Did I mention my brother? Well, he’s 5 years older than me: I’m the youngest of 5 kids which my parents have. When I was around 12, my brother used to head off to the city for drinks with friends while I sat at home, usually alone watching late night TV (4 channels at he time). He’d get home around midnight after catching the last bus, just in time for the late night horror flick, care of Hammer. I’ve got such great fond memories of this time, he’d get home, make tea and cheese on toast, tell me about his evening, while we sat watching the amazing films from the 60’s and 70’s. At the time I knew nothing about Hammer: it was all fresh and new, exciting.
Two key films from this time still stick in my mind. I can still remember the feeling I had watching, riveted and amazed by the outrageous plots, tortuous scenes and the idea that some films just aren’t meant to have a happy ending. At the time, my regular viewing was a staple diet of Six Million Dollar Man, The Fall Guy, A-Team, Buck Rogers and Dukes of Hazard, so just think how much of a crazy contrast The Wickerman was and the kind of outrageous effect it had on my youthful mind. I’d seen nothing else like it; even by today’s standards, The Wickerman still stands out as a shockingly stunning grim tale, beautifully crafted and filmed. I included it as part of 365 project so go check out my words on the matter.
The other stand out memory is that of Terence Fisher’s finest moment, The Curse of the Werewolf. Goodness. Captivating and enthralling taking a standard idea of he wolfman and working it to a masterpiece, one which hasn’t been bettered in its field. What we have is a real story of life and the trauma that can occur and the human suffering. The basic story starts with a beggar who stumbles into a king’s (or Lord) manor asking for help and food. He is humiliated and laughed at, a scene which I still wake up at night thinking about: relentless! Soon after, thrown into the basement and fed bread and water by a mute girl. He kinda transforms into a beast over the years and at some point, he gets hold of the girl. Shockingness happens, before she can escape to safety then on Christmas day, she dies in childbirth. Enter Oliver Reed. ( well, not quite) The kid grows up as a wolf child, killing goats in the night, but this is due to the evil and trauma of his creation and nothing to do with any other law of the werewolf. Soon, we have Reed in a white shirt, hairy chest and a hairy head, running across rooftops torn by emotion of the moon and he girl that he loves. There is nothing else like this one. Absolute gem of a film, still seldom shown on TV, never credited for its addition to the genre or the werewolf culture.
For me, this one showed the character of what lies behind the beast, the human behind the mask, the magic of romance and the horror that can be created from a single act of selfish unkindliness.
This chapter is one of oddity, for the singular reason of friendship. As I’m sure many of you have experienced as you have lived your lives, friends come and fiends go. But where do they come from and why? One such friend of mine was a young guy by the name of Pratt. (here, referred to by his chosen surname and not by socially issued, insult. Also, as it was the first year of secondary school, everyone surrendered their first name as recognition of progression and maturity).
I don’t remember where this guy came from and why we became finds. I already had more friends than I needed, but Pratt was a new addition. He was in our new school, same age and year, but not in the same class. (myself being in the higher academic regions, with Pratt in what was usually referred to as The Beach Ball class) He had a totally different upbringing than I was used to. He had a father on the rigs which he saw very seldom. A very friendly mother who had fostered a whole house of kids. Crazy really, but honourable. I remember seeing one of the bedrooms on he top floor, like a military dorm. I digress.
So this was back in 81. We had video breaking all sorts of boundaries in society and technology. The rental shop was the new way to view films, and as such, all sorts of Euro crap was rebranded, renamed, rebadged and released for our consumption. I must add, all without the approval of Jim Ferman et al at the BBFC. One of Pratt’s foster brothers was an early adoptee of this new tech and spent his days in front of the TV watching poor quality films. This particular day, it was roasting hot, sun beaming, classic childhood summertime, I remember being drawn towards the living room, the TV and he Horror which Pratt’s brother had rented. It was an American teen slasher. (but remember, this was the dawn of the slasher in relative terms. The gloves were off for dominance amongst the Jason’s and Michael’s)
Hell Night. …. Thats right… Hell Night. It’s not on anyone’s radar. It’s not recognised. It’s not credited. It’s basically been forgotten with a lot of the other trash of the day. But for me, it’s buried deep inside my mind. It was hot, sunny, think Chopper’s and hot pants, melting Tarmac, epidemic of flying ants too. (summers are not like this any more) In Pratt’s living room, the curtains were drawn, the huge sofa occupied by the extended foster family of maybe 12ish kids, all under the respectable viewing age, and the movie was creepy as hell.
