Scared Straight

I feel like I can’t watch horror films properly. I no longer find them scary – not as much as I used to anyway – and so feel like I’m missing out on a huge part of the experience. Like the audience at home watching cooking shows I can only comment on the things I admire aesthetically because I don’t really experience them – not how they were meant to be experienced anyway. This I blame on my parents.

evil-dead-1981

When I was 9 years old my parents split – that is to say they separated and not that they doubled-down in some form of mitosis, although I did have twice the amount of Christmases and birthdays from then on. I moved with my mother from an increasingly rough area in East London to a surprisingly rough area in Surrey. My mother continued to work in Islington and so I would go to a childminder’s before returning home. This was before I became a latchkey kid. Often I would spend nights in the house alone and would have to put myself to bed if mum was home late. Perhaps like many children my age I found the empty house unnerving at night – think: Macaulay Culkin screaming at the furnace. I would turn off the lights methodically, hurrying in turn as I imagined that a predator hiding in the dark would now make its move in the engulfing darkness. If I imagined it I was willing it into existence, so I thought.

Then one night I was lying in bed when I heard a noise from downstairs – and so began the battle between the frightened child and his rational mind. Now the area wasn’t that bad really, there wasn’t really the threat of a break-in unlike my house in East London which was robbed while we slept in the run up to Christmas – think: Guy Richie’s The Grinch. I knew that this was unlikely in our new house, or at least I wanted rid of the fear; so I got out of bed and went to explore the noise so that I could prove to myself that there was in fact nothing and I could go to sleep safe in the knowledge. This became a routine of sorts. If ever I heard a noise and was frightened, I would check it out in an attempt to condition myself out of fear.

exorcist

Then I was faced with darkness. I had hurried to turn on the lights in case there was something lurking, biding its time. I knew this was my imagination but I frightened myself. So now to apply the conditioning: I would turn out the lights and walk slowly in the dark, if I felt scared I would make myself stand still until I wasn’t anymore. From then on, if I heard a noise in the night I would go to check it out and if I felt scared I would do so in the dark. This I realise may seem quite deranged but it made sense to me. I didn’t want the fear. The fear was worse than the threat.

During this time my father had moved to a few different places with different people until a few years later when he landed on the house and family that he has now. When they were moving into the house they found that the loft was still full of odd bits and pieces. I helped my dad to clear the loft, looking for anything interesting or salvageable and stumbled upon a trove of VHS tapes. Some vintage pornography, some Video Nasties, but mostly horror films in cardboard sleeves. I put all the videos into a black bin-liner and took them home. They sat on shelves opposite my bed for a while before I realised why I hadn’t watched them: I was scared. I was back to my pre-teen feeling of vulnerability that I thought I had shed.basket_caseHorror films scared me. I remember after my parents initial break-up, I was at my dad’s then flat with his then girlfriend where he was watching An American Werewolf in Paris. I must have looked frightened when I glimpsed it on the TV as he honed in on that expression of weakness. Playfully goading me he asked if I was scared – I lied – he told me to prove it and stand up-close to the screen whilst the wolf-transformation was happening – I did. I was proving myself to him, but lying to myself. Now I was looking at this collection of classic horror cinema and saw it as a challenge to the scared child that was still in me.

I began watching each of the films when I was alone in the house: The Exorcist, Basket Case, Cannibal Apocalypse, if ever I felt myself getting scared I would turn off the lights, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Brood, still scared I would move closer to the screen watching The Evil DeadSociety and The Hills Have Eyes. I watched them with such focus, telling myself that they were just films, deconstructing them in order to understand how they were just films, that I managed to lose my fear which I kind of regret now, but it might just have sparked my interest in cinema. Swings and roundabouts I guess.

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