Urban Playground Myths
The playground was probably where I first heard of the Gremlims.
There was no internet, no streaming TV back in 1984. Through other kids regaling stories of their cinematic and illegal home video experiences I was introduced to the world of dark fantasy and horror.
Standing on the concrete netball court in our school playground, a fellow classmate bragged how she got in to see the 15-rated movie. Her stories of the film invoked my imagination.
Who was Gizmo? Who was Stripe? And what about this Gremlin (like so many of his kind he was not worthy of a name) that gets blended to mulch in the kitchen?
My mind exploded (much like that poor Gremlin)! What on earth could something so horrifying look like? With the flame of imagination already ignited, hearing of such horrors further induced a morbid fascination for such gruesome obscenities.
But why? When such things already scared the bejesus out of me. Remember it was the mid-80s. I was eight at the time and a lot more innocent and susceptible to such suggestive cues than I am now. Aren’t we all? Hmm, maybe.
The storybook of the film fuelled the fire for my love of dark fantasy and horror. But unbeknown to me at the time, it would come to mean something else entirely as I meandered my way though life.
Along with Roald Dahl’s other macabre creations (The Witches, The child-eating giant from The BFG and The Twits – just to mention a few) you could say this book was one of my first introductions to horror writing.
My aunt even got her partner at the time to draw me a picture of Gizmo in the Barbie-mobile (from this book) to hang on my bedroom wall.
Come to Freddy
1984 didn’t just give us Gremlins, but probably the biggest horror icon (outstripping his contemporaries in terms of popularity and notoriety) since Universal Pictures gave us Bela Lugosi in the title role of Dracula back in 1931.
I had no idea who Michael Myers and Jason Vorhees were back then. Sure, I’d heard of Friday the 13th and Halloween but then they were just mere titles of really scary movies at that point.
And although I had no idea who Leatherface was, I had heard of the then-banned Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I needn’t say more. The title spoke for itself.
And like The Shining (see Nightmares and Scary Tales – Part One) – I became aware of Pinhead through the Hellraiser TV spot albeit this was to be three years later.
But even several years before I saw A Nightmare on Elm Street, the bogeyman who came to haunt my dreams – quite literally – was none other the demonic child killer himself: Mr Freddy Krueger.
The power of great stories and great characters
A film will always be someone else’s vision of a story they want to tell. But when it comes down to listening to the spoken word or reading it on the page – it is there stories really take on a life of their own, particularly in the mind of a child.
When a friend told me her parents had allowed her to watch A Nightmare on Elm Street I wanted to see it straight away. Yes, she saw it on pirate video. One eight year old may have gotten away with sneaking into see a 15-rated film, but another passing for 18? No way.
Once again morbid curiosity dug it’s claws in. And this time the claws didn’t belong to a curious cat.
The burned man with knives for fingers who terrorises and murders children in their sleep. The blood of a slaughtered teen gushing upward from out of a bed. The slaughtered girl dragged across the ceiling to her death. Remember I hadn’t seen the film. These images came to me by spoken word.
At that age this film was a forbidden fruit. My parents wouldn’t allow it. It was too graphic and I was too young. And to be honest if they’d allowed me, given my previous record, I probably would’ve run a mile. But this time it wasn’t my conscious mind that went into overdrive.
How the spoken word can fill your dreams with nightmares
I had nightmares.
Freddy Kruger chased me through the streets. My feet even sunk into the squelching steps on the staircase as his clawed hand closed in. That imagined laughter as he called my name.
Those eyes in the pit of his scarred face bored deep.
Somehow Wes Craven’s story and vision had bypassed the cinematic screen and through the power of storytelling made it into my subconscious mind.
Now that is the power of a great story and characterisation.
When it’s communicated through word of mouth and taps into the fears already in our psyche the power of suggestion is already underway.
Do you remember ‘the stranger with bunny rabbits in his car’ I mentioned in Part One of this blog? As I said before, the stories, the warnings our parents give us to protect us also spark the imagination and set the creative mind a-wandering.
They also kept me safe as a child and I thank them for it. Which leads me onto the Part Three of this blog.
Artwork by Grant Springford. Text by Mark Young.
© 2019 Mark Young. All rights reserved.