<![CDATA[Ginger Nuts of Horror - MY LIFE IN HORROR ]]>Fri, 21 Apr 2017 14:25:00 +0100Weebly<![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.

<![CDATA[MY LIFE IN HORROR: SICKNESS WILL SURELY TAKE THE MIND]]>Sun, 23 Oct 2016 09:00:19 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/my-life-in-horror/my-life-in-horror-sickness-will-surely-take-the-mind
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.

Sickness Will Surely Take The Mind

So, then. The ghost is back. A genuine haunting, too, this time. At the time this movie entered my life, the ghost had not yet made his in-the-flesh appearance in my world. But he surely haunts this film.

I am in my Grandmother’s house, with my sister, my Grandma, and my mother. Due to a combination of dull-even-to-me biographical facts surrounding the occasion, including which house Grandma is living in and who else is at the house, I can peg my age precisely to seven years old.

I am also, as I think on it, almost certainly unhappy, in a general sense. Having spent my childhood - my life, to this point, at least as far as remembered existence goes - in a rural setting (by which I mean the nearest village was a four mile walk and we didn’t have a car, so, you know, really fucking rural) I’d recently been transplanted to a large, just-beginning-to-slip-into-post-industrial town in the north of England, and basically, I hated everything about it. A combination of my haircut and accent made me stick out a mile, making any friendships conditional and one sided, always carrying a vague undertone of pity or charity. And going from twenty kids in your classroom to two hundred kids in your year was… well, disorientating is an understatement. I remember the sheer noise of the playground feeling like a physical assault, and the scale of the school canteen, with attendant sounds and smells, frequently induced nausea. Add in being one of the shortest kids in the year, and having a natural inclination to try and impress teachers, and it was never going to be a smooth transition. 

It occurs to me now that one of the surest signs that I’m unlikely to get on with another adult, to this day, is if they happen to say of their time in school, ‘oh, but/and it was the best days of my life’.

I mean, fuck off.


So I am - precisely - seven years old. And we’re at the portion of the evening universally known as ‘T.V. Time’. Grandma and mum are channel hopping, and my sister and I are pretending not to be tired, and also trying to be invisible - TV time at Grandma's house typically rendering bedtime a kind of elastic concept, especially if we can avoid the enormous temptation to argue with each other about, well, everything.

And channel hopping circa 1986 in the United Kingdom is a hilariously sparse affair, given that there are precisely four channels on offer. My memory is that it was BBC Two that gained my mother’s delighted attention.

“Oh, look, it’s The Who! I like The Who. Let’s watch this!”

Sure, mum. Okay. Why not?

And the thing is, it’s freaky from the get-go. Before a single overtly horrific thing has happened on camera, the experience is deeply disorienting. Everything’s… off.I mean, there’s the obvious thing, which is that nobody talks. All spoken communication is via song. And I must have seen musicals, but there’s a step change difference between that and… this. Also, well, the horror really isn’t slow in coming. By the end of the opening song, Tommy is born on VE day, but his dad has already (apparently) died, our last sight of him burning in his plane as it plunges towards the earth. World War Two was still enough of an all-encompassing national story in ‘86 that as a seven year old, I could engage with the iconography - the flag waving, the nurses uniforms, the gas masks on the school kids. Who needs Moffatt?

So already, the prickly heat from Grandma’s gas fire is starting to feel uncomfortable - no longer the soothing soporific, increasingly like the early onset of a fever. And when Oliver Reed slimes into frame as Uncle Frank (and was that a deep cut reference by Clive Barker, I find myself asking myself, at thirty one years remove?), the discomfort kicks up a whole order of magnitude. 

I mean, he’s scary. I can’t tell why, exactly, but he is. He drinks. He’s sweaty. The way he acts towards Tommy’s mum, something about it is badly wrong, and she seems oblivious, like a princess under a spell. The whole camp is deranged, an off-centre energy and cheer that’s scary, like a place where terrible things would happen if your smile wasn’t wide enough, and when Uncle Frank is taken back with Tommy, it feels like they’ve taken the madness home with them, invited it into their lives. When his mother asks Tommy if he likes Uncle Frank, and he replies sleepily ‘He’s very nice, I think…’ - I want to shout at them both.

And then of course, Tommy’s real dad comes home.

This, I remember vividly. He visits Tommy’s room first, looking upon his son’s sleeping form, his face scarred from the fire. Then he leaves. The music goes wild - crashing, clattering drums, keyboards, guitars, Tommy’s father, shouting, his mother, sweating, crying, also shouting soundlessly, Tommy leaving his room, walking down the hall, my heart is pounding along with the maniac drums, don’t go, kid, don't look, don’t see, and Frank snarls, reaches for the lamp, Tommy throws the door open as his father is struck and crumples to the floor.

I mean, fucking hell.

His mother screams, bedsheets pressed to her naked body “What about the boy? He saw it all!”

They fall to their knees before him, talking, imploring, demanding. “You didn’t see it. You didn’t hear it. You won't say anything, to anyone, ever.” It’s an incantation, a spell, a curse. Their faces scared, angry, pleading, threatening, the music building to a crescendo, and as it breaks, Tommy looks into the camera, and there’s a moment of movement, at though some door inside him has slammed shut.

“Now he is deaf. Now he is dumb. Now he is blind.”

His mother and Frank lead him down a corridor, a brick tunnel, endless. Lit from overhead. Like a prison. Like a dungeon. As the overture is played, he’s taken to a funfair, an arcade, we see this kid sat in a waltzer, on a ferris wheel, in a hall of mirrors. He is vacant, and the camera swirls and dives around him, lights swirling in and out of frame. Dissolves, wipes, as the music plays

“Sickness will surely take the mind, where minds don’t usually go.”

Sickness of the mind. Not an alien concept to me, thanks to Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon, but all the same, a deeply unsettling concept, one made worse by the fluid, unsettling imagery and the knowledge that this sickness was not organic but inflicted. 


And really, it should have ended there. It was past my bedtime. But, of course, that was the very definition of a double edged statement, wasn’t it? Because this was The Forbidden Time. I wanted to stay up. 

And to stay up meant to see.

 And so it went.

Christmas. Tommy sat in a toy car, hugely expensive. Staring into space. The other children encircling him, blowing horns he can’t hear in his face, taunting. His mother’s pleading, Frank angry (of course) the fear for Tommy’s soul, and the moment when he smashes the baby Jesus toy into the manger scene. I remember thinking, poor kid.

Crossfade, and the child is an adult, still staring into space. He’s in a church, but again, something is wrong. The preacher is playing a guitar, and the altar boys are musicians with wild eyes and long hair. The song goes on and on, an ode to the healing power of The Woman. A huge statue is brought down the aisle, the goddess in a frilly dress. The congregation file past her, touching the hem of her dress, kissing her feet. Those in wheelchairs are pushed past, their helpers touching the statue and transferring that touch to their heads. Finally, the church is empty. Tommy’s mother takes him forward, but he does not want to kneel, to kiss the feet, and she pushes his head down, he resists, and in the struggle, the statue tips, falls, and breaks.

Her face fractures into three pieces. I remember feeling horrified by that, without knowing why.

Then, oh shit. 

So, Uncle Frank takes Tommy to.. A place. A room. A girl. She claims that she can cure him. She just needs one night. She’s the Gypsy. The Acid Queen.

As soon as Frank leaves, she produces a syringe full of a bright red liquid.

If I’d had a sofa to hide behind, this would have been the moment.

Instead, I watch as she places Tommy in a giant metal suit covered in needles. The suit closes on him, puncturing him, my mind assures me, in several places, and then all the syringes on the outside fill up with the red liquid, before the plungers depress, sending it into his bloodstream. Also, the silver device starts to rotate. The music goes mental again, the song crashes around, the thing spins faster and faster while the woman wails and laughs, and then it slows, and I don’t want it to, and it stops, and I don’t want it to, and it slowly opens, and inside is a skeleton with snakes crawling over its bones, silver ball bearings pouring out into the floor.

