Suggested Audio Creepshow:
 Rob Zombie “Never Gonna Stop”
 Rob Zombie “American Witch”
 Rob Zombie “Meet The Creeper”
 Rob Zombie “Superbeast”
 Rob Zombie “Dragula”
Have you ever been chased through a dense thicket by a chainsaw wielding psychopath? How about sitting down to dinner only to find a xenomorph bursting through your rib cage? Sneaky suspicions that the ballet academy you are attending is actually a coven of witches? Perhaps falling asleep isn’t such a crash hot idea after all? As for babysitting, is it really worth the twenty bucks? All of these questions have cropped up over the course of my filmic development and they all fall beneath one rather monumental umbrella – horror. The genre has stood tall, been knocked down to its knees, had its face planted into the muck, regained its composure, and begun to stand tall once again in the thirty-odd years that I have been its student. Right now it’s under reconstruction and beginning to make a name for itself after shaking off a rather protracted slump in fortunes. You ever see a hamster with wet tail? For the entire nineties, horror felt such affliction, and it appeared at the time that it had run its natural cause. Time to put it to bed many of us thought and consoled ourselves with the fact that we’d always have Antonio Bay. Yet, like a fiery phoenix, it has risen from the cinder and, while still trying to remaster the finding flight part of the deal, at least it’s flapping.
The noughties were well under way before any changes started ringing and, at first, anything stellar was considered little more than a one-off. However, one became two, two became three and, before we knew it, it had strung together a pretty significant combo. This was incredibly pleasing to a thirty-something man-child made of slugs, snails and puppy dog tails. It hadn’t taken long for the bug to bite and, one ill-fated voyage aboard the Orca and a few home visits from British heavyweights Hammer and Amicus later, I was horror’s very own little mini-bitch. It nourished me well right through to my late teens before visitation gradually became less frequent. But I always held out hopes of a rousing return and kept my closet door ajar each night as I slept, just in case it decided to put in an appearance. Regardless of any ups and downs, I’ve never been more content than when perched on its middle ground and the last decade just happens to be it. Should I cast my mind back, then I will be required to traverse the valleys of the shadows before reaching for any summits from a decade prior. Sinking so low ain’t all that bad as, once I find a secure footing, the climb is that much more stupendous as a result.
Further back are those seventies and, while enveloped in mist for this weary traveller, I can still scale the peaks if I’m feeling particularly adventurous. Meanwhile, I’ve heard about the sixties and have undertaken numerous short pilgrimages to the communes of Bava and Hitchcock, but my lungs aren’t quite what they used to be and they seem to be satisfied with a polite distant wave for the most part. I was born in 1974 so, needless to say, I had some catching up to do once I ventured back to snag myself some seedlings. One such kernel was planted beneath the searing Texas sun and I knew instantly that it would require special attention. Should I not have watered this plant, then it couldn’t have hoped to flourish and I’m not entirely convinced that flourish is the operative word when speaking of Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Perish seems more apt. Of course, given that I had already labelled myself a perisher in training, I was the first one in the camper van. Thank fuck that shit veered off course as I didn’t know how much more of Franklin’s whining I could take. Part of me, and a hefty wedge at that, just wanted to wheel him up to the porch and rattle the bird skull mobile, before scarpering like O.J and arming the Polaroid from the bushes. Franklin taught me that the younger generation need to pay. And pay they bloody well did.
I fear I will never forget the reverberations of that rickety sliding door being wrenched crudely open or the leg twitch resulting from Kirk’s tenderizing and that’s fine and dandy with me as being petrified never felt like a bum deal to this particular wide-eyed whippersnapper. When they were handing out social skills, Leatherface thought they said power tools and grabbed himself the one weapon with its very own dental plan. Ten-years-old I was when he revved that beast for the first time and part of me never actually reached eleven. Mercifully, my father was on hand to act as my spotter and remind me that it was only a movie. Indeed it was and I would never have to alarm myself with the prospect of being dangled from a meat hook or feel Grandpa’s hammer tapping against my cranium; but I believe this viewing coincided with me taking the executive decision never again to visit an aviary. Worse still, apparently Texas has the best little whorehouses but they’ll never see a nickel of my loot thanks to the Sawyers. Road trips seemed just too fraught with peril for my liking; so I recruited to a dance academy in Freiburg, Germany instead. Thought it would offer a nice change of pace. Boy was I disillusioned.
You see, it was here that another strip of my childhood innocence was torn away and my stay was anything but relaxing. Have you ever attempted to grab some shut-eye on a compromised mattress only to be set upon by wire barb? Suspiria de profundis is a Latin phrase meaning “sighs from the depths” but there were more than vague moans oozing from the building’s foul fortifications and the interior decorator appeared to be a little too in on the joke for any composure to be struck. They called him Dario and he turned out to be quite the fine artist, as I would continue to learn over the coming years. But it was here that the canvas first bled for me and I kinda liked the way this deep red trickled. Did the film tear me a new one? Two actually, before threading them together with my last fraying nerve. Suspiria still remains the most nightmarish movie wired to my long-term boosters all these years later as it stemmed from Argento’s most intimate phantasms and that young Italian had him some unresolved issues I tell you. All the more for me to lap up it seemed and I slurped his claret trail most gratefully. The more I licked, the hungrier I got, and other suchlike trails began to reveal themselves.
