Is anything scary anymore?

Can you remember the last time that you watched a movie that really scared you, or read a book that made you listen out for creaking sounds in the night?

With certainty I can recall a time in the deep and distant past when I wouldn’t have had to ask this. The most memorable was probably as a child when I read about the Phantom of Croglin Grange. It was in one of those books of ghosts and the supernatural that publishers like Usbourne and Hamlyn did so well back in the 70s and 80s. This was a vampire story in which the beasty in question scratched out a pane of glass in order to open window and gain access to a house. Steeped as I was in vampire lore, even at that young age, I was troubled by the fact that it had managed to get in without being invited. Surely this was against the rules?

This was in the days when the laws and conventions on such creatures were not up for discussion:

  • Vampires could not stand crosses, silver or garlic.
  • Sunlight was fatal to them.
  • They could not cross running water.
  • The best way to kill them was by thrusting a sharpened stake into their heart.
  • During the day, they had to sleep in a coffin lined with soil from their native land.
  • They could not enter a house without being first invited.

These rules have all been thrown out of the window and many vampires in recent fiction now walk around in daylight with almost gay abandon (though I quite like the idea in the Blade comics that guns can fire UV to dispatch them).

But back to my scary experience.

Of course, I chose to read this particular tale in bed, on one of the hottest nights of the long summer holiday, and as a result the bedroom windows had been left open by my parents. Once it was ‘lights out’ I pull the blankets around me and couldn’t take my eyes of the nearest window. I was sure that any slight breeze that disturbed the curtains was going to be followed by a claw-like hand attempting to find purchase on the ledge. It was the longest night of my life, and come the morning light, the relief I felt was ruined by the fact that I found myself lying in a soup of terror-induced sweat.

At breakfast I complained about my lack of sleep due to the heat. Without missing a trick, my mum imposed another of her many (ineffectual) bans on me reading horror books. She knew exactly what had happened and rebuked me for my self-imposed ordeal.

But this was the fun of it: these stories were terrifying to me and I was insatiable. The ban just meant that I’d live in the local library on a Saturday and read books there without actually borrowing them. Undisturbed, I could get through a whole novel without fear parental reprisal.

And now I’m big. I’m an adult (if not a particularly grown-up one) and my passion is unabated. But the problem is that the frights are now so few and far between.

The first Paranormal Activity film did make me feel slightly uneasy in places and a while before that I do remember The Blair Witch Project making the old neck hairs stand to attention. But nothing recently. I watched The Quiet Ones at the weekend and enjoyed it very much. It was a well-made film with an interesting story line. But it didn’t put the wind up me in any way.

Its the same with books. There have been some really enjoyable contributions to the horror genre recently, but none that had that essential fear factor.

Am I just jaded through over-exposure?

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