I've been writing screenplays for horror movies and splashing around in the shallow end of the film industry for a decade now. Horror has become my comfort zone, albeit with a hefty splash of comedy to help the dark stuff go down.
It wasn't always that way.
I was a pretty nervous kid when it came to anything horror-related. I had a hyperactive imagination, and would spend days dwelling on images that struck me as unnerving in some way. Without further ado, here are the three things that freaked me out most as a child.
3. The poster for Scanners
An image of a man: his eyes white and sightless, his veins bulging. Text running down the side shouts "10 Seconds: The Pain Begins... 15 Seconds: You Can't Breathe... 20 Seconds: You Explode."
It's fair to say that my six-year-old self utterly crapped himself when he saw this on display outside his local cinema.
For some reason I got it into my head that Scanners was about medication, and that somewhere there was a pill that would make you explode if you swallowed it. As a result, my long-suffering mum could never get me to take pills of any sort. I insisted on banana flavoured medicine instead. Because nothing that makes your head explode is EVER banana flavoured.
2. The Two Ronnies' Teeny Todd sketch
Messrs Barker and Corbett put together a full-blooded parody of the Sondheim musical as the closing number for one of their sketch shows. The BBC website tells me it was just before Christmas in 1981.
I finally saw this again a couple of years ago, and still think it's genuinely weird tonally. The throat-slittings and fake blood splashes certainly come from a much darker place than any of the rest of the duo's sketches; you could perhaps imagine Python doing this kind of thing (as with their Sam Peckinpah's Salad Days sketch) but it sits really oddly in such a cosy show.
It utterly terrified me.
As a neat follow-on from my Scanners-prompted pill-refusals, this sketch gave me a morbid fear of getting my hair cut. Next time my parents tried to take me, I ran around shouting. Once again, sorry mum.
As punishment, I wasn't allowed to see that evening's episode of Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World, which was about Bigfoot. Back then, not seeing something meant GENUINELY not seeing it. No VHS recorders, no second chances.
Not that I'm still bitter, dammit.
1. Spider-Man Pocketbook
Here's the weirdest one of the lot.
When I was about six years old, (all three of these take place within a span of 18 months, I've just realised), I bought a copy of Spider-Man Pocketbook. I loved Spider-Man. He was my favourite superhero and carried with him that odd sense of security that is such an important part of childhood.
Kids like to know where the boundaries lie, and I felt I knew the rules with Spider-Man. I knew that his universe could sometimes have slightly scary bits. I knew that sometimes people died. But Spidey's world felt comforting despite the bad stuff, because your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man would sort it out.
Sadly, that particular issue of Spider-Man Pocketbook didn't follow those rules. It had an illustration in it that utterly freaked me out. A picture which has been hovering around the fringes of my consciousness ever since.
A stage magician levitates a volunteer. The man in the air comes to pieces: head and arms floating off. The now-corpse has a horrible blank expression on his face, and someone in the audience shouts out that the man is dead.
As a child I seem to remember staring at the picture for some time, and then flicking through the remaining pages of the story looking for a reassuring outcome which never came. I then threw it away, and didn't buy any more Spider-Man comics for months.
As an adult, of course, I became curious about the image. I seemed unable to track it down via the miracles of Google. I was fairly sure that the story was called 'Murder Magic', but I couldn't find any Spider-Man story by that name. I became convinced that my memory must have been exaggerating or playing tricks. The image didn't seem to fit the aesthetics of Spidey's universe, for a start.
Last year, I resolved to find the damn thing once and for all. I found a copy of issue 2 of Spider-Man Pocketbook on Ebay, and thought there was only about a 30% chance that it was the right issue. I ordered it regardless.
Between ordering it and the book turning up, I was hit by a real bastard of a virus. On Monday 16th April 2012 I finally had the amazing experience of staring at my greatest fear from childhood whilst in the grip of a fever.
It's a reprint of a Marvel Boy story from 'Astonishing' comic circa 1951, and was thus almost 30 years old by the time it comprehensively ruined my day in 1980. It's now 62 years old. The goddamn thing is exactly as I remember it.
Of course, finding out that it was a Marvel Boy story made it a lot more searchable, and I was able to find an interactive preview of the original issue of 'Astonishing' which you can peruse over here. It's the first page inside the front cover.
Funny how the things that scare us as kids stay with us in one form or another. Fragments of those three images seem to keep cropping up in my work, usually without me meaning them to, so I guess I owe them thanks in some way. Maybe it's time to forgive and forget.
I'll find it easier to forgive once I finally track down that episode of Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World, though.