Welcome to Something Wicked This Way Comes, a brand new column series where we reflect back on our formative years and discuss the myriad of moments which shaped our interest in genre cinema and like-minded entertainment during our most impressionable and awkward years. Here we will recall the various early influences which made us the strange and wonderful people we are today, and we hope our experiences resonate with you, the dear reader, as well.
Childhood memories are scattered, but most of us can recall specific moments which had a significant impact on us. With this series, we plan to revisit those memories and discuss how they led to our appreciation of the fringe art forms we all adore. As we’re fortunate enough to have writers from all over the world, with their unique backgrounds and eclectic tastes, you can expect unpredictability and, hopefully, some engaging weekend reading. We also hope to help reacquaint you with your own inner brat.
For me personally, it’s hard to pinpoint where my interest in genre entertainment began specifically. I’ve been drawn to all things strange, spooky, fantastical and adventurous for as long as I can remember, so my fascination with the otherworldly and dangerous has been a constant in my life. My earliest memories of childhood involve playing with dinosaur, monster and robot action figures while I watched Saturday morning cartoons in front of the television. I was obsessed with dinosaurs for a long time; initially, I was terrified of images of the fearsome T-Rex, but at the same time, I just couldn’t peel my eyes away. Then Jurassic Park (1993) happened, and my transformation from curiously terrified to full-blown enthusiast was complete.
Like a lot of kids, some of my earliest memories are of my mother reading me fairy tales like Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, and Snow White, both of which contain strong horror elements, albeit softened for children. As an adult, I would later discover that the fairy tales my mother read to me as a child originated from some sinister fare. As our own Rebecca Booth notes, “Over the centuries, strong themes within such classic examples of the fairy tale have been diluted to suit a younger audience, as this fiction became synonymous with children’s literature.’’
For example, the aforementioned Hansel and Gretel can be traced back to the 1887 French fairy tale Les Enfants Egares (The Lost Children), which tells the story of two stingy parents who lead their children, Jean and Jeanette, into the forest to die. Eventually, they find a house and an old woman invites them in, but not before she warns the children that her husband is the Devil and, if he finds them there, he’ll eat them. However, the siblings absolutely reek of Christianity and it doesn’t take long for ol’ Beelzebub to sniff them out. He then beats his wife and locks them up so he can fatten them. The story ends on an uplifting note, however, when Jean and Jeanette slit the old woman’s throat and make off with the Devil’s gold.
In the more popular iteration Hansel and Gretel, our young protagonists stumble upon a gingerbread house inhabited by a witch. This is the version most of us were initially exposed to; myself included. At the time, the thought of being eaten by a witch who lived in a candy cottage didn’t scare me, but the idea of being separated from my family kept me up at night every time my mother read to me. However, like the original French tale, there was always an element of distrusting curiosity when it came to my family – and adults in general. While I always felt safe in their presence, sometimes my imagination and nightmares ventured into some wild conspiracy corners.
The 1989 film Parents taps into the childhood fear that our own loved ones might not be what they say are; the notion that, when we went to bed, they become some kind of crazy cannibals or deviant cultists. I loved and trusted my family from the outset, and I’m pleased to announce that they never tried to sacrifice me to feed me the neighbors, prepare me for dinner, or sacrifice me to the Old Ones. Yet, that didn’t stop me from wondering what they got up to when they put me to bed.
While entertainment was pivotal in my development of genre enthusiasm, so was school. Every morning we’d open the day by saying a prayer to the Almighty and teachers would tell us stories from the Bible. Before I became a godless heathen, I was terrified at the thought of spending an eternity burning in Hell if I didn’t behave myself. Plus, the notion of an omnipresent supernatural being always watching me was quite terrifying. The day I stopped believing was a weight off my shoulders. However, the fiery pit fascinated me – as did Satan. After awhile, fear and fascination turned to appreciation as I discovered Iron Maiden, Marilyn Manson, and heavy metal. All of a sudden, the Devil was cool because he had all the best tunes.
I stopped believing in God, the Devil, Heaven, and Hell, at an early age, but the mythology still fascinated me nonetheless. School forcing religion down our throats proved to be rewarding in a way, as it drew me towards art which rebelled against conformity and peeked my interest in belief systems, mythologies, legends, and folk tales from all around the world. On top of that, the classroom is where I learned of the countless wonders to be found in the history and culture of my native Scotland. We do have the Loch Ness Monster, the Highlands, haunted castles and more than a few world famous haunted hot spots after all. A part of me does want to believe that Nessie is out there somewhere. How cool would that be?
Scotland is a treasure chest when it comes to fantastical history. Moreover, in school, there was never a shortage of books to be found inspired by it. Whether it was learning of our deadly water horses through Mollie Hunter’s The Kelpie’s Pearls or witch covens in Rabbie Burns’ celebrated poem, “Tam o’ Shanter”, absorbing the camp fire tales of my homeland saw me develop a keen interest in morbid curiosities.
That’s just a general overview of some of the topics we’ll be covering with this series. I’ll go into more detail about my own experiences down the line by focusing on specific examples, but we have some great articles coming up from all of our writers which promise to provide a range of different perspectives. By all means, be sure to let us know some of your old favorites and let us know how they informed your own macabre and magical sensibilities.