I saw my first scary film at the age of about 9. We were staying at the house of friends in Edinburgh - quirky university lecturers who lived in a huge multi-story house in the west end where all the embassies are. Just one floor of their house was bigger than our entire cottage. They had a mynah bird in its own huge caged domain and served venison for dinner. They had a separate playroom for their only child, an over-clever boy who’d be programming his computer in the days before anyone really knew what computers were.
After dinner the kids were sent to the playroom where we watched TV - a 60s English oddity called “Psychomania” (1971) which seemed to wrap urban legends and strangely contemporary themes of bikers, mods and 60s cool into the tale of a zombie biker crew who, following their messianic leader and his magic talisman, killed themselves in bizarre ways in order to return to from the dead to terrorise the lieges. According to IMDB it's a black comedy, and there were funny parts which we could cling to - a policeman inspecting a bike at the bottom of a tower block looks up to the owner standing at the roof top and says “Is this yours? Come down and move it please” to which he responds with a cheery “OK!” and a flying leap. But my first "horror" film had such an impact on me that even after we hastily turned over to the golf before the film had even ended to try to overlay the frightening imagery with something cheerful and anodyne (and I’ve never looked at golf in the same way since), I was gripped by a terror that made me feel sick to my bones. I didn’t sleep that night and had terrible dreams of silver-clad men coming in to my room to bear me away to their zombie lair.
The taste for horror films is a peculiar part of my make-up given my formative experiences of them. I devoured tales of UFOs, ghosts and the unexplained until the point when I realised that human credulity had more to do with the persistence of these tales than anything else. I’ve still got a soft spot for a good horror film; unfortunately there aren’t many of those around. The most recent thing I saw which was genuinely scary was a Thai film called “Shutter” - a young photographer starts seeing mysterious shadows on his photographs and discovers that someone is haunting him. Like all good stories the impact was in the idea and the imagery rather than the reality.
There are two reasons I was thinking about this today: one, because eight schoolchildren were crushed to death on Tuesday in Guangna township in Sichuan province because one of them shouted that he’d seen a ghost; and two, I did a test last night on the BBC website which registered levels of “Disgust”. One picture was so revolting that the image stayed with me until I went to sleep and contributed to uneasy dreams not unlike the dreams I had after seeing “Psychomania” (except, and this is a relief, without the silver space-suits).