<![CDATA[Ginger Nuts of Horror - MY LIFE IN HORROR ]]>Fri, 22 Sep 2017 09:17:10 +0100Weebly<![CDATA[MY LIFE IN HORROR:  THERE’S NO REAL MAGIC, EVER]]>Mon, 11 Sep 2017 23:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/my-life-in-horror/my-life-in-horror-theres-no-real-magic-everBY KIT POWER 
My Life In Horror
Every month, I will write about a film, album, book or event that I consider horror, and that had a warping effect on my young mind. You will discover my definition of what constitutes horror is both eclectic and elastic. Don’t write in. Also, of necessity, much of this will be bullshit – as in, my best recollection of things that happened anywhere from 15 – 30 years ago. Sometimes I will revisit the source material contemporaneously, further compounding the potential bullshit factor. Finally, intimate familiarity with the text is assumed – to put it bluntly, here be gigantic and comprehensive spoilers. Though in the vast majority of cases, I’d recommend doing yourself a favour and checking out the original material first anyway.
This is not history. This is not journalism. This is not a review.
This is my life in horror.
There’s No Real Magic, Ever
The following was, in part, informed by a far longer and more wide ranging conversation I had with the excellent Daniel Harper, as part of the recent Wrong With Authority footnote podcast. For (much) more, including discussion of other movies by the same director, see here: 
Because here’s the deal: the second your kid has a TV in their room - or, shit, a PC/iPad - any device that can connect to broadcast medium, the war is over. You waved the white flag. They can pour literally anything into their brains, now. Whatever human horror you can conceive, they can watch, in 1080 resolution. And almost certainly in porn parody form. All you can do is hope that whatever you’ve given them to that point, whatever you’ve nurtured inside them, will be enough for them to tell right from wrong, know their own limits, to survive whatever cultural assault they’re about to self inflict.
Truly, hope. That’s all you’ve got.
Do you know it, as a parent? Sure you do. As long as you remember being a kid, how could you not?
No internet in the bedroom for this kid. Back when I were a boy, dinosaurs roamed the earth, and the internet only existed to tell a computer scientist in some posh university that the kettle in the other room had boiled.
All I had was a black and white portable TV (with, crucially, a headphone socket) in my room that I’d bought from a neighbour for the princely sum of £25, and the 4 terrestrial channels it could pick up.
Turns out, that was plenty.
I’m pretty sure I can trace back my lifelong issues with maintaining a sleep pattern, and in particular my seemingly chronic inability to get to sleep on a Friday night prior to 2am even now, at 39, back to that giant heavy lump of plastic, wire and glass.
There was this program called Raw Power, see. On at 3am, it was the only broadcast show in the UK dedicated to rock and metal. Every week, it sat there in the listings, a mortal challenge to my tired pre-teen arse - you want the life source? Gotta stay up late.
And more often than not, I did.
But we’re not here to talk about Raw Power (or the replacement show Noisy Mothers). Nope, this is about what I’d sometimes end up watching while completing my lonely vigil to the hallowed hour of 3am.
This is about Channel 4 running a series of previously banned or censored films, and the night I’d catch one that would cut me deep enough that, even on a recent rewatch, I’d still find myself stunned by it’s power, it’s darkness.
We need to talk about Martin.
The film opens with a woman getting on a train. She’s beautiful. She’s being followed by a strange looking young man. He’s… not ugly, but odd. My 11/12/13 year old mind latches onto him instinctively. I talk a bit about this on the podcast above, and also, obliquely, here: To rehearse the argument, I, like I suspect 95% of the rest of the population, was an awkward kid. I knew I liked girls - even at 11, I knew that. But I was, as is normal, not equipped emotionally or biologically to really know what that meant, or to do anything about it.
And yet, I yearned.
I was drawn to girls I perceived to be pretty or beautiful. I wanted to be someone’s boyfriend, without knowing that meant or could mean any more than holding hands, (or maybe, in a fever dream, a kiss on the lips). I guess that innocence is something to be grateful for - I wonder how many post-internet children get to stay that innocent, that long.
Still, I felt... Something. And I couldn’t understand it or explain it, but thanks to pop culture, I knew what it was called: love.
So I loved. A lot. From a distance, after a couple of utterly crushing instant rejections. I loved, and I yearned to be loved, and I didn’t have a fucking clue what any of it meant.
So then there’s this boy. And the title card helpfully tells us he’s called Martin. And he looks at the pretty girl, just like I look at pretty girls, knowing they do not, will not, look back.
He finds out where she’s sleeping - it’s a sleeper train, which I know all about, on account of being a male child in Britain in the 80’s and this chap called James Bond.
Then he goes into a bathroom. Opens a wash kit, which contains razor blades, syringes, and drugs. He fills a syringe with fluid. And between Bond and Casualty, I know what’s going on here - he’s going to drug the girl, knock her out. It’s what the baddies do in Bond films, like, a LOT.
Only he’s Martin. He’s not a baddie - almost can’t be, he’s practically still a kid, very childlike, and there are not bad kids in movies, ever.
Until now.
Because, of course, Martin goes to her carriage, and after a brief black and white shot (which even at the time I read to be his imagining what was happening behind the door, the pretty girl in a nightgown calling his name), he breaks in and attacks her, drugs her, struggles with her until she passes out, then strips her naked, has sex with her, and for an encore takes a razor to her wrist and drinks her blood.
We’ve yet to pass the ten minute mark.
The assault is horrific, by the way. It’s a scene that would have to make most women’s top 3 worst nightmares, I’d have thought. She physically fights him off, he wrestles her to the ground. She panics as the drug starts to take effect, pleading to be told what it is, and he gives gentle calm assurances that he’s ‘careful’, that she’ll just fall asleep and then wake up again.
And the worst part is, you believe him.
No. the worst part is; I believed him.
And sure, it’s an amazing performance. John Amplas is all big eyes, sad vulnerability. Even when he’s telling her not to scream, it comes out as pleading - as though he’s more concerned about her inner panic than the chance of getting caught. That apparent empathy for his victim is so sincerely delivered that, first time around, I was half convinced he meant it, that this was all some kind of misunderstanding.
This is where we must pause, and admire the horror of the moment. Because as a young woman is drugged, raped and murdered, my 11 year old boy brain is centered, not on her and her terror, pain, and violation, but on the apparent ‘sensitivity’ of her attacker.
Because fucking hell, George Romero, man.
And look, sure - this is not a movie for 11 year olds. Emphatically not. But just take a look at some of the cultural criticism made of this movie, and you’ll see variations of this theme, again and again - however much the male critics know what’s going on is sick, wrong, evil… there’s this massive sympathy, bordering on identification, with Martin.
Do we see more of Martin? Sure we do. A lot more, The movie is, in a sense, his life story. We get to see the different sides to him, his struggle to fit in, his possibly-crazed family situation.The performance opens up like a flower, and the rest of the cast is superb, and there’s a home invasion sequence which, I agree with Daniel Harper, should be taught in film school, as an example of what you can achieve on a low budget with enough skill, vision, and editing skills.
Still, though, the film starts with a basically contextless assault, sex crime, and murder.
And it was Martin my mind went to.
I’ve mentioned before here that I was raised feminist, and some of what that meant. Like I said up top - parents do their best, then set you loose and hope. And between you and me, I think mum did a pretty fucking good job.
But Martin happened. And at the time, I thought it was a brilliant movie, but also at the time I didn’t have the tools necessary to realise just what a monstrous, incredible feat of filmmaking it represented.
There’s this saying that I absolutely hate, that goes like this; porn tells lies about women and the truth about men. Well, fuck that gender essentialist bullshit, and fuck you if you believe it.
But. And. Also.
I think no matter how well we are raised, there’s a wider culture. And while it’s vibrant and messy and complex and multifaceted and self contradictory and even often in argument with itself, there are a metric shit-ton of untested assumptions that underpin a lot of it, about gender and what being a man means and what being a woman means. And as much as I recoil in horror from the notion of objectification, the idea that we can see another human being not as a funhouse mirror of ourselves, but instead as a thing to be enjoyed or consumed…
Well, there’s 11 year old me. Watching Martin. Watching Martin rape and murder a girl, and thinking only about Martin.
Martin was George Romero’s favourite of his own movies, according to the always-reliable wikipedia entry on the subject. I have no idea if it’s true or not, but I believe it. Certainly of all his works, it’s by far and away my favourite.
Not - to be crystal clear- because Romero was any kind of misogynist or rape apologist or objectifier of women. That’s the very opposite of what I believe.
No, because he knew how to make a movie that would force us - us men - to examine that part of ourselves that is capable of objectification. He did it in the way that’s true genius - they way that makes you slap your forehead and say ‘well, of COURSE!’
He makes the protagonist like you. Like virtually any male that’s ever lived. A child, yearning. Reaching for something he cannot understand, but craves. Desire, without understanding. ‘Love’ without awareness.
Hunger with only a facsimile of compassion.
I love the Dead movies, and The Crazies. And I know that, with Night..., Romero damn near invented a genre of horror fiction that is, at this point, probably a billion dollar entertainment industry. And honestly, as much as I love good zombie fiction, for my money nobody has ever beaten the source for sheer visceral impact. He was a monumental talent, a world class storyteller, and by all accounts, a lovely man in person, too.
But for my money, if the only movie he’d ever made was Martin, he’d still deserve the mantle of genius.
It’s that fucking good.
 And so was he.
<![CDATA[MY LIFE IN HORROR:   A COLD, LITTLE ROOM]]>Wed, 30 Aug 2017 12:50:15 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/my-life-in-horror/my-life-in-horror-a-cold-little-roomBY GEORGE DANIEL LEA 
Memory is a terrible medium, at least in terms of accuracy and specificity. Casually peruse any random selection of studies on the matter, and you will find ample evidence as to how distorted, malleable and epehemeral the medium can be. What we perceive and purportedly record is influenced by so many factors, even upon its initial experience, that, in the years and decades after, original events become as much fable or myth as any written or contrived story we might consume. Bias, intention, agenda; ideological or tribal identification...all of these and more impact upon the nature of memory, allowing it to be subtly softened and re-written, to the point that what exists in our minds, the events we recount to ourselves, become more matters of personal mythology than any journalistic or documentary record.
We create and entertain such artefacts precisely because they are mythological, because they reinforce certain assumptions that we consider essential or sacred to our sense of self (or, at least, the self we aspire to project). As such, those artefacts are in constant flux just as our personalities are; as we are transformed by experience and contemplation, by emotion and shifting circumstance. Were we able to somehow travel back to the initial experience and to perceive it from the outside, we would find that it is almost entirely alien to the cinema behind our eyes; that details have either been lost or abandoned as redunant, that certain aspects have been re-emphasised or entirely re-written to better suit the mythology of self we wish to maintain.
We are all temples of uncertain fictions, what we regard as essential to who and what we are as changeable and intangible as any urban myth or oral folktale.
As such, any attempt to analyse that phenomena is immediately problematic to the point of impossibility, especially given that we are obliged to pretend objectivity in areas where objectivity is nonsense: we can no more analayse the factors that inform our sense of self than we can pluck the notion of consciousness from our own minds, set it aside and trace all of the various threads and systems of input that determine its shape and nature. We are, in a manner that is difficult to express within the bounds of language, constructs of those mythologies, informed by them on a level at least as fundamental as our own biologies.
That said, the effort is far from redundant; attempting to assess why we are what we are, what factors influence our reactions and expressions, is in itself a worthy exercise; one that can facilitate self-revelation and transcendence, the flowering into new and alien contexts where we can be more than our previous, abandoned incarnations ever dreamed.
A perpetual fascination, then; a morbid obsession, even: a stroll through the cemeteries of murdered and cast off selves, of ghost children all of whom bear our faces.
What horror stories can memory tell?
For my part, place and environment have always been significant; in the fiction I consume and create, in my dreams and idle fantasies, it is usually what establishes itself immediately and most intensely; the playgrounds in which characters can be born, in which story can swell and know itself.
This is no less true in the cinema of memory, which inspiration draws from endlessly, the states and places it has recorded and embellished, allowed to rot or elaborate upon themselves to the point that no trace of the original state exists, co-mingling with the more conscious contrivances of imagination to create an internal landscape that is far more expansive, various and ephemeral than any delusion of objective reality in which I assume to operate.
Places that sustain, whose aesthetics and atmospheres and sensory details I recall -or contrive- in exacting detail; that still exist, to some degree, whereas their physical equivalents have either changed beyond recognition or been lost to immediate experience...so, so many, from parks and playfields, friend's houses, farmer's fields, abandoned lanes and country roads...
One of the most vivid, the most enduring, a room where I spent much of my childhood; where I learned my current love of quiet and cold and isolation, my capacity for immersion in media, to lose myself in some fantasy, to the point that I lose traction and contact with the external world:
A cold little room, the smallest bedroom of my parent's house, that always felt as though the walls crawled with frost, even in the Summer months, whose curtains would flap and flail like the skirts of banshees in the slightest breeze. A triangular window extending out, allowing view of the surrounding street, the nearby fields and houses...a strange acoustic phenomena meaning that sound filtered through so clearly and from such distance, I could often hear conversations that were occurring several streets away, the barks of dogs and the wails of children from houses beyond sight.
A space to retreat, to be alone; essential, for a child that never relished the company of others, that exhibited a low tolerance for heat and sunlight (a hyper-sensitivity that sustains to this day), that required silence and isolation in order to replenish himself.
Back then, the room hosted our very first computer, the system on which I learned what video games were, how to operate them, what would become the tropes and traditions of digital storytelling:
The Commodore Amiga, an extremely crude system, by today's standards, its video games running from (often multiple) floppy discs (a long redundant format), often taking up to five or ten minutes to load the simplest of screens or the most rudimentary of gaming environments, the sounds it used to make of a kind that would drive present day gamers to assume the thing was at fault (a strangely rhythmic series of grunts, groans and clicks whose patterns were curiously specific to each game).
