I am an old-school horror addict. Books, movies, television shows... If it pre-dates 2000 I have seen or read it, I have been irrevocably damaged by it, and I have loved every heart-stopping, nail-biting, pants-wetting second of it.
It all started when I saw Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho at eight (not a typo) years of age. A gritty black and white film, with suspenseful music and a deranged killer who murders his mother and then treats her corpse as though she's still alive whilst killing women dressed as her; what a fascinating and crazy ride! I found it infinitely more engaging than The Sound of Music, with all those curtain-wearing merry-makers. I was immediately hooked.
Of course, I did not do this to myself at age eight. Horror addiction is in my DNA. My dad was a horror addict, and for the first 18 years of my life he was my dealer as well as his own. The father that was so strict he wouldn't let his daughters be "corrupted" by lipstick until we left school, completely disappeared when it came to horror.
Like any true addiction, horror has messed with my life. I'm not merely afraid of the dark; I sleep with almost every light in the house on, every single night. Despite the constant light, I have spent countless hours lying awake at night, dying to pee, but immobilized by fear of leaving the "safety" of my bed.
I have spent many nights sleeping on my sister's bedroom floor, absolutely traumatized after watching another X-Files episode. I have strategically placed scary dolls in cupboards, beds and darkened hallways to shock my sisters, which is all well and good until I am the one waking up with a porcelain doll in my face.
But no matter how sleepless a night is, I wake each morning and think it was totally worth it. And I happily, willingly, go back for more. In fact, I have so immensely enjoyed being addicted to horror, I want to share the joy and tell you about the main influences I have read or watched that have led to my deliciously disturbed state of mind. No better time to do it than Halloween, which, for those with blackened souls like mine, is a holiday akin to Christmas. I want to help you get into the spirit -- pun intended.
Watching Psycho at age eight was the beginning of my love affair with horror, and with Sir Alfred Hitchcock. I went on to watch The Birds, Vertigo, The 39 Steps, Rear Window, Rebecca, Dial M for Murder, Jamica Inn, and the television series, Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
Everything this horror pioneer made was a moving piece of art. Hitchcock was referred to as The Master of Suspense, but he was fascinated with the psychology behind murder, and it is that insight that makes his work truly chilling. Things I never thought of the same way again: birds, hotels, wigs, basements, telescopes, shower curtains, large sums of cash.
I was nine when I saw the original The Amityville Horror, and found the plot so disturbing, and the concept of it being based on a true story so frightening, that I can recall exactly what happened even though I have not watched it since. I remember George is the name of father who moved his family into the haunted house. Jodie is the name of the evil girl spirit. And George is woken "by the house" at 3:15 am every day -- a fact which I think of whenever I wake up to pee and find that it is freaking 3:15 am precisely. Things I never thought of the same way again: people called George or Jodie, Christian hymns, green eyes, wooden slatted cupboard doors, wooden-framed windows, flies, basements, 3:15 am.
I was 10 years old when I watched Finishing School, a movie about an all-girls private school with multiple student disappearances. This film is no Picnic at Hanging Rock, which is more mystery than horror. Even though I watched it almost 29 years ago, I doubt I would be brave/stupid enough to watch it again. The ending was so scary, it still gives me chills. Things I never thought of the same way again: communal showers, air-conditioning vents, rocking horses, single mums, rose gardens, Masterfoods finishing sauces.
I was 12 when I watched The Shining in a hotel room in Hong Kong -- and afterwards, my father made me walk back alone to the room I was sharing with my sister, three rooms away. I have seen it several times since, and it still always unnerving. The casting and acting of Shelley Duvall as the wife is utterly bemusing, but Jack Nicholson is beyond brilliant as a writer with increasingly homicidal cabin-fever. Things I never thought of the same way again: corridors, twins, pointer fingers, words written backwards, typewriters, '70s décor (especially wallpaper and green tiles), elevators, little boys with shaggy haircuts, hotels, snow, Native American burial grounds, empty bars, bartenders, anyone named Jack, the word "dull", hedge mazes, the number 237.
The Shining is based on a book by the same name, written by Stephen King, who is my God. King's books sat in a darkened corner of our den at home, so naturally beckoned me from an early age. His writing is incredible, and his imagination even more so. Simply put, the man is the ultimate twisted mofo (no other term for it), who knows how to tell a cracking and terrifying yarn. Misery, Pet Cemetery, Carrie, It, Cujo, and of course The Shining, were all major influences in my childhood, and taught me a lot about things that were possible in the dark, but scientifically could never actually happen. Things I never thought of the same way again: certain towns in America such as Boulder and Derry, pets, unexplained crumbs on the bed, mop buckets, Kit -- the car from Knight Rider, clowns, sewers, Simon and Garfunkel songs, mouthwash.
I also highly recommend you read Roald Dahl's adult fiction -- not just the stuff he wrote for Playboy but his short story collections such as Kiss Kiss. And on Halloween night, after the trick or treating is done, go to bed with Rebecca (by Daphne du Maurier) -- and try to get some sleep...
Okay, I have go now -- I can hear a phone ringing. I pray that the call is not coming from inside the house...