The Comforts of the Coffin: Finding Solace in Horror Cinema
There’s always something to worry about. If it’s not the political chaos caused by the recent referendum, there’s the fear that an asteroid could wipe out all life on earth, that a superbug will eradicate most of the population, or that the mega volcano under Yellowstone Park will finally blow. In times of stress we seek comfort, be that in each other, food, drink, or a good book. Some of us seek comfort in horror movies.
We all have our go-to comfort movies and telly, I’m sure. Ali, my wife, often chooses BBC’s Pride and Prejudice or Jane Eyre as her comfort viewing; I’m more likely to choose old Doctor Who or a horror movie. Comfort viewing is strongly linked with memory, an attempt to emulate a time when we felt more secure, or happier.
I blame my mother. I know, how very Freudian. But it was she who recorded a season of Roger Corman’s Poe movies for me when I was around twelve or thirteen. There’s nothing particularly soothing about those films—just consider the scene in The Masque of the Red Death when the party guest is burned alive in a gorilla costume; or Vincent price running through the dank corridors of the castle in The Pit and the Pendulum screaming “True! True!”—but revisiting them now reminds me of a time when I fell in love with the horror genre, when those old 60s movies, beautifully garish and full of eye-rolling madness, sent me to the original Poe stories and instilled in me a taste for a drop of the dark stuff. One of the very first video cassettes I brought back in the day was Die Monster Die. It’s a pretty dreadful adaptation of Lovecraft’s brilliant ‘The Colour out of Space’ featuring a cardboard cast and an ailing Boris Karloff, but I watched that movie again and again, and remember fondly the excitement of building my very own horror movie library.
I love those old films, and love is strongly linked to my enthusiasm for the horror movies of the Hammer studios. When Ali and I first met, at a very boozy publisher’s do in a comedy club, we bonded over our love of movies, and in particularly our shared love for Hammer’s Dracula. We both quoted lines from the movie to each other and sited the exact same scene as our favourite bit. It was clear that we were going to get along, and I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than snuggle up with my good lady wife on the sofa and watch Peter Cushing racing across a table to leap onto a pair of mouldering curtains, pulling them down and flooding a chamber with sunlight as Christopher Lee crumbles into dust. Happy days.
I suppose there is a certain comforting archaic feel to those old movies. My mother certainly considered them mostly harmless because of their age. (Clearly she had never seen The Nanny, or To the Devil a Daughter), but I also find that comfort in less obvious films. Take Texas Chainsaw Massacre for example. It sounds strange to say it, but there’s a movie that makes me happy. When the ban was lifted in the UK and it was finally shown in cinemas, I took a friend along who didn’t really watch horror movies. Watching his reactions as Tobe Hooper’s classic screamed in our faces for 90 minutes reaffirmed for me the power of the movie. A movie, which, let us not forget has very little on-screen blood or gore compared to some of the stronger fare of recent years. I was likewise delighted to find a friend who had never seen or heard of Psycho. To watch his reaction to one of the most notorious twists in cinema was a real joy. And it also reminded me how brilliant Anthony Perkins’ performance is in that movie, because for most of the film you genuinely believe that he is the nice guy, and there really is a domineering mother somewhere in that house.
Watching somebody moved or shocked by one of my favourite films reminds me of the love I have for horror movies, and why I love them in the first place. A real chill, a clever shock will make you feel viscerally alive, remind you what it is to live and be moved by a story. Some will snuggle under a blanket and watch a box set or two. Me, I’ll happily wrap myself in a quilt and watch Ash chop off his hand, replace it with a chainsaw and go to town on the Evil Dead.