Even now, I not only recall its off-white keyboard and immense power pack, the ludicrously obtrusive monitor that was part and parcel, but numerous sensory details such as the incredible heat the thing would generate when plugged in (hence negating the need for a radiator in winter months), the coarse, grainy texture of its plastic shell, even the smell of the system; a sharp, burning acridity that would most cetainly be cause for concern in any present day machine.
This was the system that introduced me to a medium that has proven so influential on my state of mind, on the shape and nature of my imagination, barely anything they produce or express entirely free of its influence, certainly none of the stories I've ever set to paper.
Hours. Hours and hours spent immersed in its pixellated, poorly rendered worlds; imaginary states that, despite being fundamentally compromised by the technology on which they occurred, nevertheless captured and captivated in ways that many more present day, sophisticated examples fail to.
Being the first, they are the measure; those whose worlds and characters, whose colours and environments and soundtracks are most indellibly scored into the stuff of memory, but also the most mutilated by time and experience; the most powerfully re-written to suit the story I ache to tell and inhabit (consciously or otherwise).
Having no concept of their status as media at the time; not understanding their limitations and failures, their simplicity proved no barrier to my imagination: I did not notice the repeated layers of background or the limited palates of shapes and colours from which they drew: when I played a video game, those distant spaces were not illusory, but places I might some day reach and explore, if I only proved canny enough to find the way.
One of my most vivid recollections of this phenomena derives from the very first video game I ever played; the all but forgotten Wolf Child.

​Not a fantastic game, by any definition or analysis; a fairly mediocre, side-scrolling platformer, made notable only by a fairly coherent back-story and opening cinematic (extremey rare in this era of video game). Nevertheless, my childhood self was entranced by it, obsessed with what secrets might lurk in the depths of its myriad levels, what mutated, liminal entities he might encounter along the journey. No notion or concept of the bounds that its environments evinced, that there might be places where he simply could not trespass or progress further, dreaming up and projecting mysteries and secrets onto the screen where the game itself failed to provide them.
That lack of boundary or parameter, that sense of entire imaginary worlds blooming open before him...not only exhilarating beyond expression, but also terrifying. Whilst the game itself contains an extensive menagerie of bizarre, chimerical beasties (men who have been genetically spliced with animals, resulting in snake-bodied and reptilian abominations, goat-horned and hawk-winged monsters, immense, upright flies and spiders), those that the child dreamed and infested its unseen spaces with proved far more enduring; creatures that often made themselves known in moments of idle fantasy or the depths of dreams. Wilder, more exotic and abstruse by far than anything the game itself contained, these entities still exist today, in some shape or form, often finding themselves rendered in the pages of my fiction or re-purposed for a more literary environment.
Most notably, the game's second level, an immense, dusk-lit forest, has endured and evolved from mere memory into something far more expansive: not merely the experience of a child's game, but co-mingling with certain mythological images and preoccupations: the shadow-haunted wood of humanity's original, collective nightmares, echoing back to when our ancestors would gather around camp fires and tell stories of the beasts and demons of the wood.
A post-modern ripple of that same, fundamental fear, the wood finding expression not only in the oral traditions and folktales first told during those days, but in all that derived from them: in myth and urban legend, in conspiracy theories and religious dogma.
And also here, in this infant medium, in this child's mind: the wood a nightmare that transcended my own skull and experience, that fascinated precisely because it distressed, because the superstitious, animal thing still inside responded to the image of it.
The environment itself a seemingly endless expanse of black, twisted trees and inter-twining branches, even the flora grotesquely mutated into nightmarish distortions of itself: the trees monolithic, predatory plants and wildflowers erupting from the ground, fungal pods exploding to scatter venomous shrapnel. Bathed in the hazy, crimson light of a dying day, night grows deeper the further we progress into the level, until stars and a baleful moon shed their light between the boughs. 
​To a present day audience, whatever atmosphere my child self might have enveloped itself in no doubt seems impossible to evoke, the crudity of the level's rendering, the graphical and audial limitations...arguably a factor that many present day games lack (much as I adore them for their own qualities) is that of player engagement, not only with regards to their control systems and interfaces, but by their completeness; the fact that their worlds can be so detailed and various and textural in every aspect, meaning that players are automatically provided with everything they might contain or allow for, without the necessary space and uncertainty required for imagination to flourish.
The fact that Wolfchild's forest is a linear, two dimensional scrolling environment means that imagination must necessarily be engaged in order to evoke even the slightest sense of atmosphere; its audience must commit to a certain degree of work in order to get the best out of it.
Thus, my child self -precocious little ghost that it was-, invaded those non-existent depths; the illusory vistas provided by parallax scrolling, the spaces beyond the screen, infesting them with all manner of hidden places and dire secrets, with passages to subterannean temples, with caves and caverns where even more immense and elaborate mutants slumbered, with creatures far more terrible and terrifying than anything the game itself was capable of providing.
That degree of engagement was hardly unusual, at the time, not only due to the nature of the Amiga's video games (where imagination was essential for selling their illusion), but also that of my child self's pupating psyche; a condition far more open and permeable than those enshrined in adulthood, in which the exercise of imagination wasn't questioned or condemned, but indulged in without compunction: a matter of everyday existence and process, whether engaging with video games, toys, comics, books...nothing at all; flying free from the constraints of a body that would soon cause the child more than a little concern, when it was on the verge of no longer being a child any more.
And those woods, that cold, little room...only the first. Others followed: the “Alice in Wonderland” delirium of Harlequin's Chimerica; a world born of dreams, specifically, those of the protagonist, who grows up there in enchanted isolation from reality, before leaving behind the realm of his fantasies and forgetting. Returning to its threshold as an adult, as a Father, he finds its gates barred, its great clocktower still, silent, strewn with dust. Chimerica has decayed and come close to dying in his absence, its beating heart split into fragments by his abandonment, its many realms and recesses twisted, infested with the vermin of doubt and ambiguity.
A remarkable game for its era, Harlequin's genuinely surreal stylings drew inspiration from sources as diverse as the paintings of Salvador Dahli to pop music and TV, its world a kaleidoscopic hodge-podge of influences that made an effort to legitimately echo the ephemeral, inchoate nature of a child's imagination.
Shot through with a vein of sincere darkness, the game was an exercise in absurdity that strayed into realms of fantasy, comedy, metaphysics and horror, its sprawling depths and vertiginous heights packed with secrets and recesses in a way that Wolfchild's fairly linear world lacked, but which was still enough a product of its technical limitations to allow for space, that essential emptiness that is the canvas of imagination.
Like many of its ilk, Harlequin bled off the screen, flowing out into the cold and darkness of that little room, painting its walls in absurdia. More, it followed me from the room, out into the wider house, to my bedroom, to school and friend's houses...even here, to this time and moment, where I can still walk its streets -albeit in distorted, altered form- when I close my eyes. I recognise in its absurdity echoes in my own work; the output of my adult imagination, that might not otherwise have occurred were it not for what it provided so long ago. That continuum, though the original recipient of the experience is long, long dead (materially as well as metaphorically, given that our cells are constantly dying and replacing themselves all the time) is a strange, almost incomprehensible notion; one that is as impossible to clearly discern as a torrent one is tossed and turned through (not to mention most likely an illusion; a product of out sensory limitations and physical spheres of operation, that technology may yet allow us to transcend). It forms a significant part of the mythology of self that so consistently fascinates, of which that cold, little room and the worlds, realms, universes it once hosted, are part and parcel. 
The nature of fear was also a different factor back then; not only that room but the world itself, a far less known quantity; often, the four or five steps from it, across the landing, to the bathroom, felt a limitless expanse; a haunted and terrible wasteland, where anything might lurk, especially in the depths of Autumn and Winter, when darkness had a particular density, when the nights became so cold and still and pregnant. The doors of bedrooms, partially open on the right, the descending stairs on the left, the landing window, curtains partially drawn...even the act of opening the door, peering out into the darkness, especially after being so immersed in one of the Amiga's virtual worlds, was an exercise in terror, reality and imagination still uncertain in that child's mind, meaning that every shadow and recess potentially seethed with threat, that anything might peer around one of the doorways or ascend the stairs, might materialise before or behind and spirit him away...
That particularly paranoid form of fantasy ramped up by a factor of N when the games he played deliberately set out to distress or horrify. Whilst horror games were a relative rarity in those days, the Amiga was one of the few popularly available systems in the UK that boasted a reasonable crop of them.
From the likes of the H.R. Giger-inspired Darkseed to Horrorsoft's Elvira and Waxworks series, the child had access to a number of materials specifically aimed at a more adult audience, which he consumed and obsessed over perhaps more ardently than any other.
The aforementioned Darkseed, whilst enormously crude by present day standards, was an attempt to create a story out of H.R. Giger's peculiarly bio-mechanical artworks, incorporating the kind of imagery that makes me wince even to this day (an opening cinematic in which an alien embryo is surgically inserted into the protagonist's skull, that same entity erupting, Alien-like, from his body if you fail to complete the game within the allotted time). 
Back then, with so little to compare it to, the game was terrifying, so dense with atmosphere from the first instant, every room and screen practically pulsating with threat, that often manifested in wildly unexpected and vivid ways.
Memory insists on a sense of rigid coldness, as I sat there, glued to my seat, inches away from the flickeing screen, occassionally glancing over my shoulder, at the surrounding room, the window, the door, as the eerily sinister music chimed and ticked over, images from the game often temporarily super-imposing themselves over waking reality, making shadows seem dense and fleshy, writhing as though with organic or mechanical process, faces appearing in wallpaper, in condensation on the window. Sounds from outside the room suggesting what hideousness crawled and seeped out there, waiting for me to step out, so it might spirit me away through cracks in reality.
Darkseed is one of the first video games I recall not only inspiring dread through my immediate experience of it, but lingering long after, informing nightmares and moments of infantile paranoia. Not only that, but fostering a life long obsession with the work of H.R. Giger, as well as a swelling love for the experience of being disturbed by video games as I ache for from other media. 
​As with the other digital realms I explored within the confines of that room, it and the room itself are inextricably bound; extensions of the same environment, such that they fray apart and merge in memory, becoming portals to one another, as well as to other states and realms.
Many, many writers, artists, academics etc have written extensively on the essentiality of space in the development and expression of imagination; a need for a place of stillness and silence where one can be apart from others, from input and diversion, allowing the mind's eye to turn inward, and perceive what it might otherwise deny or not wish to, what might be obscured or sublimated.
That room was the first of many, for me; a physical space that not only hosted a variety if imaginative realms, but became one in its own right; a place that stil exists in my imagination, and which still recurs, from time to time; echoes and derivatives of it cropping up in myriad examples of my own work, as well as from day to day, in those instances when imagination wanders, when I or characters I conjure find themselves in similar spaces, in similar states of contemplation.
Many would follow, sought out, in part, for their resemblance to that space, for their ability to echo its confines and qualities, others precisely for their contrast to it, but all, all simultaneously places in which imagination might swell and that it demonstrates a consistent penchant to devour.
That cold little room, haunted by the ghosts of dead children and adolescents...mine, now; moreso than the physical structure that inspired it, as much a part of me as any other input or influence, rendered immortal, though far from immutable, by that act of assimilation. 
<![CDATA[MY LIFE IN HORROR: YOU’VE BEEN ON MY NERVES FOR A LONG TIME ​]]>Mon, 24 Jul 2017 04:18:04 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/my-life-in-horror/my-life-in-horror-youve-been-on-my-nerves-for-a-long-timeBY KIT POWER 
My Life In Horror
Every month, I will write about a film, album, book or event that I consider horror, and that had a warping effect on my young mind. You will discover my definition of what constitutes horror is both eclectic and elastic. Don’t write in. Also, of necessity, much of this will be bullshit – as in, my best recollection of things that happened anywhere from 15 – 30 years ago. Sometimes I will revisit the source material contemporaneously, further compounding the potential bullshit factor. Finally, intimate familiarity with the text is assumed – to put it bluntly, here be gigantic and comprehensive spoilers. Though in the vast majority of cases, I’d recommend doing yourself a favour and checking out the original material first anyway.
This is not history. This is not journalism. This is not a review.
This is my life in horror.
You’ve Been On My Nerves For A Long Time 

As it’s summer, and I am behind, this is the first of what will be (at least) a trilogy of articles dealing with the ‘family’ summer blockbusters of my childhood that generated nightmares and terror. Enjoy.
As I mentioned in the podcast that accompanies this post, I want to say I was seven or eight when I saw this movie.
I also want to say I saw it at the cinema, but I think not, sadly. I remember the movie poster vividly, but I’d have had to be younger than seven, and that summer was Temple of Doom, and the clincher is that I only have memories of seeing it on a TV screen. Looking back over 30 years, the bullshit factor is inescapable, and has enough gravitational pull to completely obliterate the unwary, so let’s stick with what I know I can know.
And I mean, there’s a surprising amount that is scary here, let’s start with that. The combine harvester sequence alone is a total heart-in-the-mouth moment - the unconscious child in the cornfield, those relentless, merciless rotating blades bearing down on him, fast enough and close enough that you imagine you can feel the force of the breeze they generate, like an industrial fan turned lethal. You look at the utter devastation they are wreaking on the heads of corn, and your mind extrapolates to the unconscious child… yeah, that’s nightmare fuel.
The filmmakers play it out to the last second, too, and when Superman finally lands and puts his hand out to stop the blade, I remember flinching, instinctively, worried that the blade might even slice through his super-flesh.
