Horror movies paved the way to those horror movies of parents everywhere: punk rock and heavy metal. Black Sabbath, Metallica, Iron Maiden and the Misfits. Songs of Satan and serial murder, suicide, sex and smoking, and t-shirts and album covers full of bloody knives, inverted crosses and sultry devil-women. These bands spoke to every adverse impulse my youth damaged mind could concoct.
Ozzy Osbourne sang about the sweet leaf and Aleister Crowley. Metallica were the four horsemen of the apocalypse, making me want to kill ‘em all (until the apocalypse actually came, and it was called the Black Album). Maiden gave me Satan’s phone number and not only did the Misfits sing about all those movies I grew up on, but they made me realise I wasn’t the only one more interested in the monster. Even the Ramones sang about chainsaw massacres, ancient goblins and warlocks.
Punk rock and horror movies always went hand in glove. Stephen King wrote the Ramones into his novel Pet Sematary and they returned the favour by giving the film version one of their best songs, and to bring the whole thing full circle, it was the same kid in primary school who introduced me to both Stephen King and, a few years later, the Sex Pistols, both equally jaw on the floor for a kid craving violence and rebellion.
Steve Collins was always a bit different. For starters he looked about three years older than the rest of the grade and hung out by himself most of the time, but never seemed to cop any shit for it, probably because he looked about three years older than the rest of the grade. Steve was obsessed with his royal namesake and initiated me into the cult of the King, who I realised I had already encountered on some of my earlier explorations through the blood-soaked Blockbuster Horror section. Thanks to Steve I had a name to put to some of the fucked up films I had already seen, and a means to find even more, and it was this that set me on my quest to see and read everything by Steve Senior.
Steve wasn’t just your stereotypical bloodlusting outsider kid, he had equal appreciation for those King works nobody realises are King works; The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile and Stand By Me. But then, he also got sent to the hospital for stitches one day, after accepting a dare to slice his face open with a torn-up aluminium can, and another time almost reenacted Kathy Bates’s infamous ‘hobbling’ scene from Misery on a kid who’d mouthed off at him.
But his coup de’grace was unquestionably the time he got up in front of a class of innocent Christian girls, Magic: The Gathering obsessed nerds, and cool kids who had no idea how cool they weren’t, and assaulted everyone’s equally virgin ears with the news that his presentation topic was the Sex Pistols.
We all looked to the teacher for confirmation we’d heard what we thought we had, and for some kind of indication as to how to react. Would he be sent to the principal’s office straight away or would the teacher give him a beating first? There was no way he could talk about sex or pistols in front of the class. He would have gotten a verbal tirade for even saying those words in the playground. What the fuck was a sex pistol? And was it wrong that that combination of words made me immediately and awkwardly pitch a tent under my desk?
Well for whatever reason the teacher allowed it, and it only went up/downhill from there. The entire class sat in stupefied and fascinated silence, broken only by the occasional nervous chuckle or stunned gasp as more enticing and completely mysterious words were thrown at us: punk, anarchy, mohawk, Rotten, Vicious. We heard about a band that stabbed bobby pins through their own faces and spat on their own fans, that swore on national television and beat reporters with chains.
Steve went out with as much of a bang as his topic, describing in gleeful near ecstasy to his captivated audience how Sid Vicious had stabbed his girlfriend Nancy to death in their room at the Chelsea Hotel and then OD’d on heroin. I didn’t know what heroin was but I wanted it and I wanted to OD on it too. I wanted to live in the Chelsea Hotel with a girl named Nancy and I wanted to be a punk, whatever that was.
That presentation started an obsession to rival my horror-hungry younger years. Monsters, mayhem, punk rock and teenage violence. I ate it all up, hungrily and happily, but I still don’t wanna be buried in a pet sematary.
Aliens, Predator and Terminator ignited a passionate love affair with all things celluloid gore, which quickly escalated to the bloodiest of VHS covers at Blockbuster and the entire written and filmed oeuvre of Satan himself: Stephen King.
I was a night surfer on the graveyard shift in Salem’s Lot. Kubrick’s version of The Shining granted me my first exposure to female full frontal nudity, but what came next ensured I didn’t think about tits or pussy with a dick in my hand for years to come. It made me check sewer grates and Dreamcatcher made me check my shit. Carrie scared my already scared pre-pubescent ass even further off girls, and led to an eternally awkward and horrifying conversation with my mother about menstruation.
Firestarter made me waste an accumulated span of years trying to start fires with my mind, Christine made me a bike person, Cujo made me a cat person, and Thinner made me a fat person. Stand By Me was The Goonies with the key to your father’s liquor cabinet and cigarettes stolen from your older brother’s stash, a boy’s adventure for boys more interested in corpses than captain’s treasure.
Despite, or maybe due to all this damage to my adolescent development, I couldn’t get enough blood, guts and black magic. Eventually the King left the building and I graduated from monsters to slashers, magic to splatter. Thankfully the universe always granted me the means to get my fix. Every now and then this impromptu video store would sprout up in a different spot in my local shopping centre. It was always just a few tables strewn together randomly in the middle of the concourse, laden with tapes, and it always seemed like it wasn’t supposed to be there. Like the creepy heavy metal dude that ran it had just come in and set up and was selling his old tapes until centre management realised and security came to run him off, and then he’d come back a week or two later and set up at the opposite end.
These weren’t the same tapes you’d find in the bigger department stores either, or even at Blockbuster, unless you got lucky. Some of them looked familiar from my days spent scouring the Horror and Sci Fi shelves at Blockbuster, but they were the ones that I only ever saw once before they disappeared forever, as if they were perpetually rented out or they’d accidentally been released before being immediately banned, and either of these possibilities meant I was definitely interested. They even looked like they were the same ex-video store tapes, like this guy was some disgruntled ex-employee who’d been stealing all the best shit, or taking home all the stuff that got banned instead of sending it to the Feds to get incinerated or whatever. They had faded covers that looked like they’d been printed at home, off colours, out of focus and matte finished instead of glossy and hi def like the tapes from the real stores, and they had names that set my blood junkie heart racing: I Spit On Your Grave, The Evil Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes.
I wouldn’t learn their names until after, but if it had anything to do with George Romero, Wes Craven, John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, or the absolute king of celluloid filth, Tom Savini, odds are it gave me a prepubescent gore-rection. The nod of approval or “Right on, dude” from the sinister stoner in the Pentagram and Slayer shirts was all I needed to slap down the five buck weekly allowance that was burning a hole in my pocket and take home another dispatch from the land of depravity I so desperately wanted to live in.
Friday the 13th was a joke but I appreciated the creativity of killing methods, and while A Nightmare On Elm Street wasn’t scary in itself it definitely planted the seeds for many my own nightmares. Halloween, on the other hand, looked like it was filmed on my street, and the persistence of that theme music brain damaged me into a state of abject fear, not to mention the unexplained nightmares about William Shatner that followed.
While The Texas Chainsaw Massacre sent me halfway to veganism and scared me off fat Texans wearing human faces, George Romero bored me of civilised society and made me wish for his films to become reality, fuelling post-apocalyptic fantasies and dreams of free reign in shopping mall sanctuaries.