The Simple Things - - THINK - Words: TRACEY SIN­CLAIR

“We love scary sto­ries, es­pe­cially in the chill nights of au­tumn”

You might think the world is ter­ri­fy­ing enough right now, but de­spite that – or per­haps be­cause of it – there’s been a surge of in­ter­est in the scary. Hor­ror book sales are soar­ing, shows like Stranger Things are huge hits, and Hol­ly­wood is cash­ing in with orig­i­nal sto­ries ( A Quiet Place; the Os­car-win­ning Get Out) and re­hashed clas­sics (the 2017 re­make of Stephen King’s IT has made over $700 mil­lion). With Jamie Lee Cur­tis re­turn­ing to the Hal­loween fran­chise this au­tumn and a TV se­ries based on

The Blair Witch Project in the works, it seems our ap­petite for hor­ror shows no signs of abat­ing. So, what makes us so keen on be­ing scared? And have we al­ways been like this?

We have long loved scary sto­ries, es­pe­cially in the dark, chill nights of au­tumn and win­ter, when death (of na­ture) is most tan­gi­ble and shad­ows from the fire loom large. Early sagas are loaded with the fan­tas­ti­cal; ghosts are rife in an­cient lit­er­a­ture and his­tory, from Egypt to Me­sopotamia to Rome; and Shake­speare and Mar­lowe both ref­er­enced ghostly ‘win­ter’s tales’ – some­thing Dick­ens helped to pop­u­larise with

A Christ­mas Carol in 1843. But the con­cept of hor­ror as we un­der­stand it now can be traced back to the trap­doors and se­cret pas­sages of Ho­race Walpole’s The Cas­tle of

Otranto (1764). Deemed to be the first Gothic

novel, and still one of the best­selling such nov­els of all time, it kick­started a genre that flour­ished un­der such tal­ents as Edgar Al­lan Poe, Robert Louis Stevenson, Mary Shel­ley and Bram Stoker. Shel­ley’s Franken­stein; or The Mod­ern

Prometheus (1818), is of­ten cred­ited as the first sci­ence fic­tion novel. Writ­ten when Shel­ley was still a teenager, it tells the tale of a crea­ture spawned in a sci­en­tific ex­per­i­ment.

The book was the un­likely re­sult of a bad hol­i­day. Trav­el­ling in Switzer­land in 1816 (the in­fa­mous ‘year with­out a sum­mer’) with Percy Shel­ley, her fu­ture hus­band and his ne’er-dow­ell friend Lord By­ron, they were so plagued by bad weather that they stayed in and told ghost sto­ries. The same trip gave rise to sem­i­nal story The Vampyre, by fel­low guest John Poli­dori, pre­dat­ing Bram Stoker’s more fa­mous

Drac­ula (1897) by a good few decades. If it had just been a bit sun­nier, the hor­ror genre might look very dif­fer­ent!

There were other in­flu­ences, too. In 1802 French­woman Marie Tus­saud brought her wax mod­els to tour Bri­tain. By 1835, when she opened on Lon­don’s Baker Street, her Cham­ber of Hor­rors, which fea­tured mod­els made from the death masks of vic­tims of the French Revo­lu­tion, »

“Hor­ror man­i­fests our fears in forms that can be de­feated”

as well as of mur­ders and other crim­i­nals, was the most pop­u­lar ex­hibit.

Fifty years on, Lon­don was in the grip of a re­al­life hor­ror tale as Jack the Rip­per mur­dered and mu­ti­lated a se­ries of women in Whitechapel in 1888. The rise of mass-cir­cu­la­tion news­pa­pers put fear at fever pitch with crowds at­tack­ing any­one they thought might be the killer. Chillingly, the sus­pi­cion that the killer was an ed­u­cated man echoed the plot of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, pub­lished just two years ear­lier.

But it was the birth of cin­ema that truly brought hor­ror into the main­stream. By the late 1930s, UK an­nual cin­ema ad­mis­sions were nudg­ing the 1 bil­lion mark (against 170 mil­lion in 2017) and the suave, caped vam­pires and lum­ber­ing, bolt-necked mon­sters of the hor­ror hey­days of the Uni­ver­sal and Ham­mer stu­dios were im­print­ing them­selves onto our mem­o­ries.

