That smoke has a name, and the name is prejudice. And when deployed in this way, it serves only to obscure the truth.
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.
A Tanked Up Mob
It was going to be something else. It was supposed to be something else. Sorry Alex. Sorry Jim. My Life In Horror does Film Gutter will have to wait.
Sorry to you too, dear reader. Not much light in this one. Some, but not much. Too sad. Too angry. Too tired.
I was ten years old when Hillsborough happened. Unlike some earlier and later tragedies, I don't have a vivid memory of the event itself. As I've previously mentioned, my family didn't turn the news off, so I'd have seen it, but I have no immediate memory of the day itself. What I do have is an association of a sense of dread with the name. The very word casts a shadow inside. That kid feeling of Something Bad. I knew Hillsborough was Something Bad. I knew that People Died. Were, in point of fact, crushed. The figure 96 hadn't registered. Nor had the whys and wherefores.
And that anger comes from where all anger always comes from, of course: fear.
There’s a ghost haunting my life in horror. He doesn’t haunt all the entries, but a few. Yes, quite a few. I know a big part of what I’m doing with this monthly column is circling that ghost wearily. Finding ways to talk about him without talking about him. So tonight I’m going to talk about the most disturbing book I’ve ever read. I’m almost certain this will be one of the least read posts of this series, and that’s fine.
I leap to my feet, clapping so hard I can feel the impact right up to my shoulders, and I’m far from alone - there’s people jumping up all around me.
One thing I’ve noticed about this column so far: the articles are pretty evenly split between expressions of joy and horror. This makes sense - I love horror, but at the same time, duh, it’s horrific. And the sheer breadth with which I cast my net when using that term has in itself almost become part of the game at this point. That said, one thing I’ve noticed is that, with very few exceptions, the joy columns outperform the darker ones - sometimes vastly so. With that in mind, and because next month will be one of the darkest yet, let’s go with joy, this time - especially as it’s an unexpected joy, one that all but jumped out at me unawares this week, and left me with a mind still fizzing at the brilliance of it all. It’s the 20th February, 2016, and for my sins I am 37 years of age. I’m at the Dominion theatre in the west end of London, due to a happy accident involving my father scoring some overseas work at short notice and a non-refundable ticket. In attendance is my stepmother. The stage dressing is beautiful. A safety curtain with the name of the show projected onto it prevents any view of the performance area, but the clockwork scrolling up and across the arch, gold effect on red, is gorgeous. And the logo, as we both remark, is pretty iconic. That said, I have to say that overall my expectations are fairly low. For one thing, I have a huge attachment to much of the original cast, and most of them are not in attendance today (and not all of the ones that are will be playing the roles they did previously). For another, well, I basically don’t like musicals. At all. Rock/pop operas, fine, but sing all the time or don’t sing at all is my basic philosophy, mainly because in practice the broadness of the non-singing performances sets my teeth on edge, and I find the transition from one to the other to be not just goofy but actually grating. And no, this isn’t a musical, more like a narrated pop opera, so we’ll probably be fine, but on the other hand, it’s the West End, so they’re probably contractually obliged to have interpretive dance at some point, so blah.
It’s dark. Like at night. No, worse. We’re inside, so no stars, no moon. It’s the true dark of a confined space. To the sides, there’s a faint green glow. Behind, if I were to look, the flickering red pinpoints, burning to yellow with the inhalation. But I probably don’t look. Why would I, when what fills my field of vision is so bright? The screen is enormous. It redefines ‘big’ for me in a way that life probably never tops. I mean, you spend your life looking at square CRT TV screens, and then… then, there’s this! Gigantic, blazing bright, casting everything else into its shadow. And the sound! Rumbling, roaring. You can literally, if it’s the desired effect, hear a pin drop, with crystal clarity. The inside of my mouth is a war zone - the salt of butter popcorn crashing against the sticky sweetness of the 7-up - but my mind is in perfect harmony, every sense bent to the task of absorbing the story playing out in front of me. And it’s not my first rodeo. Jedi was my first. Of that, I remember little that I can place with clarity from that viewing (as opposed to the many tens of times I have seen the film since). Vader’s mask appearing to glower from the screen, dwarfing the whole room with its malevolent presence. Luke’s green lightsaber. The crackle of lightning and fizz of sabers clashing. Little more.
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.
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.
Kill Your Brother. You’ll feel better.
Because here's the thing - sometimes you go back, and it’s bad. Not just ‘not as good as I remember’, not just ‘hasn't aged well’, I’m talking ‘actively god-awful, what the hell was I thinking, now I hate myself and the decade of my youth just a little more than I did before’ bad.
Way back when I talked about the WASP record The Headless Children, I noted how the album kind of broke down into three camps in terms of the individual songs, those camps being ‘actually, that’s still a legitimately good song’, ‘that’s obviously not great but I remember why I liked it’ and ‘how did I EVER think that was an acceptable use of my time?’.
