Saturday, 26 September 2020

Shudder Saturday: In Search Of Darkness (2019)

I watched this ridiculously long '80s horror doc on Shudder, despite being warned by people who had already seen it. It's all too familiar stuff, and ultimately unsatisfying, sadly, but here's a way to review it without really reviewing it. It's overlong, at almost four and a half hours, and there are no real insights into the genre that you can't find in other, better, documentaries. I'd also have to say that the people picked to comment range from the wonderful to the absolutely awful (but I'll name no names). What it did, however, was spur me to think back on my own relationship with horror films, and films in general.

The babysitter who would let me watch the late-night Hammer horrors while he taped all of the vinyl albums that my parents owned. The Star Wars action figures that my cousins had, that I conspicuously did NOT have (although I don't think I had even seen the movies at that point). Afternoons spent with grandparents while the TV schedule was filled with old Westerns that put me to sleep, with the occasional Cary Grant movie appearing to cheer me up no end. These elements all helped to keep movies in my young mind, but it was the VHS years that set me on a path to obsession and adoration, both with movies and with the horror genre.

My parents rented their first VHS player. It was quite common when they were new. Big chunky TV, and those could also be rented (some even had a coin-slot at the side where you could put 50p in for a few hours, that change paying for the rental and any extra being paid back to customers), and a big top-loader video player. I remember pretending to sleep while uncles and cousins came to visit and watch horror movies. Because horror really sold the format. That seems to be all my parents watched, well horror movies and films like Who Will Love My Children? and Melanie (1982).
So I was excited when I heard they were going to rent the likes of Scanners and Creepshow.
I watched both of those films through eyes squeezed tight to pretend that I was sleeping. Both intensely terrified me. Both gave me nightmares. Both also helped me move from the classic double-bills of Hammer horrors to more modern fare.

I'd already also been freaked out by TV movies such as Don't Go To Sleep and the Salem's Lot epic, but neither of those had the real show-stopping moments that were in the even more recent theatrical releases.

Move forward a few years and I get used to just trying to sit there and be quiet while adults plan their horror viewings for the evening. I saw John Carpenter's The Thing in black and white, on a weird little combo TV/radio device, and I saw George A. Romero's Dawn Of The Dead, and that had tension I had never experienced before. Funnily enough, I caught Night Of The Living Dead on TV a few years later, and I was still slightly shaken by the intensity and power of it.

Don't spend minutes discussing Morricone's great score for The Thing and then put up this image!

I loved Halloween, was bemused by the lack of Michael Myers in Halloween III: Season Of The Witch, and first encountered Jason in Friday The 13th Part 2 (a series I didn't see again until we rented Part 7). Then I met Freddy, thanks to an uncle who had "copies" of every movie ever. Or so it seemed.

A Nightmare On Elm Street freaked me out. I went to bed. I sneakily put my lamp on, thinking I would get up early to put it off again. Yeah, right.
Mum came in and was very angry in the morning.
No more horror movies for me, she said.
"Nooooooooooooo, I'll be fine," I replied.

There was the video van, an old ice cream van converted (I believe) so you could wander into the back and browse a limited selection of titles. I rented the original Freaky Friday many times (crush on Barbara Harris helped) and kept mistakenly renting The Ghost Busters (a video with 2 episodes from the 1970s TV show, NOT the movie Ghostbusters). I also rented Children's Film Foundation movies, but wanted the genre-based stuff. The Glitterball was a favourite.

I saw The Company Of Wolves, wasn't sure of what it was doing, but absolutely loved it (still do, wrote about it in a book and everything).

The Amityville Horror was a "family favourite", and Amityville II: The Possession was wild, especially to a kid who didn't realise the third act was ripping off The Exorcist.
And both An American Werewolf In London and The Howling were shown some love. As well as The Omen movies, but those were relatively glossy and "acceptable" mainstream hits, for the most part.

And I think back on the films that terrified me, that I now can't view as anything other than wonderful horror comedies. Films that I was allowed to rent just by nipping along to a local video store and using the card held in the name of my mother.
Evil Dead II, Re-Animator, The Return Of The Living Dead. Hell, even Creepshow has that E.C. humour all through it. Child's Play may seem ridiculous to many modern horror fans. I was thirteen when I first saw it (night in with a mate, and we figured we could handle it). It was, as we described it to others, "the scariest thing ever!"

I thought I was becoming a trusted teen when we hooked up a cable that meant I could finally watch a video in my own room, as the VCR signal was threaded through to my own little portable TV. It was going to be the next step in my cinematic journey, due to begin with Night Screams.
Night Screams (1987) is a terrible film, but my memory of it is just gratuitous sex and violence. Result.
Except all the sex was fast forwarded by my mum, who was overseeing the film as it also played in the living room.
Fun denied. Dammit.

Is there a point to this ramble? Not really, but maybe there is. Instead of watching all of these documentaries that regurgitate the same information, just reach back into your own memory and recapture that feeling. Whenever you need to. You grew to love the horror genre as you.
Don't start having the impact of it dictated to you by others (not that anyone means it that way as they discuss their love/favourites). And never let anyone tell you what you should like in order to be a "true fan", or how, and how often, you should watch your movies. Gatekeepers aren't necessary. The fact you find the gateways is the main thing. Unless it comes to Jaws. Because, y'know, nobody should dislike Jaws.

There will always be good and bad movies coming out. But nothing changes how you became the film fan you are today, whatever your fave genre.


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