When I was very young, a trip to the video shop was like a trip to Narnia. A somewhat dingy Narnia with no snow, no fauns and a strong smell of plastic, but an exciting place to visit all the same.
I’d peruse the children’s films, looking for some Disney or a compilation of Bugs Bunny cartoons. When I’d picked out something suitable and whichever parent I was with queued up to take it out (along with their own choice) I liked to sneak over into the grown-ups’ section and examine the covers of films that I’d never be allowed to watch.
The horror films had an appalling fascination. I’d look at the covers of films such as Children of the Corn (an artsy cover rather than an icky one, but I knew it involved decapitation and thanks to Alice in Wonderland and various junior history books the idea was very much in my mind. And nightmares.), Creepshow (a campy looking skeleton), Vamp (glamourous lips with vampire fangs) and Basket Case (Eww). I’d look at those, feel a bit weird and then go home and wash my brain out by going home, eating fishfingers and watching Disney’s Robin Hood for the fifth time.
Long before I ever saw any scary movies, I formed some clear ideas in my mind of what such films would be like based a mixture of the video covers, descriptions in film reviews in the newspapers and playground hearsay.
As I’ m sure was the case for a lot of children back in the 80s, my Primary School class contained several kids who liked to claim that they’d seen films on holidays to America that were a long way off being released in the UK. They’d claim to have seen ‘Jaws 6’, thus implying that we were so behind in our cinematic releases that ‘Jaws 5’ hadn’t even made it over yet. And what did the shark in ‘Jaws 6’ get up to? Horrible things, involving heads and guts and eyes. Things that made events in the original Jaws (which most of us hadn’t been allowed to watch yet) seem fluffy and innocent.
There was also one boy in my class who claimed to have seen all of the big horror films because his parents were happy to let him. I’m not sure if this was actually the case or if he’d just done the same as the rest of us and made up his own versions of these films. Certainly, his version of A Nightmare on Elm Street sounded far more frightening than the actual film possibly could be. His versions would go something along the lines of, ‘And then Freddie rips out this girl’s eyes and there’s ALL BLOOD and then he turns into a tongue and comes out of the phone and squashes someone’s guts and then he eats a dog and turns into a robot and eats another girl and there’s ALL BLOOD everywhere.’
Years later, when I saw A Nightmare on Elm Street, I wasn’t too surprised to find that nothing in it was quite as icky as it had seemed when it was described (and embellished) by an over-imaginative eight year old.
There were some supposed grown-up films that kids were drawn to despite the ominous circled ‘18’ on the covers. In 1988, Robocop became a classic example of this. One lunchtime, one of my classmates proclaimed, ‘If I was Prime Minister, I’d have Robocop as my bodyguard.’
This prompted me to write a ‘satirical’ newspaper story describing the shock appointment of Robocop as the PM’s personal security. Strangely, it didn’t really go on to explain why a ten year old lad from Hertfordshire came to be the Prime Minister. I think I was assuming that all of this was happening in a world in which the appointment of children to public office was fairly commonplace.
I don’t remember too much of what I wrote, aside from the quote from The Blob (a remake had recently been released) who in the world of the story was Chancellor of the Exchequer (his comment was something insightful along the lines of, ‘Blobba blobba blob blob’. The inventors of Mr Blobby must owe me a lot of money in royalties.) was the final sentence, which was as follows: ‘The Home Secretary Freddie Krueger was unavailable for comment, as he had to go and kill Kylie and Jason.’
I showed the story to our would-be PM and he told me to ‘Shut Up.’ So he must have liked it.