Pause and Rewind: Memories of Age-Inappropriate Film Viewings in the 1980s

Phyrebrat

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Hi Gang,

For the last two years, I've been a consultant for Peter Turner of the Oxford Brookes University regarding the viewing of horror films by underage viewers. His initial paper is out so I thought I'd post the link here as it's quite a read (it can be downloaded, too, so you can convert for your preferred e-reader).

It is obviously more geared to the UK's history and in particular the so-called (and imprecise, panic-term) video nasty. Incidentally, as a participant, I saw very little 'traditional' video nasties and have no interest in plotless horror that is just about revenge or hate, but I certainly saw stuff too early. I began watching horror in 1978 when Night of the Demon and Curse of the Werewolf were broadcast, and from there on I watched Alien, Amityville Horror, 'salem's Lot, the Halloweens and so on.

My parents were strict, but their discipline didn't extend to horror, but if there was sexual content, they would forbid me from watching.

I'm also working on an academic-flavoured essay on the inappropriate inclusion of horror literature with science fiction and fantasy. More and more I've noticed the disparity between SFF and horror, perhaps more so in literature than movies. I've become more than a little fatigued with the snobbery leveled against horror by genre fans, and my work on the Chronscast (podcast with @Dan Jones) has underlined just how poor a mix horror lit and sff are. I'd argue comedy has far more in common with horror than it does with sff, but as we are all aficionados of genre fiction here, horror gets crowbarred in, despite a fundamental misunderstanding about horror, it's purpose and its creation. (And I never get tired of banging on about how I hate the term 'horror'; it's a reductive term describing an emotion, not a genre, and I suspect mostly responsible for the maligning and misunderstanding of my beloved genre)

But I digress. The point of this post is to offer the link for Pete's paper, so here it is:

 

Jo Zebedee

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Will read tomorrow when I’m more awake but I love ‘horror’ and all its variants, like gothic etc.

I was lucky I mostly watched and read whatever I wanted and my parents just kept a bit of an eye on it. Whether that feeds into the darkness of my writing I’m not sure, but sf and fantasy definitely cross to darker stuff a lot
 

Phyrebrat

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Yes, it's fifteen pages. I'm saving it for after the weekend as we have an interview with Tade Thompson so I need to prep for that
sf and fantasy definitely cross to darker stuff a lot
Just to clarify, I don't want people thinking I'm saying SFF aren't or can't do dark, but the aims, the root of horror comes from the abject, and is linked with the human condition/existentialism in its nihilistic and most inscrutable or spiritual form whereas SFF manifesto seems to be less limited than that.

I think Guillermo del Toro made a lovely observation on horror, which I can only paraphrase; we don't write/watch horror to be scared, we write/watch it to make sense of the world.

That really chimes with me.
 

Jo Zebedee

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Yes, it's fifteen pages. I'm saving it for after the weekend as we have an interview with Tade Thompson so I need to prep for that

Just to clarify, I don't want people thinking I'm saying SFF aren't or can't do dark, but the aims, the root of horror comes from the abject, and is linked with the human condition/existentialism in its nihilistic and most inscrutable or spiritual form whereas SFF manifesto seems to be less limited than that.

I think Guillermo del Toro made a lovely observation on horror, which I can only paraphrase; we don't write/watch horror to be scared, we write/watch it to make sense of the world.

That really chimes with me.
So it’s the reflective mirror? The reason many write spec fiction is to make sense of the world around us not the world on paper. I think you feel more of an outsider than you really are. You and your work are much loved here xx
 

Phyrebrat

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I see I wrote I was a consultant on the paper which is far grander a term and misleading. I was a participant— that’s a far better description.

Re the mirror @Jo Zebedee — yes, but that’s too simplistic a view (or perhaps generalised). I’m talking purely about our reptilian brain experience and our utter existential failure. Fantasy and SF might be able to address that thematically but it’s not the lynchpin of their being.

But, I’m very keen to point out, this post is nothing about whether people here like my writing. It’s about the difference in genre. I’m happy with my own writing. I just wish there was the level of expertise and interest in horror here as there is for SFF.

Maybe I should’ve kept those thoughts to a different thread or time, but it seemed salient at the time of posting.
 

Toby Frost

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I'm also working on an academic-flavoured essay on the inappropriate inclusion of horror literature with science fiction and fantasy. More and more I've noticed the disparity between SFF and horror, perhaps more so in literature than movies. I've become more than a little fatigued with the snobbery leveled against horror by genre fans, and my work on the Chronscast (podcast with @Dan Jones) has underlined just how poor a mix horror lit and sff are. I'd argue comedy has far more in common with horror than it does with sff

I could go on about this at quite some length. Horror, comedy, erotica and perhaps Romance are categorised by the emotion they evoke, while SFF and fantasy are settings. I've written comedy SF and fantasy with horror influences. Perhaps the next stage is erotic Westerns.