So there’s that. And, as you may have heard, there’s all the fun of the fair in the final act - a machine that can learn your weakness, no matter how strong you are - one that, incidentally, is also smart enough to gain sentience and rebel against it’s creator, robofying anyone it can get it’s circuits on. Again, you can listen to the podcast for the full skinny, but suffice it to say there’s a gross tonnage of yikes going on that’d shame many of the lesser entries in any 80’s horror franchise you’d care to name, frankly. And all wrapped up in a family friendly PG bow.
Ah, the 80’s. Be still, my panicked, arrhythmic heart.
For all of that, and more - the insane power of computing to cause the walk and don’t walk men to engage in mortal combat, say, causing gigantic pedestrian/car pileups in the progress, or to reprogram weather monitoring satellites to become weather controlling satellites, in the process creating storms biblical enough to ruin the harvest of an entire country, acid that can melt steel if it gets hot enough (yeah, okay smartarse, heat can melt steel if it gets hot enough, I was seven, shut up), creepy drunken would-be father figures threatening to totally ruin your bowling date with your friends because they’re trying to screw your mom, and so on - there’s one sequence that, for me, towers above all to become a seminal moment of childhood existential horror - the kind of trauma, not to put too fine a point on it, that lodges so deep in your psyche that you end up obsessively blogging about it 30 years later, not long after recording over 2 hours worth of podcast on the subject with people much, much smarter than you, because it turns out you still have shit to say and you’re going to make damn sure the internet hears it, like some going-to-seed- Ancient Mariner with better wifi, because it just won’t leave you alone and you’d really like to sleep tonight if at all possible, thanks, what with work in the morning and deadlines looming and this stupid heat that won’t let go, that wraps you up like a damn python and slowly, gently, squeezes the breath out of you.
And you know what it is, right? Sure, you do, if you’ve come this far.
It’s the title fight. The ultimate showdown.
Superman Vs. Superman.
We do need to talk about the setup first, though. It’s important.
And it starts with dodgy Kryptonite.
Turns out, Kryptonite has a 0.50% property that cannot be read by a mass spectrometer. Our hero/villain Gus, upon discovering this, in the throes of full on ‘eager-to-please-and-please-don’t-throw-me-in-jail’ mode with the straight up villain/villain, does what I suspect any of us would do when faced with an unreasonable boss who won’t take no for an answer but never, ever bothers checking the working: he makes some shit up.
Specifically, he substitutes the missing element with tar, a helpful suggestion he gets from looking at his cigarette package.
Insert your own ‘you know, those things’ll kill you gag here.
I’d misremembered this as nicotine, but I don’t think it really damages the premise - the fact that the substance comes from a product that is both harmful and addictive is the point, I would suggest.
Anyhow, they give the dodgy Kryptonite to Superman (Prior, in the process, giving one of his funniest performances in the whole movie). And, of course, nothing happens.
At first.
Before long, though, all hell has broken loose. He’s turning up late to accidents in order to flirt with someone’s mom. He’s straightening up the tower of Pisa. then he’s attacking oil tankers because a girl (a baddie girl, no less) asks him to, and he wants to kiss her, so he does.
FUBAR or what?!?
It’s played as a mix of laughs and drama, but as a kid viewer, there’s increasing unease, building to dread, throughout. For reasons I couldn’t fully have articulated, this is wrong. He’s not just not helping, he’s being mean. Superman. Mean.
Is there anything scarier than that thought?
Well, turns out, yes, kid, there is.
Now Superman is drunk, in a bar, in the afternoon. He has stubble. His suit is dark and dirty from the oil spill. He has a bottle of whiskey on the bar, and is pouring himself drinks. There’s a strong sense that he has not, in fact, even paid for the drink, and also that the other people are in the bar not because they want to be, but because he’s told them not to leave.
He empties a bowl of nuts onto the bar, then starts casually flicking them into the liquor bottles on the other side. The bottles shatter. The barman tries to protest, scared. Another bottle is smashed. Superman uses his heat ray to melt the mirror behind the bar, distorting his own reflection.
It’s hellish. It’s intolerable. It’s against all laws of God and nature.
It is horrifying.
Eventually he staggers from the bar, and the little boy he saved from the combines sees him, tries to talk to him. Superman doesn't want to hear it, and flies off - but he can’t fly away from his own super-hearing, or the voice of that child, calling out to him to snap out of it, to get better, to be well.
Because he is still loved. Because he is still needed.
It is that - that voice, that rebuke, that intonation of innocent love and hero worship - that finally leads him to the scrapyard.
It is in this place - this industrial hellscape of broken cars and twisted metal, infernal machines and pools of acid, that I will witness the most terrifying celluloid fight sequence of my childhood.
Superman Vs. Superman.
Except that’s not right. As Dark!Supes screams, in rage, in pain, in fear, and the yard clears as all the people who work there suddenly remember they forgot if they left the oven on or not, he spits not into two Supermen, but into Dark!Supes and… Clark Kent.
And my seven year old heart doesn’t just sink, it fucking craters.
See, Clark is, well, nice and all, but a loser. He’s a total clutz, a tool, a pillock, as my mum might say. I get why. My seven year old brain grasps that just fine. How do you get away with looking like Superman and still protect your identity? Well, you have to be the opposite of him. Bumbling. Weak. Shortsighted.It’s the only way it can work - the only way people can see that frame, that face, and not go ‘hey, wait a minute…!’
He has to be weak. More human than human. I get it.
But now he has to fight Superman. With his superpowers.
And he’s going to die.
It’s a mortal certainty. No human has a prayer against Superman. That’s kinda the point of Superman - the Super bit, anyway. And Clark is so painfully human.
It’s going to be a massacre.
It really is hard now to convey the sheer menace and dread this feeling gave me. I’ve always experienced narrative in an intense and immersive way - I still do, to a large degree, which is why I so rarely see a twist coming before it lands - so to be caught in a moment where I knew, for a moral certainty, that something horrifically transgressive was about to happen, without having the language or even intellect to really understand exactly what or why…
Yeah. This was a big moment.
I feel like the filmmakers knew that, too - understood exactly the impact they were having on young minds, those magnificent bastards. How else to explain how much of the beating lands on Clark, including not one but two trips to industrial car crushers, where he disappears inside clanking machinery of death? Or the moment when Dark!Supes rises from the pool of acid and spits the fluid over Clark, causing him to tear off his smouldering suit jacket? Most of all, why else have Dark!Supes snarl ‘You’ve been on my nerves a long time, Clark!’ as he batters Kent around the head with a car bumper?
Yeah, those fuckers knew what they were doing.
That last line proves it. Because I knew that. I knew part of Superman must hate and despise having to play that clown, day in, day out, enduring the scorn of the woman he loves and the callous indifference of his boss and the countless daily indignities of being Clark fucking Kent, journalist voted ‘Which one is he again?’ every single fucking year.
Of course Superman hates Clark. Of course he does. How could he not?
And all it took was one stray element - one bad for you, addictive, harmful substance, for all these uncomfortable home truths to come flooding out. For Superman to find himself locked in mortal combat with his own humanity, desperate to destroy that part of him that has to compromise and work and bow down to the world and it’s petty indignities, freeing him up to just fly round the world vandalising monuments and scoring with hot chicks.
I still remember the shock when he didn’t win. The awe, and, yes, the fear, when Clark broke from the final machine and finally found his rage, choking Dark!Supes until he faded entirely. The lump in my throat of too-many/too-much-at-once as Clark straightened afterwards, before opening his shirt and showing his glorious riot of full technicolour had returned.
Cry? I nearly puked - with relief and joy.
We need stories like this. I’m sorry, but we do. Teenage me is sneering at that and rereading The Dark Knight Returns for the eleventy billionth time, and fine, but also, fuck him. He’s a smart, often funny kid, but he’s nowhere near as smart as he thinks he is, and I’m at this point more than a little tired of his shit and it’s legacy.
He’s wrong - and with the greatest possible respect, if you agree with him, you’re wrong too. We need this story. We need to hear about darkness and redemption. We need to know that the greatest heroes have demons. Demons they wrestle with. Demons that, with the introduction of the wrong substance, can be unleashed and wreak havoc upon their world. We need to be confronted with the knowledge we already had - that part of Superman hates Clark - but also that, ultimately, it is Clark’s humanity, not Superman’s rage and power, that can offer salvation.
We need this.
I need this.
This is the first My Life In Horror I’ve written sober in… shit, I honestly don’t know. It’s not impossible it IS the first. No, wait, Gremlins. I wrote that one on a lunch break at work. Hadn’t taken a drink then. Okay, cool, so, two years then. Almost to the day. And even in that one, I sort-of lied and pretended I’d been drinking. Wow. That’s… interesting.
It was easier, that’s all. That’s what I told myself. Get a little stewed, the juices flow better, quicker. Less self censorship. More naked, unintended honesty.
And, you know, there was something to it, I think, at least to start with. Some of the most fun I’ve had has been writing this column, especially in the months where the fiction work in progress was kicking my arse in some fashion. I think the Queen one was especially good. I drank a bottle of Prosecco while writing that, and by the end things were blurry enough that I was struggling to focus on the screen. I remember bursting into tears when I was done.
Good times.
As of right now, I’ve been sober for six days.
I am not - and I cannot emphasise this enough - I am not giving up drinking. Really, totally and utterly fuck that. What I am doing - what I am determined to fucking do - is get it back where it belongs, where it used to be. Where it’s a choice, not a habit. Something I can take or leave. Something fun but fundamentally unimportant.
Something I only do in company, and never alone.
And right now, that’s fucking hard. Right now, it’s the second big heat wave of the British summer of 2017, and I can think of nothing that would taste finer than the first long gulp out of that ice cold can of Punk IPA sitting in my fridge. This lemon squash doesn’t seem to be making so much as a dent on my thirst, no matter that I drink it until I slosh when I walk.
My last bout of talking therapy, following the minor wobble I had following the Trump win, taught me something I’ve long joked about but never confronted: I’m a buzz junkie. Quite a bad one. I like the edge, I like intensity, I like at the very least the simulacrum of danger. It’s behind a lot of the stuff I do well, of course - here I am, writing live for a notional audience, spilling out truths I can’t get back, sweating bullets but stone cold sober - but it’s also a part of why I like not just to drink, but to get drunk, and why I am chronically unable to get my arse to bed at anything resembling a sane time, unless I’m at a point of drop down exhaustion - which all too often, I am. As I am now, as I write this, in a slightly disconnected haze. Not unlike being drunk.
Also as I write this, I don’t know for sure where it’ll end up being published. Jim Mcleod, proprietor of Gingernuts of Horror and dear, dear friend, has announced the site is closing, due to personal and health reasons. Speculation would be both pointless and, I think, actively disrespectful to a man that I care about so deeply and owe so much, so I won’t. I shall, however, wish him well, whatever he’s wrestling with, and hope he is blessed with Superman strength and Clark love.
Also also as I write this, I don’t know what my future holds - tonight, tomorrow, this year, next year. I want to be less tired, more alert, better organised. I want to do more of the things that bring me joy, and less of the things that don’t. I want to be a better husband, father, son. It often feels like all those things are pulling in different directions, but maybe I’m wrong about that. Maybe it’s all the same thing.
And maybe tonight, once I’m done typing, I’ll be able to shut this machine down, take a (very mild, over the counter) sleeping pill and book to bed, and get that mythical early night I keep promising myself.
In a world where Clark Kent can beat Superman in a bare knuckle fist fight, I guess anything is possible.
PS Well, I turned off and got to bed. Sleep was slower in coming. So it goes. The struggle continues.
<![CDATA[MY LIFE IN HORROR: OBNOXIOUS, SELF RIGHTEOUS SADIST]]>Fri, 28 Apr 2017 11:59:57 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/my-life-in-horror/my-life-in-horror-obnoxious-self-righteous-sadistBy Kit Power 
My Life In Horror
Every month, I will write about a film, album, book or event that I consider horror, and that had a warping effect on my young mind. You will discover my definition of what constitutes horror is both eclectic and elastic. Don’t write in. Also, of necessity, much of this will be bullshit – as in, my best recollection of things that happened anywhere from 15 – 30 years ago. Sometimes I will revisit the source material contemporaneously, further compounding the potential bullshit factor. Finally, intimate familiarity with the text is assumed – to put it bluntly, here be gigantic and comprehensive spoilers. Though in the vast majority of cases, I’d recommend doing yourself a favour and checking out the original material first anyway.
This is not history. This is not journalism. This is not a review.
This is my life in horror.
Obnoxious, Self Righteous Sadists
Bit of a challenge, this. The ghost is right up in my face. Tell the story of how I became a teenage smoker while skipping over the guy who gave me my first cigarette, as well as intoning the sounds-good-but-is-actually-total-bullshit advice of ‘if you feel like you’re getting addicted, cut down, and if it starts to affect your breathing, really stop’?
Superficial challenge, though, when you think on it for a while. In fiction, we have the luxury of identifying root causes - that one powerful, transformative event or situation or choice about which our whole life pivots - but this is the really real world, and it’s more like terminally matted and unkempt hair - a snarl of strands that feed in and create the unpickable mess that is our psyches.
So the guy who gave me my first smoke can go sit in the corner and rattle his chains in disgust at the bourbon I’m drinking instead of scotch as I pour this one out. Fuck him. I suspect we’ll get there, before this column has run its course, but I’m in no hurry at all.
Especially as there was a girl.
I’ve spoken of her before - we’ll call her Bev. King fans will grock to what that means immediately. And I guess it’s worth reiterating for the recent joiners that the context is North Devon, and a village with a population just over the 500 mark. So there’s Bev, my age, and Freddie, a year younger, and that’s it. The older kids hate me - hate us - the way you hate the dogshit you didn’t realise you’d trodden in. It’s not personal, in other words, but it is heartfelt.
