1. A Nightmare On Elm Street – (1984).
I am ten years old, being babysat by my older brother (Adrian) on a family vacation to sunny Cairns. My bed-time at this age is 8.30, but my brother – uncharacteristically blasé towards parental law and perhaps wanting to show off his newfound power (the babysitter giveth and taketh away) – has allowed me to stay up to 9.30, to watch an episode of Mr Bean. While I sit through the first half of the episode without fuss – pedestrian fare involving Bean, his car, attempting to park his car etc – halfway through it takes a turn for the worse.
I sit, rigid and sweating in an inexplicable and subjugating terror as Mr Bean takes his girlfriend to see A Nightmare on Elm Street. The physical comedy of the piece does nothing to detract from my nerves, as – my pre-teen brain rationalises – if Mr Bean’d do that much to avoid watching the film, surely it must be the most petrifying film in all existence.
As the episode plays out, I recall, with mounting dread, a friend of mine describing to me the various ways she’d seen Kruger kill victims across the films, the details becoming more detailed, more gruesome as she watches the colour drain from my face. “What,” she smirks: “Your parents don’t let you watch MA movies?”.
“In one of them,” my brother says absent-mindedly, cutting through my self-destructive thought process, “Freddy Kruger eats a pizza with the faces of all his victims on it, and they’re screaming in pain as he gnashes them to putty with his teeth.”
I stare down the lone piece of Hawaiian sitting innocent upon my plate. Suddenly I’m not hungry.
“That’s it,” Adrian announces as the credits roll. “Ready for bed?”
It is now 1AM. I can tell because the entire bedroom is lit-up, possessed by the alien glow of the alarm clock, its neon green features mocking me, daring me to fall asleep. This is both one of the first times I’ve slept in a room by myself and one of the first times I’ve been up past 12, and it’s not working out particularly well for me.
I am alone, frozen by the weight of my terror in the inky dark of this foreign bedroom. Each time I close my eyes a frenetic image of Freddy Kruger bursts out towards me, gnarled and scorched face parted into a manic grin as he tries with desperation to tear me apart. It’s not real. It’s not real. It’s not real. I can hear my father snoring in the other room; someone moving around in the apartment downstairs, and I think that, should I scream for help, someone would come running. But my parents would be angry – not just at me, but my brother – and even at ten I’m acutely aware that all-encompassing terror of an episode of Mr Bean is, well, childish. This is my battle to fight.
1.30 AM. I am alone. I close my eyes, and immediately that image of Kruger appears like a deranged, psychopathic pop-up, already looming out the vast expanse of my traitor mind, ready to eviscerate me as my brother’s words echo through my skull: “If he kills you in the dream, he kills you in real life.” Let’s do this.
1.31 AM. I am not alone. Kruger looms over me, ready to attack. As he does, a figure appears – two, three, ten, fifty – to stand by my side. My addled brain, desperate for sleep, begins to conjure up all and any literary and filmic characters I have affection for: Frodo and Samwise from Lord of the Rings hold my hand, swords at the ready. With them come Peter, Susan, Edmund, Lucy and The White Witch from Narnia, the magical books from Pagemaster, Falkor and Bastian from The Neverending Story, the foxes from The Animals of Farthing Wood. In an instant, Kruger is gone, and I finally drift towards unconsciousness, legions of characters swirling through my brain.
The next day I wake up, rested and unharmed, and write to myself in a near-intelligible scrawl: I want to write characters that stick in people’s brains.
Dated effects, but great imagination. 3/5 stars.
2. The Craft – (1996).
At age 13 I discover The Craft and immediately fall for the elven beauty of Fairuza Balk. She’s everything I want to be: intimidating, terrifying, magical, dressed head to toe in shades of black. After the umpteenth time watching the film, a strange and enticing thought occurs to me: could I use magic to lose weight?. It’s worth a shot.
