Horror movies, a love story.

On the night of Sunday 19th, BBC4 showed the last part of its three part series, A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss.  I was unlucky enough to miss the first two parts, but found the third, an episode based around American 70’s horror movies an absolute treat.  I have had a very long love affair with horror movies.  Though my love of horror did not actually start with horror movies, but with two particular moments in two classic 1980’s fantasy/science fiction movies which at aged 5 made me both cringe away and long for more.

I’m sure everyone has seen both the original Clash of the Titans (1981) and Flash Gordon (1980).  Both are classics of imaginative movie making, one for the remarkable skills of StopMotion maestro Ray Harryhausen, the other for its immense campness and a surprisingly remarkable cast.  I remember C.O.T.T. for many reasons, not least for the incredible Kraken puppet and Flash Gordon has always stuck in my mind for its incredible movie score written and performed from beginning to end by the immortal Queen.  But both of these movies are jointly responsible for launching my love of the horrific and the macabre.  How so?

Well, Perseus has beaten the Gorgon Medusa, taken her head and is on route to save the fair Andromeda from being sacrificed.  Along the way Calibos, son of the Goddess Thetis sneaks into his camp and stabs the bag containing Medusa’s head with his trident.  For years I felt like screaming every time I saw that moment.  The mere thought of that trident stabbing into Medusa’s skull even now 30 years later is enough to give me a severe case of the collywobbles.  Yet as I was repelled by that moment I was drawn to watch it again.  It scared me shitless and at the same time the adrenaline surge made me crave to be scared the same way again. 

But it was  a year later when I finally got to see Flash Gordon, that my love of being scared was finally cemented.  At the very end of the movie, Ming the Merciless, Ruler of the Universe and as good a villain as has ever been written, has the spike on the very nose of one of his own ships plunge right through his body.  He then turns his ring of power on himself to escape being captured.  Again it was a moment of impalement, again it made me cringe and again the horror of that moment had an immensely powerful effect on me. 

I was hooked.  I spent the next three decades watching every horror movie I could get my hands on.  Which for the first decade wasn’t very many.  Ireland in the 1980’s was almost a video nasty free zone, especially if you didn’t have access to any of the U.K. television channels or worse still didn’t own a video player.  Every Halloween I would scour the RTE Guide in the hopes of a couple of decent horror movies.  Most years I was sadly disappointed.  But even so occasionally, I would luck out on something nice and scary, that had managed to slip through the RTE censorship net.  I remember one particular year when they showed Halloween 3: Season of the Witch and I loved every second of it.

For me, someone who has a severe illness and so has a fairly caged existence, horror movies and their close cousins the creature-features have an important part to play in my life.  They’re in some ways far more of an escape from the pain of day-to-day life than even science fiction can be.  A good horror movie sweeps me away completely.  There’s just me, the screen and an absolutely huge overdose of adrenaline.  Even the names of the classic and modern masters of horror are enough to make me excited Lugosi, Karloff, Carpenter, Cronenberg, Romero.  Those are the names of my movie heroes.  The names of the story tellers I most admire.  And I admire them because in a way they are the very best at tapping into the atavistic core of even the most civilised human being.  That caveman we all have buried at the centre of our brains, terrified of what’s creeping around outside in the darkness.  Terrified of what’s waiting out there  to make a quick caveman snack out of us.

Please note though that here I am not speaking about the torture porn, masquerading as horror which has flooded our cinemas and homes over the last decade or so.  Saw, Human Centipede, The Hostel are to my mind not horror movies.  They’re genuine video nasties which mostly serve by showing the depths of depravity which some human minds contain.  But mixed in with these movies are genuine horror gems The Ring (2002) being one of the stand out examples.

I’m feel lucky though, unlike the current crop of horror fans, I grew up before the invasion of torture porn. I grew up in a time when we had the entire golden age available with moves such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and White Zombie (1932).  But it was also a time when we had the modern delights of John Carpenters movies, Romero’s then zombie trilogy, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Children of the Corn.  I feel that bad Halloween knock-off slasher movies and atrocious torture porn aside, this is the true Golden Age for horror fans, myself included.  Everything is available to us either on satellite television or in DVD stores, but best of all through that best source of all things a little dodgy, the internet.

My love of horror  and horror characters has never gone away and I hope that it never does.  I adore the ultra punk Pinhead, Candyman rocks and who could fail to grudgingly like The Omens Damien?

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