So the three of us band together. Bev is asthmatic, but that didn’t stop her starting smoking when she was eleven or so, quitting again after a while. And as for Freddie, well… You know how your parents always said ‘And if your friends jumped off a cliff, would you?’ Freddie would. Hell, he’d jump off first, hoping to set a trend.
So that’s one strand. Closely tangled with that is, of course, Guns N Roses.
As I’ve previously mentioned, it’s basically impossible to understate the importance of this band to my development during those crucial years. Music is what I have instead of religion or sport - it fills the same hole, and a good live show is absolutely my church. And GnR was the first time I heard The Word. And while I may now be able to situate them, with greater perspective, in a place and time, and recognise the huge debt of influences they owed to, by any sane measure, far more talented bands, you never quite get over that first moment, do you? I mean, I can say all that and mean it, but I can also hear ‘Sweet Child O’Mine’ playing on the stereo behind me as I type, and it still sounds like a work of impossible magic.
And back then, they were everything. Alpha and Omega and all points in between.
And they smoked. Marlboro reds.
Slash, of course. The human cartoon rock guitarist - Black leather boots, JD bottle propped to one side, black leather trousers, black leather jacket over bare chest, Gibson slung over the neck, mirror cop shades under outrageously curly fringe rammed into place with a top hat… and that smoldering cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth, sending up a thin ribbon of smoke. And again, I know intellectually this kind of thing is subjective, but for my money, when you combine that look with his sheer talent as a guitar player, you’re simply dealing with the coolest motherfucker on God’s Green Earth, and it’s lightyears to second place.


THE coolest.
So there was that. And, of course, I was smart enough to know wanting to be Slash was sheer folly - to attempt to imitate would be to immediately bankrupt yourself, and to no purpose - the position was well and truly filled.
But I was more than stupid enough to want to be Axl.
Because as Slash was to guitar, Axl was to vocals - for me, at least. Sure, he didn’t have that Mount-Rushmore-of-Rock look that Slash had, but holy shit, that boy could sing. The range, sure, but also the tone, that shredded, raw sound. I still think his voice on those first two records is a rock instrument of unsurpassed majesty, and I also think most people have no conception of just what an amazing feat they represent (especially, to play the old man card for a second, in the era before autotune) - there’s maybe half a dozen other people on the planet who could sing those vocals, that way, with anything like that tone. And to be honest, none of them would sound any better than he did back then, in his prime.
And he smoked.
I mean, the rumors were, outrageously so. The story I remember hearing on the playground was that he actually smoked for money - that he’d been payed by researchers to sit in a room and smoke, so they could observe the effects, back when the band we living the glamorous destitute lifestyle so lovingly eulogised on Appetite For Destruction.
I always wanted to be a singer in a rock band - ‘always’, in this case, being ‘from the moment I heard Axl singing ‘Reckless Life’ on ‘Lies’’, now I think about it - and the fact that my own personal Promethius of the art smoked practically sealed the deal. After all, back then, I could sing along perfectly in key with my idol (maybe we’ll get a future entry on the moment my voice broke, and I lost basically my entire accumulated knowledge of how to sing at a stroke, because, you know, fun times), but I was, as you may imagine, somewhat lacking in the tone department. I figured smoking might help with that. And hell, maybe it did - I did not, alas, retain the Axl range post-break, but my singing voice does have a pleasing gravel to it when I go for it (more Bruce than Axl, but better than Bieber, am I right?), and that’s as likely to have been caused by the fact that I smoked when it was breaking as anything else.
Anyway, it’s a moot point. By then, smoking was just a part of who I was.
And, I mean, I found my post-facto justifications. Fitz from Cracker had a good line on it (“When you quit smoking, you don’t live longer, it just…. feels longer.”) I can’t deny having a bit of a yen for Denis Leary’s ‘No Cure For Cancer’ routine either - especially before I got properly familiar with the superior source material of Hicks.
Ah, Bill fucking Hicks. What a comedian. What a fucking force of nature. One of the things I love most about him now is his commitment to a given position - he had a huge love/hate relationship with smoking and not smoking, but wherever he was at a given moment in his life, he was fucking committed to it. So when he’d given up he was all like “People keep asking me why I quit. Isn’t that a fucking odd question? ‘Hey, man, why d’you take your mouth off the tailpipe? You almost had it!’ And when he was smoking, he’d be all like ‘you non-smokers are all self righteous, obnoxious sadists. Shit, I’d quit smoking if I wasn’t scared I’d become one of you’. If you’re anywhere near the kind of obsessive fan I was (and it seems like most Hicks fans are dosed with at least a mild obsession, for a while) you know what I am talking about. If not, YouTube is your friend, and I envy you the ride.
But like I said, post facto, all of it. I can’t blame Hicks, and I can’t blame Bev, and I can’t even blame Slash. Fuck, even the ghost is only, at best, a proximate cause. He didn’t put the smoke in my mouth, or light it. That was a conscious choice, made by a reasonably bright 14 year old, in a full understanding of the stupidity of that choice.
And so it is, 1500 words in that we get to REALLY why. And I’m afraid it’s going to be as crushingly predictable as you might expect.
Because what all of the above kind of circles hopelessly, like dirty water around a plug hole, is identity.
I had my two friends. Mostly. And my rock/metal love garnered me maybe half a dozen more kids who’d give the nod of respect in the corridors. Not much, but a little. Just enough to keep your head above water, make you look slightly less weak and a mark than the poor fucker who didn’t have that threadbare tribalism. And for the first couple of years it served. Not as anything so grand as protection - I still took the odd lump when the fancy took the wrong kids and I was about - but it moved me up the totem poll just a couple of precious notches. It made a difference, if for no other reason than it gave me something to talk about with a couple of the really scary/cool kids. It doesn't make you ‘cool’ or ‘in’ - but it does make it just a little bit harder to use you as a convenient punchbag.
There’s a reason we don’t name our farm animals, after all.
And that holds until fairly precisely the autumn of 1991, at which point, out of fucking nowhere, dance music and rave culture, grunge, and hip-hop all hit the school, apparently simultaneously, and I know I am a horseman short but that doesn’t stop the apocalypse in the slightest. Suddenly, my acceptable edgy fringe taste has become utterly and irredeemably Uncool, now and forever. The GnR back patch is replaced with Nirvana, Damage Inc. with Public Enemy, and I am up cultural shit creek without a single paddle of cachet.
You know what’s funny? It’s only now, as I write at more than twenty years distance, that I realise that I had options. I never really hated Nirvana, even back then. There was no reason on earth I couldn’t have gone with the flow, cut my long hair into a Cobian bob, and kept right on trucking.
But it never even occurred to me. What I’d found, in the music I’d embraced (and to my credit, by ‘91 it also included Rage Against The Machine, The Black Crowes, and Queen, with The Sex Pistols coming any day) spoke directly to me on a level I’d previously not known existed. It was who I was. And I can’t help but feel a little pride in that dipshit kid that he - that I - never for a second even considered faking it.
Good for you, kid.
Not so good; smoking became the cure for my social ill.
Because, check it; there’s no environment on earth more tribal than a secondary school - expect maybe prison, and I trust you can taste my bitterness from here. But in a school there’s tribes within tribes, and tribes across tribes. Music has tribes, and tribal overlaps as well as oppositions. Sports fandom, I imagine. Teams, sure, but also types. It’s a complicated as fuck Venn diagram of loyalties and antagonisms, in other words, that would make George RR Martin look like a dull and facile plotter.
And it may not have been 100% conscious on my part, but looking back, one of the tribes with the widest coverage across other groups, and with a particularly high population of misfits and troublemakers was, of course, the smokers.
And as soon as I started, it became my tribe. And pretty much overnight, the amount of static I got on a day to day basis dropped by 80%.
I wasn’t buying favours, to be clear - I was not generous with my smokes, and I’d light yours for you, holding on to the lighter itself the whole time. I didn’t become that kid. It was just that I became more acceptable. It was the mutual respect of the outlaw, I think now - which sounds pompous and ridiculous, and it is, but also, it isn’t, it’s real and it’s what was. We - the smokers - had a shared pursuit that put us apart from the other kids. Most of us would have been in some kind of trouble if our parents knew. All of us would catch some moderately serious shit if a teacher caught us. Under those circumstances, your fellow smokers do become a gang, with a shared loyalty, albeit one born of common purpose rather than friendship - but, fuck, when you’re a lonely 14 year old kid, you’ll take what you can get and be grateful for it.
And I was.
That’s tough to look back on, now, but it’s the truth. I voluntarily got myself addicted to inhaling poison, at substantial risk to my own long term health and a non-trivial chance of giving myself something actually fatal, not out of pleasure principle, or bravado, or even to sing like Axl fucking Rose - not really - but simply out a desire to feel just a little less alone.
And, I mean, things are different now, in several important ways. I’m happier in my own skin. My long hair has gone through badge of honour and defiance to something even more useful - a filter. It keeps away people who don’t like men with long haIr, and that’s just as fine as paint with me. In fact, between us, I don't know what the fuck I am gonna do when it finally falls out, as it will soon. Tattoos, I guess.
More fundamentally, that gnawing hunger for company, to be unalone, has been sated by the many, many wonderful friends I now have in my life - first and most important being my wife, and my kids, but I’m blessed with a wonderful chosen extended family too - and chances are, if you’re reading this, you know who you are.
Thank you.
But I mean, also, if any of this reads like a shot for sympathy, I’m Doing It Wrong. I’m well aware of the utter banality and relatively tame nature of this story (no change there then, haha). I have people closer to me who went way deeper and darker on this stuff. Some of them didn’t come back. And again, if you’re reading this, I’m sure you have too.
I do, however, think there remains some value in reflecting on the very banality of that horror - the notion that we are so collectively fucked up that we absorb the reality of stories like this without shock or disgust, without comment, barely without any notice whatsoever. It becomes background noise, static on the radio, unheard against the grander horrors we inflict,as a species, on the world stage, and on each other.
And in terms of priorities, it should. There’s a shitload more wrong with the world that the self-inflicted wounds of teenager a little too keen to fit in. And it’s not like, in my case at least, anyone died.
Still, it is kind of fucked up, I think.
PS - Why did I quit? Well, that’s where my ‘God-is-a-shitty-novelist’ theory kicks in. I finally started singing in a band, and learned I’d gian half an octave in range and about 15 seconds more note per lungful if I quit. So I did.
I know, I know. But it’s true. And while I miss it, and still dream of it periodically, especially when I’m in my cups (one of the things I wanted to get into but didn’t was the cigarette as fetish object, because God fucking damn, there’s something demonically perfect about just about every aspect of them apart from then,you know, killing you part) I still love singing more. And I think - I hope - I always will. So, yeah. Rock and Roll saved my life. :)

<![CDATA[MY LIFE IN HORROR:  I WAS BORN A BIG STRONG WOMAN]]>Tue, 25 Apr 2017 06:31:07 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/my-life-in-horror/my-life-in-horror-i-was-born-a-big-strong-womanBY KIT POWER 
My Life In Horror
Every month, I will write about a film, album, book or event that I consider horror, and that had a warping effect on my young mind. You will discover my definition of what constitutes horror is both eclectic and elastic. Don’t write in. Also, of necessity, much of this will be bullshit – as in, my best recollection of things that happened anywhere from 15 – 30 years ago. Sometimes I will revisit the source material contemporaneously, further compounding the potential bullshit factor. Finally, intimate familiarity with the text is assumed – to put it bluntly, here be gigantic and comprehensive spoilers. Though in the vast majority of cases, I’d recommend doing yourself a favour and checking out the original material first anyway.
This is not history. This is not journalism. This is not a review.
This is my life in horror.
 I Was Born A Big Strong Woman
We’re going far enough back this time that virtually all of this is best guess territory. In the song, I said I was five, mum says five to seven. Let’s split the difference and go with six.
My memory is early spring. I say that because we were woken early - hellishly early. Dark outside early. I remember the pain in my eyes, that chronically stupid feeling, akin to a mild concussion - a confusion rooted in a basic failure to understand why the world is happening at all, at that particular moment.
It’s mum who has woken us up. Her friend, Zane, has decided, in apparently the middle of the night, that We Are Going. So go we do. My memory is Weetabix for breakfast, then into a van, and off.
It’s a bloody long drive. And, I mean, logic dictates there will have been wee stops and what have you, but none of that has stuck at all. When you reach back this far, it’s all impressionistic, blended, with the odd outright invention thrown in.
For instance, memory has us stopping to pick up some friends on the way, another women and her kids, which mum assures me did not happen. So my memory of getting in a rock fight with one of those kids, to the horror of all concerned, must similarly be false - or, more likely, misplaced, because I am damn sure that happened at some point around this time. The past is a fucking maze.
We get there. Mud. That’s the next thing I remember. Driving through it, walking through it. The noise, squelch squelch squelch. The colour of it - exactly the same shade as slurry, similar super runny consistency. Bad enough that my nose would create the phantom smell to go with the visual, the brown fluid coming up through the green grass blades with every step. Everywhere. Black bin liners at the entrances to the tents with inner groundsheets, to leave your wellies. If you didn’t have wellies… best not to think about it.
Lots of walking. I was a country kid, used to walking, but still. I don’t know if it was spread out, or we just did a lot of visiting, but I distinctly remember going to sleep with tired, aching legs. Similarly, the smells were, mainly, pleasant - wood smoke, and food being cooked on open fires. To this day, an open campfire evokes gut level waves of pleasure and comfort for me, as well as the faint tingle of adventure.
