since i was a kid, i’ve been fascinated by things that disturb me. one of the earliest memories i have of this is catching a few snippets from the movie, dune. there is a scene where a guy has to put his hand in a mysterious box and it seems like something weird and awful is in the box and it’s going to hurt him, and another scene where a person is wearing a weird suit that looks like a cage of plexiglass and a bullet pierces the suit very slowly until it gets in, at which point it resumes normal speed and kills the person. both of those really stuck with me — i mean, here i am 30-odd years later, still yammering on about them.
those examples (along with a bunch of other stuff that scared the hell out of me) basically set the tone for the rest of my life. as i’ve grown older and developed the means to search out freaky stuff on my own, i’ve found more of it, and in varying forms — music, film, visual art, words, abstract feelings. and at a certain point, i realized that the things i find most intriguing aren’t strictly gory or violent or typical slasher movie fodder. the things that really mesmerize me are things that are nightmarish. that is the key quality i seek.
what qualities make something nightmarish, you ask?
- sinister overtones in otherwise normal situations
- twisted, deformed versions of familiar things
- things that a) don’t make sense and b) inspire fear
i think it was the movie jacob’s ladder that finally illuminated this nightmare fascination thing to me. i saw it several years ago, loved it, and thought about it a lot afterwards. i thought about how it was scary as all hell but wasn’t really a horror movie. there wasn’t a demented killer or a demon or any of the usual horror trappings. it was more that the main character was experiencing weird, scary stuff and it was hard to tell what was real and what wasn’t. while ruminating on this, i had an epiphany where i realized that the film legitimately felt like a nightmare to me — PINGGGG — and then i thought about a lot of my other favourite things in this world, and started seeing the nightmarish qualities in those things too: lost highway, possession (1982), the shining, eyes wide shut, 2001: a space odyssey, antichrist, under the skin. virtually anything by cronenberg. akercocke, voices, faust (1994), too dark park, the process, the exorcist, and bosch, for example.
i’m not sure why i’m drawn to nightmarish stuff. my best guess is that i was a wimp as a kid and things like dune just set off some electrical pathway in my brain that has liked to be stimulated ever since. i think that’s a bland, cop-out explanation and i hope there’s a better reason but i can’t think of one. all i know is that i like the blurred line between what’s real and what isn’t, i like not understanding what’s going on, and i like the fear.
i like it so much, i want it to be present in my life whenever possible — like a shadow that i can sense is near, or catch a fleeting glimpse of. i learned this when jenn and i went on a summer road trip that was lovely fun but tinged with a weird darkness due to the fact i was reading faust by robert nye on the same trip. i only realized long afterward why even the warmest memories of that vacation had a vague portentous tone to them, and why other vacations where i had neglected to bring some good, dark art with me felt more one-dimensional, less compelling. since then, i’ve made a point to bring some kind of satanic literature with me to help spice things up, to help cast a dark cloud over the summer fun, and it’s worked wonderfully.
i can only hope that when i die, i’m plunged into an eternity of hellish experiences, like a scene from hellraiser. only then will i surely have my fill of nightmares.