I can tell you when I became a fan of horror movies.

I was 14, my cousin brought round a copy of Day of the Dead on VHS.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to watch it (I’d had a nasty encounter with John Carpenter’s version of The Thing at age 11.  My dad had asked me if I was sure I wanted to stay up and see it on telly, I assured him I was fine and made it as far as the dog mutation scene before all but passing out in pure terror.  My friend Zac had a similar experience but his was enhanced by the family German Shepherd entering the room during the same scene and deciding to cough up a hair ball, Zac tells me he jumped oout of the living room window and needed to be coaxed out of the garden shed by his brother), but went along with peer pressure and loved it.  From then on and for at least five years, horror movies became a pretty big obsession.  Many late nights were spent drinking cider and watching snowy bootlegs of Blood Sucking Freaks and arguing over which version of Halloween 2 was the best*.

Watching horror films became a low-grade badge of honor and rite of passage.  At 14, it seemed to earn me a rep at school, I became the ‘go-to-guy’ for films and recommendations.   My burgeoning video collection became the stuff of legend through chinese whispers, kids thought I had a ‘wall of videos’.  Watching the most intensely gory or a banned movie was the school equivalent of getting a tattoo.

This was 1988, 6 years after the ‘Video Nasty’ furor in the UK, fueled by rants in the Daily Mail about how Betamax copies of Evil Dead were going to turn us all into a nation of pervert psychopaths.  The British Board of Film Classification, or the BBFC, banned several titles.  They may have just as well sent us a shopping list.  These movies became our holy grails, we NEEDED to see them.  The BBFC weren’t going to sit up in their castle in Soho Square and dictate to us what we could and couldn’t see, oh no, they could cut thirty seconds of razor slashing out of Hellraiser 2: Hellbound, but we would track down an crystal clear copy of the uncut version, we were fucking rock and roll man, nothing could stop us!

Well, actually we were more West Coast Electro and Kraftwerk than rock and roll but we quickly found out a series of contacts and started tracking down, snowy, grainy VHS copies of Cannibal Ferrox and Faces of Death.

Considering this was all pre-internet, we did pretty good.  One of our sources was a guy called Neil, he would turn up at the pub and assure us that he had a directors cut of Day of the Dead complete with Bub’s finger biting scene.  We would eagerly snap that up and then he would go on to let us know he could also get us A Hundred and One Dalmations with test animation footage cut in too.  Neil was also a Disney buff, the love of two genres always seemed bizarre to me but I hadn’t realized  that even thought I was mainly interested in tracking down a copy of Night if the Bloody Apes, I too was beginning to appreciate other genres and directors.  I was becoming a film buff.

So, the VHS tapes began to stack up, in one memorable weekend around £115 was spent on dodgy movies.   I remember one particularly odd double bill of Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers and the Dolph Lundgren version of The Punisher.  Always starting with a hazy roar of static and a wobbly sound track, many late night sessions followed where three or four of us would sit in my front room with bags of crisps and cider watching the likes of the Amsterdam cut of Evil Dead, The Burning, Zombie Flesh Eaters and Tenebrae.

But we didn’t just stay at home.  In 1989 the first Multiplexes began appearing in the UK, I began to steadily attend the movies, at one point I was going three times a week, tickets were only £3.50 back then and I was at that magic age where I could still get a half fare on the bus but pass for 18 at the cinema.  The first 18 movie I saw on the big screen was Hellraiser 2, our plan to get me in was foolproof; all of my friends were actually eighteen or over at the time, I was still four years behind but I would pay for all seven of us to get in.  What ever doubts the box office may of had were wiped away by the fact I was handing over twenty five quid.  Ultimately we were dismayed at the afore mentioned thirty second cut (among others) and left the cinema annoyed, but I had scored a minor victory that night, I was in!

From then on we attended most of the horror movies that got released from eighty nine through to the mid nineties; Society, They Live, Elm Streets part four to seven, God how we cheered when we saw the head explosion in The Fly 2.

In an effort to keep up with the new Cannon Multiplex, the smaller cinemas in town began to run midnight shows and all nighters.  Double bills of Prince of Darkness and Phantasm II, both Evil Dead movies and so on.  We got to know the box office folks well and were actually allowed up into the projection booth for the Back to the Future all nighter.  That was sadly the last late show at the Above Bar Cannon, it got closed down a few months later and was converted into a giant theme pub, again the first of its kind in Southampton.

In the meantime, my video collection had grown.  Well over two hundred videos of all genres now.  Books on cult cinema, John Carpenter (easily my favorite horror director) and Dario Argento lined my shelves.  Movie scores made for well over eighty percent of my record and tape collection and my bed room walls were clogged with movie posters.  The bug had bitten hard.

Times change, people change and friendships evolve and drift apart.  A few of us lost contact with each other or moved in different directions.  One thing lead to another and soon I was seeing Ange, a woman who managed to politely listen to  my drunken assertions that The Rocketeer was one of the greatest movies of all time and still end up going out with me.  I liked this girl, she put on a film festival at uni that showed Interview With the Vampire and wrote her dissertation on the Alien Trilogy (as it was then) and her favorite was Alien 3 (yeah, yeah, whatever, it’s a classic, get over it).

We married in 2000 (in Vegas baby!)  still both major film buffs, regularly attending the film quiz at Harbour Lights cinema and scoring the winning prize on a few occasions.  I watched the Ring movies and had to turn off the tv with a broom handle, lest Sadako drag me through the screen, but horror was tailing off for me.  The arrival of the kids changed things there as well.  Fatherhood put me into a place emotionally where horror didn’t do it for me any more.  From a practical point of view, keeping a DVD of Deep Red around when your five year old is starting to use the DVD player herself is not the best idea, but the current trend in ‘Torture Porn’ is extremely off putting to me now.  Funny to think that at age 15, I would be front and center for Hostel 2, these days, I’d much rather watch Rear Window.

Gore is much less important to me now but I love the element of strangeness, films like Phantasm and Pontypool intrigue me much, much more and they would appear to be on the rise again.

I’m still even hoping Carpenter might direct another decent movie, he’s about due for one…

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