And then there were the toilets - just in case you were wondering where the horror angle came in. I know some Glastonbury festival veterans - especially visitors to the 80’s incarnation of the event - may think they’ve seen and smelled the worst that humanity’s bowels can possibly produce. Well, I am here to tell you, those people never had to use a Grenham toilet in the middle of the night. In true suppressive fashion, I have only the most fleeting impressions - flashes of a mountain of shit, the occasional glimpse of white toilet paper, in a pit, a smell that could be tasted, that irritated the eyes, and flies, clouds of bluebottles crawling… the rest is a blessed blankness, locked too deep into my subconscious to ever again see the light of day. I hope.
But of course, most important, there were the women.
There was Tantrum. Tantrum was a true punk - tattoos, piercings - safety pins, of course. Many, in both ears. She looked amazing, spiky, but she smiled and laughed easily and well. I liked her a lot. Zane had brought us - an abduction, she called it, eyes bright behind her large framed glasses and a bundle of curly hair. Then there was Tomma, Freedom Cloud… And at six years old (or five, or seven) it all made perfect sense. We gain more than we lose as our critical faculties develop, I think, but I have to confess, I miss having the kind of mind that could just simply accept names like that, without the slightest impulse to raise an eyebrow, or laugh, or frown.
It was an amazing space, and an amazing time. I remember earnest conversation, laughter, singing, ah, endless singing. I Was Born A Big Strong Woman, You Can’t Kill The Spirit, Who Are The Witches? I sang along with great enthusiasm. I got badges, too. Lots of them. Teddy Bears Against The Bomb, Ladybirds Against The Bomb, Frogs Against The Bomb… you get the idea. Each of them bearing the face of the animal protestor, the CND symbol overlaid on top. My mum’s favourite was ‘Aging Hippies Against The Bomb’, and she kept that one for herself. There was just an energy to the whole camp, a sense of shared purpose, community, and comradeship that I am not sure I’ve ever experienced since. It was earnest and sincere, though a million miles from humourless - laughter was a constant note in the soundtrack of my time there. No money ever changed hands that I saw - all was communal, shared willingly and with friendship. The women just helped each other, leaned on each other, and used their skills and talents for the good of the group.
I remember having The Talk with mum, too.
Why no men? Because it was important for women to have their own space, where they could just be, and talk. But it wasn’t against men, at all - in fact, men helped out with the site.
Were there men's peace camps too? Yes, there were - it was important for men to have spaces, too.
How was I allowed there? Because I was a child, and children were welcome.
How old would I have to be before I wasn’t allowed there?  Probably a teenager.
Could I go to the men’s camp then? If I wanted.
Why were we here?
We’re here because this is where they are keeping the bombs. The bombs are very powerful, and can destroy whole cities. They are very very dangerous, and we don’t want them to be used. In fact, we don’t want them even to be built. We don’t believe they should be here. So we’ve come here to let the government and everyone know that we don’t agree with what’s happening, that we don’t want these bombs to be built or used against anyone. We’re here because we believe in peace.
The bombs are a part of my childhood. Background noise. A constant, monolithic presence - not unlike the way a more fundamentalist, Old Testament God might be present for the children of religious extremists, I suppose. Infinite, global destruction. Built and ready to fly. Tens of thousands of them. Nothing would survive - all would be consumed either by fire or the poison that followed. This was the reality of the world I had been born into. There was no certainty, no absolutes, save that if the bombs flew, everything - everything - would end, forever.
This was my reality - hell, this WAS reality. The women I was surrounded by knew it, as surely as I did, and with the added clarity of age and knowledge. And Grenham was their response to this gibbering insanity. They marched right up to the gates where the missiles were held, and they camped and they sang and they danced and they ate and they slept and they laughed. And later, they chained themselves to gates and fences, locked arms in the path of the army vehicles, and some of them were beaten and arrested, and they kept coming back and camping and singing and protesting and laughing.
They lived. On the very edge of insanity, right in the jaws of destruction, they danced and sang.
When you talk about Greenham, there’s always sneers. There’s always ‘Bet the Russians were shitting themselves’, there’s always ‘How did they have time? Didn’t they have jobs to go to or kids to raise?’, always ‘waste of bloody time and effort’. The scorn, the mockery, it’s kind of amazing how strong some of it is, even this far out - how powerful the impulse is for some to spit on this moment, this movement. I think it says more about those who seek to belittle the protestors than the women themselves, to be honest. And as is often the case, it completely misses the point, I think.
Because for me, Greenham is about a feeling, something you carry inside you. A glimpse of a possibility of a different way of doing things, an alternative way of organising the world and ourselves. A glimmer of a suspicion that much of what we consider to be cast iron rules of How The World Works are no more than under-examined customs, whose perpetuation is very much  in service of people whose interests are not mine, or those of virtually anyone else I personally know. At a point in time and history where it felt a distinct possibility that the world would end, not because of some massive natural disaster, but because of a series of decisions made by a tiny number of mainly men in conditions so rarefied and remote that most of us would never know their names, Greenham just pitched up some tents and said, nope. Not In Our Name. We reject your paradigm, and we choose another.
So, yeah. I know why they sneer. Let ‘em. If their alternative is a world where nuclear holocaust is a flock of geese or an angry exchange of words away, I’m all for pitching a fucking tent and being called a fucking looney.
PS - I remember asking my mum, some years later - I think around the time all the prosecutions for trespass were overturned, after the house of lords ruled that, as Greenham Common was, as the name implies, common ground, the US base should never have been sited there in the first place, and the women were actually exercising their right to access common land - whether or not she thought Greenham had actually made a difference. Her reply?
“Well, all I know is, the bombs never ended up flying, did they?”
<![CDATA[THEY JUST WORKED ON HIM. THE WAY THEY’RE WORKING ON YOU.]]>Thu, 23 Mar 2017 03:25:55 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/my-life-in-horror/they-just-worked-on-him-the-way-theyre-working-on-youBY KIT POWER
My Life In Horror
Every month, I will write about a film, album, book or event that I consider horror, and that had a warping effect on my young mind. You will discover my definition of what constitutes horror is both eclectic and elastic. Don’t write in. Also, of necessity, much of this will be bullshit – as in, my best recollection of things that happened anywhere from 15 – 30 years ago. Sometimes I will revisit the source material contemporaneously, further compounding the potential bullshit factor. Finally, intimate familiarity with the text is assumed – to put it bluntly, here be gigantic and comprehensive spoilers. Though in the vast majority of cases, I’d recommend doing yourself a favour and checking out the original material first anyway.
This is not history. This is not journalism. This is not a review.
This is my life in horror.
They Just Worked On Him. The Way They’re Working On You.
No rewatch, this month. This is childhood trauma writ large, and while I have rewatched as an adult, it’s probably been a decade. Let’s see how deep we can get with the aid of memory and alcohol.
And though Dad’s come in for his share of stick in this column, this month it’s mum’s turn to sit on the naughty step. As previously noted, Dad was pretty strict when it came to movies, but was quite happy for books to do some damage. But when it came to cinematic trauma, mum had him beat all to hell. No fan of horror, she still somehow managed a couple of really spectacular failures of judgement for which I am eternally grateful - hell, one of them I am literally writing a book about - so, you know, no complaints.
Because here’s the thing. Mum may have had little tolerance for straight up blood and guts horror, but she had a blind spot a mile wide when it came to movies she considered Classics. If it was Classic, it was Culture, and if it was Culture, there was no such thing as too young. That shit was made to be absorbed.
And, you know, mostly it was fine. The deal was, bedtime became optional on the rare occasions one of mum’s predefined Classics came on telly. A real treat. Stay up late, watch the Classic. Winner.
Butch and Sundance was one. The Sting was another. Gone With The Wind. Later, Dances With Wolves made the list, at least until we picked it up on VHS.
And then there was One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest.
And, you know,five Oscar wins, nine nominations. You can see her point. Pretty classic.
On the other hand…
I can’t remember how old I was when I first saw it. I remember it in colour, so I was definitely in double digits. I suspect it was one of those films that was split by the nine or ten o’clock news broadcast, too - an odd artifact of the olden days when if a film had a more explicit second half, ‘part one’ could be shown pre watershed and the rest afterwards.
But to me, this just shows the total inadequacy of this kind of ‘age restricted’ ratings of movies or TV. Because sure, there’s no blood, guts, swearing or nudity in the first hour of Cuckoo’s Nest. But even in that first hour, there’s a ton of disturbing-as-hell material, especially for a young mind. Leaving aside the sexual content of the conversations entirely (McMurphy is sectioned having first been jailed for sex with a minor, an act he justifies and celebrates in salacious detail in his opening scene), which may well have passed over my head on a first viewing, there is something deeply disturbing about this entire movie, and that’s there, if not from the opening shot, then certainly as soon as McMurphy joins the ward proper.
And knowing what I know now about filmmaking, there’s a shit-ton of work that went into creating that effect - lighting, choice of camera shot, the sounds, the costume, the location - it’s just one of those movies where every single element is employed in ruthless service to the atmosphere and the story.
But back then, the main thing that fucked me up was the cast.
They’re just brilliant. As a kid, I remember that terrible, indefinable sense that there was something… off about them. And that sense of offness seemed to carry with it a constant level of danger, of threat. As the group therapy sessions rolled around, and I witnessed hysteria and meltdowns, I kept expecting some explosion of violence, and spent most of the time watching in a state of flinching terror.
Because… oh shit, might as well. We’re in a freefall with honesty here, so let’s just go there. The sad truth is, as a kid, I was generally terrified of disabled people. Horrified, even. Watching footage of people with physical or mental disabilities would make me very uncomfortable, and in person encounters would fill me with a combination of acute embarrassment and fear.
I think - I think - looking back, it was largely, surprise surprise, about ignorance. Education wasn’t what it is now, and while my mum was pretty good on racial politics, and shit hot on feminism, disability just wasn’t something we talked about. And the sad, pathetic, ugly truth, is this - I was terrified that disability was catching. That it could be transmitted, by physical contact. Certainly as a young child, I held this as a moral certainty.
I never voiced this fear - truth to tell, I’ve told no-one about it prior to writing this down. This is in the nature of a confession - this is to my deep shame. And a consequence of that silence is that nobody knew, so nobody could firmly disabuse me of this notion. I don’t know how long it took me to shake this particular hang up, but it certainly lasted well into my late teens, and therefore my first few viewings of this movie.
Fun times.
Add into the mix a mortal terror of mental illness itself, brought about largely by two Pink Floyd albums I expect will be future columns (and talking of inappropriate exposure to art - I was low single digits when The Wall and Dark Side Of The Moon entered my life - thanks again, mum), and we’re already deep into nightmare territory.
Then we get to arbitrary authority and power.
Not being able to pinpoint my age makes this tricker, but I suspect that I was in my first year of secondary education. The trap had already been sprung, and I was well on my way to obtaining the psychological scars that still inform my behaviour to a degree I find simultaneously infuriating and kind of pathetic, but it’s possible I was only dimly beginning to realise it, when this movie first entered my life. I was likely still at that stage where I believed this was where I would be Stretched, and Taken Seriously, where I would have my Chance To Shine, and be Challenged, and was still at least a few months away from the crashing realisation that all I really was was meat in a mincer, with the degree to which I would be considered good or useful measured purely by how smoothly I allowed the shredding process to complete.
How little I resisted.
So this movie must have had all the feeling of a dreadful premonition, or prediction.
Because, check it: Arbitrary authority. Regulated movement, eating, existance, participation. Nowhere to hide. No privacy. A cold authority figure who saw you as a square peg, and would use the hammer of her authority to make you fit in that round hole.
Imagination and creativity viewed with deep suspicion, humor with outright hostility. Punishments that were vicious, medieval - and worse, would rob you of your sense of self, take away that part of you that made you really you, kill the light behind your eyes, temporarily to start with, but if you kept pushing, sure, eventually, for good.
Because nothing - nothing - is more important than conformity. It is the most rewarded trait, and the only thing that is really valued by authority. With it, all perks and baubles are yours for the asking, and without it, you have no value - worse, you are a threat, a danger, an agent of disorder straying from the One True Path.
And then, even God can’t help you. Then, you’re absolutely at the mercy of arbitrary authority and punishment. And they will just keep pushing, and pushing, and pushing, until, one way or another, you break. And the hell of it is, they really don’t care which way it goes. It’s all the same, in the end, all the square pegs mashed neatly into round holes.
Except even that’s not the bottom of it. That’s not even, quite, the worst part.
Because beneath even the electroshock ‘therapy’, the weaponization of shame to induce suicide in a sweet kid whose only crime was wanting to get laid, and the horror of the final inevitable lobotomy is this: they are doing it all for your own good.
Because Nurse Ratched, as evil as she is (and I realise there’s books to be written about the gender politics of this movie, but it’s late and I’m drunk), is utterly unaware of her own monstrosity. She is motivated by a sincere desire to help, to cure. Her driving principle is compassion. And it is that awful compassion that is her ultimate weapon, that gives her the strength, the conviction, to squeeze and crush and shatter - and, ultimately, kill.
Nothing is more dangerous than someone with authority and a moral certainty that they are Doing Good, without any recourse to such troubling notions as the desirability of difference and diversity. That, fairly precisely, is how humanity leads itself through the gates of Hell, over and over.
So, yeah, try and tell me this isn’t a fucking horror movie.
<![CDATA[MY LIFE IN HORROR I NEVER HAD A SON]]>Sun, 22 Jan 2017 03:07:16 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/my-life-in-horror/my-life-in-horror-i-never-had-a-sonBY KIT POWER 
My Life In Horror
Every month, I will write about a film, album, book or event that I consider horror, and that had a warping effect on my young mind. You will discover my definition of what constitutes horror is both eclectic and elastic. Don’t write in. Also, of necessity, much of this will be bullshit – as in, my best recollection of things that happened anywhere from 15 – 30 years ago. Sometimes I will revisit the source material contemporaneously, further compounding the potential bullshit factor. Finally, intimate familiarity with the text is assumed – to put it bluntly, here be gigantic and comprehensive spoilers. Though in the vast majority of cases, I’d recommend doing yourself a favour and checking out the original material first anyway.