In the backyard of my childhood home sits a blackened metal drum used for party bonfires and the occasional outdoor cook-up. One afternoon, when nobody’s home, I stoke up a small fire with sticks and leaves. After some deliberation I add a dash of rose-oil, to make it smell “witchy”. Finally, I retrieve a plain white piece of Xerox printer paper and write on it: SOUL.
With trepidation I approach the flames. Am I really going to do this? I look from the paper to the fire – quickly extinguishing itself – and down at my ungainly body. Fuck it.
I drop the paper into the flames and watch as the outside catches alight, the smell of eucalypt, smoke and saccharine rose-oil filling my nostrils, and close my eyes, thinking: I want to be thin.
A beat. I open my eyes, cautiously. The smell has dissipated – as has the fire, which seems to finally have smothered itself and died. The paper remains in-tact, a little crisp round the edges, the word SOUL untouched by the flames. My body is the same. I laugh to myself, quietly, derisively, and carefully fold the paper up to hide it in the depths of my desk drawer.
Ridiculous, unbelievable concept and script anchored by some surprisingly solid acting. 3.5/5.
3. The Haunting – (1999).
I am 16 years old, at a family gathering. Something fairly dreadful is playing – “The Nutbush”, perhaps – and my mother, in revelry, is dancing with a previously unseen vigour. She’s on her third or fourth gin and tonic (mixed by my father, who “always makes them better”) and the drinks have been getting stronger as the night has worn on.
“Come dance!”, she cries, shimmying violently in my direction with a spray of tonic water and lime. “Come and have some fun!”.
I turn with a roll of my eyes and leave the room.
Later. I am sitting in the family room, playing my Game Boy as the last of the guests begin finally to trickle out into the night. Suddenly, violently, Mum drops onto the couch next to me, the shadow of a frown dancing across her face.
“Turn it off, or – or pause that thing,” she commands, waving her hand in the direction of my gaming machine. Then: “Why don’t you want to spend time with me?”.
I’m genuinely unsure how to respond. It’s not that I don’t want to spend time with her – although, intrinsically, I don’t, I’m unsure as to why that is – or that I don’t like dancing (I really don’t) or “The Nutbush” (I really, really don’t), it’s…
I don’t have an answer for her. Slowly, her hand reaches across the couch, takes my hand in hers. She smiles, a little teary, a little tired.
“It’s the gin,” she murmurs. “Dad always makes them too strong, doesn’t he.” Then: “I love you, you know?”.
The next day. I am sitting on the couch, about to watch a VHS copy of The Haunting I’ve recorded from late night television. I’ve just pressed play when Mum walks in to boil the kettle.
“What’re you up to?”, she asks, arms reaching out out to slide around herself.
“Nothing,” I reply, rudely, too quickly, turning away to take in the television.
After a pause, I speak: “Watching a movie, actually. If you want to watch it with me?”.
I turn and she is there, watching me, eyes wide with affection and a hint of surprise. “Yes – sure!”. Then, with mischief in her eyes: “There’s a packet of chips in the freezer. Shall we indulge?”.
Terrible movie, horrible cast… but not a bad way to pass the time if the company’s right. 2/5.
4. House of 1000 Corpses – (2003).
I am 22. I stand in front of a slick, white front door, shaking from cold and fear. My hand, almost of its own accord, reaches out to knock. I’m not sure I can.
Earlier in the night I’ve professed my love for a boy through the medium of text-message, and he has, without comment, invited me over to discuss this confession. (To be fair, it was a very long, very eloquent text message).
“What’s the worst that could happen?” I think, but before I can even ask the question I’m immediately reminded of my all-encompassing fear; how I had to text him because the words could not, would not leave my mouth, my anxiety running full-bore across my skin, through my veins, digging deep and treacherous roots across the topography of my brain.
