We’re watching you
“Go to sleep! Behave yourself! Or the bogeyman will get you.” A warning to children throughout countless generations that if they don’t do as they’re told something far greater than their parents’ wrath will come to get them.
The ghoul beneath their bed. The monster in the cupboard. The creature creeping up the stairs and along the hall. Creaking floorboards, creaking doors. Then there’s the stranger with a box of bunny rabbits in the back of his car.
Tales to tame us? To keep us safe? Or delightfully amuse and entertain? After all there are those that take pleasure in scaring and those that enjoy the thrill of being scared, are there not?
What these embodiments of fear were going to do when they got you was entirely down to the child’s vivid imagination. Which is hardly surprising when the lights went out and you only had the darkness and the safety of your duvet for company.
“And in spite of what our fears suggested that old cat riddled with curiosity dug in its claws and dared us to creep out of bed.”
Like Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy you believed the bogeyman was real. Why wouldn’t you? As young children most – if not all – of us believed what our parents told us.
And in spite of what our fears suggested that old cat riddled with curiosity dug in its claws and dared us to creep out of bed. Along that same haunted hall and down the stairs to peer through the crack in the living room door and sneak a peek at the video nasty playing on your parents’ TV screen.
So what was playing on that VHS video recorder back in 1982? To be honest I can’t quite remember. I was only six years old at the time. But I do remember the first film that terrified me as a kid.
Chuck Norris’ Silent Rage. The details of which I can now recall having rewatched the film a few months ago – but had no memory of until then. Except the ending.
A small Texan town is terrorised by a psychotic, yet invincible killer. It was the movie’s final scene where (SPOILER ALERT!) the killer is sent to his doom down a well only to burst through the water’s surface moments later.
I lay awake at night terrified that the killer was somewhere out there, waiting. Undying. Relentless. Enraged. Roll credits.
I chuckled through most of the movie on this second viewing. I was curious to see if it would invoke that fear I’d experienced as a child. Needless to say it didn’t.
But it was certainly worth the try.
“I lay awake at night terrified that killer was somewhere out there, waiting. Undying. Relentless. Enraged.”
My first viewing of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining wouldn’t be until many years later. Hell, I only read the book for the first time last year and thoroughly enjoyed it.
But it was the televised trailer that struck fear into the heart of my soul. Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance pummelling the bathroom door with an axe and peering through the splintered crack. In real life it could actually happen, so no movie moment says: “I’m coming to get you” better than: “Here’s Johnny!”
But an iconic horror villain is only as effective as their brave, but petrified counterpart.
And so equally, it’s Shelley Duvall’s performance as Wendy that I also associate with fear. With the sheer terror torn across her face and in the whites of her scared and widened eyes, even today I can feel that fear reaching for me through the screen.
Alien was the first proper horror film I tried to watch as a child. That I was allowed to watch, should I say – for the most part my parents deemed horror too scary for me to see (and quite rightly so).
Now I say tried. It was tea-time one Sunday evening as I made a brave attempt to watch Sigourney Weaver and her crew of the Nostromo through the gaps between my fingers.
But that first shot of the eyeless monster and its razor-sharp, metallic teeth dripping with acid was just too much for six-year-old me. It had me running up to the safety of my bedroom. The Xenomorph (as it’s now known) kept me afraid of the dark many nights.
Now whether I saw this on video or television I’m not too sure. But this time it wasn’t the final scene where (SPOILER ALERT!) Robert Shaw’s Quint is eaten alive by the great cartilaginous sea beast. Cue John Williams’ Academy Award Winning Theme. No, there is a moment where Roy Schneider’s Martin Brody peers into a sink and down a gurgling plug hole and we are left to wonder…
Well, did I peer down the plug holes in our house and wonder? Possibly. Was I afraid to get in the bath? Maybe. But what I do remember is being afraid to sit on the toilet in fear of a shark somehow finding its way up the outlet pipe and into the bowl to bite my bum.
Remember I was only a kid.
I laugh now, but there was more chance of a Gremlin getting in there than a shark. And their teeth were just as sharp.
Gremlins and the pirate video
Two years on and I was still too young to see a 15-rated film. I was eight-years-old by this point. And Gremlins would be one of my first experiences of a pirate video (Return of the Jedi was also another). Crackling screens. Jumpy pictures. Terrible sound.
There was the flashing Gremlin. The dancing Gremlin dressed like Jane Fonda or one of the kids from Fame. The whole gang of them in the cinema singing along to Hi-Ho Hi-Ho (it’s off to work we go) from Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves before being blown to pieces. Pure genious. The perfect blend of comedy and horror.
For those that don’t know – The Gremlins was a 1943 children’s book created by renowned children’s author Roald Dahl; intended to be picked up by Walt Disney for a feature length animated film.
The story’s premise centred on claims by Royal Air Force Pilots that these so-called Gremlins were the cause of their planes’ mechanical troubles and mishaps.
The movie never got any further than pre-production due to establishing rights over the story and Dahl’s insistence on final approval of script and production.
Thus, it was never meant to be. At least not in this version any way.
But the pirate video was not my first introduction to the Gremlins…
Stay tuned for to Part 2 – Urban Playground Myths.
Do you have any stories to share about your first encounters with horror? Feel free to share in the comments below. Join in the conversation, I’d love to hear from you.
Mark Young’s The Heartbreaker: 13 Dark Fantasy & Horror Stories is now available worldwide from Amazon.
Artwork by Grant Springford. Text by Mark Young.
© 2019 Mark Young. All rights reserved.