Let me ask you a question. Do you like horror movies? Did you grow up with them or do you shun them and refuse to accept they exist? I was the first category. My mother took the view that it was better to expose me to everything she could as a child. She had a fear that if she didn’t I would keep away from everything and be scared. It was a good tactic. I don’t know many mothers who would offer to record “The Pit and the Pendulum” for their young child! This continues to be ironic for two reasons; firstly how many mothers would do that? Secondly, to this day my mother is hopeless with technology and at seventy I’ve given up thinking this will ever change!
So what was I exposed to as a child. There was Conan the Barbarian – not so good if you hate snakes as I do and they feature throughout, there was Chimera, where a homicidal gorilla wears a check shirt and swings down from chandeliers to stab people with a knife, and plenty others. As a child I worried snakes were slithering up my bed after Conan, and well, nothing good comes from gorillas (not a fan) who happen to wield knives!
But the ploy worked. It means as an adult I can deal with your average horror film. I used to share a flat with a girl who was very protected as a child. As a result she could not cope with the dark, struggled to walk home alone and was terrified of trick or treaters. She would spend the evening with one bed lamp only in the house, and even refuse entry into the kitchen in case you showed a light! I don’t know what she thought a bunch of kids in ghoul costumes would do to her!
As a child I was allowed to read Psycho. It’s still, despite its age, a fantastic book. For me it was one of the first psychological thrillers. I always teem horror as for teenagers wanting a quick thrill, psychological thrillers for adults as the subject matter is more than just sudden noises and a scary face at the window, but something that stays with you and irks you. Psycho certainly stays with you. But the movie didn’t quite have the same affect. The shower scene is scary when you witness the build up of him looking at her in the bathroom, but less so with the actually murder. I don’t know if seeing this at Universal Studios where they show you the fake knife and how the black and white “blood” was shot, ruined this for me, or whether it’s just the motion. With the scene so played out for you there is nothing for your imagination to do, so it retreats into itself with a grumble. The third Psycho film (yes I know a cash in, there was no third, or even second Psycho book!) worked better for me. Do you remember this scene? The one where the teenagers decide to stay under the motel? Not such a wise move! The bottom of the dress starts to descend the stairs, the blade glints in the light; I’m feeling the chill go down my spine, my imagination is in overdrive. All senses are happy!
The only film to date which I have found this to be contrary is Stephen King’s “It”. I will start by saying clowns are my worse phobia. I am terrified of them. Snakes and clowns and I’m clawing the walls, desperate to escape. Tim Curry as Pennywise is just too much. The look, the eyes and the voice are still too much for me. When we had that craze a while ago of people dressed as clowns who thought it was funny to follow women and children home, I wanted to cement up the front door of my house and never leave. There was a case about one jumping out in the dark at a driver. I’m sorry, but I would have put my foot down! My irrational fear would have been my defence. For some sick reason I see they are remaking “It” – I can promise you I will not be at the cinema! Let’s move away from clowns.
Sometimes in films they opt instead for not showing us and letting our imaginations decide. This is not a bad ploy as it keeps the eyes and brain both content. “Rosemary’s Baby” is one example. You never get to see the devil baby and whilst initially you feel cheated as the whole film is gearing up to this, it works rather well I think.
Take “The Phantom of the Opera” as another example. I have loved this story my whole life, If I could only have one book, I would be blissfully content. Right back as a young kid when I wasn’t watching scary films, I was listening to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical version. Somehow I stumbled on Mum’s tape and borrowed it. But rather than giving it back, I flogged it playing it so often, until years later I felt honour-bound to replace with the new remastered CD edition. I fell in love with this a long time before I knew what a phantom and an opera was. When I read the book, there was no turning back. I exhausted my book so badly the pages fell out and Nan spent part of the first day of the summer holidays repairing (it rapidly fell apart again)!
But the film versions have been a right mix match. There have been the laughably funny versions, one where the two male leads decided Christine was too fickle and decided to go off together (I know, WHAT?!) the Dario Argento version (don’t watch if you don’t like lawnmowers and rats in the same scene!). Also the scenery (lack of) and weird disturbing plot! There was, to my mind, the Charles Dance two parter which I loved the best where he is a romantic phantom and you never get to see his face. Worked well on the audience’s imagination and saving the budget!
Then there’s the recent film version with Gerard Butler. The unveiling scene is an unmitigated disaster. Gerard Butler is not a bad looking guy but how in “The Point of No Return” the full one side of face disfigurement is hidden within a small mask, that doesn’t even cover his cheeks is beyond me. This seems to have been overlooked. When you do see his face, it feels more like a birthmark, it is so inconsequential! The disfigurement is meant to be grotesque; so bad no one can look at him, that you will die he is so accursedly ugly. But there is the balance that if you can love his heart, you can see beyond this. Therefore one little mark on his face is laughably mundane. But then maybe I’m missing a trick; maybe we are meant to use our imaginations!