Regarding the mirror aspect, I've come to think that one of the reasons I write is to process life, not to satirise it or to escape from it. (There's also the fact that it's the only thing I do particularly well, so I might as well produce something decent.)

Anyhow, I saw Alien when I was 13 or 14 - my parents had no idea that I was watching it. It was one of the first films that struck me as "good" as well as "fun" (if "fun" is really the word, which it isn't). I was braced for most of it, but not the robot scene. When Ash was decapitated, the film stopped being "scary" and was now downright traumatic. I think it's easy to make horror that is boringly ironic or just plain disgusting, but very hard to produce that kind of convincing nightmare.

Part of the problem with horror for me is that, unless the emotion of horror is properly created - which is much harder than, say, setting a story in space or in a magical kingdom - it's not a pleasant viewing experience: it will probably end up as boring, unconvincing or just gross (a lot of extreme horror seems to be asking the question "How long can you sniff this turd before you retch?"). It is a very difficult genre to get right and, like comedy, getting it right varies enormously from reader to reader.
 

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I can watch comedy horror but not a fan of any other visual kind (I can write and read it fine) simply because I get horrendous nightmares (regardless of whether I've watched horror or not) and don't want to make them worse. Never watched horror as a kid. My husband, on the other hand, loves horror (and he gets actual night terrors, but as with night terrors as opposed to nightmares, he never remembers them).
 

Dave

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These comments on Alien are interesting to me, because it was proably the first X rated film that I was old enough to legally go to see. I never looked old enough to pretend, as some classmates claimed they did to see The Exorcist. Obtaining videos was much easier to do, but I don't think we even had a VCR yet then. I went to see Alien because it was science fiction, but it was really something quite different, and was "adult" in the full meaning of that word, when compared to Star Wars and all that fantasy SF that followed from its success. Alien sprouted many copies too, but they weren't very adult. I remember, I think it was Inseminoid, which was just Judy Geeson screaming for one and half hours. I've never liked the gory 'horror' films. Horror must, as @Toby Frost just said, create an emotion of horror. It wasn't enough for me to have some guy with a chainsaw hacking off limbs. I've never watched any of the Friday the Thirteenth films, or Saw, and only recently saw Halloween. However, films like The Spiral Staircase and the original Invaders from Mars genuinely gave me sleepless nights as a child.

I think Alien was more important to shaping my future cinematic experiences than any other film. You ought to make a podcast on it.
 

Toby Frost

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Jo Zebedee

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You know, I do think there are more of us here writing horror than known - I definitely write the odd horror piece and certainly have horror through my stories, from the Room 101-esque elements in Abendau, to the gothic Waters and the Wild, to the walls in IC. I’d love somewhere to talk about balancing those elements, how to deal with antcipated/ feared reactions to, and what they mean in true context of the book and me. do we need a little sub forum?
great article btw
 

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I just wish there was the level of expertise and interest in horror here as there is for SFF.
Not dismissing this in any way, but I often feel like there isn't all that much interest in the heavy duty type of SF here, either.

Horror is a weird genre because it engages that can't look away need we have. "Macabre" is a word that conjures a longing. From there it accesses other attractions.
 

Jo Zebedee

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Not dismissing this in any way, but I often feel like there isn't all that much interest in the heavy duty type of SF here, either.

Horror is a weird genre because it engages that can't look away need we have. "Macabre" is a word that conjures a longing. From there it accesses other attractions.
There used to be more engagement with hard SF but a lot of those members have moved on
 

hitmouse

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Not dismissing this in any way, but I often feel like there isn't all that much interest in the heavy duty type of SF here, either.

Horror is a weird genre because it engages that can't look away need we have. "Macabre" is a word that conjures a longing. From there it accesses other attractions.
Can you define “heavy duty type of SF” as you see it, perhaps with some examples? Chrons is a broad church and I would be surprised if there is no interest in the lit you are thinking of.
 

Swank

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Can you define “heavy duty type of SF” as you see it, perhaps with some examples? Chrons is a broad church and I would be surprised if there is no interest in the lit you are thinking of.
There used to be more engagement with hard SF but a lot of those members have moved on
Not "hard" per re. That's usually more about the kind of science, but certainly Vernor Vinge is along the lines I'm thinking.