The film is of simple premise. College kids wanting acceptance into their Delta Zeta Omega residence need to spend the night in a spooky old house, historically, one that a family was massacred in a few years earlier. Unbeknown to the teens, one family member remains. ‘Seth’ is a towering beast of a man. Strong, monstrous looking and demented in the brain. He stalks the kids, keeps them locked inside and plays the game of cat n mouse, picking them off one by one. This is a tried and tested formula, even back in ’81, but Hell Night still deserves a bit more than being forgotten. It’s a damn sight better than most, even some which spawned a whole host of sequels. It’s director Tom DeSimone was an old veteran of cheap film, and had a whole host of semi erotic glitzy sleaze boxed up for people’s renting pleasure. Hell Night was his dabbling into the horror genre and what an entry was made. The film has a real unease about it. Tension, wariness, and something which other slashers steer away from which is ‘common sense’. Here the victims kind of stick together rather than splitting up, exploring the house, looking in the basement. It’s this realism of character which makes this film stand out and allows Seth to grow into a real threat of a villain. He’s everywhere, strong, physical, fast, vicious, dominating, silent with a damaged brain. Do we have some clues here? Frankenstein once again anyone?
I was ten years old watching this. Terrified the living daylight out of me. I can still remember walking home in the sunlight, traumatised, mind in darkness. This was a true milestone for me, one which I often recall. I remember mentioning this film to various people a few years later when my love for horror really began to bloom, only to find it was dismissed as American trash. By that time, my palate was maturing to the finer euro delights and as such, I often dismissed our US offerings. Shallow was I to turn my back on this one.
Although it has been said that Linda Blair was the selling point of this film, it’s a financiers trick. The film has a lot to offer. I’m also very surprised this little gem hasn’t been pinpointed as a Hollywood remake. It has dollars written all over it.
As for Pratt, for some reason once again unknown, we went our separate ways at the end of that summer…. and he was never seen again.
It must have been some time around 1981 when we got our first video player, the ultimate Sony SL-C5. Smooth sleek design, a classic which set the benchmark to all those other machines at the time. Of cause, the C5 was a Betamax. Superior in many ways to the more commercially successful VHS with incredibly crystal clear quality viewing. I can vividly remember my folks binging it home: for some reason, they got the bus home with it, even though the car was on the drive. Must have been a killer carrying it. The miracle that was the video player/recorder back in ’81 was stunning and quite difficult to express by today’s standards and realistically, it wasn’t really that long ago.
So, for the first few months, I watched a small handful of movies, over and over and over. Ned Kelly (with Mick Jagger), Gone with the Wind, Butch Cassidy and then there was Halloween. A strange collection of films thinking back. I can remember my folks watching Halloween first, screening and weighing up how nasty and possibly how disturbing it could be and drawing to the conclusion that I, at age 10, would be ok to watch this one. From that point on, Halloween was played probably once a week with friends sometimes, who left my house pale as the day, parents wondering why their children couldn’t sleep at night after the horror which thy witnessed. For me though, the first viewing was one of mixed emotions, excitement and terror, one which I embraced and took the white knuckle ride. Myers’ picking off the local girls, his dominant pose, expressionless mask and unknowing rationale. Back then, I’m not sure how much I actually understood what was going on, not that there is a complex plot or anything, but I seem to think I used to skip the first 20 mins or so to get to the real spooky stuff. Myers behind the white heart with glasses etc. The wardrobe scene was and possibly still is quite harrowing but I loved it.
I find it quite amazing though, thinking back on this journey of mine into my horror milestones that Halloween is my second notch after my primary introduction with Frankenstein five years earlier. Only after my 365 project did I realise the mirroring of the 70’s horror offerings with the original Universal classics. Myers, Leatherface, Pluto et al, all reincarnations of horror henchmen from the castles, Hunchback, Phantom, wolfman and of cause, Frankenstein. Unstoppable villains, silent, overpowering, masked and monstrous with a real direct link between Myers and Frankenstein both in stature, dominance and power. Again, how much of an impact has this film had on my young mind?
For the following year, we’d joined the local video shop. Ours was a real classy one with a massive selection of every type of film. Walton Road video. I used to stand looking at covers, imagining the plot, the adventure and always knowing that the films I’d be quite interested in would never be selected by my folks. Virus, Exterminator, Martin, Shivers, Microwave Massacre, GBH. Pigs was one such film, with a picture of a pig on the cover eating a human hand. (I might have imagined this one) but instead, we’d be taking home Kramer vs Kramer. A friend of mine at the time, Kevin, lived near this video library, above a pub. His brother used to rent the lot. He’d tell me all about them, full detailed plots which only encouraged my desire to watch horror and films of the fantastic.
Next time, further obsession with Video rental, Linda Blair and a lost unrecognised classic from the ’80’s.