It closes. It spins. It slows. It opens again. This time, Tommy has a crown of poppies. Also poppies covering each puncture wound, though blood helpfully trickles down his limbs, to remind you of what lies beneath. At some point, he also turns into his father. At some point the spinning contraption shrinks until it enters her mouth.

At some point, roughly 4.7 billion years later, Frank comes in, and takes Tommy home in disgust.

Time to get off? Fuck, yes. Waaaay past time. 

But then, I’ve come this far. It’s late. 

“Do you think it’s all right? To leave the boy with cousin Kevin? Do you think it’s all right? There’s something about him I don’t really like. Do you think it’s all right?”

“I think it’s all right, yes I think it’s all right.”

It fucking is not all right.

Cousin Kevin plays the piano, lamenting his lack of a play friend, and then opines that there’s a lot he can do with a freak. Before slamming a paper bag over Tommy’s head.

And then it’s just an express elevator to hell.

He’s the school bully. And his victim can’t speak. Can’t fight back. Tommy has a cigarette put out on his arm. He is held down in a full bathtub, then hung from the door by his collar and whipped. There are six inch nails sticking up through his toilet seat, and glass in his dinner.

And I have fucking had enough.

I protest. Loudly. Mum turns over. Reluctantly.

She flips back, briefly, after a short interval - ‘I’m sure it’ll have finished now’ - and I see Tommy pushed down a flight of spiral stairs.

She tunes away again.But she’s not done. And as she tunes back, and Tommy is ironed dry by cousin Kevin, she assures me, it’s all over, the scary bit has finished, and isn’t the music good?

I couldn’t tell you how I responded.

Anyway, Tommy is taken home. Cleaned up. And then they need another sitter.

“Do you think it’s all right…”


And of course, it’s Uncle Ernie. 

And roughly two nanoseconds after he cracks a raw egg into a pint of ale and downs it before pulling on sweaty red rubber gloves, I am done.

This time, there is no protest, or attempt to turn it back over.

And, you know, when I finally got to finish the movie (not at fifteen, or nineteen, both of which I had to abort at the same point, unable to make it past Uncle Ernie and his heavy breathing, but finally in my mid twenties), it turned out that I’d bailed at pretty much the moment of maximum discomfort. From that point, the narrative turns, with Tommy’s discovery of pinball and eventual cure, and while you couldn’t fairly call it a happy ending, it’s never quite as bleak, as menacing, as fever-dream terrifying as the moment his parents walk out of the room and leave young Tommy alone with wicked Uncle Ernie.

But as a kid, I couldn’t know that. So I bailed, and I left Tommy in that room. And I think somehow, in my mind, because of that, Tommy is always in that room - trapped within himself, helpless, at the mercy of a horror of a man, a creature without empathy, only dark appetites.

There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.

<![CDATA[Deceit And Betrayal’s Bitter Fruit]]>Sat, 10 Sep 2016 23:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/my-life-in-horror/deceit-and-betrayals-bitter-fruit
"Trigger warning: This post contains vivid descriptions of the events of September 11th 2001. If you'd rather not read it , I fully understand."
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. 
This is not history. This is not journalism. This is not a review.
This is my life in horror.
Deceit And Betrayal’s Bitter Fruit

