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 – 25 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.
This Monster That We Call The Earth Is Bleeding
Later this summer, The Purge: Anarchy will make its way to the cinema, and many are already expecting the sequel to the popular 2013 original to be the best new horror film of the year. For my part, however, I was never entirely sure the original was a horror film. It certainly had scares, but conceptually it was almost more of a dark political thriller... I mean, really, it could almost have been tweaked into some kind of twisted sequel to V For Vendetta.
This got me thinking, however, about popular films over the years that have found themselves tossed into the "thriller/horror" or "action/horror" categories, and really there are dozens of examples. Here's my attempt to sort through 10 such examples and separate the true horror films from the genre blends.
1. The Cabin In The Woods (2012)
Let's set this one straight right off the bat: The Cabin In The Woods is more a film about horror films than a horror film itself. Yes, it has its scares (and its laughs), and it was billed as a horror, but it's a sort of meta-satire more than anything else.
2. You're Next (2011)
You're Next was met with mediocre reception. Rotten Tomatoes shows that just 59% of viewers liked the film, and Time Out magazine's review used the phrase "fairly routine brunette-fighting-for-survival stuff" to describe it.
Fair enough, but it's important to remember horror isn't meant to be ground-breaking. It's meant primarily to scare, and often to amuse in appropriate doses. To that end, You're Next accomplishes both feats. Many forget that there's usually a cheeky side to the best horror films—the humour lowers your guard, and the horror attacks—and You're Next respects this process. It's a genuine horror film.
3. The Hills Have Eyes (2006)
I actually count this as an underrated horror film from the past decade. It got decent reviews, but it seems already forgotten. This one is pure scare, pure adrenaline, and pure ghastliness. There's no thriller or mystery aspect; it's just raw horror.
4. Hannibal (2001)
It's been over a decade since Hannibal, and many remember only Anthony Hopkins' brilliantly chilling famous lines. It's easy to remember this film as a horror, but in truth it's more of a psychological thriller. It's designed to puzzle, to intrigue, rather than scare. At Picturebox's movie blog, the site recently covered the film while hosting it for streaming, and the writer focused on the "grace and menace" of the film. The grace is important in categorizing Hannibal, because it's almost too intelligent to be true horror.
5. Shutter Island (2010)
Shutter Island flirts with horror pretty seriously. In the end, it's more of a crime/thriller/drama type, but lengthy dream sequences featuring drowned children and bloodied spouses turning to ash are pretty chilling.
6. The Ring (2002)
Call me crazy, but The Ring is one of the best horror films of a generation. It's one of those films you're scared to admit scared you. There's a cheesiness to it, sure, but its brilliance is in getting you to scoff at it—much in the same way characters in the film scoff at the sinister videotape that seems to lead to everyone's death. A horror film that doesn't flat out demand your respect with roaring chainsaws can often earn it in more subtle ways.
7. Paranormal Activity (2007)
This is more an exploration in "found-footage" filmmaking than anything else, and in the first film, nothing happens for the first hour. It's actually pretty annoying, but because the film is designed only to scare, it has to be classified as horror.
8. Resident Evil (2002)
I'm listing Resident Evil for a very important reason. An IGN review of a Resident Evil game used the headline "Survival Horror vs. Action," and it's important to address the film in a similar context: horror, or action Resident Evil is a combat film, designed for a fast pace and action sequences. Zombies and mutated beings do not automatically equal genuine horror, and in this case it's simply a dark action flick.
9. Saw (2004)
Saw is viewed by many as one of the best horror films of the millennium, though it's also possible to argue that it's more of a psychological thriller. The two can coexist, but I'd lean toward this being a particularly intelligent horror film. Its only purpose is to terrify.
10. World War Z (2013)
I can't believe people are calling this a horror film. As with Resident Evil, zombies and fantasy beings do not automatically equal horror. This is sort of an action film, vaguely a comedy at times, and more than anything an excuse to watch Brad Pitt travel the world for a couple of hours. It's nowhere near horrifying.
It’s June, 1989. I am eleven years old.
It’s towards the ass end of the school term, probably the last week of school before the break, and it’s a glorious summer day in Devon, and no-one, least of all the teachers, gives a shit anymore. The borderline sociopath headteacher that also runs the 10 and 11 year old class with an iron fist has spent most of the last few days holed up in the staff room watching the cricket – if Louise Thompson is to be believed, he stands while watching, a cricket bat in hand, as if he’s invented the Wii sports cricket sim 17 years early, or more likely as though he’s drunk. When I come to leave the school in a couple of weeks, I’ll unaccountably shake his hand, tears not quite held back, in as pure a display of Stockholm Syndrome as you’ll ever see, but right now I’m supremely comfortable and secure in my undying hatred and contempt for him and all he stands for.
If you read my SF book The Black Dog Eats the City, you’ll find yourself superimposed into the lives of four demented male souls stuck in the midst of an introspective nightmare. Wire City is a world without women.
The universe around these characters is unashamedly masculine, a place full of guns, grunting orgasms, perma-stubble, and female objectification. Even the bad guys are romanticised as memetic badasses! You name a masculine trope, I probably went there…
Passages To The Past
In my new novel, Saving Grace Devine, my main character – Alex Fletcher – finds herself cast back to 1912. Clearly my story is a work of fiction, but I have long been fascinated by the concept and reports of timeslips. I have previously written about some famous, allegedly true, occurrences on Bold Street in Liverpool on one of the most visited pages on my blog.
So what causes these doors to the past to open – apparently with such ease? It seems a lot depends on how you view the whole dimension of time. In history, we talk about timelines, assuming time is linear. What is past, stays in the past. The present is where we are now and the future is an unknown country. Yet many eminent scientists, from Einstein to Professor Brian Cox, challenge the finite nature of time and suggest it may be a lot more flexible than we were led to believe at school.
Certainly, an extraordinary number of accounts from seemingly perfectly sane people attest to some very strange experiences that defy conventional explanation. Some may have involved a trigger factor – such as being keenly interested in historical aspects of a particular place. See what you think.