Monday, 21 July 2014

"Charlie says 'always tell your mummy before you go off somewhere'..."

Last weekend, I visited the London Film and Comic Convention (2014) for the first time. Excessive heat and crowds aside, it was great to finally meet the likes of Bernard Cribbins. I'm a fan from his Wombling days and Jackanory; my five year old daughter loves him for his CBeebies show "Old Jack' s Boat". In fact, Bernard personally invited us along to see his CBeebies show at The Proms next weekend - hurrah!
Bernard even kindly dotted his 'i' in his own belly button.
 Also present were Stan Lee (on his last Euro tour - he's 91!), Games of Thrones stars Lena Headey and Kirstian Nairn, Star Wars veterans Billy Dee Williams, Carrie Fisher, Kenny Baker, Dave Prowse; Starship Troopers Casper Van Dien and Dina Meyer; George Romero, Michael Madsen, Paul McGann, John Hurt, Jenna Coleman, and "Airplane"'s Ted Stryker himself, Robert Hays. (To name a few)
The legend that is Robert Hays.
Whilst trying to escape Earl's Court, I saw a rather unique bit of Cosplay, which struck a chord with me. Literally on the previous day, I have read a blog talking about an 'internet-created urban ghost story' about a character called 'Slenderman'. Yes, I now know it's been around for a few years now - I'm knocking on forty so technically I'm an old git, so ex-cuuuuuuuuse me.

My immediate reaction to seeing 'Slenderman' was: "It's that freaky suited guy from 'Sapphire and Steel'!". The episode in question - Assignment 4: The Man Without a Face did exactly what it said on the tin - it featured an ominous figure who, lo and behold, didn't have a face.

Spot the difference... Oh MY GAWD...
This character became so ingrained in my psyche - scarred, if you will - as a 6 year old watching a show which probably shouldn't have been airing at the time it did. But then again, that was the early 80's. The stuff of nightmares. BBC kid's drama "The Enchanted Castle" came complete with people with paper-plate faces. PAPER PLATE FACES.

The age of 'Armchair Thriller' (which, according to my research, was repeated at 1.30pm weekdays: WHAT?!), whose opening credits were bad enough in itself - but then had some creepy, faceless Nun hiding in the loft. (What was it back then with faceless entities?!) But that seemed to be par for the course in those days: The end credits of 'Star Trek', and to a lesser extent Scooby Doo... kids love to be scared, right?

Oh my Gawd...
Whilst on one of my first trips on the underground (departing from Fairlop), I recall standing beside the poster for 'The Shining', which ol' sweaty-faced madman Jacky Boy gurning through a splintered door. To a six year old, the poster for 'An American Werewolf in London', which was a simply, classic profile-ish pose of a ruddy great toothy, snarling werewolf was horrendous to behold. Speaking of which, there used to be a film review show (ITV, I think, possibly presented by Nicky Horne?), which was on at lunchtime. They showed a clip from 'American Werewolf' (the Tottenham Ct. Rd tube station bit). Lunchtime. Werewolf. Didn't expect to see THAT.

OH MY GAWD... I  can assure you this is not in the least bit amusing...
I would possibly attribute this show as to why I became interested in films. I went to the cinema a lot as a child, but it was probably that moment which sparked the "What happens next?" part of my brain, and has never really let go of that.

Next up: Disney's "The Black Hole". DIS-NEYS. Might as well have been John Carpenter's Black Hole, with Anthony Perkins being diced to bits by now legendary "cool robot" Maximillian. (As for that obscure ending depicting a vision of hell - WHAT. THE.). Speaking of John Carpenter, I recall being dragged along with my parents to visit their friends. Whilst my older brothers and their friends kids watching 'Halloween' in the front room, I had to sit out on the stairs on my own, huffing that "it's not fair, I'm bored" etc. Should've kept my mouth shut. I was eventually granted entry into the living room, with 3 minutes of the film left to go. And we all know how THAT particular movie ends. (Did I mention I was probably about five or six?)

Blatant imagery such as that, of course you're going to be scared witless. But then brain-searing imagery can come from the least expected places. Those public information adverts from the Seventies. They're supposed to be helping, right? Those were the days of short, sharp shocks so you learn your lessons quickly and don't forget. Blimey.
Oh my gawd!
"Blimey". There's a word that doesn't even come close when describing the daddy of 'em all: "Threads". Without a doubt THE MOST horrific piece of television ever created. I literally cried for months. The most realistic actualisation of a nuclear attack. A television drama that every sane political leader should be forced to watch. Having shared pub-counselling sessions with friends of a similar age, they all had their memories - The most similar being teachers playing a video of 'Threads' in the classroom, with pupils crying.

Now, you're probably thinking by now that I had a completely traumatic childhood, where were my parents, and it's a wonder why I haven't been carted off long before. I hasten to add, for balance, that it wasn't all scarring - there were obviously happier memories (scrabbles around, trying to think of them....). But, as if often the case, the one's that stick with you are the one's that affected you.

And what sticks in the brain - be it something scary you saw as a kid, or suffering a real-life trauma etc. - doesn't have to define us, but it can shape our lives. Eventually I watched 'American Werewolf', and it sparked my interest in special effects - my original career of choice (had I been any good at it!). To dissect what I  had seen and remove it from it's context, I had to understand HOW they did that - so I found out. And it's amazing, and I have nothing but admiration for the talent it takes to create these effects.

Anyway, so I'm walking (well, shuffling shoulder-to-shoulder) out of Earl's Court 2 and passing by Mr. Slenderman, there was a distinct recollection of seeing a familiar face (well, lack of). But not one I care to reconnect with.

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