Deviating towards the cerebellum of David Cronenberg is akin to leaping from fryer to furnace as the Canadian master of the macabre is just under 5″8 of the most unrefined horror and happens to be something of an exhibitionist. Shivers and Rabid got me itching, twitching, and gleefully glitching as I received a crash course in contagion. I adored Marilyn Chambers as Rose in Rabid and loved her in spite of her armpit gland and, indeed, because of it. After contracting an unfortunate dash of roadside rabies, she was presented with a new place to insert her tampons and wasn’t afraid to play the dominant role in the bedroom either. Only Cronenberg could have conjured up something so phallic and he’d already dropped a fair few hints with Shivers that he was one step ahead of the eighties. AIDS was still in its infancy and both Shivers and Rabid preempted its telling strike by almost a decade. Did Cronenberg know something we didn’t? Perhaps he sowed the initial seed by way of oral parasite? One thing was for sure, he was relevant and then some, although I was too young at this point to understand why.
The viruses were spreading and Romero had his gargantuan phalanges all over the ailment. With the same acute hands that supplied his pal Dario with any long distance shoulder massages, he fashioned himself a whole universe. Better yet, he penned us into a shopping mall like battery hens and liberally seasoned the plaza with meat I wasn’t the most confident was within its due date. Zombies to my left, zombies to my right, zombies failing to retain equilibrium as they attempted to conquer escalators, zombies dressed up as the most loathsome of breeds – shoppers. This shambles then rambled and it seemed worth the gamble; if you can’t beat ’em join ’em, if you can’t run then amble. I liked me some retail therapy and wasn’t disheartened by the fact that they were way beyond that. I just dug how indifferent they were, seldom harried, not looking to stand out from the crowd. It was all about the next meal and Dawn of The Dead provided slim pickings until the meddlesome motorheads decided to crash the party. If it weren’t for all that horsepower, then perhaps they would have discerned the dinner bell or Daddy George calling out “grubs up fellas” from the glass elevator whilst laughing to himself and all of us maniacally. We were allowed in on the joke and even had time to grab our groceries while the bikers’ bonus ribs were soundly slathered. Tellingly, salad never again appealed after my time as Big G’s mallrat.
Of course, you can’t spend money without first greasing the monkey so to speak and the Doyles just happened to be recruiting so, with All Hallow’s Eve fast approaching, I signed up for some adventures in babysitting. Haddonfield seemed idyllic and the task at hand couldn’t have been proposed easier money. Alas, while the customary carving of jack-o-lanterns was a pleasant enough time waster, I was really made to work for every last dollar. To be fair, I was only in for a cut and Laurie Strode earned herself the true danger money, but watching her trying her absolute darndest to clutch defeat from the jaws of victory was downright exasperating and left me almost as fatigued as she. Halloween was very much a learning exercise for me as I sussed out what not to do with a bread knife after temporarily overcoming the boogeyman and her every folly acted as my fuel. This whole shady debacle was laid on by a gentleman by the name of John Carpenter and, while I escaped the night he came home by the wispiest of hairs on my crown, he soon ushered me to a locale every bit as treacherous.
Would you believe, the Californian coastal town of Antonio Bay was preparing to celebrate its 100th anniversary, and that would suggest perfect timing on my part right? Not once that glowing fog bank came rolling in ominously from the murky waters, with Captain Blake and his men planning to ransack the festivities. Turned out that the crew of the Elizabeth Dane had every reason to feel aggrieved. If there’s one way to piss off a leper the moment his left log drops off, it’s to steal the wallet from his trouser pocket. This is effectively what Father Malone’s ancestors had done and, when a mysterious slab of driftwood washed ashore inscribed with “6 must die”, half a dozen poor suckers simply had to cough up. Ironically, the babysitter just had to get it. Mrs. Kobritz couldn’t have been too dismayed as she had a good innings, the curiously named Dan O’Bannon should’ve known better than to answer his door in the dead of night, and three drunken fishermen were hardly going to be missed come final tally up. However, this left one remaining spot and never before have I wished for a child to get it as much as little Andy.
Sorry kid, you were admittedly a pretty inoffensive little bleeder but, when I weighed up all the options, you seemed the most surplus to requirements. That way, while your mother, local radio DJ Stevie Wayne, was mourning the loss of her precious boy, I could console her back at her lighthouse and introduce her to my own roving searchlight. The Fog had done a number on me and this Carpenter fellow seemed to be on something of a roll so I jotted his name in my notepad and awaited his next movement with great interest. Didn’t have to wait long either as, no sooner had the mist subsided, than he whisked me away to an even chiller climate. This time it was off to the Antarctic and a remote American outpost many clicks from the faintest whiff of civilization. Male bonding appeared to be the order of the day and that hopefully meant getting my very own beard so I signed up before the ice began to crack. I’ve always been more of a cat person than a dog guy and The Thing may just be responsible for my rationalization. Of course, felines had a habit of getting into all kinds of trouble too, but fuck getting my cheek slathered by this mangy mutt’s four-pronged licker.