I’ve recently entered my 23rd year of life on planet Earth. I’m working on a temporary contract basis for a public sector employee, in an office in a decent sized building on a sizable complex of similar large buildings. I mean, large by UK standards - not high, but spread out.
My duties are menial and clerical, but I’m learning the ropes - an understanding of the mechanics of office politics, building up basic skills, asking smart questions.
The usual.
I’d graduated to having my own PC, I remember that - with internet access. This being the public sector 15 years ago, it wasn’t great - prone to running slow, and some sites becoming inaccessible if they were too popular - BBC Sports pages often failed to load completely during big Wimbledon matches, for example.
I’m pretty sure I’d been cured of my Marilyn Manson bulletin board fever by that point - a sudden radical redesign and shift of server, coupled with the total loss of the old archive, had severely dented my enthusiasm - but knowing me, I was probably still finding ways to use it to be obnoxious to born again Christians and soforth. I was that kind of kid. Thank goodness Facebook wasn’t yet a thing, and anonymous handles still the norm. Cringe.
This particular day, my memory is that I was doing the mail. Probably slowly. Probably while surreptitiously surfing/reading something. It was my way.
“A plane has crashed into the World Trade Centre.”
It’s a co-worker. He’s a nice guy - approaching middle age, balding, carrying too much weight and starting to worry about it, getting into diets and exercises. He’s got a nice line in sarcastic humor, but the warm kind, if you can dig it. Not cruel. He voice isn’t especially urgent. I make some response. Some expression of non-committal sympathy/concern. It doesn’t seem like a big deal. I recall a small four or six seater hitting the Empire State building a few weeks back. Bad news for those in the plane of course, but in the grand scheme of things…
I carry on opening mail, sorting letters into piles.
There’s a TV on in the room next door. At some point, someone says “Have you seens this?”. I look up. The office is mostly empty, and as I turn, I can see they are all in the room next door, staring at the TV screen. I have absolutely no inkling that it’s any kind of a big deal, but I figure there’s some interesting footage - maybe someone caught the moment of impact.
I don’t know, truthfully, why I got up and went in. I suspect, at bottom, if I’m really being honest, it was probably just about getting time away from my desk.
And, I mean, straight away, something’s wrong. There’s a gaping, smoking hole near the top of the tower in the centre of the shot. It’s huge, gigantic. Whole floors have been obliterated. The black smoke is belching out of the stricken building, staining the sky around. The commentators are talking. Something about a passenger jet. Which, of course, it’s got to be a jumbo, the size of that hole…
Other people around me are talking. Themes include expressions of shock, incomprehension. I can no longer recall individual statements, only sentiments. My mind is too busy locked down, grappling. Unable to compute. It has to be an accident. A terrible, terrible accident. It has to… but modern planes, the safety features, how is that even… Did the pilot go crazy? Did something malfunction? My God, the passengers. My God the office workers. Shit, the World Trade Centre is on fire. The evacuation, there must be thousands, tens of thousands… How do you even control a fire like that?
And underneath, the real paralysis. The thing that’s keeping me rooted to the spot, ignorant to what the people around me or the people on the TV are saying: This isn’t right. This can’t be right. This can’t be happening.
That’s the moment I see the second plane hit.
It’s a moment of perfect nightmare. Fast, but not too fast. Blink, and you still wouldn’t have missed it. There’s a second and a half of a perfectly ordinary object - a passenger jet - incongruously, impossibly close to another iconic yet mundane item - the World Trade Centre.
And then the plane vanishes, and there’s a gigantic explosion.
It’s not like a movie. It’s… I can’t explain why, but it isn’t. It’s too fast, for one. The fireball is enormous. It rolls up the side of the tower, pushing up a black mushroom of smoke above it. The commentators, in the room and on the set, mid sentence, just… stop.
The caption sits there, red on black - plane crashes into world trade centre. But it’s already wrong. Badly wrong. It’s not one plane, it’s two. And it’s not a crash.
My mind really starts to reel now. I mean, unravel. Some kind of massive system failure? Some skynet/delayed millennium bug from hell? It was a passenger jet. This shouldn’t be possible. I’m seeing it, and I’m not doubting the evidence of my eyes, but at the same time, I simply cannot square it with my understanding of reality.
The order of events fractures for me, now. At some point I returned to my desk, staring into space. I go to the UK version of the CNN website, after realising the UK sites would be hopelessly jammed. I remember missing planes being reported, more hijackings. An unknown number. Ten planes. Four. Two. Six. No one knows anything. Then another impossible flash - The Pentagon has been hit by a third plane. I feel like that HAS to be wrong. I go back into the TV room, and it’s there too - no pictures yet, but it’s in the text alert at the bottom of the screen. It has to be wrong. It isn’t wrong. I remember - distinctly, I remember this moment, in a day of utter dazed confusion - thinking to myself when is this going to end? IS this going to end?
The post sits on my desk, forgotten. I’m glued to the TV now. The commentators repeat the same infuriatingly vague facts over and over again. The phrase ‘of course, it’s too early to say…’ a fucking mantra to what’s starting to feel like the beginning of the end of the fucking world. The Pentagon, from the sky, more smoke, grey and black. At last, they cut away, to interviews with people being evacuated, those who have made it out of the burning towers. A specific woman comes to mind - a black woman in a business suit, shaking her head, talking clearly, but obviously in shock, saying ‘I was here last time, in ‘93. I ain’t never going back in there.’ that last over her shoulder as she walks away from the building. The streets are full of emergency vehicles, and a stream of people walking away. The main shot that the cameras keep returning to, though, the image that already feels like the iconic image of the day, the one that’ll haunt us for years to come, that iconic, immortal skyline, and the two towers with gaping, smoking holes. My mind races - Dad’s in Hong Kong, do I know anyone else who could even be out there? But mainly, there’s this horrible feeling of dislocation - of wheels spinning but gaining no traction. What the fuck is going on? How is this happening? Why? Experts fill the air with noise, signifying nothing. Nobody knows. Reports of two explosions at the Pentagon now. How many planes are still missing? Bush is saying probable terrorist attack.
This is the point I remember feeling this sickening level of dread. Two planes still unaccounted for. The White House? Could that really happen? The House of Representatives? The UN?
When is this going to be over? Is it going to just keep happening?
And as I stare at Manhattan, numb with shock, too perplexed to yet feel the enormous fear lurking just under the incomprehension, the impossible happens. One of the towers is no longer there. The wall of white smoke is massive, blanketing the whole island. The coverage is now chaotic, the whole island from a wide shot enveloped in white smoke, while the black smoke pours from the top of the remaining tower.
Coherent thought breaks down completely. I don’t faint, or sit down, or drop anything, but something fundamental in my mind just gives out. I’m left simply absorbing without thought. It feels totally unreal. It feels hyper real. I can’t stop staring at the long shot of the city, shrouded in this billowing, organic looking shape, what I later come to understand is several million tons of concrete dust. That’s a real city, those are enormous buildings disappearing into that thick fog. That’s fucking New York.
The commentator is asking about the evacuation - they had an hour from the first hit, how did they do? They’re calling the collapse a ‘third explosion’ - totally unable to understand what has just happened. The replays start happening, the repetition of What We Know So Far, and it’s basically Fuck All with a side helping of It’ll Take Some Time To Unpick, and all I can think is that impossible things are happening on my TV news. Ground level footage, the cloud rolling down the street like something Old Testament bad - the camera angle going crazy as the person filming remembers they are not in a movie and hauls ass. The aerial shots of the remaining tower, that hole still belching smoke, still looking like something unreal, a tear in the fabric of reality, some alternate world impinging on our own, Blair talking on the left panel as the second plane strikes on the right, again and again, familiarity making it seem more unreal, not less, with each loop. Then it’s eyewitnesses, talking about the collapse, the plane hitting, the evacuation, running. Fifty thousand people.
And the smoking tower. The Live banner. Most of all, that. Live. As in, happening. Now.
I stay glued to the screen, the circulating commentary rolling over me. Time feels slippery. I’ve been watching ten seconds, ten minutes, ten hours. People drift in and out of the room. They say things to each other. I’m not listening. I’m dimly aware that I am sweating.
I don’t remember if I saw the second tower fall as it happened. There’s a way in which it didn’t matter - by the time I finally crawled into bed that evening, for a fitful night of mainly not sleeping, I’d seen it dozens of times. I remember going home, turning on the news, and just sitting in front of the TV, mesmerised. I called in sick for the rest of the week. I was living with my father at the time, and he was as previously mentioned on holiday (later, he’d tell me when he heard the news that the towers had fallen, he simply knew it was wrong, had to be - ‘I’d been up them. They were as solid as an object can be’). I picked up newspapers the next day, knowing I’d want them. I got to the newsagents late enough that I could only grab The Sun, The Mirror, and the Mail (who went, of course, with ‘Apocalypse’ as their one word headline). The papers themselves were already out of date - reporting casualty rates of up to fifty thousand, when we already knew it was, by some miracle, a fraction of that. Similarly, militant Palestinians were already out of the frame as far as likely perpetrators.
But mainly, I just watched the twenty four hour news channels. Not believing it was over. Feeling, somehow, that this inexplicable horror, this carnage from a clear blue sky, was the new normal. Like I’d slipped out of the world I knew into a nightmare realm of arbitrary and random destruction and mayhem. So many nightmares, those following weeks, always variations of the same - hearing a noise, leaving the house, and seeing jumbo jets plummeting into the city, or being in a skyscraper, and suddenly seeing a plane filling my field of vision from the window, impossibly big.
I was a continent away. I didn’t lose anyone - in fact, as far as I know, I don’t even know anyone who did. Maybe that’s no longer true - I have a lot more American friends now than I did then. Of course, 7/7 happened later, and there’s ways in which that hit closer - another office day, another sense of things going horribly wrong, keeping going wrong, and I had friends in the city that day - my father too, actually - all fine, through sheer luck. But like I imagine most who witnessed that day unfold on their TV screen, 9/11 haunts me to this day.
I know it’s not a unique horror. I know there’s whole countries right now, as I type, where civilian populations are huddled together, with little but prayers as shelter from random destruction raining down from the sky. I get that. I do.
I also believe the horror of 9/11 - an evil act, perpetrated by evil people - was exploited by other evil people to pursue evil policies, the poisonous, bitter fruit of which are still ripening
But I also remember the lines around the blocks of people donating blood. I remember the incredible outpouring, of shock, of grief, of solidarity, of shared humanity, from across the globe.
Mostly, though, I remember the shock. The awful realisation that the world was not as I thought it was. The realisation, understood intellectually but now instilled at a gut level, that all the things we imagine to be solid, unyielding, and certain, are incredibly fragile, vulnerable. Most of all, vulnerable.
There’s no cure for that. Safety - all safety - is an illusion.
The world didn’t change on 9/11. Not really. But the lens through which I saw the world did. It’s not a bell that can be unrung.
I’m led to understand it is a realisation you can eventually make peace with.
I look forward to that.
Kit Power 
<![CDATA[MY LIFE IN HORROR: CONTROVERSY CREATES CASH]]>Tue, 16 Aug 2016 07:31:19 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/my-life-in-horror/my-life-in-horror-controversy-creates-cash
In part two of the My Life In Horror Ginger Nuts blog tour, Alex Davis of Film Gutter fame agreed to write about the origins of his own interest in extreme horror cinema. Enjoy, and if you’re interested in my own take on extreme art house horror movie Flowers, you can find my Film Gutter guest blog here.
If you'll forgive me a slight run-up before I get to the 'horror' bit...
That title is, of course, ripped from the autobiography of infamous wrestling promoter Eric Bischoff, who built WCW to the point that it nearly knocked WWF (now WWE) from its perch as the number one wrestling company around. I must admit I've never read the book, but the title has always stuck with me because I feel it applies to two of my loves – wrestling and horror. The most exciting and dynamic time in wrestling in recent years was the so-called 'Summer of Punk' of 2011, in which leading star CM Punk announced he was leaving the company and was allowed to let loose with his infamous 'pipe-bomb' promo. You may or may not appreciate wrestling, but this one cut hugely close to the bone in terms of the real-life politics behind the scenes in WWE and his true feelings on his fellow performers. No acting here, and a speech that caused a massive stir among fans. Check it out and you'll see what I mean... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Ms0DFxpptk

