Horror has been with me from a very early age. I found several copies of The House of Hammer comics in my parent’s bedroom when I was around seven years old. I would sit in the bathroom reading titles such as Shandor: Demon Stalker and Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter, their paper scented with cigarette smoke and something old, like the smell of thrift shops or the bottom of drawers. It was a strange awakening, a time of great discovery. But the one comic I became obsessed with was Dracula, so much so my parents bought me a small plastic model of Christopher Lee, complete with cape and fangs, in the hope I’d eat plum tomatoes, a ruse that paid off when they sat me at the dining table one evening and served them up as “sheep hearts”. That Dracula had a penchant for sucking the life out of young women wasn’t really a cause for concern back then. Remember, I was seven. His ability to remain immortal, fly, and sleep during the day was what appealed to my fragile little mind. Didn’t every seven-year-old want those same powers? Hell, I’d challenge anyone over seven years old who wouldn’t want that. And so that’s where it began. Comics and plum tomatoes. I moved on to Frankenstein’s Monster shortly thereafter and could often be seen shielding my eyes from the cooker’s gas ring when entering the kitchen. Howling at the moon was commonplace, as was a fear of crucifixes. But it wasn’t really until the age of ten that I was exposed the gorier side of horror.
Being in double digits permitted me certain privileges you might say, mainly experiencing choice scenes from horror movies my father had acquired in the local pub. This was around the time of Video Nasties, when pirates were less Kirk Douglas and more bootleg versions of The Exorcist. The VHS tapes in our house never had official stickers. There was no Warner’s Bros hologram on their spines. If you were lucky, someone from the pub would have scribed the title on a Scotch label so you knew what to expect when the tape was popped into the top loader. Titles like Microwave Massacre, Driller Killer, and I Spit on your Grave, being just a few I remember strewn on the carpet near the TV. There were other movies, mostly bizarre, low budget imitations of Friday the 13th that my father actually rented from the local video store, their covers involving an axe-wielding maniac pursuing half-dressed teenagers in woodland areas. He would watch these movies at night while I slept, make a mental note of the tape counter (for those of you too young to know what that is, go look it up), then the following morning sit me down in front of the TV.
“See that spike, son?” he’d say pointing the wires remote at the old boob tube. “It’s going to go straight through her eye! Watch!”
A week later: “The elevator cable is going to snap and slice this man into two! Woah!”
Fast forward: “See the woman in the boat on the lake? Yeah, it’s nice and peaceful isn’t it? Wait. Wait. Bam! Look! That’s Jason!”
My father wasn’t overly concerned that these scenes might scar me. He didn’t consider that there may be long-term side effects to seeing young virgins being decapitated in just their underwear, or a man chainsawing his own hand off because it was possessed by evil spirits. To him they were no different than watching a magician cut a lady in half, or the fireworks that lit up the night sky on Bonfire Night. They were there to be marveled at. He would say to me that all things can be explained, Craig. The head exploding in Scanners was latex filled with fake blood and pig guts. The reporter getting decapitated in The Omen was just a mannequin. If I ever questioned a noise in the night, a bang or the sound of a ghost, he would say it was just the pipes under the floorboards contracting as they cooled. The ghosts I heard in my bed were wind pushing through the windowsill. All things can be explained. By the age of eleven, I watched a copy of Evil Dead because I had an earache and my father thought it might cheer me up. By the age of twelve, my favourite movie was Dawn of the Dead. When I turned thirteen, we both sat in awe at the transformation scene in An American Werewolf in London, and subsequently jumped out of our skin when that Nazi monster jumped out from behind the curtain and stabbed Nurse Price to death.
I often reflect on my childhood and wonder why my father felt it appropriate to subject his only child to so much horror. I realise now that he had inadvertently taunt me something that would resonate in my own writing: if daylight gives form to the formless, and allows us to see everything for what it is, darkness offers ambiguity. It is the place where anything can exist—monsters, evil, demons, ghosts. In darkness our minds exaggerate the smallest of noises. We feel the presence of things that are not there. We are never alone. But more importantly, in darkness we are the greatest storytellers.
This article first appeared in Heavy Feather Review. https://heavyfeatherreview.org/2018/10/13/wallwork/