But simewhat hard to read books with complex worlds and action. Like Anathem, Counting Heads, Starfish, Marrow. Where most all of the text has a dense and exotic vision.
 

paranoid marvin

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I'd agree that horror is closely connected to comedy; quite often a movie will present a moment of levity before a 'shock'. But I would also say that in genre terms science fiction is often closely intertwined with horror or suspense. Both genres tend to challenge the status quo, and whether we like it or not, much science fiction literature tends to concentrate more on the negative aspects than the positive.

As for the word 'horror', I agree that this is not a very good (or very accurate) description of the genre. Most supernatural/scary movies are not outright horror. I think that it was M R James who described his work as 'a pleasing terror', and I think that this description most accurately describes his stories, but there are so many different types of this genre from 'Jaws' to 'Alien' to 'Saw' to 'The Exorcist' to 'Night of the Demon' - even Threads - that it's difficult to give them one name that accurately describes them. Whilst the word 'horror' is far from perfect, it's as good and as inaccurate as any other.


As for the OP, I think that as kids we were exposed to a lot more fictional supernatural stories. Many kids programmes of the time featured ghosts, from the more comedic 'Rentaghost' to the chilling 'Clifton House Mystery', 'Come Back Lucy' and 'Children of the Stones'. Even Doctor Who would often have spooky stories, which eventually got reigned in when they were starting to get too carried away. It seemed like a natural progression to the very creepy Hamer House of Horror 1 hour episodes shown on ITV, then onto to the double billed horror/monster movies on BBC Two Saturday night (when kids used to get to stay up as a treat)

Looking on Wiki at a list of the films classed as 'video nasties' I've only seen a handful, and none when younger (apart from maybe 'The Evil Dead'). Of those I've seen, they seem to be far more 'gore' than 'scare', and if the list is accurate and 'The Thing' was listed as such, I'm not sure what the rationale was. In my opinion the likes of 'The Exorcist' (which I did see as a teenager, and scared me more than any other movie I'd seen to this point) was more likely to cause distress than The Evil Dead or The Thing.

As a kid, by far the scariest thing I ever saw on tv was 'Threads'. I think the same could be said for many (adults and children) who watched it.
 

paeng

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My folks and grandparents were liberal, at least when it came to movies, books, etc., so I was able to watch Alien in the theater with the folks, an aunt, and paternal grandparents. For some reason, the ticket seller and ushers didn't enforce the rating rule, and probably because I was accompanied by family. Scared the crap out of me but I became an Alien fan since. I also remember watching movies like The Passage.

If we didn't go out, we saw R-rated horror flicks (or worse) on tape, on Sundays, after lunch, in my grandparents' home. I remember watching movies like The Devils (horrible), The Fan, Halloween (nice), The Howling (it was OK), Wolfen, An American Werewolf in London (that frightened me), The Fog (my favorite), The Thing (the newer one because the folks didn't care for old, black-and-white movies, as they saw them when they were young), The Hearst, Ghost Story, The Exterminator, The Brood (hated that), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (from the 1970s; I liked that one), Galaxy of Terror, and similar B- and Z-movies from different genres (like the Lemon Lollipop series from Israel, Gorp, and so on).

Mom would always advise me to cover my eyes during sex scenes (apparently, gore was fine but boobs weren't, LOL), but I'd always have a gap between fingers and could see things, anyway (except for gore).
 

Toby Frost

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I seem to be unusual in that my parents were more bothered by gore and swearing than nudity in films. I've always assumed that this was a USA thing, but it seems that a lot of British people think like that too.

I agree with @paranoid marvin that the supernatural was pretty common on UK kids TV, usually in the form of ghosts (again, I wonder about the US here). "Horror" does seem like a very broad concept, basically "a story where the point is that bad things happen to people". It's hard to see what connects Threads, Scream and the old film of "Oh Whistle and I'll Come To You, My Lad", beyond the idea that central to them all is people having a bad time. They're all meant to be scary, but in different ways: Threads is unpleasant and traumatic, and isn't meant to be fun (likewise 1984). Scream is disposable fun, the film equivalent of a fairground ride. "Oh Whistle" is sinister and quite disturbing, but in a low-key, unsettling way. They seem to be evoking fear in different ways, with different purposes.
 

paranoid marvin

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Horror does seem to be one of the least well-defined of genres. It's pretty obvious when you are watching a comedy what genre it is (even if you don't find it funny). Same applies to science fiction and fantasy. Horror is a bit different, as a lot of what we do (or don't) find scary will define the genre it mainly occupies. Is Ghostbusters 'horror' seeing as there are ghosts and some spooky bits? Is Jaws horror or an adventure movie like Moby DICK? For me The Thing doesn't occupy the 'horror' genre at all; it's suspensful science fiction, and a lot of Stephen King's later stories I would argue occupy the 'thriller' section far more than 'horror'.
 

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