Half an hour later. I’ve stopped shaking and we’re sitting on the couch together. I find it impossible to look anywhere but at the dregs of the cup of tea in my hands, the porcelain surely turning cold. He’s asked me if I’d like to say anything, and I’ve replied that I’ve said everything I needed to in the message. Nine words, thereabouts, and an awkward silence running thick and hot like molasses. He hasn’t told me “no” in as many words, but it’s obvious in his voice, his face, his pity. I wish I’d stayed at home.
“I’m sorry,” I venture, turning to face him. We lock eyes, maybe for the first time that night, and it’s all I can do to stop myself from running full-bore out the door.
“It’s okay,” he replies. That silence, again, sick and heavy. Then: “I’m… I want to kiss you.” What. “But that would be cruel.” Shit.
I swallow, my mouth a sudden, ashen desert, aware of the painful click at the back of my throat. My hands are shaking again, and I force myself to meet his gaze.
“If you do kiss me, I’ll… I’ll deal. I don’t expect anything.”
A second passes, or maybe a lifetime, and he slides along the couch towards me.
I get home late the next day. It’s the middle of winter and, after leaving his house early that morning in a spiral of shame, I’ve spent the daylight hours wandering aimlessly around the city cycling histrionically through a savage wheel of loathing. I arrive home with a bottle of vodka, a takeaway pizza, four litres of diet coke and House of 1000 Corpses on DVD.
Hours later I rage in the walls of the tiny one-bedroom apartment I share with a friend; raging at myself, at this particular boy, at the world, my own stupidity. The friend is out for the night and I’ve taken to the vodka with self-destructive assurance, finding myself unable to stand straight and adding the fact of my own inebriation and self-pity to my list of hated things. Finally, I come across the DVD I’ve purchased – a film I’ve seen perhaps twenty times, finding an odd fascination in the frenetic, cartoonish design and direction, the ultraviolence, and in particular Sheri Moon’s character of “Baby Firefly”, a beautiful, high-pitched psychopath; the bastard child of Susan Atkins and Honey Bunny (Bugs’ childhood sweetheart).
I press play and skip half an hour in, to when the shit really hits the fan. Baby Firefly pops up on the screen in primary colours, fellating a skeleton, doing the Mashed Potato in the nude, pointing a blood-soaked machete at the screen and commanding: “Whatever you need to do, you do it. There is no wrong. If somebody needs to be killed, you kill ‘em. That’s the way.”
There’s a text message on my phone from earlier in the day, one I haven’t replied to. It reads: “Are you okay??”. On the screen, Baby Firefly threatens to cut off someone’s tits and shove them down someone else’s throat.
“Well,” I think to myself. “Shit may be fucked, but at least I’m not being held hostage by a psychopath.”
A veritable orgy of blood and gore. Great, so long as you don’t mind a depressing ending. 4/5.
5. The Babadook – (2014).
I am 25, and extremely hung-over, waiting with a collection of friends to see The Babadook. The night before I found myself far drunker than necessary, yet unconcerned – self-medicating my insecurity, my fear of the future, of the unknown.
“How’re you doing?”, someone asks, and I smile, and nod, caught in rabbit-hole of my own thoughts.
The movie starts, and within five minutes has created within me a knot, tight and hot and throbbing with anxiety.
We spill out onto the street once the film has finished, buzzing and bouncing with a nervous, excited energy. I notice, acutely, that the knot at my core – wrought hard and tight from the film, from my own worry, my self-expectation – has all but has disappeared; spirited away to some great other, away from here, away from me.
“That was made on a miniscule budget and it just got picked up by Sundance!,” someone announces.
“That’s the sort of stuff I want to make!” someone else adds.
“That’s the kind of stuff we can make,” I think to myself. For a moment – if only for a moment – the future opens up, wholly and utterly full of potential, and the five of us walk together, down the street, up and out, out and into it.
An exercise in tension, performance, mind-fuckery, with an ending as open as the horizon – not open for a sequel, but open, genuinely, for the characters it’s cultivated. 4.5/5.