When I was generously invited by Kit to write a piece for My Life in Horror I was a little nervous to do so, because Kit explores so many wider issues for the genre in such a fascinating way. And it took me a while to figure out what I wanted to talk about, and what lay at the centre of my own experience of horror over the years. And that thing is controversy – put simply, I can't help myself being fascinated by and wanting to experience anything that rankles with people, that offends, that causes unease and discomfort. Case in point – I'm watching Frankie Boyle's stand up as I write this.
Anyway, back to my opening point, wrestling folks would tend to agree that controversy creates cash. And I would say the very same holds true for horror, especially when it comes to movies that might have more of an independent outlook. 'Hollywood Horror' as I tend to dub it goes out of its way to avoid controversy, because any kind of stink might mean that the movie gets pulled from theatres, hitting income hard. Besides, many of these are angling for 12 or 15 certificates, so too much controversy would also limit the audience attending.
Now, whether indy and international movies are deliberately seeking out controversy is probably a much larger discussion than I can tackle here. Having watched a lot of extreme movies in my capacity as Film Gutter reviewer, I think some are very much aiming to be shock for shock alone, whereas many that have kicked up a real fuss do have genuine vision, quality and artistic value.
But controversy – undeniably – can help a horror movie greatly. Many indy movies can pass by the press practically unnoticed, but those that have people fainting or throwing up in theatres, offending certain sections of society or having shocking tales from behind the scenes will reach media online and – occasionally – into the mainstream.
And I must admit, controversy has always been a huge draw to me where it comes to a movie. The  minute I hear of something that has caused a storm of anger, outrage and disgust I know that I just HAVE to see it. I can actually track this back to books as a teenager, before I even got into the disturbing horror movies that are my regular fare these days. At college and university I was virtually obsessed with American Psycho, with its wryly humorous look at yuppie life which just happens to include deeply unpleasant episodes of murder and misogyny. The book was accepted for publication initially by Simon and Schuster, who then withdrew from publishing it because of 'aesthetic differences' – which I don't think is too hard to decode – before being eventually picked up by the slightly braver Vintage Books. The column inches grew and grew in that time and I simply couldn't resist taking a read of the book.
There's a lot to like in American Psycho artistically, and Bret Easton Ellis has been a writer of note ever since, a big name in the literary field. I'd argue the same for other books that I loved that promoted various storms – JG Ballard's Crash and Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange – and it's all too often for the artistic merit to get lost in all the noise that goes with such controversy.
Movie-wise, controversy surrounding films is certainly nothing new. Tod Browning's 1932 movie Freaks was banned for three decades, and the 70s were well-renowned for horror movies that received bans, including The Exorcist and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And who could forget the video nasty era here in the UK, that period in the 1980s where the Department of Public Prosecutions targeted 74 horror movies that would 'deprave and corrupt' audiences, even prosecuting people for selling or renting these movies. Even since then, many a film has fallen foul of the censors – some of which I will come to in short order.
One of the unfortunate ironies – for me – in a movie being banned or cut is that it actually has something of an opposite effect to what is intended, because to me it makes it more desirable. And I'm far from alone in that – there is a definite portion of the horror viewing audience that responds to controversy by saying 'you're not going to stop me seeing this' or 'well, I wonder what all that fuss was about?' or 'was it really worth the shitstorm that it stirred up?'
Now I'm two years into Film Gutter, I realise there was a kind of morbid curiosity behind the whole idea. I'd always flirted with some weird and wonderful horror but there was still some sense of wanting to push further, to go to the very fringes, to find out just what people were willing to put on celluloid. And movies that do cause controversy definitely develop a sort of mythical quality – movies like A Serbian Film, Melancholie Der Engel, and Salo are surrounded by a certain air. And in a sense they beg the question – are you brave enough to watch them? Do you dare? Have you got the guts? Some do, some don't. Of course, some just aren't interested, so that question never occurs to them.
One of the things that has always fascinated me about Film Gutter is that a lot of people read the articles without checking out the films themselves. And god bless those of you reading who do! But that's a testimony in itself to the lure, the mystique, the unusual magic that surrounds these controversial movies. We are, in modern society, fascinated by the idea of watching people's reactions, often at the expense of watching what they are reacting to. Much of this started on YouTube – with gamers' reactions to horror games being a huge hit – but if you look at TV, Gogglebox is a prime example of this. We're as interested in what people say about something as what the thing actually is. And while I know Film Gutter readers who will go out and buy or rent the movies they like the sound of, I feel like many people just want to get a sense what my reaction is, in a way vicariously watching the movie with me. The most popular reviews over the last two years are the ones that have absolutely horrified me – Thanatomorphose and Vase De Noces chief among them – which is a thought that always makes me smile. But I understand, and I empathise. I can't help but enjoy watching someone on Youtube playing a horror game ending up jumping out of their skin and crying, so I very much share that feeling and that sentiment.
The extreme horror scene will, of course, continue to bring controversy going forward. You look at movies like The Bunny Game – still banned in the UK, starring two non-actors and featuring  women being genuinely (voluntarily) branded – and The Vomit Gore Trilogy, which required disclaimers from the actresses involved saying that they were willing participants in the features, are prime examples of films that have pushed boundaries. And I couldn't finish without mentioning one of my very favourite trilogy of movies, The Human Centipede, which emerged with an awful lot of focus on that ass-to-mouth, feeding one to the other with human faeces angle. Such controversy! And so much coverage that came with it! As a horror fan, loathe it or love it, there's no way you could have missed it. The second and third movies pushed the boat out even further, with part two receiving extensive cuts from the BBFC. To quote the man behind the centipede himself, Mr Tom Six: “I never censor myself. Because in art and in film you have to push boundaries and explore new territories.”
My life in horror might have started like many other people's, but it's certainly taken me down a pretty unusual road since then – I suppose that following the controversy has taken me more than a little off the beaten track...
Alex Davis 