This is not history. This is not journalism. This is not a review.
This is my life in horror.
I Never Had A Son
A love story, this time.
It’s the winter of 2003, and my living arrangements have gotten… interesting. The guitarist from my first band, his girlfriend and I are living in a huge 2 story terraced house in an area of town the landlady optimistically calls ‘up and coming’. It’s walking distance from work, which is nice, and the rent split 3 ways is cheap, and it’s big.
But not, it’s transpiring, big enough for the three of us.
The girlfriend and I, predictably enough, do not get on. She’s a neat freak, I’m kind of a slob. She’s a big fan of passive aggression, and while I can ignore it when aimed against her chap, I can't tolerate it coming my way, and she increasingly can’t control herself.
And then, there’s Bill.
Bill - not his real name - is a refugee from the girlfriend’s place of work. He’s seventeen or eighteen, and literally the red headed stepson. And he does not get on with his step dad. The Girlfriend asks if he can stay in the spare room on the ground floor for a while, and of course we say yes, and of course once he’s in, well, he’s in.
He’s not a bad kid, to be clear. In fact, I grow to really like him. He has a tendency to get into scraps of a weekend, he smokes copious amounts of weed, but he also shares generously, and never brings the aggro home, and what the hell, he’s young and adrift and a bit angry, and I’m never going to seriously condemn someone for any of that.
As relations deteriorate in the house, between myself and The Girlfriend, and from there with The Guitarist, I see less of Bill - Bill and The Guitarist by this time being weed brothers, and me only ever a very occasional smoker, it was inevitable, really. Still, we remain friendly. And my recollection is I recommended the movie to him, even though I’d yet to see it.
Nope, I couldn’t tell you why. But that’s what happened.
And he went to see it.
And he loved it.
I mean, as in it was all he could go on about, the next time we met. Being, well, who he was, he couldn’t go a great job of articulating why is was soo good - bless him, he knew it too, and his frustration was palpable - but, well, passion has it’s own language, and it was clear this movie had done a pretty serious number on him. So, having talked him into seeing it, he went on to talk me into it.
So I went. And I saw.
And I, too, fell in love.
Goddamn, this movie. I mean, it has it’s critics, and it’s hardly considered a classic of the director’s work - but holy shit, what an energy, a ferocity, this thing has. The opening sells it completely, this huge, rotting structure of timber, peopled with dirty, desperate people. The camera just pulls back and back and back, revealing bedlam. It’s kinetic chaos, way too much going on, swarming, noisy. And yeah, it feels like you can almost smell the worked-in grime.
I remember Liam Neeson, in leather armour cut to represent a priest’s robes, entrusting his medallion to his son (‘Who is this, boy?’ ‘St. Michael!’ ‘And what did he do?’ ‘He cast Satan out of paradise!’ ‘Good boy!’).
(Brief digression - there’s a fun synchronicity regarding Neeson, here the slain father figure and cause of Leo’s long quest for vengeance, given how much he will later become the face and voice of THE revenge flick of the last ten years, Taken.)
The priest leads a parade, through this murky torch lit underworld, more and more figures joining his ranks, all tooled up for hand to hand combat. The drums are drumming, the pipes are blowing, and the air crackles with violence. They take communion, and then a final mercenary waits by the door. After a brief exchange, the priest and he agree a price per head, and then the door is kicked open…
It’s a huge city square, under a blanket of snow. It’s breathtaking. The army marches out, lines up. Plumes of mist as they breathe, waiting.
They wait. And then, the Natives arrive.
They are led by a tall man, made even taller by the stovepipe hat. He has a classic silent movie villain mustache, and his face is hard. He also has a glass eye with an American eagle at the center.
He and the priest regard each other across the tundra.
At first, his gang seems pitifully outnumbered by the Catholic army. His men resemble him, similar stove pipes, blue striped trousers, military style tunics. Them, more appear. Many more, as they emerge from the buildings, like termites pouring from a mound, all armed with brutal looking, crude melee weapons, and by the time they are lined up, they fill the widescreen.
I remember my mouth dry, hairs on my arms standing up, scalp fucking tingling. Utterly transfixed.
The two leaders exchange dialogue, making it clear this is a turf war to decide (‘for good and all’) who control the area of the city known as The Five Points. The man with the stovepipe hat invokes God, asking him to guide his hand as he strikes down his enemies. Liam Neeson pulls a long dagger from his staff and yells ‘prepare to receive the true Lord!’
And then, all hell breaks loose.
 The two armies meet, and it’s fucking carnage. Blood flies. Skulls are fractured. Ears are bitten off. Men are stabbed, beaten, bludgeoned. The snow turns brown with mud, crimson with spilt blood. A man is fish hooked, his cheek pulled from inside until it splits. Through it all, the man with the glass eye and the priest move towards each other, dispatching members of the opposing army en route, before clashing. The combat is brief, and at the end, Liam Neeson is impaled through the chest on the end of the other man’s knife. His son watches on, tears in his eyes, as the other man stops the fight, before executing the priest.
And ten minutes into Gangs Of New York, I’ve fallen in love.
I really can’t do justice to the epic scale of this movie in words. And frankly, nor can the DVD release. This is a cinema film and it demands the cinema experience. It really is the only context under which it makes sense. It’s massive, overwhelming, and that only works if you’re in an environment where it can overwhelm you. Daniel Day Lewis got some stick for the hammyness of his performance, but it’s only hammy on the small screen. When his leering face fills the entire wall, sneering out at you with such clarity that you can see small blobs of wax in his moustache hair, it manages to go through big and out the other side; it utterly transcends camp and becomes terrifying. Bill The Butcher is one of THE great movie villains, for me - not least because he doesn’t remotely see himself as a villain.
And really, I spent the rest of the movie in a state of shock, as it battered me, with the soundtrack, the setting - my God, the setting! - the performances. I am not a big DiCaprio fan, and I think he’s the weak link in the film, especially the second half, but he’s good enough, and everyone else is so far off the chart good that it simply doesn’t matter. Also, it becomes clearer and clearer as the story goes on that he’s not necessarily the hero anyway - more just another rat caught in the trap of history, of violence, of fury and vengeance.
Because the real monster, the real horror of the story, isn’t Bill The Butcher, or the gangs in general.
History is the real monster that sits at the centre of this tale, the bloody beast with chomping jaws and an insatiable appetite for human flesh. It is merciless, and by the end of the running time almost every character we meet that isn’t killed by it will be permanently disfigured.
That which doesn’t kill us, makes us older, and sadder, and weaker.
There’s a microcosm within the movie itself, told in a single tracking shot that for my money is Scorsese's finest - better even than the moment when Henry Hill and Karen walk through the back door of the Copacabana in Goodfellas. Yeah, really.
The shot starts with the immigrants from Ireland, coming off the boats at the docks. It follows them as they shuffle in a line off the boats into the waiting arms of the army recruiters, who are signing them up for go and fight The South. The camera pans over from that queue to the next, showing more men, now lined up in their uniforms, boarding another boat to take them to the fighting. As the camera pans over them and up to the boat, an Irish voice says ‘Do you think they’ll feed us now?’ As the words, plaintive and resigned, reach our ears, the camera pans up for the grizzly punchline - the coffins being unloaded from that same boat, returning the fallen to New York.
And of course, worse is to come, as Leo first befriends Bill the Butcher, and then is betrayed to him, before finally raising his own army to take on the man who killed his father, while in the background the rumblings and anxieties of the population explode into the draft riots. It’s another mesmerizing, breathtaking sequence, Scorsese pulling out all the stops as only he can, the cutting, music, action creating a symphony of discordant, nightmarish violence before the union conscripts arrive back in their hometown, and simply gun down the rioters in the street.
Like I always say, you can’t make up a horror story that can hold a candle to human history - a point underlined with brutal poignancy in the closing shot of the movie. The graves of Bill The Butcher and The Priest are slowly overgrown by weeds, as a series of fades shows the bridge, river, and landscape transform, from the smoldering slums to the manhattan skyline. And there’s a final blow, as the very last crossfade shows the twin towers, reaching into the sky and out of shot, before the fade to black. And I have no idea if that was always the final shot and they just left it in, or if it was a last minute add, but I have to tell you, in January 2002 it packed one hell of a punch.
Ah, who am I kidding? It still does.
It’s a long movie - but I have to say, it didn’t feel long. Epic, but not long. I was utterly transfixed, and I knew when I left the cinema that I had to go and see it again.
And I did. Three more times. It’s the only movie I’ve seen that many times at the cinema, and I bitterly regret not going more. Because it’s utterly a cinema movie, and the small screen - even the big small screens of today, with the surround sound and sub - do not, cannot, convey the power of this film.
Some things, only cinema can do. Gangs Of New York is one of Scorsese's best movies, and one of the finest horror movies ever made. But if you’ve only seen it on the small screen, you’ll never understand why.
You really had to be there, I guess.
<![CDATA[MY LIFE IN HORROR: I WASN'T BORN WITH ENOUGH MIDDLE FINGERS]]>Sun, 22 Jan 2017 02:51:44 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/my-life-in-horror/my-life-in-horror-i-wasnt-born-with-enough-middle-fingersBY KIT POWER 
Every month, I will write about a film, album, book or event that I consider horror, and that had a warping effect on my young mind. You will discover my definition of what constitutes horror is both eclectic and elastic. Don’t write in. Also, of necessity, much of this will be bullshit – as in, my best recollection of things that happened anywhere from 15 – 30 years ago. Sometimes I will revisit the source material contemporaneously, further compounding the potential bullshit factor. Finally, intimate familiarity with the text is assumed – to put it bluntly, here be gigantic and comprehensive spoilers. Though in the vast majority of cases, I’d recommend doing yourself a favour and checking out the original material first anyway.
This is not history. This is not journalism. This is not a review.
This is my life in horror.
I Wasn’t Born With Enough Middle Fingers

We’re back in the dark days of the mid to late nineties. The Bad Years. The No Future Years. In keeping with all teenagers ever, I do not know who I am or what I want. 
I do know what I don’t want, though. The list is pretty exhaustive, but can be summed up neatly with the phrase ‘my life’. As noted in my Endless, Nameless piece, I was on a slow but inexorable slide into deserved obscurity and misery, and I could see no way to reverse the trend. I was chronically unable to get out of bed to any kind of reliable schedule, I hated anything resembling a classroom, and I certainly felt to be close to the dictionary definition of unemployable.
There were a few rays of light - chinks in the grey that just about kept the darkest thoughts at bay. Roleplaying was one pastime that gave me a creative outlet. I sunk countless hours into XCOM:Enemy Unknown, about the only game that would run on the even-then-ancient 384 that had fallen out of the back of some educational establishment - too old for field work, too young for a museum piece.
 And of course, there was music.
This one is odd, though. I mean, I hated it at first. Really, properly hated it. The single was so ubiquitous that even with no ready access to new music, I’d heard it. And I just thought it was dumb. I hated the overfuzzed, downtuned guitars and the three note riff, the spoken/shouted vocal, all of it. Something about that production, too - I liked Pantera, Sepultura, but this… this was something different. Uglier, somehow. Musically dumber and less skilled. Worse, produced to sound bad, somehow. It was deliberate. My music nazi friend bought the album and tried to play it to me, and I tried not to sneer.
It’s so hard, listening to it now, to find that initial response again. The album’s burned on my mind at this point, not with perhaps the same affection as  Levelling The Land   or as bone-deep as Appetite… but pretty clear, all the same, with an all-of-the-riffs-and-almost-all-the-words intensity.
I think some of it is probably the industrial thing. My dad had gotten me The Downward Spiral on a trip to the US, the week it came out there, and I just didn’t connect with it at all until most of a decade later. I tried, but it was alienating to me - deliberately abrasive, full of samples and electronic sounds in place of my beloved drums/bass/guitar/guitar/vox setup, world without end, amen.
And, knowing nothing, this seemed like more of the same to me. Didn’t like the single, didn’t like the album, didn’t listen to it again for months.
Lucky for me, my music nazi friend loved it. And when we eventually, inevitably, moved into the same shared house in town, he brought it with him, and played it to death and back. And slowly but surely, Antichrist Superstar worked it’s dark magic upon me.
I’d love to be able to describe for you that process - the way I came to adore that which I had despised. I feel like it should be described in the tone and style of a Lovecraft short, the unwholesome sounds exerting an ever stronger fascination upon my soul, pulling me, against my will, towards the darkness… but that’s not how I remember it. In point of fact, I don’t remember it at all. It just…. Happened.
I think it’s likely it was some of the heavier tracks that ultimately brought me in - listening to the amazing stomping riff and drum beat at the end of the first chorus of Little Horn I’m reminded just how gobsmackingly brilliant this music can be, how grit-your-teeth vital - and the lyrics of The Reflecting God remain personal favorites. I suspect, too, the growing realisation that it was a concept album in all but name will have helped turn the key in my mind - some of my earliest memories revolve around listening to Pink Floyd’s The Wall, the huge gatefold vinyl open in front of me, child brain soaking up the cartoon imagery inside.
Hmm. One for another day, I think.
