By Jillian Boyd
The horror genre, whether in films, writing or even radio, has been around for far longer than people these days want to realize. While films such as F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu date back all the way to the 1920’s (and some came even before that), books have been scaring the living daylights out of people since the 18th century.
Surely a genre which has this kind of staying power is a force to be reckoned with?
Before I get started on what I wanted to write, let me state that this isn’t a history of horror. It’s been done, and it’s been done far better than I can ever do (Stephen King’s excellent Danse Macabre, although dated, is a fantastic resource). No, this is my history with horror. Call it one appreciator’s (and layman’s, I must confess) insights into a genre she has been fascinated with for as long as she can remember.
And, of course, my first memories of the genre are a bit vague. Naturally.
I guess the first thing I can remember is probably something any kid who grew up in the nineties can tell you. I was scared out of my mind the first time I saw one of the legendary Treehouse of Horror episodes that The Simpsons provide every season. If you think the ones they have put out in recent years are a bit lame (yeah, I feel you on that), I suggest you revisit the beginning of the show, and in particular, the first-ever Treehouse of Horror.
Treehouse of Horror aired as the third episode of the second season (which I am delighted to discover aired two months before I was even born). It is comprised of three segments (as have all episodes of the like been since): Bad Dream House, a mash-up of The Amityville Horror and Poltergeist; Hungry Are The Damned, a loose take on The Twilight Zone’s To Serve Man episode and an adaptation of The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe.
It is that last one that stuck with me the longest. It’s very rare for The Simpsons to play something straight, without looking for laughs, but it’s also worthy to remember that they did manage it and very early on in their 24-seasons-and-counting run at that. The Raven is, on its own, a haunting tale that gets into your bones, and this take on it provides images that unknowingly stick with you for a good long time to come.
And so a budding horror fan I became.
But it didn’t really resurface until I was old enough to toddle along with my mother to the video rental shop. I can’t put an age on it (let us say it was in the late nineties or early noughties, wherein I would have been about 10/11.). I was (and still am) absolutely fascinated by film, and getting to go to the rental shop was enough to make me a happy kitten.
But there were a few sections I naturally gravitated towards. Of course there was the forbidden adult section, which I gazed at from afar with wonder in my eyes. But next to that was an equally mystifying selection of horror movies.
I knew I wasn’t supposed to look at them. I mean, I was on the wrong side of my teens to take any interest in the morbid. But there was something about it that made me excited. There was something about seeing Pinhead’s noggin on the cover of the latest Hellraiser movie that made me feel a bit dirty. Like an adult, almost.
Of course, I couldn’t even watch horror movies. The closest I had come to watching a horror movie without pissing myself was (and here is something that, I kid you not, actually happened) when we were having a study day in Belgium’s equivalent of the sixth grade. As the highest grade, we were exempt from the day’s proceedings (lucky bastards, we were) and got to watch a movie. Chicken Run was provided for us, which we all enjoyed (I think). And then it came to watching another movie. My mind is a bit misty as to the how we ended up watching it, but apparently the teacher supervising us found it totally okay to let us watch Child’s Play 2.
Now, let’s face it, Chucky isn’t exactly the scariest bastard on the horror scene. He’s an evil doll. That’s it. But imagine for a moment that you were watching this as a confused pre-teen. You would have, I assume, one of two reactions. One is that you immediately lose your cool, jump out of your own skin and call for an adult. Two… you actually like it.
And I sort of did.
I sort of got a kick from contemplating watching horror movies. From holding their boxes in the video rental stores and lying awake at night thinking about why it was Ginger actually snapped. I was still too young to understand why things scared me (that didn’t come until far later in life) and I was equally mystified by why these things caught my eye more than the latest generic rom-com I was supposed to be into.
Eventually, my local video rental shop closed. Life diddled on and I sort of forgot about what it was that attracted me to the genre in the first place.
That was until the cogs were set into motion again earlier in the year.
As a writer, the one thing I keep hearing is to buy Stephen King’s On Writing. It’s seminal, it’s amazing, it’s What You Need As A Writer. So when I found it at Waterstone’s, with a shiny new cover and all, I scooped it up and got to reading.
I still don’t know what it is I took away from the book as a writer. But what did kindle a little fire in my heart was reading Stephen’s account of how he started writing, and in particular how he started writing Carrie (his first novel). I know Carrie. Or at least, I know about Carrie. I know the enduring image of a young girl drenched in pig’s blood, a young girl with telekinetic powers so strong that she uses them to an earth-shattering conclusion.
But I didn’t know the book. I don’t know the film, for that matter – but that’s an affair I’ll take care of later this year.
I found a copy of the newly-covered edition and kindly asked my boyfriend to buy it for me. He obliged and I got to reading. There were various other factors in my life that led me to rekindle the scary light in my heart, but the moment I knew I loved it again was the moment I finished Carrie.
And I realized that what I was scared of was openly loving this genre. That I was scared of being looked at in a different way because I was fascinated by what scared me.
Horror, as King says, is perhaps a way of releasing your anxieties in another way. Which is an excellent point. Horror as a genre has a way of resurfacing whenever shit has hit the fan in the world. 2013 sees remakes of The Evil Dead and Carrie in addition to new horror efforts such as Byzantium and You’re Next hitting the screen; just as the recession bites again, countries are on the brink of war and David Cameron spreads his own seed of evil by cutting the UK’s benefits.
For me, the horror genre is a way of rebelling against myself. A way of saying that I dare to be scared. I dare to look evil in the eye. I may not laugh in its face, but I will face it. And it took me a long time to get there.
Dare to be scared.
Dare to go and see a horror movie, read a scary book.
It’s worth it.
And remember… it’s only a movie. It’s only a movie.