Saturday, 19 December 2009

The horror question

I'm trying to work out why I like to read, watch and write horror. And I can't. It's as though I feel I should have some water-tight, and morally based reason for it. That I should be able to justify it to all. When, to be honest, all it boils down to is that I like scary stuff.

I like it when something genuinely makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end - like when reading Susan Hill's Woman in Black. Seriously, one of the scariest novels I've ever read. I like it when bad stuff happens and keeps happening and there's no way out, and when they, the 'stars', find it... it turns out to be the exact opposite. I like over-the-top horror, subtle horror, edge-of-your-seat horror, I-can't-believe-they-got-away-with-that horror, funny horror, sci-fi horror, black and white horror...

I've come to realise that it all harks back to being a kid and watching stuff you know you shouldn't. A biggie for me was (and it's not horror) The Sword and the Sorcerer. It's not very good. But it is utterly over the top, rather violent, and particularly dark, as well as amusing in places... and I watched it for the first time when I was 12. It was on late one night and I just happened to end up watching it. I distinctly remember thinking it was the most amazing thing I'd ever seen. A three-bladed sword! A heart bursting from a witch's chest! A man's head being split in half! YEAH! I mean, seriously, what's not to like? I spent the next two weeks drawing decapitated heads on sticks being hacked apart by big swords. And that wasn't because I was thinking about re-enacting the movie, just that I was utterly taken by it. The whole thing was so far and away from what I was used to, the world I'd grown up in. It was dangerous, scary, My Parents Didn't Know About It...

And that's what I want from my books. I want to give that sense of creeping downstairs in the middle of the night to watch something on TV in the lounge while your parents are asleep. Remember that? When you had to sit so close to the TV you could hear the static off the screen because the volume was so low? When every sound in the house made you freeze, turn the TV off and panic that you were about to be found out?

I want to write the kind of stuff that you hope to god your parents don't find in your bag. Is that a bad thing? Can I justify such a stance? I don't really know. I've never been any good at coming up with intelligent arguments - usually I get flustered, angry, and swear a lot. It's not a very attractive trait, but then neither is that smugness certain people get when they come out best in a discussion.

So I guess in the end the reason I like to read, watch and write horror is because I'm still 12, watching Sword and the Sorcerer, and hoping my parents don't find out. And you know what? I'm just fine with that.

1 comment:

  1. I used to smuggle horror movies home from school and try and watch them when my mum and dad went to bed. They caught me out once and found 'Phantasm' and 'Day of the Dead' in my bag. Needless to say, they were confiscated and I was made to give them back the next day. Funnily enough they're now two of my favourite horror movies... Book with the biggest influence: House of Hell, Fighting Fantasy. Absolutely bloody brilliant. The satanists wearing robes and goat heads...the ritualistic murders...the Earl of Drummond...and whatever you do, don't drink the white wine or eat the cheese. Dave, you MUST read 'The Turn of the Screw'. And I must show you Jacques Tourneur's 'I Walked with a Zombie'. Sheer poetry, and a work of genius.