Read Kit Powers excellent account of his Film Gutter cherry popping here 

<![CDATA[MLiH:  GEORGE LEA TAKES A STROLL THROUGH HIS VIDEO GAME HISTORY ]]>Wed, 10 Aug 2016 09:02:42 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/my-life-in-horror/mlih-george-lea-takes-a-stroll-through-his-video-game-history
My Life In Horror is doing something different for the next three months, as I undertake a blog tour of Gingernuts, and invite fellow ‘nutters to write their own My Life In Horror stories. 
This month’s My Life In Horror is brought to you by fellow Gingernut columnist George  Lea. In this guest post, he talks about his own childhood encounters with the horror game genre that shaped his fascination with this form. Enjoy - and go check out his other work when you’re done, because he’s brilliant.
And if you are interested, you can see my guest column writing about horror video game The Binding Of Isaac here.
Fear is an odd phenomena...as idiosyncratic in its way as attraction, aesthetic appreciation...for my part, I am often as surprised by what inspires the sensation as I am by the people I find myself romantically or sexually attracted to; the subjects often having no relevance to whatever abstracts or projections I have in my own head. It is very often the case that, whereas a work billed as “horror,” which others seems to respond to on that basis and in appropriate kind, arouses nothing in me save a faint indifference or even (as is often the case) humour, works not ostensibly intended to inspire dread or disturbance or terror do so, thanks to strange (and entirely incidental) associations of image, sound and atmosphere.
I can bring to mind various examples from throughout media: as a child, a particular episode of Thomas the Tank Engine in which Thomas crashes into a set of buffers at the end of a side-line; owing to the strange way in which the shot is composed, it looks for all the world as though Thomas is going to plunge into a vast, gaping pit beyond the television screen, or certainly did to my child self's eyes; certainly enough to arouse sweats and tremors whenever the episode ran. A particular scene in the rare but fondly remembered Rankin Bass animated film, The Flight of Dragons; a grainy, black and white flashback in which one of the characters recounts an attack by “The Ogre of Gormley Keep” upon the inn where our protagonists are sleeping; something about the way in which the Ogre himself is presented...never seen, save in incidental, almost subliminal details -a flash of luminous eyes, the clump of a wooden leg, a pale, taloned hand reaching through a collapsing wall to pluck up characters while they sleep-, the sheer shock and violence of the attack distressing, what my child's imagination made of the Ogre itself far more frightening than the fairly goofy, cartoonish entity he turns out to be...
It's perhaps a strange statement for someone who actively works in the field of horror; who produces what he considers to be horrific and disturbing material, but you cannot pre-empt audience response: you can never determine how audiences are going to react or what to.
That goes doubly for children, whose minds and imaginations are not quite so limited by conditioned or expected response.
Some of my fondest memories as a child revolve around what would -ostensibly- be considered horror films, stories and video games; material that was always available and that was never forbidden from accessing. As such, I have sentimental attachments to the likes of Alien, Predator, The Evil Dead, Hellraiser, Poltergeist and others far too numerous to recount. Very, very few evoke the sensations of dread, repulsion or disturbance that others report; instead, I find myself fascinated by their imagery, their atmospheres, their sheer, macabre imagination.
Video games did not come until much later, by which time I had already consumed so much of what would become considered as quintessential horror cinema and become somewhat familiar with its tropes and beats, its themes and formats.
At this point, video games themselves were still in their infancy, my first system the clunky -but very fondly remembered- Commodore Amiga, the smell and sound of which still evokes very strong associations.
Located in an extremely cold upstairs room in our house, I would spend long evenings bent over the keyboard, gripping the joystick or manipulating the mouse, attempting to master video games that were, unbeknownst to me at the time, so poorly designed or implemented as to be next to unbeatable. These were also, being the earliest examples of the medium I experienced, some of the most immersive and impressive I have experienced, their crude, two dimensional environments, their constantly cycling, parallax scrolling backgrounds, their limited sprites and effects, all indelibly etched into memory.
This raises the subject of an associated fascination: the influences that inform imagination, assumptions of personality, of thought, of how mind operates with reference to itself. I am perpetually obsessed by this notion; returning again and again to images and influences from my childhood, adolescence and adult past, not out of nostalgia or sentiment, but in order to trace the threads of influence and association that have rise to the state of my present imagination. This concept is inextricably bound to horrific subjects, in that they are some of the first and most consistent I have experienced, that I seek out and have developed appetite for; certainly those that move and unsettle me most profoundly.
Crude as they were, and in its infancy as the medium was, actual, deliberate “horror” was actually rather rare (at the time, video games were still very much seen as children's toys, so examples of adult subject matter were rare indeed).
One of the earliest specimens I can recall, a side-scrolling platform affair entitled Wolf Child, drew a little on certain horror concepts, the player character being a werewolf, the enemies he faced various forms of inter-spliced human and animal (I particularly recall the insect infested temple on the third level; more on that later). Whilst not overtly horrific, there was something to the overall design of the levels, monsters and the atmosphere evoked by the soundtrack- a certain, uncanny ominousness that sent chills up the spine. Whilst incredibly crude, even by the standards of many titles of the time, I recall being simultaneously captivated and distressed by the strange environments, the layers of background, having little notion then that they were created things, and therefore finite.
In particular, the dusk-lit forest of the second level, whose depths and shadows still exist; still cast themselves across my consciousness, obsess my creative imagination (that same wood has recurred again and again in my own fiction, often as a metaphysical space; a realm of collective human dream and nightmare). I recall wanting to walk there, wondering if it was possible; febrile and obsessive imagination pouring itself into those inert and two dimensional depths, making them more, crafting whole worlds of them (a few consistent nightmares spent there, in my early childhood), and the third level; the insect infested temple. Again, incredibly crude, by current standards, but the layers of maggots, beetles, flies, cockroaches coating every surface, the hybrids of men and spiders, men and beetles, men and ants that were the most consistent enemies...as a child, I could not help imagining what it would be like to walk there; to hear them chittering in the walls, feel them falling from the ceiling, crunching underfoot...again, images and concepts that recur, throughout my own work, and are sure to obsess me if I find some echo of them in others.
Though, as previously mentioned, the Amiga and its contemporaries boasted few examples of out and out horror, they did exist: barring Ridley Scott's seminal Alien, my first exposure to the art of H.R. Giger (an obsession which sustains to this day) came via the video game Darkseed. Whilst likely to inspire more laughter these days than genuine distress, at the time, I'd never, never encountered all out horror in a video game before, the effect one that made me afraid to leave the “computer room” door open of a night, for fear of what might be lurking out on the landing, that made me shudder and stampede my way down the stairs, even with the lights on, never looking back, images of H.R. Giger's bizarre and Hellish, bio-mechanoid monstrosities writhing behind my eyes.
More than infantile fright, the game disturbed, an experience I have rarely found, in any medium; a bizarre and, to many, masochistic obsession; the psychological equivalent of picking at a scab until it goes sceptic. It didn't concern me that, when night came, the darkened corners of familiar rooms would fill with ithyphallic entities, that my skull became a breeding ground for them, insulated from the light. In point of fact, it was Darkseed, along with a number of other works consumed and obsessed over at around the same time (very, perhaps obscenely, young; around six or seven years of age) that made me realise not only my appetite for such matter, but my own imagination's propensity to create it. That phenomena became a driving imperative that has informed so much of my existence, so much of what I preconceive of myself and project concerning what I want to be. The Freudian nightmares sired by Darkseed and my subsequent fascination with Giger's work in general resonate still, in my work, in moments of idle imagination; here and now, if I close my eyes.
Harlequin, an obscure but significant game from the now defunct Gremlin studio, notable at the time and throughout the era for games that strained against the parameters of their format in terms of concept, art design, ambition. Harlequin is arguably he most significant example of that on the Amiga; one whose design and concept would not be out of place on the (post) modern market, serving as a kind of illegitimate antecedent to the likes of American McGee's Alice series:
As a child, I found myself as fascinated by the concept of the game as the game itself: the story of the eponymous, “Peter Pan” like protagonist, the game is set in Chimerica; the crumbling, dream-like state of Harlequin's abandoned, childhood world; the realm of his own imagination, where he was born, where he was raised; which he abandoned upon ascension to adulthood, and to which he has returned to find it decayed, diseased and crumbling. The object of the game is to traverse a variety of bizarre and highly stylised levels to find the shattered pieces of Chimerica's broken heart, thus restoring the state to its former vitality.
Referencing everything from Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz to popular TV, toy franchises and other video games, Harlequin is, beneath its fairly standard platforming mechanics (not to mention its inevitable frustrations), a meditation on the nature of imagination; a game that strains to be more than a game at a time when many did not; when the technology was, perhaps, not the equal of its vision.
Nevertheless, there is something about the state and style of the game; the truly bizarre, surreal landscapes and enemies, the sense of infestation and corruption, that is extremely distressing, again, in the same vein as American McGee's Alice, which the game echoes thematically, stylistically...even narratively, in certain respects. As a child, the game fascinated me; though it proved far, far too complex for me to make more than a few screens progress in, I would spend hours exploring Chimerica's early realms in search of the switches and puzzles that would alter the landscape, that would open doorways or provide access to new, more distressing depths.
Again, there is little ostensibly or deliberately distressing in the game; rather knowledge of its context and back story, the sheer strangeness of it, was often enough to elicit strange shudders; a sense of dread and tension that did not war with eagerness or obsession, but was part and parcel of that experience.
The game was also notable in that it often broke its own rules; the levels rearranging or transforming in certain key ways when particular switches were activated, often in manners that proved distressing or disturbing to my then young and pupating sensibilities: I particularly recall a moment in which, having traversed several levels in and come to a dead end, I back-tracked to the second stage, which consisted of an assault course through Chimerica's interior clockworks. A sudden shudder and gasp made me clench the joy-stick, jolting back in my chair: in a space that was previously suspiciously empty, an immense, mechanical face, mouth gaping: what I later found to be the access way to a lower level (“The Throat of the Machine,”) but, at the time, an object of profound distress, genuine fear.
Games like Harlequin are profoundly etched into my memory; their visuals, their atmospheres, their soundtracks: they were, arguably, the early fuel for my imagination; works that still resonate throughout my fiction and lend a certain degree of context to it. Various forms and derivatives of “Chimerica” certainly occur throughout; internal worlds that have (or come to have) some degree of objective reality; that become more real than reality. Harlequin I also attribute as informing much of my aesthetic tastes in video games and other mediums; its feyness, its abstraction, its surreal qualities, not enormously removed from the likes of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere or Clive Barker's Weaveworld; both works that I later came to adore.
Later, when I first began to explore the 16-bit video game consoles, one of my earliest experiences was of Ecco the Dolphin, on the Megadrive. A strange, strange game, both conceptually and in terms of application; one that did not fit into any standard genre (elements of RPG, elements of action adventure, elements of puzzle solving, survivalism...) and whose tone was distinctly “adult” in nature, from the melancholic resonance of the soundtrack to the Giger-inspired imagery of the later levels. What I retain most distinctly from my experience of this game are reactions of shock and strange dread brought about by the sudden appearance of sprites and enemies on screen, but also the sudden shifts in scale that would occur: entities such as “The Big Blue” (not an enemy, but an immense blue whale that would aid the eponymous Ecco on his travels), “The Asterite,” “The Vortex Queen” and numerous others so removed from the smaller sprites that predominate the playing fields, their sudden emergence often provoked sensations of shock and sustained dread. The aforementioned “Vortex” aliens (heavily inspired by H.R. Giger designs) are emblematic of how much more “adult” the imagery and content of Megadrive games of the era generally were in comparison to their Super Nintendo equivalents, the creatures distressing not only in terms of their design but the manner in which they move across the playing field.
