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Thursday, 7 April 2016

Throwback Thursday: The Horror! The Horror! The Horror!


These days I'm a sucker for horror movies, with a particular weakness for monster movies. While my passion for the genre began with a teenage viewing of the original 1978 Dawn Of The Dead, one of my favourite franchises remains the Nightmare On Elm Street movies.

I can still clearly remember the buzz the first one generated around school when it came out in 1984.

I was 17 at the time and not as into horror movies as I am now, but the "word on the street" was - in those pre-internet, pre-DVD dark ages - that it was the "most terrifying movie anyone had ever seen ever!"

Of course, when I eventually got to see it on VHS it was quite tame, still brilliant, thrilling and gory, but nowhere near as horrific as my teenage mind had imagined, fuelled by the hyperbole of fellow teenagers who'd claimed to have seen it... and just made it through to the credits by the skin of their tough guy teeth.

Even at the time some of the mood-setting special effects seemed quite primitive, these days they look positively archaic.

I seem to recall that the first horror film my parents let me stay up to watch on television was The Omen II. That scared the crap out of me and gave me nightmares for days - but now that also seems quite tame to my cynical forty-something brain.

I guess at the time it was some 'reverse psychology' parenting to stop me pestering them to be allowed to stay up and watch 'grown-up' movies.

It must have worked because I don't recall any horror movie encounters until the height of the heady days of the tabloid-led 'video nasties' scare (in the early '80s), when it was de rigueur to go round each others' houses and dare each other to watch the latest piece of nasty that someone had acquired on video tape.

I didn't make it through either The Evil Dead or Texas Chain Saw Massacre - which is ironic as the latter would, decades later, form the backbone of my university dissertation, and both movies rate among my top horror flicks these days.

It wasn't until one of these illicit gatherings when a gang of us were watching George Romero's Dawn Of The Dead that I had my 'Road To Damascus' moment and realised I was actually rather enjoying this movie and would like to see more of the same.

But that's not to say I've become so hardened and blasé to horror that nothing has a lasting impact on me.

Here's a quick rundown of the top three horror movies that still give me the heebeejeebies:
  • The Exorcist
  • The Blair Witch Project
  • The Amazing Mr Blunden
No real shocks with the first two. I know The Blair Witch Project doesn't do it for everyone, but it digs at me on a psychological level for some reason - I guess it's something about being lost in the woods with an unseen antagonist, and the cinema-vérité style, with the handheld camera, just makes it all the more real.

It's that level of 'truth' that also makes The Exorcist so unnerving to me. Later horror films have generally taken a lighter touch, and even been more action orientated, but The Exorcist unfolds like docudrama and, to this day, as with Blair Witch, I can't watch it without the lights on!

The final entry in this trio of terror is an unlikely one that is obviously very personal.

My gran took me to see The Amazing Mr Blunden at the town centre cinema in Tunbridge Wells when I was six - and it scarred me for life.

To be honest I can't remember much of the specifics of the film, just that it involved a ghost and a large house fire. It wasn't the ghost that got to me, it was the house fire.

To this day, I haven't watched the film again because something about it just flicked a switch in my little, six-year-old brain.

And I have no plans to... even though it appears to actually be a U-certificate kids' film and not the hideous torture porn my addled brain recalls being 'forced' to sit through Clockwork Orange style with my eyelids pinned back.

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