Friday, 23 December 2016

In Praise of All Things Spooktacular!

Look, I know this is an unseasonal topic, but hey.  Sometimes, these things pop into my head at weird times.  So, whilst other bloggers are writing about mince pies and presents and all things festive, I have decided to tell you all about my love of horror.

For me, a good horror film (or TV show, or novel...) gives me the same feeling I get when I strap myself into a rollercoaster seat.  Those butterflies in my belly.  That sensation of not quite knowing what is about to happen.  The adrenalin flooding through my veins...

I recently finally got around to watching the three-part drama, The Enfield Haunting.  I'd had it recorded for five months and been dying to see it (pun intended), but other things just kept getting in the way.  Finally, with a fortnight off work over the Christmas holidays, I figured I could settle down and binge-watch the whole thing.

It did all the things I wanted it to.  I jumped a couple of times.  I leaned forwards in my seat, awaiting something spooky.  I felt my heartbeat increase.  And I loved it.

My love of the horror genre started young.  Like many kids, I was fascinated by ghost stories, and growing up in an RAF family, living on or around military bases, I heard what felt like hundreds.  

"Have you heard about the WWII pilot, who was shot down near here?"  My friends would whisper, in the school playground.  "He still wanders the old airfield, his scarf billowing behind him, even when there's no breeze..."

"You know that big house, that stands separately from the others in the Officers' Quarters?"  Another would pipe up.  "If you walk past it at night, you can see a woman's face in the window.  It's the widow of an officer killed in conflict.  She killed herself when he never came home and now she sits at the window, waiting for his return..."

Those stories fired my imagination and I found myself reading books with ghostly topics (age-appropriate, but spooky enough to fascinate and frighten me in equal measure).  I even tried my hand at writing my own ghost stories, using the books I'd read and the tales I'd been told as inspiration.

You see, I didn't (and still don't entirely) doubt that ghosts existed.  I was convinced that they did, because, at the age of around six, I had seen one.

Hear me out...

At the time, we lived in military housing, on a base that had been around for years.  It was the first place I lived where I remember hearing many ghost stories and it's probably where my love of all things spooky began.

One particular night in Winter, my mum announced that it wasn't long until bedtime, so I ought to run up to the bathroom and get my nightie, where it was hanging over the radiator to stay warm.  Immediately, despite the light being on in the hall, I did not want to go upstairs.  I had an overwhelming feeling that there was somebody in our back garden, and that when I got to the middle of the staircase, where it turned and there was a big window, looking out to the back of the house, I would see who it was and it would frighten me.  Now, I hadn't been watching anything spooky on TV, nor had I been chatting about ghosts at school (the stories came after this incident, as I was so keen to tell all my friends about it and they responded with their own tales),  So, there was basically no reason for me to feel that way, but feel it I did.  Anyway, I decided I'd run as fast as I could to grab the nightie and leg it back down the stairs in a flash.  

I can't remember whether I looked out of the window on the way up, or on the way down (although I know I purposefully didn't on one of the journeys and I guess it would make sense for it to have been the way down), but I do know - and vividly recall - that I looked out of the window at one point and saw something I couldn't - and still can't - explain.

There was a woman standing in the garden.  She was dressed all in white and she was glowing, like an angel in a Nativity scene.  She wore a long white cloak-type thing and she had her arms crossed against her chest.  We had no washing on the line, nobody in the family was outside (especially not wearing a weird shroud and randomly glowing) and there was nothing in the garden that could have been mistaken for a bizarrely luminescent woman.  I saw her.  I remember her, well over two decades later.  But when I went back up to bed, shortly afterwards, she was gone.  And I never saw her again.


Six years later, when I was twelve, I was lying in bed, unable to sleep.  My Nan was dying in hospital and we didn't know how long she had left.  I was lying under my covers, all tucked up, when suddenly my room turned freezing cold.  Like, proper cold; it made my cheeks sting.  I sat up and realised that right beside me, on the edge of the bed, there was a chilly breeze, causing the drop in temperature.  My windows were shut (I have such a phobia of spiders that I rarely ever sleep with the window open, no matter how hot it is), so I knew it wasn't that.  At first, I was scared, but just as I was about to duck under my duvet and hide (from the... cold?!), I smelt my Nan's perfume.  Really strongly.  And then, my skin prickled, like there was somebody next to me, sitting really close.  I looked at the clock (I'm still not sure why I did that) and saw that it was just a minute or two after 10pm.  I whispered: "Bye, Nan."  And as soon as I did, the smell of perfume evaporated, my room warmed up again and I burst into tears.  Within ten minutes, we had a phone call to tell us Nan had died at 10pm.

Now, I am absolutely certain that there are plenty of sceptics reading this and thinking "pah, both those things can be very easily explained."  And I'm sure they probably could be.  But I won't ever believe the "sensible" explanation you give me for either.  Because I was there.  And I know what I saw, what I felt and what it meant to me.

But my love of horror and my belief in ghosts don't necessarily go hand in hand.

After all, I might think nothing of curling up under a duvet to watch The Shining, but that doesn't mean that I want to meet a malevolent spirit, nor does it even necessarily mean that I think such hideous horrors could occur in reality.

The fact that you can separate a belief in the afterlife from your enjoyment of horror is one of the things I love about it.  You don't have to believe that the things that are happening on screen, or in the book you're reading, could happen in real life.  You just have to let them in enough to allow them to give you a damn good scare.

Seriously, go watch The Shining.

Just as listening to music can take you to a different emotional place, so watching a horror film (or reading a horror novel) can be its own form of escapism.  Sure, you're escaping to a place you definitely wouldn't want to visit in reality, but whilst you're thinking about demons or poltergeists, you're not brooding about your own troubles (in fact, they can make your own woes seem trivial for a short while, and that is no mean feat).

There is something wonderful about allowing yourself to get swept up in a spooky story, or settling down to watch a film that you know is going to freak you out (even if you do end up watching it from behind your hands).  And when you know you're going to have to keep the light on for a bit longer before you go to sleep, you just know the film/book did its job!

I understand why there are people out there who don't like horror, for a hundred different reasons.  Some people just don't believe in ghosts and find the notion of demons, monsters etc ludicrous.  Other people just plain dislike being scared.  And that's fine.

But, for me, there will always be a special place in my heart for the films, books and anecdotes that have scared me the most.  Anything that causes a strong reaction in me - whether it's laughter, a warm fuzzy feeling, or complete and utter terror - is always going to resonate for longer than something I watch and just think "meh" about.

So, here's to the ghost stories, the horror films and the tales of monsters from long ago.  May you continue to scare and delight me for many years to come.

And, er, may I not need to pee in the middle of the night after watching something scary...

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