But what to do when an entire movie falls into that final camp? How do you approach it when you have a movie that’s a no-brainer shoe-in for My Life In Horror - a movie that honesty dictates you must include, that was formative and hugely influential on 13 year old you - but also a movie that you saw more recently and detested? Despised? Flat out hated? Disliked it so much you felt ashamed of young you, and the holes in his critical thinking and evaluation so large that a garbage truck like this could be driven through it?
Tonight, I will attempt to provide an answer to that question. Tonight, armed only with a netbook, a bottle of Bulleit Bourbon, a tin Deadwood shot glass, a packet of Tunnock’s Caramel wafer biscuits, and a copy of the movie, I will attempt to channel 13 year old me. Talk to him, but also have him talk through me. Reason with him, in the unlikely event that such a thing is possible. Tonight, I aim to put that little goober straight, whilst also giving him the chance to make his tragically misguided case. A transcript of a commentary track recorded across time, if you will.
It’s the 14th November, 2015, and I’ve awoken from a very private nightmare into a very public one. Once more, a small number of men of violence have transformed a major city centre on a Friday night from a centre of bustling activity, celebration, and drunken idiocy into a blood-bath. I can’t say I’m numb, exactly. Not quite numb. Sickened? Scared? Yeah, a bit. I feel… outraged. Hurt. I feel like I’VE been attacked, somehow.
Which is in many important ways bullshit and selfish and narcissistic in the extreme. For starters, horror shows like this are happening all over the world every single day, and are not only not breaking, ‘we-interrupt-our-regular-programing’ type news - they’re not news at all. Because they’re happening Somewhere Else, often to people whose skin tone is darker than mine happens to be. And if you’re reading this and thinking that on any level, yes, you are right, and I own the hypocrisy, and am shamed by it. It’s perhaps the ultimate and darkest and most poisonous expression of privilege.
October's My Life In Horror is a special one, Kit Power has kindly given permission to reprint his contribution to the Jim Mcleod Must Die! anthology. Jim Mcleod Must Die! was the brainchild of Phil Sloman, who after hearing that I would love to appear as a recurring character that got killed wherever he appeared, contacted a bunch of authors with the sole purpose of killing me in a story. He also got my best friend Fiona Fiona Ní Éalaighthe to write the afterword. The book was printed in a limited edition of 1 of 1 by Graeme Reynolds and presented to me with many of the contributing authors present at the launch of Adam Nevill's Lost Girl.
It was one of the greatest moments of my life. Thank you to everyone who had a hand in in this I love you all.
JIM DIES AT THE END.
“What the actual fuck?”
The old nun stared up at Jim from her prone position on the floor. At least, Jim assumed she was staring at him. The milky cataracts that covered her pupils made it tough to tell for sure. Her face was pointed in the right general direction, at any rate.
She licked her wrinkled lips, giving Jim an unwelcome glimpse of the blackened teeth behind them, then spoke again.
“I said, you need to come with me.”
Jim's mind rebelled at the thought. He felt dread, bone deep, flooding his system, threatening paralysis.
As things turned out, there were worse kids than that one to deal with,
I am between eight and ten years old. I can be no more precise. I can only be even that precise because I remember the school, and the village the school was in.
Crappy fucking village. Creepy fucking village. Creepy as hell. Every bonfire night, there would be a torchlit procession from the church to the huge pile of wood in the village square. Everyone would be there. The vicar up front, alongside the bigger farmers, the shop and garage owners, the chamber of commerce types, then the regular village folks. Everyone.
In the centre of the bonfire was a stake. Big enough for… well, for a person. It was always empty. Never a Guy. Somehow, that was the worst thing about it, to me. That empty space. It felt threatening. A statement. Yeah, it’s empty… this year....
I’d always planned to talk about this movie. Jim can verify this. When I sent him a list of proposed subjects for this column, I’m pretty sure this movie was on the first page. But I’m not going to lie to you, I wasn’t in any hurry. This one profoundly bothered me. Anyhow. I figured there was no hurry. Would that I’d been right about that. Do yourself a favour, I beg ya - if there’s some creative force in your life, some actor or director or writer or singer that means something to you, speak out on it while they’re still drawing breath. Regret being a gushing idiot. It’s better than the alternative.
Guilty confession time - I’m actually kind of a wimp when it comes to horror movies. I like the idea of extreme and exploitation cinema, but actually watching it? Not so much. For some reason, for all that I could watch Die Hard or Robocop from now until the end of time, depictions of violence that seem more realistic turn my stomach. In fact, they turn my mind. Some internal part pulls away, horrified, sickened. Actually, now I think about it, Robocop is the first movie that I can remember making me feel that way - Murphy’s execution is bloody, sustained, and brutal, not to mention cruel and sadistic. It still provokes a physical response from me when I see it now, some 70+ viewings in: increased heart rate, a feeling like my throat has swollen just a little, a prickle of fear sweat. It’s fucking horrible, not to put too fine a point on it.