Another Megadrive title of the era that inspired similar sensations was the peculiarly entitled Gynoug (Wings of Wor in the United States): ostensibly a simple, hum-drum side-scrolling shooter, the game distinguishes itself by foregoing the usual, R-Type or Gradius style space ships and aliens in favour of an angel player model fighting against hordes of demonic and satanic entities, many of which are directly derived from genuine occult imagery and lore. Being a rabid consumer of such material as a child, I recognised certain elements instantly, the sense of familiarity doing nothing to diminish my disturbance: the game is replete with macabre and sinister images, enemies that are notably graphic and gory for the era and levels that are likewise monstrously distressing (the most hideous of all manifested in the final stage; a shifting Hell scape of living flesh, as though the player is flying through the entrails of some monstrous beast, the enemies faced there the most distinctly demonic of all: flayed, fire-spitting torsos, skinless witches, tumescent fusions of suffering faces and intertwined bodies). I recall distinctly our reactions to such material at the time; a simultaneous sense of dread and fascination; a feeling as though the material was forbidden, and would taint us, should we continue to play (we may have even come up with games and stories based on that very notion).
Not that Sega had the monopoly on fright or disturbia, of course: despite being ostensibly aimed at a much younger market here in the West, the Super Nintendo also had its fair share of darker titles, one of which I have already discussed at length hereabouts: Super Metroid: a game that distinguishes itself on the system for its moody, Alien-inspired science fiction horror stylings. It is evident from the opening screen that this is something different; something peculiar to the Super Nintendo: a muted, throbbing, ominous score, brief flashes of a scene of carnage; a laboratory, dead and mutilated bodies on the floor...a zoom out to the titles, the eponymous alien whistling and pulsating at the heart of the carnage.
As a child, I'd rarely seen anything like this in video games, let alone a Super Nintendo title; it gripped me so profoundly, I would find myself distracted by echoes and imaginings of it at school, whilst at dinner, playing with friends or action figures...the world simultaneously obsessed and terrified; one of the most expansive, beautifully designed on the system, but also one of the most surprisingly ominous, vast labs and alien citadels sharing space with infested, subterranean caverns, great lakes of lava, collapsing temples, jungle-scapes and sunken mine works. For a game so ostensibly simple in terms of its rendering, the atmosphere is as dense as any you will find on the system or any other of the era, enhanced by incredible environmental effects and a soundtrack that is still beloved to this day. Certain images and set-pieces still echo in my memory: the brilliant, pregnant pause in an early screen, in which Samus, the player character, finds herself sealed inside a room with no obvious means of exit, the only other element a static “chozo” statue...which starts to crack and crumble, a mummified entity emerging from within, the score escalating as it attacks...the eerie darkness and phantasmal shades of the crashed, alien space freighter, the ghosts of its dead crew appearing out of nowhere to sap your energy...a boss creature whose surreal design (a swollen, jelly-fish like body, a single eye buried in the red raw depths of its tooth-lined mouth) disturbs doubly owing to its insubstantial, ghostly nature. The game was and remains a sheer joy to experience; one of few that sustains beyond nostalgia, and is still inspiring, atmospheric and distressing, even to (post) modern eyes.
Being the earliest, there are so many experiences from this era that I could recount; so many that made their marks: the first level of Myth: History in the Making, in which our murdered protagonist finds himself waking in Hell, amongst the skeletal forms of the damned, the last stage of Turrican 2, shamelessly inspired by Giger and the then prominent Alien films; the soundtrack consisting of little more than a throbbing heartbeat, gruesome moans and yammers, the original Alien Breed, whose soundtrack is still terrifying to this day...but, for the sake of sanity, let's move on a few generations:
I could talk about so much over this period; an adolescence that I shared with the medium of video gaming itself, its content and subject matter becoming more adult and ambiguous as I did...I could wax lyrical on discovering Resident Evil, the first game that truly had the ethos of playing an interactive horror movie, and that aroused in me notions of just how powerfully immersive video games could be (not to mention how utterly terrifying). I could talk about Shadowman and its beautifully nihilistic metaphysics (Deadside, an after-life that is inescapable; neither Heaven nor Hell, merely a decayed and eternal wasteland where all souls are condemned when they die), the anti-hero parables of The Legacy of Kain, the incredible tension plumbing the ancient, subterranean temples of Tomb Raider (the first glimpse of the Lost Valley's Tyrannosaurus Rex barrelling towards you out of the draw-distance...), the subtler, more obscure disturbia of Sanitarium, D or Clocktower.  I might even go into depths about those I missed first time around (Silent Hill, Half Life, Parasite Eve), not discovering or learning my own appetite for until much later than the general populace.
But one title from these latter days (that strange, transitional space between school and university, in which I had no idea what I was or wanted) resonates beyond all others; one that remains largely unsurpassed in terms of its impact; the lessons it taught and continues to teach concerning the evocation of dread, disturbance and sheer horror:
System Shock 2. Like Super Metroid, a game I have spoken about before at length around these parts, but which bears revisiting here: At this point in my life, I had sat down and begun to “seriously” write; entering into those putative stages in which aspiring writers discover their own voices, routines and habits; in which perpetual failure weeds out those without the stomach for self-autopsy. System Shock 2 was one of my key influences during this period; like Weaveworld with regards to literature, System Shock 2 re-defined my perceptions (and assumptions) of the possible when it comes to horror in video games:
Never, ever before have I reacted so viscerally whilst in the midst of play; the start-ship Von Braun is one of the most tense, terrifying virtual arenas I have ever wandered. A significant part of its sheer genius lies in its immersive nature: this does not feel like a “video game” environment, in which areas are structured with regards to player convenience or to present obstacles: it feels like a space designed for human beings to operate in, from the myriad conveniences such as bathrooms, vending machines, shops and social areas to the maintenance tunnels, shuttle hangars, cargo bays etc, the Von Braun has a degree of verisimilitude that belies its video game nature. As such, a certain degree of distance dissolves between player and situation: one of the biggest problems with immersion in video games before this (Resident Evil being a conspicuous example) were the elements that were notably and unmistakeably “video game” in nature (e.g. silliness such as having to find different coloured diamonds to activate a key system to find an item that would provide access to this part of the manor etc). This served to dilute any emotional reaction the player or audience might have.
System Shock 2, despite being graphically crude, even at the time of its release, does everything in its power to forego this, taking pains to justify every “video game” element or imperative within its own environment, making factors such as having to find key-cards or components for certain machines a dynamic part of its setting. This degree of immersion, combined with the fact that enemies can (and often do) appear from anywhere, can follow the player or wander through doors, between different areas etc, makes every step gruelling; every opening door a matter of breath-stealing tension.
I recall a distinct and addictive sensation of reluctance throughout my first play through of the game; not knowing what lurked behind the next door or what that sound was in the distance, in the darkness below or above. The rawness and intensity of the sensation often meant that I had to stop for breaks whilst playing, to catch my breath, to settle my nerves; often saving and returning later, for fear of burning myself out.
Conceptually, the game is also disturbing and magnificent: concepts of parasitic aliens invading and reforming human flesh; undoing our preconceptions of humanity, of life itself...creatures that are as seductive in what they offer as they are horrific in its realisation...an ambiguity that I have come to adore in any horrific material: monsters that demonstrate not the horror or repulsion of their conditions, but the strange allure it exercises: though, as the player, you have little choice in the matter (a shame, as a choice system would have propelled this game into cosmic heights of brilliance), you consistently come across (fantastically written and voice acted) audio-logs of various crew members, many of whom are infected with the parasitic “annelids,” and who describe the experience as metaphysical as well as biological; the transformations of their minds and bodies, whilst often painful and distressing, also wondrous, their perceptions of beauty and desire altering as their flesh does, some coming to embrace “The Many,” as the parasites collectively refer to themselves, entirely, whereas others fight the infection and its seductions to the point that they go mad with it or commit suicide attempting to remove it.
That degree of ambiguity; the strange contrast between attraction and repulsion, has always obsessed me, in film, in literature and certainly in video games. System Shock 2 represents one of the few times it has been so overt; in which I have genuinely engaged with the subject matter to such an intense and unwavering degree. I recall being so immersed in the gaming world that the “real” would often recede, becoming blurry and indistinct. This is a consistent factor in all media that exercises such fascination; a potentially dangerous space in which notions of reality dissolve and sluice together, in which the imagined and  actual lose some degree of distinction.
Needless to say, the game had and still has a profound effect in my own imagination; its imagery, its atmosphere, still tangible in memory, still exercising its influence: reading over recently produced work, I can still see its echoes, as I can those of myriad other influences.
American McGee's Alice: Another title that is not necessarily one of “horror” per se, but which revolves around the central conceit of taking the familiar (Alice in Wonderland,  story whose imagery is now so etched into cultural consciousness that even those who have never read the books know them off by heart) and emphasising their disturbing implications; along with System Shock 2, one of my earliest experiences of PC gaming, again, a matter of minor obsession; what could have so easily bee a fairly hum-drum action platformer rendered profound, distressing and emotionally engaging by its imagery (every element of the original books twisted and transformed; leant a degree of scintillating, schizophrenic wit). A game that immersed and disturbed from the first frame to the last; whose imagery and atmosphere echoed many that had gone before, but also whose symbolic nature influenced and informed the manner in which I write; the nature of the stories I produce: as in Alice, my own stories are often ambiguously psychological: matters of the eye turning inward, to the abstract, the game providing an example of how that can manifest and be told with wit and subtlety; through visuals and implication, rather than flat out explanation. A beautiful aesthetic experience, if nothing else, Alice still resonates profoundly in my mind to this day, particularly the obscenely beautiful “Queen of Heart's Land,” the final section of the game, in which the kingdom of the Queen of Hearts has been rendered anatomically; as an extension of the monarch herself; pillars of bone, towers of raw and pulsing flesh, arterial and intestinal corridors, all leading to the core of corruption and madness: The Queen of Hearts, who manifests Alice's every neurosis.
The recent efflorescence of horror and disturbia in independent video games has provided arguably some of the most intensely emotional and engaging experiences the medium ever has; the raw paranoia evoked by the likes of Five Nights at Freddy's, Slender,  Amnesia and Soma, the metaphor and symbolism of works such as Limbo, I'm Scared, Lone Survivor amongst others...it is truly something of a renaissance era, the monstrous, the grotesque, the densely and unsettlingly atmospheric, available in so many forms, so many formats; more than enough to satisfy and inspire every appetite.
For my part, I am obsessed with those titles that breed obsession; that do for others what earlier, cruder titles did for me: engage and ignite imagination, potentially seeding the next generation go creators: the inspired souls of tomorrow.
It's a fascinating exercise -some might argue an impossible one- attempting to discern what influences shaped one's own state of mind; that kindled and fomented certain consistent images and obsessions within one's own subconscious; the same stuff that rises to the surface when we dream or engage our imaginations. Trawling back over these works has proved a heady, moving and emotional experience; intense in a manner that I actively seek out, and that certainly seek to share. My sincerest hope is that others who read this article feel inclined to do likewise, and find themselves not reinforced, but transformed by the experience; deviant from themselves, in the manner that all art worthy of the description urges.
George Lea
<![CDATA[They’re Coming In For The Kill]]>Thu, 26 May 2016 07:59:55 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/my-life-in-horror/theyre-coming-in-for-the-killIt’s the Free Bird of metal, only tighter, more controlled, less indulgent, not a note wasted, still building, all building, to that final vocal line. The final prayer of a dying man.
Hmm, let’s see. I’m going to guess twelfth birthday, here. Maybe thirteenth, but twelfth feels more likely. Appetite, The Headless Children et al. have sunk their vampire fangs deep into me, and I now shun the sunlight fields of chart pop. No, what my darkened, corrupted soul craves is raw rock and metal, preferably still dripping blood.