This was getting to be a habit and Carpenter seemed to know precisely how to prise me from my pelt at every last time of asking. However, he couldn’t be expected to steer this vessel alone, and neither was he expected to do so as great new horror movies felt pretty much like a bi-weekly occurrence. Cronenberg was continuing to head even further out, Argento rode valiantly on the crest of his early eighties wave, Romero lifted the curtain on his very own Creepshow, while Hooper decided on a distinct change of direction and it led directly beneath my bed. Poltergeist felt very much like a Steven Spielberg film for the most part but Tobe had his own designs and many an illogical fear of clowns stemmed from a carnival laid on in hapless Robbie Freeling’s sole honor. There wasn’t a great deal of soleil to this cirque and it unsettled me to have been handed front row tickets as that hurtful harlequin commenced its harassing. Meanwhile, I have never since trusted any tree resting against my window pane, and was far less inclined to pop any pimples in my bathroom mirror after hanging out with the Freelings.
At least deep space was safe. Apparantly, never once had a scream been heard from the vast ocean of emptiness, and I liked me those odds so took my seat aboard the Nostromo and slid contentedly into stasis. It was all going well until Kane went sniffing around oviums he really shouldn’t and, when an uninvited face guest gave him a hug and landed him a stint in quarantine, the crew and I thanked our lucky stars that things didn’t escalate any further. Alas, this particular constellation wasn’t exactly heaving with good fortune, and one dodgy meal later, the poor fellow came down with a rather nasty case of acid reflux. Any lingering dreams of becoming an astronaut when I came of age were swiftly and conclusively dashed and it became crystal that horror had a handle on any coordinates I tapped in, so I fed this growing tumor at every available opportunity. This entailed red-eyed Rottweilers and their similarly cantankerous owners, possessed ten-year-olds with severe anger management issues and pea-green vomit, axe-wielding nutbags with wives who warranted a sound chopping, and all manner of other deviants looking to replenish my phobia font.
Occasionally I saw fit only to slum it and numerous all-time favorites emerged during the early eighties to show me how the other half lived. Harry Bromley Davenport’s Xtro was one and I wonder if his ears burn every time I mention its wonderful name. The critics were fairly unanimous in their scathing and to me this acted purely as paving, leading me directly up its garden path and into the eye of one of the most ridiculous storms I have ever had the good fortune of being soaked through to my skin by. Among those attending were a full-scale Action Man, pocket-sized tank of despair, yet another clown to strike off my birthday party invite list, phallic Pez Dispenser, pissed off panther, literal man-child, and there was even a spot of extraterrestrial incest thrown in to lower the bar of good taste further still. My time with Xtro was then followed up with a short trip to the Galaxy of Terror, before picking up The Deadly Spawn on the route back through the solar system. Fuck quality, I was all about the quantity by this point, and no longer fussy as to where the next fix would come from as they all tasted like sherbet.
I regard 1985 to be the pivotal year for this particular horror aficionado as it involved a four-strong assault on my senses that no other year has since been able to match. Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator got the disembodied head rolling, Lamberto Bava’s Demons kicked it about like a hacky sack, Dan O’Bannon’s The Return of The Living Dead then dipped it in Trioxin, before delivering it to the safe and ridiculously oversized hands of Romero for the all-important slam-dunked three pointer. Day of The Dead was like all my prayers answered in 100 blood-drenched minutes and I’m fairly assured that the whole of ’85 was spent clapping my flappers like a randy seal. Had I known then how things would tail off as the decade worn on then I would have shed my tears in advance but my waters eventually broke by the turn of the nineties as all my idols collectively shrugged their shoulders and took themselves a well-deserved hiatus. An extended period of quietude followed and I still held onto the faith, despite the nagging feeling that my cherished horror had finally fallen from grace.
Had it fuck! Ever heard of a sleeping giant? Well even the burliest of juggernauts need their eight hours eventually or else they’ll end up turning sane and perish the thought of Jason Voorhees attempting to fit into society. Eventually dem bones began to stir, a fresh cohort of freaks shuffled out from the dark recesses, and zombies grabbed themselves the monopoly as tills worldwide once again began chiming in unison. Its progress may have been a little chequered and there may be less bona fide cherries to pick from the last decade, but the one thing I’ve been impressed with is can-do attitude and there’s an abundance of that out there currently. Movies like Scott Derrickson’s Sinister reminded me where my colon is, Richard Bates Jr.’s Excision and Kevin Kölsch’s Starry Eyes shone their lights forth, Ti West’s The House of The Devil took me back to the start and terrified me all over again, and I’m barely even skimming the custard here. I’m a nervous wreck when I dim the lights, a bundle of nerves as I crank up the volume, and never happier than when searching around in the snapping shadows for my surrendered skin. I know one thing Grueheads – every last chill and spill has been so worth it.