‘Why do you like these kind of films?’ my girlfriend asked me the other day while we were watching (or, rather, I was making her watch) a particular gruesome scene in Frankenstein’s Army (2013).
It made me stop and think. I know the reasons why I like horror and they’re probably similar to yours, but I’d never thought about exactly what it was that introduced me to and influenced me to pursue the genre. Most people like to watch the occasional horror film, but I think we who proclaim it as our favourite genre and spend thousands of hours of our life watching horror films have slightly differently wired brains.
I concluded that my love of horror stems from childhood. I grew up in the 90s and early 2000s and have pinned down five things which I think were major influences on my childhood mind in turning it forever in the direction of the macabre.
“Viewers beware. You’re in for a scare.”
These words uttered by Goosebumps author R. L. Stein at the start of each episode sent chills down my spine. While the lame special effects in the opening credits like the dog’s eyes lighting up may now seem cheesy to adult eyes, it certainly creeped me out as a ten-year-old.
The episode which gave me the most nightmares was “Welcome to Dead House” about mutated chemical factory workers taking over a small town.
The book series was also fantastic. There are over 170 books in the series which have sold 300 million copies worldwide in 32 languages.
Scooby Doo was my favourite cartoon as a kid. While it wasn’t exactly scary, the mysteries and monsters were great and the episodes were delightfully camp.
If you’re planning on a nostalgia trip, stick with the older episodes. The series has really gone downhill in recent years.
The two live-action feature films which came out in 2002 and 2004 are also turkeys, but the classic series is certainly one I’m going to use to introduce my future children to horror.
Stephen King and James Herbert
One American, one Brit. Both acted as my segue into the terrifying world of adult horror. Herbert, who authored the classic 1974 The Rats novel about a plague of killer rats terrorising London, sadly passed away last year at the age of 69. In an interview with the BBC in September 2012, he said he thought some mediums were genuine and that he once saw a ghost walk past a doorway.
“Being a horror writer, a ghost writer, I was up like a shot,” he said. “I’d had a bet years ago with Stephen King who would be the first one to actually see a ghost.”
Happily, King is still alive and kicking. The first novel of his I ever read was ‘Pet Sematary’, about a cemetery for pets built on an old Indian burial ground. But whatever is buried there comes back to life in demonic form. I remember reading this on my lunch break while I was doing work experience at my local vets!
I quickly moved on to the classic ‘The Shining’ and I think by that point my lifelong love of the genre was firmly established.
The non-existence of broadband internet
These days, any kid with unsupervised access to a computer, tablet or smartphone can watch pretty much any horror film online without much difficulty. In the dial-up age of the 90s, however, horror was only really available through age-restricted VHS or DVD.
Since most parents don’t consider The Texas Chainsaw Massacre appropriate viewing for thirteen-year-olds, we had to resort to raiding our friend’s parents’ video collection when they were out of the house, or finding an independent video store which was dodgy enough to rent ‘18s’ to kids.
Because of this, watching a horror film was always a special experience, made all the more exciting by the effort we had to put in to actually be able to watch the film in the first place and the thought that our parents probably would disapprove.
Nowadays, I usually watch horror films alone. Occasionally I’ll see one with a friend or my girlfriend, but it’s nothing like the epic horror sleepovers you had as a kid. Nothing quite compared to having half a dozen or more of your friends round, taking over your parents living room for the night, telling them you were watching a Jim Carey comedy or something like that, and then putting on The Exorcist after they had gone to bed.
The experience of being scared is a communal one and probably is one of the reasons sites like this one thrive.