Yeah, I was kind of a dick at twelve.


Give my dad credit, he knew he didn’t know. In fact, he probably knew I didn’t know either. So the card simply said ‘IOU one cassette of your choice. Dad.’. 

In the event, it was Grandma that accompanied me on the trip to the high street. That fits. My birthday is in the summer, and summer holidays at dads, Grandma often came up to babysit my sister and I while Dad worked. It really worked out well for all concerned - Grandma got extended time with her grandkids, Dad got to keep working a bit, and my sister and I didn’t end up killing each other. 

So it was Grandma who took me down to the shop. Grandma who stood with infinite patience as I browsed the racks and racks of cassettes, stupefied by the sheer volume of choice. I think it’s possible that, until this moment, I simply hadn’t realised just how much music was out there in the world. The universe of screaming guitars those racks represented, all bearing that hallmark of guaranteed quality - they were in the ‘Metal’ section. 

Oh, to be twelve again.

And, I mean, it must have taken me an hour, easily. They were all racked spine up, so I’d have to pull them out, inspect the covers, put them back. I also wasted a significant amount of time looking at albums I already had C-90 taped copies of, feeling in some obscure way that I should buy one of them, to pay back the copying. But there were a few, and I couldn’t decide which one, and anyway, this was a chance to find something actually new, something mine, not some knock off copy from one of my mates cooler older sibling’s collection. Mine.

So slowly but surely, I replaced Appetite, Lies, FNM Live at Brixton Academy, WASP Live In The Raw. I looked instead for something new - something I’d heard of maybe, but not heard myself. I let a combination of artwork, T-Shirts and patches viewed in the wild, logos scribbled on textbooks, and background word of mouth be my guide.

And eventually, I found it.

I think, even then, I knew it wasn’t actually a new album. It was one of the ‘Fame’ cassette re-issues, so was priced at £4.99 rather than the usual £7.99 or £8.99 for a new release. Nevertheless, it was new to me, and it fit the criteria - amazing cover art, killer band logo, and that background radiation of quality. Grandma payed the man, I took it home - I can still remember the feel of the handles of the tiny, red Our Price bag looped over my wrist, so positioned to avoid any chance of me dropping my precious cargo before I got it back to Dad’s house. As soon as we did get back, I pounded up the stairs, slipped the cassette into the twin deck player (the phrase ‘ghetto blaster’ not having quite made North Devon by 1990) and hit play.

