I never used to be a fan of horror movies. In fact I was quite late to the party in that respect, as I didn’t start watching them until I was 18 and at university. As a child I was afraid of just about everything, even the briefest of glimpses of the 1970s Incredible Hulk TV show where Bruce Bixby transformed into a green, mad haired Lou Ferrigno was liable to give me nightmares. By the time I reached 18 I realised that perhaps this world view was a little bit silly and subsequently resolved to test my mettle in the world of horror films.
I first watched Alien as part of my university degree, and thinking back that was probably the point that I decided to expand my horizons and embrace a film genre that I had previously overlooked. For the three of you who aren’t aware of it, Alien is a science fiction horror film, a haunted house in space where an unseen menace stalks the crew and picks them off one by one. It’s visceral, dark and cashes in on the gothic sensibility that was popular in horror fiction in the 18th and 19th centuries, and is a great film until you see that the alien just a man wearing an alien suit.
At this point I would like to say thank you to my lecturer for that particular module, Mike Davis, who is sadly no longer with us. Whilst I had little need to speak with him directly, his approach to film and literary analysis – in particular the subtext that is rampant throughout Alien and the likes of Blade Runner (another first time viewing in that module) – is what has inspired my love of cinema and sent me down my current path of film analysis, albeit a few years later than expected. I finished my degree in 2005 and didn’t start reviewing films properly until mid-2013 – life got in the way a little bit during those years.
Back to the tale! For my own horror film purchases, I started off at the lighter end of the horror spectrum. My first few films starred the legend that was Vincent Price and based on the recommendation of a friend who I used to work with back in the Tesco days. Those films were The Abominable Dr Phibes, Dr Phibes Strikes Again, and Theatre of Blood. These proved to be a nice and gentle introduction to the genre. No doubt shocking at the time, by modern standards they are quite tame and darkly amusing. Having conquered this lighter side of horror I decided to press on and delve further into the various sub-genres.
Many of my purchases at this time came from the DVD section of WH Smiths, who frequently had some very competitive deals on complete box sets of genre favourites. In quick succession I acquired the full series of The Evil Dead, The Omen, The Exorcist (including both prequels), and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Suffice to say I have not visited WH Smiths for films in several years now as they refocused their business on books, magazines and stationery. These days a lot of films I buy are from discount shops like Poundland, which I’ll discuss in a later blog.
As time went on, like a drug addict I moved onto the harder stuff. Having seen them some time ago, both of the Human Centipede films fail to phase me these days – I am almost totally desensitised to screen violence and whilst certain sequences impress me for their violent nature, I’m primarily interested in how the effects team managed to pull it off. This even applies to what by modern eyes would be called the tamer films, including those from esteemed horror staple studio Hammer. Their work is a retro delight and, while I do not find Christopher Lee’s Dracula films scary in the slightest, and the same obviously applies to the early Universal horror films, I still appreciate them as objects of film history to be enjoyed and studied as appropriate. It’s interesting to note how far film makers have had to travel in the last 100-odd years in order to provide scares to an audience. There was a time when an image of a train hurtling towards the camera was enough to frighten people.
For reasons of time I have still yet to see A Serbian Film and Cannibal Holocaust, but they are still on my list and I will get around to them eventually. In that respect they are not alone as there are perhaps a few thousand films that I would like to watch given the opportunity, and despite my earlier years spent avoiding them, there are a substantial number of horror films I can’t wait to sink my teeth into, like a postmodern vampire. If there’s a moral to this story, it’s that you should never disregard something because of an unfounded fear – just do it.
I have noticed that, as my experience of the various horror genres expanded, I am particularly susceptible to supernatural horror, where an unseen being (or beings) haunt and terrorise a couple, a family or a random group of strangers pulled together by circumstance. Whilst they will never be discussed as classics in the future, the likes of The Conjuring and Insidious from modern day horror director James Wan are suitably creepy for me because of their supernatural leanings. The films of Dario Argento, too, have a similar effect. Not only because they are heavily influenced by the supernatural, but because of Argento’s use of colour, the composition of each shot, the European influence on cinema.
Of course, all of this would lead onto my love of zombie films and other various related zombie media such as the then-brand new The Walking Dead comic book. I may be susceptible to scares in supernatural films, but it’s the thought of a zombie apocalypse that has really taken hold of my horror film interests. But that my friends is a post for another time…