Tis the season of Goblins and Ghouls and all manner of things that go bump in the night. While this post may seem a little early for Halloween, the seasonal holiday is quickly encompassing the whole month of October. It is no longer an occasion constrained to one or two days or even a week at most. It is becoming a near month long event to indulge in all your favourite slasher and schlocker flicks, it’s the time to unleash the newest of monsters, the latest of creepy tales and the next instalment in a campfire thriller. For years though all of that meant nothing to me, I had no flavour for Halloween and even less of a taste for the horror genre as a whole yet in the last couple of years that has all wildly changed.
As per the norm with these sorts of things allow me to begin at the beginning, in those formative years in which my exposure to the horror genre was far and few between. The only truly outstanding exhibition was being shown Critters at far too young an age after my parents strongly misremembered it and got it partly confused with the somewhat tamer Gremlins. It is safe to say that it left a few scars and many a fitful night in the cusp of nightmares involving small toothy creatures chasing me into an old fashioned american barn and the flashings of watching a cop being horribly consumed beneath a car by the titular creatures. My tutor in film, my dad, wasn’t a massive fan of the genre himself other than a select handful of absolute classics which included the likes of An American Werewolf in London and The Thing. This isn’t to say my dad didn’t enjoy scaring his three young, innocent sons come Halloween, if anything he took great delight in it and went to extraordinary lengths to do so. From hiding a recording of a disembodied voice in the living room fireplace to keeping us enraptured around the dinner table with a tale of cursed money passed from generation to generation or to setting up a ladder late at night in order to rattle and bang on our windows disguised in a plastic mask, a torch hauntingly placed beneath his chin. Both to his credit and downfall he got a little too good at these annual scares and tricks driving my brother into a frightened frenzy whenever the 31st of October dawned. Sadly bringing an end to the proceedings and so Halloween just became another day in the year and any form of horror slipped into obscurity. That is until Donnie Darko entered my pre-pubescent life.
It was at a friends birthday party, now Donnie Darko isn’t an out and out horror film nor is it that scary it’s just really creepy. My friends mother had deemed it a fun teenage flick for us to watch in the evening. Anyway, it scared the living daylights out of me. I spent the night curled up in the middle of my mattress, that had been placed at the foot of my parents bed, with the blankets drawn up over my head. Damn that freaky frickin’ bunny Frank! My college years rolled around and I took film studies having been scared off of media studies by the notion that there would be a course on Horror films. To be fair though there wasn’t really much of a choice as film was always going to win out but most importantly college gave me a precious few hours home alone in which to sneak into my dads coveted collection of DVDs and have free reign. Apocalypse Now, The Untouchables, Kill Bill, Hang ’em High were just some of the choice viewings I can recollect but amongst these though lies a very important film in my cinematic history; The Evil Dead. By god did that film scare me even in the bright of day but it also showed me the absolute exhilaration and fun that the horror genre contained. Quickly on the toes of the seminal classic came the watching of the remainder of the trilogy from which I further tested the waters of the genre with a late night viewing of The Devil’s Backbone; huge mistake. That film didn’t so much as scare me as keep me awake deep into the night checking the shadows and dark corners of my room but one thing it didn’t do was deter me from the genre. Next came more enjoyable viewings of The Thing, An American Werewolf and Alien with my dad but that though for many years was as far as the venture went. I never eagerly sought out any ‘scary’ movies, I was content with my small exposure to the genre, I needed no more.
Years later though, I find myself now with a copy of Shirley Jacksons The Haunting of Hill House in my hand, a collection of horror comics piled high on my shelf, a healthy smattering of horror flicks peppered into my Netflix ‘To Watch” list and myself eagerly awaiting the latest instalment of Halloween and with tickets to see the, hopefully, incredible zaniness of Mandy next week. Lovecraft has become a touchstone of my own personal library including all the mad and fascinating spin-offs, adaptations and interpretations of his work from Moore and Burrows deconstructive masterpiece ‘Providence’ to the bizarre Lovecraftian In the Mouth of Madness. I cannot, sadly, explain my sudden and near utter infatuation with the genre one so strong that my enjoyment and interest in it has led me to make my latest attempt at writing a screenplay to be a stranded at sea horror flick. There is just something unexplainably fascinating about the horror genre.
The reason our halloween scares came to an end way back when was because my younger brother used to work himself into such a concoction of anticipation, excitement and fear that he didn’t know what to do with himself, he would get so wound up that he wouldn’t stop pestering my mother with questions of what was going to happen, is dad going to do something, does he have something planned, is something going to happen, is dad going to scare us? This is something horror does that no other genre does, it taps into that often unexplored part of our imaginations, into those often unexpressed and negatively related emotions. It sends our mental state spiralling into those dark recesses of our minds, it allows us to play in these eerie, queer realms in relative safety. Yeah we may suffer a few sleepless nights, we may make sure our doors are locked and tripled locked for a few passing days and we may never leave our closet doors ajar again but horror offers a sense of escapism like no other. I had never really thought of my dad as much of a storyteller, a teller of jokes yes, but to weave a fantastical tale just didn’t seem his bag but my god could he tell a good scary story. Horror un-inhibits us from the normal constraints of the everyday it allows us to freely dip our toes into much darker fright filled waters, to play in a dangerous devilish playground, it allows us to imagine and think in ways often seen as too vile or too twisted but most importantly in new, fresh and exciting ways. It allows us to chart ourselves in new directions and create incredible works of fiction that work on many levels of emotion outside of the occasional jump scare. They allow us to work through feelings and ideas too heavy for any other medium but with a hint of fun and a lot of blood and gore. Most importantly of all though it allows us to keep our pesky younger siblings wide-eyed and awake long into the night, as the closet door shuffles ajar, the wind rattles the window, the floor boards creek outside the bedroom door, a figure hangs in the darkened doorway and a deathly pale hand reaches up out from underneath the bed…