Anyway. At some point, it took root, in the fertile darkness and alienation of my mind. And I became a fan. Almost a convert. There was something liberating in the way the album embraced taboo, nihilism, rage. It was clearly music written by someone smart, and angry. I loved it for it’s heartsick rejection of the status quo, it’s calculated, almost surgical approach to offending to a mortal horror the worst hypocrisies and excesses of ‘Middle America’ (a creature I was just beginning to intuit existed, see the shape of - in fact, looking back, Antichrist Superstar probably represents the moment of that awakening - by being everything that wasn’t, the album illuminated what that was, like a perfect negative image). I still had my full complement of teenage bile and disgust for ‘normality’, a concept that seemed to me to represent nothing more than the warping, perversion, and ultimately destruction of our natural urges to create and love, to place us instead in service of an engine, a machine, that chewed up people and spat out toxicity. A system that might as well have been designed to foster short termism and quick fix solutions, bandaids on gaping wounds that would bleed us dry - worse, that would pursue short term orgies of greed at the expense of future generations. I could see it playing out, all around me, and I wanted no part of it, of any of it.
Of course, the hell of it was, I didn’t know what I did want, in it’s place (newsflash: I still don’t). Doesn’t matter, this album says. None of it matters.  What matters is the rage. What matters is the knowing. In here, in this space, you can be yourself. Here, your rage is understood - not as an abnormality to be managed and controlled, but as a rational response to a cruel and senseless world.
It’s not a pretty album. It has little to say on the subjects of love, or hope. It’s absolutely a horror story - one called America, 1997 - and it really doesn’t give a fuck if you like it or not. That said, if it does resonate, if you find it speaking to something deep inside you, then, ah, then it opens up, a dark bloom with a heady, intoxicating scent. Manson plays all the parts, the oppressor and the oppressed, the bully and the victim, and the lyrics are brutally on-point. The production is absolutely astonishing, too, Trent Reznor bringing all of his considerable talents to bare, weaving a soundscape that goes far beyond raw instrumentation. As the story unfolds, you’re drawn along in the dark undercurrents, out into an inky, cold, unforgiving sea.
And then the storm hits.
It’s a druggy anti-drugs album, a violent anti-violence album, a deeply spiritual anti-religion album. Manson hates the world into which he has been shat, it’s true, but nowhere is that loathing stronger or more virulent than when turned upon himself.
And as a stereotypical angry young man, with enough smarts to realise the pathetic cliche I was becoming, but somehow still lacking the tools necessary to dig myself out, I could fucking relate.
Hell, in some ways, I still can.
Antichrist Superstar is an ugly, vicious album. It is also brilliant. But more fundamental than all of that, the reason I can put it on even today and feel that old ball of rage in my stomach, that endorphin surge of fury that tingles my scalp, is that behind and under all that theatricality, production, bluster, and cynical marketing (‘I am the AntiChrist! Give me all your money’) there is that most precious commodity of art: Truth.
And the truth in this record is simple - you are not to blame for the state of the world, and you are right to be furious at it.
You are not alone.
It resonated then, powerfully. And it resonates still.
<![CDATA[A Response:  Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth]]>Sat, 26 Nov 2016 04:29:37 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/my-life-in-horror/a-response-arkham-asylum-a-serious-house-on-serious-earthBY GEORGE DANIEL LEA 
"For my part, I had no idea, no idea, that immense, corporate outfits such as Marvel or DC were capable of producing work so deviant, so artistic; so far removed from their standard stock in trade."
George Daniel Lea takes over Kit Power's My Life in Horror with a  response to Kit's article last month on A Death in The Family.  A Response: Arkham House: A serious House on a Serious Earth, is a fascinating overview on a powerful and important comic and its impact on George as a writer.  
My earliest experiences of comics consisted of the late 1980s/early 1990s annuals of 2000 AD that, back then, were standard stocking filler fare.
A far cry from the super hero comics that dominated mainstream markets (in certain respects, outright parodying their conventions), 2000 AD consisted (and consists still) of a massive variety of on-going franchises (such as Judge Dread, Slaine, Rogue Trooper and ABC Warriors) as well as shorter-lived, experimental works that many writers of not only comic books, but also novels, TV series and even feature films cut their teeth on.
Back then, I wasn't sophisticated enough to understand the nuances of those stories; their references to wider genre conventions (though I would become so, by and by): my appreciation of them was almost entirely aesthetic and highly visceral.

I particularly recall a certain Rogue Trooper story, in which the eponymous clone-soldier encounters a distinctly Lovecraftian manor in which a demonic entity, summoned by arcane rites, has infested the flesh of not only one, but numerous hosts, warping and weaving it into something truly hideous; an amalgam of split, flayed, mutilated bodies operating as a single anatomy.
The artwork of that story is indelibly etched into my memory; recalling, though I had no idea of it at the time, the manifold shapes taken by Jon Carpenter's Thing, as well as numerous entities from H.P. Lovecraft's bestiary, that it directly references.
Being my first experiences of comic books, it was what I came to expect: the fantastic artwork, the distinctly adult tone, the almost lascivious glee with which the artists rendered scenes of horror, violence and mutilation (material that I had already developed a taste for, owing to my Mother's library of horror VHS cassettes).
My experience of more standard, super hero comics was therefore somewhat distant; I knew of the likes of Spider Man and Batman (the latter intriguing me owing to the Tim Burton films that were making waves at the time), but was never particularly interested in them as reading material.
That changed quite late on, when I began to discover that darker and more adult-toned material was available, even within these traditionally child-oriented franchises:
I cut my teeth in my early adolescence on the likes of Spider Man's much (and not entirely fairly) lamented Clone Saga, which, despite ending terribly (essentially being used as an excuse to press the Big Reset Button, which is a convention I loathe in story telling in general), maintained some interesting and notably adult factors in its earliest chapters (an identity crisis for a now young adult Peter Parker, who discovers that he is not, in fact, the original Peter Parker, but a clone developed by one of Spider Man's lesser known enemies, the potential of a baby on the way that may have numerous problems, not only owing to Parker's irradiated blood, but also his synthetic nature etc), the X-Men's Age of Apocalypse; an alternate time-line in which the eponymous warlord has come to dominate the world and a number of other titles. Whilst initially attracted to the material within these series, I soon began to tire of the tropes and conventions that quickly became apparent: Spider Man, for all his apparent crises, will never actually flip his shit and kill someone. The X-Men's timeline, for all of its numerous alternate manifestations, will never be diverted to one of its more negative potentials permanently. My “falling out” with these franchises came with the ending of the aforementioned Clone Saga, in which, having gotten cold feet concerning how far they had genuinely advanced Spider Man's story and mythos, Marvel made a series of hasty (and, for the most part, entirely nonsensical) decisions to undo almost everything the Clone Saga had established and to hit the Big Reset Button that is part and parcel of these franchises.
As an aside (and, as already mentioned), I loathe that convention. Absolutely loathe it; its conservative (pandering to those portions of the fan-base that don't want good and dynamic stories, but want everything to be as they demand it; comforting and conciliatory; the same, the same, the same, all the damn time), it is condescending and it makes whatever stories occur within these universes absolutely pointless. Nothing cane be done that cannot be undone. A character dies? No problem! Death means nothing here; just press The Big Reset Button (which can consist of any number of things, from pan-dimensional, near-god-like entities that have the power to alter reality on a whim, as Marvel fans generally lamented during the events of One Last Day, to engines or devices of insane power that can do more or less the same) and they'll be alive and kicking again before you can say “Batman's-Broken-Back.” I understand that in such franchises, where you have numerous writers all bringing their own visions and preconceptions to bear, and which there is such a wealth of contradictory material, such mechanisms are attractive (maybe even necessary) for wiping the slates clean, but I despise it for the weightlessness and insubstantial nature it necessarily entails: no story that can be “reset” so that its consequences or import mean fuck all can ever be said to genuinely qualify as such: stories are meant to change and transform, both in and of themselves and with regards to the reader. It's as hackneyed, lazy and self-filleting as the time-honoured “...it was all a dream” cliché, which, in many ways, The Big Reset Button is just a means of camouflaging.
As a result of those experiences, I moved away from super hero franchises, turning instead back to the likes of 2000AD, to the then-burgeoning independent markets; the likes of Neil Gaiman's Sandman, Frank Miller's Sin City, Alan Moore's V For Vendetta, finding there material that better suited my wants and requirements; that challenged, that distressed...that engaged me both viscerally and intellectually.
It would be a while before I dipped toe into super hero franchises again; during a period of self-discovery but also extreme and not entirely pleasant revelation; in the midst of a deep, deep depression, that had sustained since my school days and dogged me throughout the early years of university. Back then, media, art and fiction were my salvation; without them, I have no doubt that I would have not made it through to where and who I am today; living inside my own skull would have become unbearable, had I not the means of vicariously experiencing what went on inside others.
I came across Grant Morrison and Dave McKean's Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth quite by accident; during a trawl through one of my regular university haunts; a Forbidden Planet store, which was one of the few places I could access the (often abstruse) media that kept me somewhat sane.
Dave McKean's artwork on the cover snared my initial interest; already familiar and immersed in the man's unique blend of manipulated photography and paintings, I recognised it immediately, and much to my surprise: up to that point, I had little ides that McKean had worked on mainstream franchises such as Batman. As for Grant Morrison, the name rang a bell, but I was still quite distant at that point from super hero comics in general to realise what an influence he'd had on the phenomena.
Flicking through the pages for less than a few seconds, I closed the book, instantly purchased it, then went in search of a pub or cafe where I could scour it from cover to cover.
Arkham Asylum is one of those rare, rare volumes that completely transcends and defeats any assumptions you may come to it with. Even those intimately familiar with Batman lore; its characters, its settings; its consistent themes and ethos, will find things to surprise and even shock them, here.
For my part, I had no idea, no idea, that immense, corporate outfits such as Marvel or DC were capable of producing work so deviant, so artistic; so far removed from their standard stock in trade.
First of all, the artwork: every page is a nightmare of sub-conscious metaphors that looks to have spilled directly from McKean's own mind: there is none of the clear or defined boxes, the natural flow or progression of comic books, here; Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth is simultaneously an exultation and parody of the form; it does away with all natural flow and progression; relying upon the reader to engage with its artwork to a degree that very, very few comic books do, in order to comprehend what is both narratively and thematically occurring. Without a degree of close focus and interpretation, many of the pages come across as beautiful, abstract nonsense; nightmare imagery raked up from some fever dream or schizophrenic episode and splattered across the page. This is, of course, entirely deliberate; both McKean and Morrison are of symphonic accord in their attempts to arouse and engage the reader by providing something that the franchise's target audience have, perhaps, not encountered before; an example of how even articles as densely codified as super hero comic book franchises can be a source of artistry; can be something far more than they are, traditionally, allowed to be.
Arkham Asylum is, as the setting itself suggests, a mad man's nightmare; a diseased mind dissected, teased open and laid naked for the reader to pick through. Many of the images that are iconic to Batman stories, including that of the eponymous vigilante himself, are present, but in abstract and distorted form: never once is there a clear or defined picture of the Bat himself; McKean renders his silhouette, his shadow, but never the man; as though he himself isn't entirely real, but an abstract; a projection of some psychological state, exploring not the depths of some archaic and labyrinthine insane asylum, but its own psyche, of which the various other characters he encounters are merely fragments or manifestations of neurosis. This is even suggested by the wildly re-imagined Mad Hatter, who appears here in a guise that is a sort of portmanteau of both his Alice in Wonderland inspiration and The Caterpillar; another character from that story, who serves in a sagacious or shamanistic role; entirely benign, at least towards Batman, in this manifestation; no attempts to harm or engage him...the Hatter seems lost in his own disturbed reveries, high on whatever substance fills his hookah, pondering on (vaguely paedophilic) urges, not to mention his own place and nature within the asylum.
And Batman, being somehow aware of his own place and nature within this existential pilgrimage, listens. He does not engage in violence, save with one or two of the characters he encounters; the battles here are of a far more subtle kind, especially with his antithesis, The Joker, who is the one who “invites” him to the asylum, by staging a mass take over, and welcomes him over the threshold with warmth and smiles. The Joker is, as he has always been, the ideological antithesis of Batman, but here, also an essential part of the same whole: when he does assault Batman, it isn't directly or with violence: he immediately and automatically finds the chink in Batman's armour, by engaging with him sexually. Meanwhile, one of the psychologists who has been “treating” the Joker suggests a disturbing possibility: that he is not insane; that the condition he exhibits is a kind of hyper-evolved mental state, designed to cope with the ephemeral and ever-changing nature of post-modern existence: The Joker psychologically reinvents himself from moment to moment, which is a very handy way of explaining why he seems to have multiple origin stories, even in his own head, and why he differs dramatically from incarnation to incarnation.
But it would be a mistake to take this or any element of Arkham Asylum literally; The Joker, like every character and element of the story, reflects something highly abstract; in this instance, inspiration, libido and self perception without parameters; he is a lack of definition to Batman's rigidity and introspection; just as Batman is defined by the parameters he places on himself, The Joker is the opposite, with every other member of the cast slip-sliding up and down between those two extremes.
Returning, for a moment, to the Alice in Wonderland imagery, another thing that struck me from my initial reading (over a number of bottles of wine, becoming increasingly drunk as I delved deeper) was how literate this work is; it references so, so much, from classical literature to Freudian and Jungian psychological theory, from honest-to-Baphomet occultism to alchemy. And often not in any overt way; to understand the symbols and compositions occur (and their wider import), you either need to read the script (which my edition of the book comes with) or be aware of them already. Having been immersed in the likes of occultism and psychology from a very young age, I was able to appreciate how deftly both Morrison and McKean had interwoven these concepts into the artwork and narrative, not to mention how they had identified factors that already exist within the Batman universe and made them overt. The quiet cleverness of it; the fact that it does not signify these factors, but trusts the reader to either recognise them or to be curious enough to go away and research them. It's a work without condescension; that trusts its readers as curious and analytical entities, that are capable of engaging with its nuances, its implications, without having to be guided and held by the hand throughout.