The album won me over by the end of the intro to track one. That staccato drum roll/bass line, then into that racing single note riff, three guitars in sync, dropping into the thrashing verse chords… oh yeah, this is the good stuff. Insane vocal, too. It occurs to me now that I probably had no conception as to how hard this kind of singing is to perform, raised as I had been on a diet of Blackie and Axl, my own voice not yet broken - it probably seemed standard, to me. 

I’d learn.

It’s fair to say I didn’t fully get to grips with the lyrics - riffing off the title, I remember drawing huge stick figure war zones featuring flying saucers and tripods shredding stick figure humanity, which clearly wasn’t quite right. But I got the feel.

The next track had an intro that probably reminded me of Skid Row’s ‘Quicksand Jesus’ - what can I say? Chronology wasn’t my strong point. Nonetheless, it’s powerful stuff - slower, with some ballad-like trappings, the clean guitars in the verses, the deliberate vocal, but in some important way, I could tell it wasn’t a ballad, even before the second chorus dropped into rolling toms and a sinister lyric that brought to mind WASP’s ‘Thunderhead’ - only, you know, actually disturbing as opposed to unintentionally funny.  The guitar solo similarly schools Chris Holmes on playing fast and tight. It’s magnificent, as is the decision not to turn back to the verse or chorus, but instead end on that rolling riff.

Track three’s spoken word introduction went right over my head in terms of context (though I loved quoting it, for some reason), but the pounding drum beat and slow opening riff that descended into what was already becoming a familiar, comforting gallop was masterful, and pulled me right in. And I mean, lyrically, nothing’s going to speak more clearly to an increasingly disaffected almost-teenager than an anthem of defiance, singing about such ill-defined but handsome-sounding notions as freedom and living life how I want to. Glorious.

Things get dirty on the next track, both musically and lyrically. The guitars grind and slice, and the vocal sneers it’s story out. And, I mean, thinking intelligently about prostitution at the age of twelve is probably going to be functionally impossible. Nevertheless, there was something sinister about the music, and the second half of the song, that got to me - that seeded the notion that any ill-defined notions of glamour I might have inadvertently attached to that profession (lord knows where from, but that’s the culture for you, I guess) might not be telling the whole story. And, again, I’m an ‘Appetite…’ kid. ‘Turn around bitch, I got a use for you’ was damn near the funniest thing I’d ever heard in my life. And then here was this song, and sure, the lyric is all saying ‘do what you want’ (at least at first), but it’s increasingly clear this isn’t a glimpse into some kind of ‘Paradise City’, if you will, but an altogether darker, more unpleasant, painful place. Thirty seven year old me could pull it apart gleefully, of course; there’s still a fundamental lack of agency for the female ‘protagonist’, the singer’s fantasy about rescuing the whore and taking her home had been done better nearly a decade earlier by Springsteen in ‘Candy’s Room’, and even as an alleged cautionary tale, it’s shot through with casual misogyny. But you know what? As a piece of storytelling, it did twelve year old me a power of good, in terms of exposing a glimpse of what the reality behind the fantasy might actually look like, feel like. That’s not nothing, and to this day, it’s a song that sits in the gut, uncomfortably, long after the final notes have faded.

Side two. Ah, remember side twos? You kids today don’t know you’re born. I remember when this was all just buildings. And there’s a pretty solid tradition that side two doesn’t stack up to side one. It may not be universal, but it’s not far off. 

No-one told these guys.

The spoken word intro is pure class, of course, and we’re back to another chugging riff/whispered vocal combination. And it’s brilliant - all Hammer horror imagery and gleeful menace, and then the snare rat-a-tat-tats, and we’re off! The gallop is back, loud and proud, melding with near operatic melodies and satanic lyrics. And this may sound odd, but there’s a joyful innocence to it all, somehow - a 12 year olds conception of being controversial. Really, it’s just an exhilarating ride through a carnival ghost house, and exactly as scary  as that sounds - ie, not at all. Great fun though.

And then something very strange happens. 

The kick drum high hat tom hit starts, and suddenly I am six years old. I’m six, and three older children and their mother are living with us at The Farm. The youngest of the older children is thirteen. And he has tapes, and on the tapes are music. Including this song. It’s hypnotising. I’m too young to understand what’s happening, musically, but the high notes and chords and drums combine to make… something. Something that tugs on something in me, in my gut. Something that speaks to some part of me not yet awakened, not yet aware. That sleeping thing inside cannot answer, but it does, briefly, stir in it’s slumber, and I experience that stirring as a flutter in my belly.

Other memories shake loose. The children leave, but I am left a copy of that song that hypnotized me so powerfully. I can recall only the intro, not the song, but the intro is the world to me. It howls like the martians in War Of The Worlds, but there’s something else going on, too, something… starker. More powerful.

The tape degrades, and one day, playing it, that eerie sound distorts, crumbles, then grinds. The cassette player mangles the tape irreparably. I am distraught.

For about ten whole minutes.

Then I forget.

I’m hearing it again, here, now, in May 2016. As I hear it, my memory telescopes - I listen to it in crisp, digital quality, and my mind remembers hearing it on cassette at twelve, the edges a little worn, the sound a little warmer, remembering being five and the sound being souply, foggy, but that intro with the power to transfix, and it reaches back through the decades and holds me again, a child again, suspended at 37, at 12, at 5, in awe all over again at the coincidence, at the vault in the mind that music can open, at the rabbit hole of memory, the fucking pit trap, just waiting for the right collection of sounds to hit your eardrum and send you sprawling over and down.

The bubble holds until the verse riff proper begins, the gallop replacing that ethereal wailing, the brutality of the lyric dragging me back into the pounding present. Clearly, I cannot be objective about this song. Fine. I still maintain it’s fucking awesome. The vocal in particular is insane. There are very few singers in the world that could pull this one off.

The next song is I suppose the nearest the album has to a weak track - though in context, that basically means ‘not quite as good as four other amazing songs and three that could fairly be described as genre defining’, so, you know, praising with faint damnation, basically. The rhythm in the verse riffs is maybe a touch overdone, but the middle eight is magnificent, and the solo is a masterclass of form and control. When they hit a groove, it’s still awe inspiring listening.

It could end there, and it’d be one of the greatest metal albums ever.

It doesn’t end there.

Instead, we have the tolling of the bell, the delicate walkdown riff, the low vocal. It’s funereal, majestic, the link back to Sabbath crystal clear, even as the evolution is also manifest. And when the beat picks up, over that insanely held, rising vocal note, into the structured lead riff, well, pick your cliche - it’s a rocket starting to rise, a dragon lifting off, the beginning of an eclipse.

And in an album that contains nothing but well structured songs, they outdo themselves on this final track. The whole song is one slow build, from opening walk to mid paced nod, guitar parts becoming more urgent, more intricate, dropping back into a high note repeat before a rolling flurry, and at last, at the 4:40 mark, the gallop finally explodes, accompanied by a twin guitar riff that is nothing short of epic. They let the riff play on, all guitars hitting the rhythm, the rolls at the end of the patterns, then back to the lead lick. It’s the Free Bird of metal, only tighter, more controlled, less indulgent, not a note wasted, still building, all building, to that final vocal line. The final prayer of a dying man.

I am twelve years old, and I’ve just learned that ‘The Number Of The Beast’ is best metal album in the world.

I am thirty seven years old, and it’s still right up there.

Up the irons.



Coming to Gingernuts of Horror in June - Summer Of Maiden. To celebrate Iron Maiden’s 2016 headline appearance at Download, and the 30th anniversary of their Somewhere In Time album, sixteen of the world’s hottest horror writers will each be sharing with us their memories of the Iron Maiden album catalogue. This series debuts June 8th, when Adam Nevill will share his thoughts on the self titled first album, and ending 28th September, when Craig T. McNeely will be talking Book Of Souls. There will also be articles from people unfamiliar with the Maiden catalogue, giving their honest reactions to classic albums, and an exclusive interview with former Maiden frontman Blaze Bailey. 

Seventeen weeks. Seventeen albums. Twenty five writers.

Get ready for the Summer Of Maiden.