Sunday 12 May 2019

Be afraid... be very afraid... of mums: A Mother's Day remembrance

It was my mother who taught me fear. Better yet, we got to be afraid together.
I was the kind of kid who loved reading comic books and science fiction, fantasy and anything a little bit weird - still am that kind of kid, just add a few decades.
But it was fear that brought the pair of us together. You see... she loved horror.
My dad was never into horror - to this day I remember the disgust in his voice one weekend when I watched Army of Darkness while he was in the room, definitely not his cup of tea. So when my mum wanted to watch horror movies... well, that's where I came in.
She didn't like watching horror movies alone, so junior me was her company.
Hammer Horror movies are my first memory of watching such films as a kid - seeing Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee battle it out as Van Helsing and Dracula, or in any number of a bunch of other roles in that era.

Steely-eyed and brandishing a crucifix - Peter Cushing at his finest.

And so I discovered vampires - and later, when Peter Cushing appeared in Star Wars, gasped at him being a bad guy instead of our earnest hero.
Earnest heroes were in vogue around then - other movies I remember from around that time were the Quatermass movies, with the gruff professor of the title fighting all manner of alien beings.

"I can assure you this is not what I ordered from the menu!"

Then there were the Val Lewton movies, such as the exquisite Cat People starring Simone Simon, or I Walked With A Zombie. That era of movies also brought what is still, to this day, one of my favourite horror movies - The Haunting, directed by Robert Wise, a story recently evolved into a Netflix drama, The Haunting of Hill House. We both shrieked through the black and white horrors, often scarier than modern-day movies because without special effects, the horrors remained in the imagination, which can conjure up creatures far more terrifying than anything on screen.

The Haunting - so terrifying because the monsters are in your head

We used to watch these late at night, usually a Friday or Saturday night. Back then, there were only three channels to watch - and late-night Friday and Saturday on ITV in the UK was when the horrors came out to play. 
The choice of movies was sometimes... eccentric. But that could be good - odd things surfaced such as the Australian horror movie Harlequin, with Robert Powell as a messiah figure... a deadly one. 
Creaky old American horrors also showed up - which brought gems among them such as Them! - in which giant radioactive ants menaced the nation, and along with them, British horrors such as The Day The Earth Caught Fire - to this day one of the best representations of the press in sci-fi movies.

"Movie outfit? No, this is my regular clothing."

As time went on, there were other scares to come. My mum was a Stephen King fan, and in 1979, that meant the mini-series of Salem's Lot. I was seven that year, and to this day, I can still see Danny Glick floating outside the window... 

Seriously, dude, do NOT let him in. You're on the second floor, for crying out loud. 

Then came the movie that took me several attempts to watch, because it scared me so much. 
Alien really was the movie that made me hide behind the sofa. 

From left to right, you're not getting a payrise, you're about to become a superstar, you're about to lose your head.

It all seemed so convincing. The crew of the Nostromo weren't polished, smooth heroes. No square jaws. Just a dingy, run-down ship and a bunch of people who make mistakes. Death came inevitably, but these people felt like folk you might know, that you might see on the street around your house. They might be deep in space, but it brought the terror close to home. 
By this time, I was hooked. And it was thanks to my mum. 
In later years, she told me my grandmother did the same with her. As a child, my mum was dragged along to the cinema to see every scary movie that came to Derry. 
There are many things that get handed down in life - a love of horror doesn't often get listed among them. 
My mum's no longer with me - but it's Mother's Day today, and it seems to me there can be no better way to remember her than to settle down and watch a horror.
Thanks, mum - oh, and when your granddaughter's old enough? She'll be staying up with me to hide behind the sofa too. 
Happy Mother's Day. 

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