I do like a good ghost story, me.
That said, I don’t mind admitting that invariably I will end up sitting there (or more usually lying there) afterwards with slightly teary eyes and palpitating heart wondering if that sound of scratching on the roof is some nocturnal animal taking shelter for the night or if something far more sinister is trying to seek entry to my domain.
There is a line I dimly recall from ‘Improbable Fiction’:
‘Some people when they are woken in the middle of the night by banging, they hear burglars- or they hear ghosts- or the central heating boiler about to explode…’
I am definitely one of the ‘ghost’ people; burglars invariably wait until I am out and my boiler is too unreliable to get anywhere near exploding!
And yet, despite the sleeplessness I might incur, I absolutely LOVE horror. I watch horror films, I read horror literature, I play horror board games, I adore horror videogames- turn off the lights, adjust the volume and let the madness begin! But why? What is it that compels me and so many like me- horror, unlike so many genres in the various media of entertainment has always remained extraordinarily popular- to screw our courage to the sticking place and confront our fears, be they knife wielding psychotic, demonic presence or simply an age old phantom walking the earth over centuries of despair? I suppose the truth is that we NEED a good fright: I am sure that a psychologist would be able to explain it in terms of complex biochemical cerebral reactions, but for time immemorial our tales have been inhabited with ghastly apparitions, beasts and spirits that could only be considered as otherworldly. Think of how many ancient myths are populated with bestial entities that would gleefully rend hapless soul limb from limb, or hack and slash or swallow them whole;how many sorceresses or witches would work spells to give one their life’s desire or commit them to purgatory; how many spirits would cry out for vengeance or demand payment in the gloomy underworld? How many fairy stories have had at their heart a vengeful witch, a dark and twisted dwarf or fearsome giant to ‘grind your bones to make his bread’?- a truly gruesome image when one thinks about it and yet I learnt that story aged five.
Consider how often ghosts and grue appear in Shakespeare, be they Hamlet’s father or Banquo’s spirit, Romeo and Juliet’s suicide or Gloucester’s eye gouging, or Tamora eating her own children baked in a pie! In fact ‘Titus Andronicus’ would give many a modern day gorehound a run for their money with its extraordinarily graphic content, grotesque violence and unremitting brutality.
Imagine how the original audiences of all these tales would have felt at a time when the supernatural world was as much part of the fabric of reality as the sun rising and the rain falling.
Of course, we are a lot more rational now, and I think our horror stories reflect that . Vampires and werewolves are no longer the province of horror but more likely to pop up in action/adventure or as sparkling angsty teens trying to cope with the complications of their love lives rather than the hideous nightmare of feasting on blood and the misery of eternal life. Our horror villains now are invariably…well…us. In an age when barely a few days can pass without the media reporting some atrocity carried out by persons known or unknown, involving deeds of horrifying violence, be they terrible tales of gun crime,grim discoveries of limbless torsos or catalogues of evil as the secrets of the latest serial killer are revealed, our literature and entertainment media have responded by making the creatures of horror the human being. Yes, sometimes they are transposed through the lens of the supernatural, be they hockey mask wearing unkillable maniac or fedora sporting, razor fingered murderer from the world of dreams, but more often than not in today’s horror the antagonist is just another human with a desire to kill in as gruesome or heart-wrenching as fashion as possible. Scooby Doo had it right all along.
Or did he?
You see, despite so many other supernatural beasties being relegated to the fringes of the genre, the ghost story is one staple that doesn’t seem to go away. Yes, there are plenty of people who don’t believe and consider that any such tale is nothing more than hokum, but consider how many films today rely on the premise of such paranormal activity. How many programmes are dedicated to seeking out wayward spirits (usually through the green haze of night vision)? How many games have as their central premise things to make the player jump and go rushing for the light? And how many novels and plays still thrive on a good old fashioned ghost story? Indeed, the second longest running play in the West End (musicals aside) is The Woman in Black and that is only beaten by the venerable staple, The MouseTrap (and is also clear evidence that sometimes film is no substitute for live theatre).
There is no question, many more than I love a good ghost story. Why? Well, as said, I think we have a need to be scared and I will consider that in my next blog. But with Halloween drawing closer, for many the world of the supernatural is pulled into tighter focus than it usually is across the rest of the year. The whole thing is awash with commercialism of course, and THAT is for another blog, but more so than any other, it is a time for telling a good old fashioned scary, spooky story or two. And that is what we are doing with our ‘Turn of the Screw’ this Friday and Saturday. Maybe we might see you there.
Don’t have nightmares. 🙂