Sunday, December 12, 2010

Horror movie memories: The video nasty birthday

Howdy folks! The onset of the summer has kept me away from my computer, which is a good thing, believe me! The monitor tan has been replaced by a healthy brownish glow, and the silly season awaits!

This little anecdote was published previously on another site, so some of you may have seen it. But for the rest of you, it's a bit of an introduction to the young me and how I first cultivated my obsession with horror and cult cinema. Hope you like it!

 It is January, the summer of 1989. The glorious 80's are coming to an end; though Duran Duran and A-Ha are still trying to keep the decade alive and stop people from hanging in a Buffalo Stance (I still have no idea what this means), and wannabe skateboarders everywhere are looking for cubes to gleam. I am 11 years old, but not for long. My twelfth birthday is approaching more rapidly than losing a credit in Robocop: The Arcade Game.

Twelve. That annoying number which nobody can ever agree on. Some adults credit this as the first of the teenage years, while every kid argues that if this were the case, it would have been called twoteen. Either way, the modest birthday party I had planned was looking to be pretty standard fare. 6 or 7 of my fellow nerds congregating for Duck Hunt shootouts, all manner of food and drink I was never allowed at any other time, and of course the part of the day my parents most looked forward to: loading up the VHS with 90 or so minutes of rubbish, which would hopefully transform the group from a boisterous unmanageable bunch into seven little Jack Nicholsons in the final scenes of Cuckoo's nest.
The video store was just about my favorite place to be taken. Unlike the larger sections in the store such as Comedy and Drama, which were arranged bookshelf style (making it almost impossible to make a selection before closing time) - the horror and science fiction section was one giant wall at the back of the store, with all the covers facing out, displaying their titles, tempting me with images and more importantly at the time, allowing me to quickly shortlist the films based on their rating. I was managing to escape the highly restrictive shackles of PG-only selections, my father being the one who usually had the task of escorting us and approving the desired choices. As long as the cover didn't look too horrible, he would give the thumbs-up to an "M" rated movie, which were recommended for audiences 15 years and over. That word, RECOMMENDED, was my best friend. Today was a day I felt I could probably push his boundaries a little bit, seeing as I was about to become a teenager. According to some.

Due to the frequency of these store visits, I pretty much knew exactly what they had in the weekly section, it was just a matter of choosing. A lot of the older titles had rating stickers attached to them, as they were released before the new system had come into place, what I would later learn was the end of the Video Nasty era. After a quick scan, I noticed something. Something I had not noticed before. There were two copies of the same movie, one was clearly marked with an "R" rating, and a second copy which had an "M" rating sticker haphazardly slapped onto its front cover. The image on the front cover was nasty looking, but not beyond the potential approval of my tired old man. I attempted to contain my excitement so as to not appear as though I was about to have a seizure or pee my pants - two things which did not seem impossible at this point. This was an opportunity I had to take advantage of.
After confirming that my Dad was looking intently through Westerns, I quickly grabbed the "R" rated copy of this film, and wedged it where no one except myself would ever look - on the top shelf, behind a copy of the giant rat masterpiece The Food Of The Gods. I presented my choice to my father, adding casually that I'd already seen every other video in the store. He was dubious, but not in the mood to argue. It was my birthday, and there wasn't too long until the nerd patrol would be dropped off by their parents, and the 4 or 5 hours of noise and mess-making would begin.
Duck Hunt was played using the couch as an innovative cover system, despite the fact that ducks have never really been known to shoot back. Much junk was consumed, presents were opened, wishes were made - none of this mattered to me. All I wanted was to get to lights off time and start the show! I had not yet revealed to my friends what we would be watching, lest any of them complained or offered alternatives. I was leaving nothing to chance. Finally it was that time, and I eagerly clunked my selection into the VCR and off went the lights.

Roll opening credits.
Xtro....... The name didn't give too much away, and the cover had a two-line description which I hadn't even read. Now even at this point in my life, though I hadn't seen a great deal of horror films, and none I thought were really scary (I managed to watch The Gate at age 10 which I thought was pretty gnarly), I had the feeling this was going to be something a bit different. The look of the film was grainy, the music consisted of a lot of strange other-worldly synth sounds, and of course there was the added element of being in the dark with my friends, some of whom did not share the same enthusiasm at the prospect of watching a monster movie. Ok, so this kid loses his Dad to a spaceship. Big deal. Close Encounters, duh? They all had annoying British accents too, the whole thing seemed kind of hokey. I was beginning to lose a little bit of the excitement and hope I had cultivated a few hours earlier in Video Ezy.

Maryam D'Abo gets naked - which I actually fast forwarded through just in case a parent appeared at the door, nudity was definitely an absolute no-no and a deal breaker. Besides, we weren't really interested in all that, we wanted to see the weird monster with the long tongue. We weren't to be disappointed. Said monster makes his appearance, raping Mummy who then becomes instantly pregnant. VERY pregnant. By this point, some of the boys around me are beginning to ask questions. Not the annoying "Who's that guy again?" type question, more like "What's HAPPENING to her?" and "WHY are we watching this?", and of course, the timeless classic "Tell me when the bad part's over!" - I heard only the ominous music and saw only the glowing screen, I was transfixed, hypnotized, instantly addicted to the mixture of excitement and disgust that these images were providing me with. I am unaware at this point that my father stands at the doorway, watching with his own sense of curiosity and dread.

Then it happens. With an almighty squelch, the impregnated woman gives birth to Daddy, fully grown, in a feast of paint-like blood and torn rubber latex. He emerges, taking his umbilical cord and simply gnawing through it like it was a Slim Jim. On come the lights.
"What on Earth IS this movie Joel?" My father exclaims, looking around the room. A couple of kids are buried behind pillows, one seems to be quietly praying for safety, and yet another has had the urge to regurgitate the mixture of party pies, cocktail franks, cake and orange drink that had been churning through his stomach from the moment the lights went off. In the confusion and darkness, with no bucket readily available, he had simply grabbed the first thing at hand, coincidentally the most useless receptacle imaginable for containing a deluge of multicolored vomit - a glossy copy of the January Women's Weekly. Amongst it all, I looked down at my hand, realizing at that moment that I was a bit different from my friends. Without knowing it, I had the remote control at the ready, my thumb poised over the rewind button. I wanted to see that shit again!

At this still rather early stage of the film, we were made to turn it off, instead having to sit through some old cartoons or something until parents were called and the celebrations came to an end. As I mouthed goodbyes and apologies to my friends, the only real concern in my mind was the remaining 50 or so minutes of Xtro that remained unseen. Of course, once everyone was snoring away in their beds, the late night viewing of this truly bizarre movie was completed, in the usual manner. No sound, and some serious adjustments to the bright and contrast on the TV to absolutely ensure no one would find me watching it. The remainder of the movie was incredibly bizarre and disjointed, and nowhere near as gruesome and impactful as the birth scene, which of course got a few replays in slow motion during the second screening.
I knew not what the result of this whole experience would be as far as watching movies went. Would I be banned from the video store? No more picking out movies? Thankfully no. In fact, quite the opposite effect was achieved. From that point, my Dad knew exactly what sort of movies would keep me happy and shut me up. Not the teen sex comedies other kids were begging their parents to watch, or the expensive new releases that had been missed in the cinemas. Creature Features. Monster Movies. Scream Greats. Horror. 21 years later, and there's no cure for this disease. Nor am I wanting one.

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