What with all this Resident Evil talk recently, it got me thinking about the huge impact the series has had on my life, and the other things it led me to along the way.
I got into horror from a young age, maybe a little too young, and to be honest, I was always a bit of a fraidy-cat.
Recently I wrote a short story that was inspired by the feeling I used to have, travelling from one end of a dark hallway to another as a child, feeling all the potential nightmares that I knew must be right behind me, ready to tear me apart if I let them catch up before I made it to the light switch.
I think this might be a common thing among people who write horror, or write about horror. Maybe it gives us a special insight into what makes things scary? Or maybe we just think it does, and that gives us the confidence to lean into it.
It lets us be cocky enough to think we are somehow more qualified to be afraid than other people.
The first piece of fiction I remember being truly frightened of was the Christmas horror-comedy Gremlins, (Dir. Joe Dante. 1984). I was maybe between six and eight years old (don’t remember exactly), and back then I shared a bedroom with an older brother, who picked up on that immediately.
All it took was for him to point over my shoulder, his expression a mask of fear, and shout, “Gremlins!”, and in the blink of an eye, I would be on the other side of the room, turned around, my back to the wall.
Not long after this, my second most scarring horror memory was from a TV show about movie special effects in which was featured scene from The Thing (Dir John Carpenter. 1982), in which a character’s head autonomously detaches from its burning body by stretching its neck until it snaps. Then the head grows legs and tries to scurry off.
Once again, my family picked up on this immediately. This soon became known in our house as “Stretchy Head” and followed me around for months afterwards. (my family is coming off quite bad in this but trust me, they’re alright really.)
Then something strange happened. I found myself weirdly drawn to horror movies. I couldn’t get enough of them!
I saw Alien (Dir. Ridley Scott. 1979) and it was a revelation. Darkness, suspense, interminable build up and horrific release! I remember thinking “Oh, this is it. This is for me!”
I fell into it hard, maybe as a way to cope, like some kind of immersion therapy.
If every day is horror, then horror becomes Every Day.
Hellraiser (Dir. Clive Barker. 1987) , and it’s more disturbing sequel (which is still the only film to have given me legitimately recurring nightmares), slotted right in there perfectly, next to Suspiria (Dir. Dario Argento. 1977) and The Shining (Dir. Stanley Kubrick. 1980).
For a long time it was movies, movies, movies. Then I got into the authors.
Stephen king was the first and left the most lasting impression, but I also got lost in the works of H. P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, and Neil Gaiman. Books where a great escape, and most importantly, free at the library!
Then, in 1996, along came Resident Evil.
It flipped over the table, knocked all my books and video tapes on the floor, and they stayed down there for a long time.
I was already into video games at that point, but up until then I had never experienced anything quite like it.
Though the dialogue was inexpertly crafted (being translated from a Japanese script at a time before localisation was the priority it is now), and the voice acting was… less than stellar, it had something that reading or watching films didn’t have:
It was horror that was interactive!
When Chris Redfield walked down a corridor in the Spencer Mansion, it was me making him do it. If I just let him stand there, then nothing would happen to him. He could stand in that dining room all day long.
But I was not going to let that happen. I was going on a horrible, flesh crawling adventure and I was taking him with me, whether he liked it or not, zombies and monsters be damned!
For a long time after that, in my world, horror lived in video games.
Just like in books and movies, now there are sub-genres upon sub-genres.
And just like in books and movies, sometimes when it’s bad, it’s can still be good!
Silent Hill soon came along and gave me that Hellraiser feeling of uneasy disgust.
Quake took Lovecraft and let me blast it apart with a nail gun.
Phantasmagoria let me make a movie protagonist clumsily bumble his way through a low budget body-horror.
Dead space took The Thing (which had become my favourite film), gave me a plasma cutter, and let me run screaming from it.
And then along came Alan Wake…
Alan Wake picked up my books and movies from the floor, dusted them off, and put them back on the table, right next to my video games.
Alan Wake, if you have never heard of it, is a game about an author with writer’s block.
Ordinarily he writes thrillers, but in the game, he finds himself trapped inside the manuscript for a horror novel he spent a week writing, and yet has no memory of.
The dialogue was punchy, the acting was top notch, but the writing on the pages of the manuscript? That was what really hit me hard.
It was schlocky, pulpy, overly dramatic. It perfectly encapsulated the kind of fiction it was satirising, while showing a deep love and appreciation for it.
Alan Wake was a writer who talked about doubting himself, who talked about being a bad writer who had worked on his craft, and learned to be better through trying and failing.
Alan Wake, both the game and the character, are the reason I sat down in front of a computer and wrote half a terrible novel.
Alan wake is also the reason why I was comfortable, after over two months of work, to throw the whole thing out and start again. And again. And again.
Now I sit down and write a story when the mood takes me. I don’t worry about whether what I write is embarrassing, or whether it’s good enough.
I write what I want to write, and usually, what I want to write is horror.
I write because I love it.
But the reason I feel okay doing that is because Alan Wake let me know it was okay.
So really, I write horror because of Alan Wake.
For any interested, find my free archive of short-from horror fiction on my website here