Just as Franken­stein preyed on the in­se­cu­ri­ties cre­ated by the pos­si­bil­i­ties of sci­ence, the best sto­ries de­liver an un­nerv­ing re­flec­tion of the world around us. The Cab­i­net of Dr Cali­gari – re­leased in 1920 and widely con­sid­ered the first true hor­ror film – tells the story of an in­sane hyp­no­tist and mir­rors Ger­many’s dread of au­thor­ity in the af­ter­math of the First World War. Post Sec­ond World War, hor­ror movies of­ten fea­tured mu­ta­tions, the lit­eral fall­out of a nu­clear age. 1956’s In­va­sion of the Body

Snatch­ers has been in­ter­preted as para­noia over Com­mu­nist in­fil­tra­tion or, con­versely, McCarthy­ism; in the 80s and 90s vam­pire fic­tion be­came a po­tent al­le­gory for the ter­ri­fy­ing new dis­ease AIDS. As we be­come less su­per­sti­tious, the na­ture of threat changes: from ghosts and mon­sters to biowar­fare and psy­chopaths (the real ter­ror of the Scream mask is that it could be any­one un­der­neath).

Given this ground­ing in real and of­ten very top­i­cal wor­ries, it’s not sur­pris­ing our re­ac­tions have some­times been so ex­treme. When Richard Mans­field starred in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde at the Lyceum in 1888, so con­vinc­ing was his per­for­mance that he was ac­cused of be­ing Jack the Rip­per. When Hitch­cock gave us Psy­cho in 1960, the first ‘slasher movie’, peo­ple reg­u­larly

fainted at the shower stab­bing scene. In the 70s, au­di­ences at The Ex­or­cist were so shaken that cin­e­mas pro­vided ‘barf bags’. (The Bri­tish Board of Clas­si­fi­ca­tion found the film so dis­turb­ing, it was re­fused a clas­si­fi­ca­tion for home video re­lease for over a decade). The vi­ral mar­ket­ing cam­paign for 1999’s The Blair Witch Project was so suc­cess­ful that many view­ers thought they were watch­ing a doc­u­men­tary.

As this evo­lu­tion shows, no mat­ter how the world moves on, there’ll al­ways be things to be scared of. Writer Neil Gaiman fa­mously para­phrased GK Ch­ester­ton: “Fairy tales are more than true – not be­cause they tell us dragons ex­ist, but be­cause they tell us dragons can be beaten”. The lure of hor­ror is that it man­i­fests our fears in a form that can be de­feated.

Per­haps this also ex­plains the mod­ern trend in hor­ror: hero­ines as un­kil­l­able as the vil­lains. The mon­sters have long been im­mor­tal but now we see women (and it is al­most al­ways women) com­ing back to beat the bad guys once more. Dis­missed by those around them as ir­rel­e­vant or too old, Ri­p­ley from the Alien se­ries, Lau­rie from

Hal­loween and Sid­ney from Scream are sur­vivors all – maybe be­cause we need them to be.


2 31 Ce­sare, the spooky ‘sleep­ing’ as­sas­sin in The Cab­i­net of Dr Cali­gari.2 Janet Leigh, giv­ing a good hor­ror hero­ine scream in Psy­cho.3 Nos­fer­atu was FW Mur­nau’s 1922 adap­ta­tion of Drac­ula, fea­tur­ing Count Or­lok, a stranger to the man­i­cure set

Hal­loween H20: Lau­rie is hor­ri­fied when Michael My­ers re­veals he has for­got­ten to bring the sweets for the trick- or­treaters


The pod peo­ple are 1 com­ing for you: In­va­sion of the Bodys­natch­ers.2 Boris Karloff, find­ing his role as The Mon­ster rather a pain in the neck.The so­phis­ti­cated and 3 charm­ing Dr Han­ni­bal Lecter. Just don’t take Chi­anti round for din­ner.Are you ready for 4 Freddy?Drac­ula – star of 5 many a movie... but who’s count­ing? 5

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