Like Alice in Wonderland, which is one of its chief inspirations, Arkham Asylum uses fantastical and fairy-tale imagery to metaphorically explore psychological issues. It is an intense and raw and naked experience, because it evokes certain universal concerns, neuroses via imagery that the vast majority of its readers will know, to some degree. It is not a book to approach lightly or for entertainment purposes; it is the kind of work that engages to the point that it transforms, which is something I ask -no, demand- of all media I consume.
Narratively, the story consists of two interwoven strands; Batman tracing a seemingly arbitrary and directionless path through Arkham Asylum, guided by his own intuitions and instinct, and that of Amadeus Arkham, the architect of the asylum, who follows a similar course; whose life is one of grotesque tragedy upon grotesque tragedy; who eventually comes to inhabit the asylum himself, as an inmate, following the rape and murder of his wife and child by one of his own ex patients, whom he summarily murders. Amadeus Arkham seems to presage the coming of Batman and others to the asylum in his delirious ramblings, scratching spells of protection and containment into the walls, which, of course, have no effect on Batman, who, at this point in the story, has conquered and acknowledged so many of his personal demons -all manifested in the villains he faces and defeats-, he has come to transcend any applications of mythology; any constraint of prophecy: the mind is healing itself, through trauma; by being shattered and pieced back together again, according to its own patterns and intentions; not those of external forces.
In that, Batman comes to echo the Joker's own condition, but in far more defined and directed way. When it comes for him to leave the asylum, the Joker escorts him to the door like a dear friend, informing him that there'll always be a place for him there, that the world outside is the true asylum.
Beyond its artistic merits, the book had a profound effect on me personally; colluding with a variety of other art and literature (the work of Clive Barker, William Blake, Phillip K. Dick, Lovecraft, Poe, Giger and myriad others) to help me make sense of my own condition; to determine means of transcending it, however slow and painful the process.
Without that input, I do not know what manner of writer I would be (if writer at all), do not know what manner of human being I would be (if discernibly human at all).
One thing I know for certain; I would not be sat here writing this now; not as the same man, not in the same frame of mind. Whether that is something to be grateful for, I don't know, but it's certainly interesting to ponder...

<![CDATA[MY LIFE IN HORROR: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY]]>Wed, 09 Nov 2016 11:03:23 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/my-life-in-horror/my-life-in-horror-a-death-in-the-family
Our Life In Horror
Every month, I will write about a film, album, book or event that I consider horror, and that had a warping effect on my young mind. You will discover my definition of what constitutes horror is both eclectic and elastic. Don’t write in. Also, of necessity, much of this will be bullshit – as in, my best recollection of things that happened anywhere from 15 – 30 years ago. Sometimes I will revisit the source material contemporaneously, further compounding the potential bullshit factor. Finally, intimate familiarity with the text is assumed – to put it bluntly, here be gigantic and comprehensive spoilers. Though in the vast majority of cases, I’d recommend doing yourself a favour and checking out the original material first anyway.
This is not history. This is not journalism. This is not a review.
This is my life in horror.
I Happen To Be Crazy. Not Stupid.
Author’s note: The below was written on 3rd November, before the recent US presidential election result. I have never been less happy that my gut was right. I have never been more afraid for the future than I am right now. Please be kind to each other. The world is going to need a lot of that in the months ahead, I suspect.
The bastards locked the door.
In a final analysis, I got it because it was cheap.
I am somewhere around the twelve/thirteen mark, to the best of my recollection. Thirteen, tops. Old enough that my dad had allowed me to read The Dark Knight Returns, I think - a seminal experience for any Batman fan. And I almost certainly picked it up during one of my occasional weekend pilgrimages to that thriving hub of commerce, Exeter, and specifically the Waterstones in the city centre (a business that, at the time of writing, is still present, in the same big building on the same street corner as it was in my childhood).
I will have wanted More. More Batman. More comic book goodness.
And the sad truth is, most comic books, most trade collections anyway, were expensive. The huge Batman Vs The Joker: The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told; for example, would have been at least £8.99, maybe more. I did eventually pick that sucker up when it was on sale, but no way was I paying full sticker price, with £20 a month being my allowance, and the bus journey alone swallowing £5 of that. Not with music to buy as well. I mean, I loved comics and books, but let’s not go crazy.
So this will have sung to me, I suspect. Lovely black cover. Ominous art. The back cover, recreating the covers of the original 4 issue comic run, alongside some truly hyperbolic press quotes. And of course, most importantly, that lovely £2.50 price sticker.
Sold. Death In The Family was coming home with me.
I’ve popped the name, because I want to give y’all a chance to back out now. It may sound stupid, talking spoilers about a comic that came out in ‘89, before some of you were born. But this is, IMO, one of The Big Ones - as classic and defining as Dark Knight, Watchmen, Transmetropolitan. Yeah, I’m serious. So in the unlikely event you haven’t read this one, and don’t understand it’s cultural significance, back the hell away from the article now, and go and spend £2.50 in today's money on the collection, okay?
Thanks me later.
Back? Good.
I read it on the bus on the way home. All of it. The totally weird, po-faced introduction, where some Dr. from the future rattled on about the ‘unique 20th century pathology of the costumed superhero’ or whatever, through to the still-a-bit-defensive postscript from Dennis O’Neil, featuring the heart stopping final vote tally - holy shit, this was a close one.
I mean I poured over it. Obsessed. I remember reading this over and over and over again, in the weeks, months and years that followed. I even, God help me, tried to sketch a couple of the panels from the comic myself - a full face shot of Batman from the last issue, from his interrogation with the CIA guy, and another of the Joker at the UN in the Iranian headdress. Not trace, you understand, but draw, freehand - I was trying to recreate the pictures as faithfully as I could, trying to get my clumsy hand to push the pencil over the page as the artist had done.
Trying to understand the magic. Trying to feel it.
I have a recollection of also trying to turn it into a radio play, roping in friends to play the other parts, using the in-built microphone in my sister’s cassette recorder. I mean, I was nuts about this damn story. The contours of the narrative, and many of the individual art panels, are seared into my brain, scarring it as surely as acid scarred Harvey Dent in the courtroom.
I mean, fucking hell, this story.
The setup is great. Say what you like about DC in the late 80’s, they knew how to do melodrama. Having Jason Todd, Robin number two, going increasingly off the rails, still not dealing with the death of his parents, tracks well, and adds a nice early helping of guilt in for Bruce, as he contemplates the wisdom of his masked-vigilantism-as-grief-therapy approach to sidekick recruitment. The section where Batman (the narrator for the entire story) hypothesizes about where Jason’s angry walk will take him really shouldn't work… but it really does. And the moment where Jason discovers, via a water damaged birth certificate, that the woman he thought was his mother wasn’t, is a genuine spine tingler. These are the fundamental pillars of the Batman mythos, after all - vigilante = orphan. The discovery that Jason may not in fact be a paid up member of the Dead Parents Club immediately puts his status as Robin in jeopardy, in a way Bruce’s ‘temporary suspension’ never really did. Likewise, his decision to go after his mother solo makes sense - or at least as much sense as teenagers ever make.
Meanwhile, as a newspaper headline informs us, The Joker Escapes Again.
He’s just fucking brilliant in this. Smart, capricious, vicious, cunning, desperate, and utterly, violently insane. The story takes place just after The Killing Joke (indeed, there’s references to ‘What He Did To Barbara’ that flew over my head until years later), so the conceit that The Joker is having to sell his cruise missile with a nuclear warhead to raise funds makes sense - even if his hints, in chapter one, that he’s looking to get into the international diplomacy game feel a touch odd. But mainly, it’s just My Joker, the one who never made it fully to screen until Heath Ledger - the guy who is a rampant cancer cell, tearing through humanity with a blood soaked grin, leaving a trail of human destruction in his wake.
He’s not even very funny.
I remember being utterly gripped by his sociopathy, his casual cruelty. The fact that Robin’s possible candidates for mother (the three women who shared the first initial with the birth certificate and were also in his father’s address book) were all based in the middle east, the same place Joker and his bomb were heading, feels laughably contrived now, but felt utterly reasonable back then. Mainly, I suspect, because a combination of sheer pace - aside from the recaps at the start of each chapter the story zips along pretty well - and also a feeling of inevitability. This is, after all, a tragedy, and tragedy has it’s own shape and pace and weight.
And it really does feel bad. There’s a sense of menace that hangs over the first two books - especially the second, when in true thriller fashion, we know long before Jason does that his mother is being blackmailed by The Joker. I can still remember the relief I felt when Jason went back to get Batman, telling him the Joker had taken his mother - and then the dread I felt as they realised the booby-trapped supplies were already in convoy, and that Batman was going to have to leave Jason behind to watch the warehouse while he went after the lorries. The scene is brilliant - Batman, hands on Jason’s shoulders, pleading with him to wait for him, to not take the Joker on, while Jason stands, stony-faced. Promising he will.
Batman doesn’t believe him. But he goes anyway.
He has to.
We see Jason’s thoughts as the BatCopter lifts off and he shields his eyes from the swirling desert sands. We know he’s going into the warehouse. It’s a sickening sinking feeling. I get it every single time I read the story. Every single time.
He goes down to the warehouse. Reveals his secret to his mother. She invites him inside.
She turns him over to the Joker.
It’s horrible. She pulls a gun, her beautiful face suddenly hard, as she explains she’s been dipping into the funds, that any BatInterference will uncover her crimes as well as The Jokers’. He is betrayed by his birth mother, hours after meeting her for the first time. Delivered into the custody of his mentors’ most dangerous opponent.
The Joker beats him. He feigns unconsciousness, then fights back. Two of Joker’s enormous goons knock him to the floor, one of them kicking him in the ribs. He balls up, clearly in agony.
The Joker picks up a crowbar, and beats the shit out of him.
We see the first blow land across his back, and what might be spit or blood spew out of his mouth. Then a series of panels of the Joker, bring the crowbar down. Again. And Again. And Again. He’s sweating, mouth not just grinning but gaping. The end of the crowbar becomes bloody. Jason’s mother watches, then turns away in disgust, and lights a cigarette.
By the time Joker is done, his gloves are also stained red with blood. We see only a bloodied leg of The Boy Wonder on the edge of the panel. As The Joker recovers from his frenzy, and realises what terrible danger he’s put himself in, he leaves Jason’s mother tied up in the warehouse, with a bomb timed to explode.
I mean, I can’t even. The sadism of it would often bring out prickly fear sweats in me as I read it. This was something utterly taboo, verbotten. The bad guys were bad, sure, innocent people would get hurt, even killed, shit, that happened even in Doctor Who… but this was Robin. This was a kid. Not just a kid, but Batman’s sidekick. This did. Not. Happen.
And it was happening.
It went on happening, as the panel pattern showed the timer counting down, alongside widescreen shots of the warehouse. As, around the two minute mark, Robin regained consciousness, with a ruined face not unlike that of a certain recent Walking Dead cast member, as I think about it, and crawled first to the device, then, realising he was in no fit state to handle it, to his mother.
There’s a little under a minute to go as he unties the rope and collapses, urging her to leave. Around 40 seconds by the time she’s got an arm over her shoulders and has pulled him up. They stagger to the door, painfully slow, as the clock ticks ticks ticks.
They reach the door with 10 seconds to spare.
And it’s locked.
The last panel inside the warehouse is a close up of Jason’s mother, her eyes wide and pupils dilated with terror. “The Joker locked the door!”
We see the Batman’s face lit by the fireball, then the last panel is behind him, as he walks towards the smoking wreckage. “Jason… no…”
Some fucking writer. I just cannot put into words what that did to me. What it does to me. It’s the locked door, I think. We’ve seen this scene before, after all. Just a few times. The last minute escape from the big boom. But that fucking locked door. It’s like The Joker’s seen the same movies we have, and decided ‘not this time, baby!’. It’s a classic moment of pure sadistic villainy - a final twist of the knife delivered by an expert in inflicting misery, suffering and death.
Even more than The Killing Joke, this was the moment, for me, that The Joker cemented his position as Batman’s archnemesis, for all time. No matter the wealth, powers, or intelligence of the rest of the rogues gallery, no-one was EVER going to top this moment.
Interesting to note, therefore, that there were two possible Batman 428’s written - one where Jason lived, one where he died. I speculated furiously about that, as a kid, trying to envisage what that other issue might look like, how the scenario might play out (the version of events I eventually hit upon was that in the other comic, his mother shields Jason from the blast at the last minute. She is killed, thereby keeping ‘A Death In The Family’ and Jason is hospitalised, leaving The Bat to go after Joker alone - and no, I have no idea, but I bet it was something like that). I know intellectually that it was a phone vote that decided Jason’s fate, and that the final tally from over 10,000 calls was damnably close, with less than 100 votes separating the final result (sad to say, I still find this one of the most compelling arguments for voting in general - you never know when it’s going to be close, as recent events have proven). Yet, for all that, the ending we got feels utterly inevitable.
And, you know, it’s far from the last time a popular vote has left me feeling sick to my stomach, with both the closeness of the result and the wrongness of the outcome - the feeling like reality itself has swung a curve ball, that we’ve fallen away from some theoretical future line of best fit and been cast into some crappy alternate reality where Picard is a bad guy and The Brigadier wears an eyepatch. As I write this, we’re a week out from a US presidential election where a badly written Batman villain has a non-trivial chance of becoming the leader of the free world, and by the time you read this, you’ll know if we dodged that bullet, and if so, how closely by.
But right now, I don’t know if we dodged it at all. I don’t know if we made it out the door in time. I don’t know if the bomb went off.
I don’t know if hope lies, bleeding and battered but still breathing, or if it’s been shredded utterly by the blast. But I am starting to get a terrible feeling - that sickening, sinking sense of inevitability. Tragedy has a pattern, after all. It has a shape and a rhythm and a pace. I’ve rarely wanted more fervently to be wrong.
A Death In The Family is still a scary story.
We still live in a very scary world.