented a video (VHS video cassette back then from the likes of Electrobug Video) so that we could all get down with some horror. We'd start watching the film on the Friday night and by the time Mama left the house to go to work, we may have gotten about 30 mins in. While the first film we ever saw on video was a kungfu film called The 8 Masters (and then, it was Crystal Fist), the first horror film I can remember us hiring was The Evil Dead. I have no shame in saying that as the evening grew darker and I watched more of the film, it scared the shit outta me. Having said that, watching it in the daylight of the following Saturday morning wasn't so bad.
 
My oldest brother always loved film and loved horror. So the three of us had watched a wealth of horror films.
Scanners. Rabid. Phantasm - which I always remember the oldest citing as a film that scared the shit outta him. Halloween. A Nightmare On Elm Street. Christine. An American Werewolf In London. Poltergeist. The Kindred. Etc. etc. etc. But the more we watched those films, the more they scared the shit outta me. To the point where I would happily stay up in my room and my brothers would let me know when it was safe to come back down. So yeah, I admit I'm a wuss when it comes to horror films. What this era had done though was to give me an appreciation for a dark story. See, it's not like some romance novel where there may be a Happy Ever After, or at least a Happy For Now. No. With a horror tale, you don't expect everyone to come out unscathed, let alone alive. In addition to the films, there were horror books in the house. The likes of The Omen. The Amityville Horror. To The Devil A Daughter. Alien. Etc. etc. etc.
 
This is also where I need to give special mention to John Carpenter's "The Thing". Because while it scared the shit
out of a lot of people, it never scared me. Not once. In the wake of Alien (and note that the novelisations of both films were knocked out by Alan Dean Foster - I know, I have them both), you had a horror film that broke new ground and felt fresh. An all-male cast. A horror film set in the Antarctic. An antagonist with no distinct appearance. A black man made it to the end of the film. Lack of tension music (and I had the good fortune to sit in on a John Carpenter Q&A some years back and ask him about this). And part of the hook of this film - and where I feel the prequel fell down - is that in order to kill the Thing, first you have to find it.

 

Long before Wikipedia and after I'd watched my last horror film (no idea what that would have been), my oldest brother used to give me the synopsis of the horror films he'd watched. He would give me the play-by-play: he'd tell me the story, and I'd sit there just riveted - I'd be hanging on that every word. Note that when The Thing first hit cinemas in 1982, I would have been about 10 years old, and so I couldn't watch it until it came out on video. I had heard of certain scenes, like the scene with the dog and the scene with the defibrillation. But I knew the gist of the film, and the tagline? "Man is the warmest place to hide." That was the illest thing I had ever heard. To date, The Thing remains my favourite film of all time. I've lost count of how many times I've watched it, it never fails to entertain me, and it is the only film I give 9/10 - no film gets 10/10 from me. From the wordless opening narrative to the question mark that hangs over the final scene, it does what a film should do: draw you in and engage you.

 

The General, one of my closest peeps as well as a film buff, will ask me what it takes for any film to get a perfect 10. I say no film is ever perfect. Doesn't matter if a visual effect looks a little ropey or if a line or two of dialogue doesn't quite hold conviction, etc. Most films I watch will garner around a 5/10 from me - passable fare at best, but nothing to convince me they're worthy of further attention.

 

I've had the (mis)fortune to happen across horror films in later years. While I'd watch the remake of The Fly up until where Brundle susses what went wrong with that fateful teleportation, I had the misfortune to walk in on my older brother and his then-girlfriend as they sat in the dark watching him shed the outer human skin. And I saw the screen just at the time where his eyes liquefied and ran out of his head. Believe me when I say I ran from the room - and that was lucky because I felt the bones in my legs damn near turn to jelly: I felt that close to passing out. The Devil's Advocate I found to be both eerie and entertaining: a tale of questionable ethics and demonic faces. Fallen remains in my top 10 films of all time, with a solid 8/10. Salem's Lot - the one with David Soul from Starsky and Hutch - and directed by Tobe Hooper, is also a favourite. Despite the fact that the opening music terrified me as a kid, it's kind of retro and cool now. Final Destination, for me, is another tight film. As is Shaun Of The Dead: the skillful narrative of the zombie uprising is matched by how oblivious Shaun is to it all. The Sixth Sense: a haunting and beautiful work of film. And yes, I guessed the twist way before the end.
 
So, no, I don't watch horror films. I read and write horror stories and works of dark fiction and I love the dark
narrative. Phantasm is what I'll cite as a classic example of what I try and bring to the page in terms of a sense of something eerie and unnatural - I may even listen to the Phantasm theme when I get in the zone. When people ask me about what I write, my main pitch is that rather than something blatant, I like the sense of something not quite right with the picture. That the closer you look, the deeper the horror goes. I write dark, but not all of my stories are horror, nor do they all showcase something evil. I'm aware of films that come out and scare people such as the Paranormal Activitys, the Babadooks and more. Hell, I'd even chanced upon a cinema advert for Three UK where the purple muppet figure spins a narrative a la the found footage method of horror - complete with a demonic girl in a

corner. I like to minimise the scares I get. But as for the scares I'll give you? That would be telling - since you'd know what was coming.

 

 

 

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