Are people born to appreciate film, theatre, music, literature? Myself, a self professed cinéaste, I believe i am a product of circumstance, hand crafted from a very early age to appreciate cinema for better or worse. My parents introduced me to a wide variety of films staring Brando, Dean, Astaire, Monroe, Laughton, Curtis, Douglas, Day, Davis, Lancaster, Sellers, and I soaked them up mentally and emotionally. I watched anything and everything put in front of me, soon devouring my sisters favourite films and my Brother’s love for the Marx Brothers. For me, film is everything. A journey through an artists mind, transformed onto celluloid for the interpretation of an audience.
Let me take you right back to where it all began to one of my earliest memories. I was four or five years old. For some reason, probably illness, I was allowed to stay up late, curled up on the family sofa with my Parents, my sisters and brother all watching late night TV. I don’t remember the film starting, only becoming aware of select scenes. Did I watch the whole film? No idea. Maybe just soaking up a few scenes but it was at that exact precise moment that caused the trigger inside, the power of cinema to effect and influence not only an emotion from what I was witnessing, but the conception of the cinéaste and my first love: Horror.
‘We are about to unfold the story of Frankenstein’. The immortal opening line of Universal’s 1931 masterpiece. Watching the film today, it’s amazing how dynamic and adventurous it still looks. Filmed during the golden age of cinema, a time of mostly static scenes, James Whale introduces some spectacular camerawork amongst over enthusiastic sound stage sets. The film is based on a play by Peggy Webling, a very different plot to that of Mary Shelley’s classic novel and for those of you out there who have somehow been oblivious to the legend that is Frankenstein, it’s primary plot surrounds a young scientist (Here, Henry and not Victor as in the novel, played by Colin Clive) who is seeking to conquer life and death, creating a new living creature out of human parts. He soon realises he’s made a mistake, the monster (Played by Boris Karloff) escapes, although with revenge deep in its damaged brain. A memorable scene, and the only one shot on location is between Karloff and Marilyn Harris, who plays Maria, a young girl. They play a game of throwing flowers into the lake which turns sour when the monster decides to see if the girl will float. It’s a beautiful cinematic moment, one which is till the subject of controversy, debate and censorship. The monster is eventually hunted down by pitchfork wielding townsfolk, the father of Maria and Henry, who has a final dramatic moment with his creation where they tumble together before he stumbles and falls from windmill. The monster overlooking, surprised, shocked, lost and alone.
Whale’s autobiographical association with this film can be seen throughout, although this could just be critics reading far too much into the film and the directors own life. Horror which he witnessed during his time fighting on the front line of the Great War, masked soldiers hiding the true character, emotion and heart, unable to speak, or express behind the mask. After the war he moved from his British homeland to continue his career as a film maker. His own homosexual social life was one that he never tried to hide and embraced his true self, although at a time in history he must have still felt slightly outcast and different from his peers (although, I’m sure many were in the closet).
The impact that this film has made upon the world is huge. Iconic and respected as a masterpiece in its own right, but it’s important to recognise that this film changed everything, introduced true modern horror to the world of which ripples can still be felt in today’s cinema, not only in the numerous remakes and re-imaginings, but the whole idea of a villain, who cannot be harmed, stronger, unstoppable, masked and monstrous. These few words will fill your mind with the regular horror names, Jason, Michael, even Freddy and Pinhead, but Halloween and Friday 13th have all the genes from that initial beautiful creation from Whale.
From my own point of view, how has this film affected me? I’m not sure to the extent, but there are several key characteristics which I’m sure are a direct result. I’m a pretty tall guy, 6’4″. I’ve always been taller than everyone I know, pretty much and I never go a week without being caught in a crowd where I’m at least a foot taller than everyone else around me, resulting in a kind of distance between me and the rest of the crowd, a real Frankenstein syndrome effect. I was also quite a sickly child, often suffering, taking time off school, spending my days on the sofa, which also had a worrying effect on me in my youth of having a body which might let me down, the reality and awareness that we are in our own shell that could just stop working or malfunction.
One of the biggest psychological impacts that the film had on my tiny 5 year old mind was the Horror of the human body, (probably the reason i have grown to love the films of Cronenberg, but more about this later in the project) one that people would run away from in terror, although the person inside was good and pure. This was a huge learning experience for me at a very young age, to recognise the good inside anyone and understand that not all monsters are bad. The relationship in the film between Henry and the Monster is one of pure love and affection, stronger than Henry’s love of his fiancée even. At the age of 5, I can’t say for certain, but this must have had a huge impact on the way a child witness’ love and companionship, obviously I wouldn’t have understood homosexuality, but the connection and love between the same sex, the respect and heartbreak that can occur, gave me that seed, that depth of liberal thinking.
The early memories of that film on that night are fond ones which I hold inside. It was from a warm close, safe time in my life with a loving family. The monster came stumbling into my life, his gaunt dominant expression, powerful, strong and brutal with a kind heart and desire to learn and live and grow. The world was against the monster, but nothing could stop him. This was the beginning for me, my first trip to horrorville.