I first proposed to keep this as a personal blog; intending to turn over one shiny stone after the other, as each caught the attention of my beady eye. I thought to keep my musings under the all-enveloping cloak of ‘the mysterious and the macabre’, revisiting such grim artefacts as had chilled my heart in youth, whilst also digging up newer finds and cracking them open to see what ran out. Selections would be made arbitrarily, based on nothing more than idle fancy, and then laid upon the slab for further examination.
What I hadn’t considered was that, sooner or later, reality would intrude, daring to stain these pages with its oily digits.
The recent death of my maternal grandmother was not entirely unexpected, as she had been ill for some time. Of course, no-one had been eager to see her off; she wasn’t an overbearing, fearsome matriarch – such as might be found tormenting their offspring in some tawdry, gothic fiction – but a kind and generous soul who will be remembered fondly by those who knew her. In fact, I can scarcely think of anyone less macabre or mysterious, and she would certainly think it a rum do for her funeral cortège to be paraded through these grimy streets for our ghoulish entertainment. Yet, there are a couple of reasons why her passing has inspired me to reminisce with you, dear reader.
Firstly, my apologies, for I’m afraid that a death in the family has a distinctly negative impact on one’s appetite to ‘ruminate on the dark arts…’. Sadly, any lengthy illness brings with it enough pain, fear and anxiety to wear down both the patient and the family, who bear witness to their suffering, and so I haven’t been minded, of late, to stop in and consider whether Wilkie Collins would beat Poe in a punch-up (he wouldn’t), or debate the various merits of Carlos Villarias’ Conde Dracula. Furthermore, the sleazy charms of celluloid blood-suckers, and the threadbare plot lines of tatty, old penny dreadfuls seem somewhat diminished in their powers when death itself creeps silently into the house and steals away with one’s elderly relatives.
However, my grandmother’s role in encouraging me down a crooked path must be gratefully acknowledged, for without her guiding influence (though she’d be horrified to hear it), I might not be the morbidly obssessive, fiendish entomophagist writing from this dark imaginarium. You see, as a youngster, hearing my nan’s condemnation of my chosen reading materials only fuelled my ardour for all things creepy and crawly. Fearing for my very soul, my grandmother appealed to my parents to curb my indulgences. My gruesome fascination with Stephen King, horror comics and Hammer films would lead, said Nan, to perversions of the body and the mind (there were whispers of skeletons in other families’ closets, held up in support of such lurid claims), and those flames were fanned by the tabloid papers, still shrieking their warnings about ‘video nasties’ corrupting the nation’s youth. This was 1984, and our family would not own a video player for another year or two, but Nan was a silver saviour in her tracksuit and slippers, and she was taking no chances with her eldest grandson. I scoffed, of course. My insides were boiling over with a pre-pubescent lust for sex and violence which was sated only by the dark exotica of late-night television horrors, and by the shameless, blood-and-guts lechery found within the pages of Fangoria magazine. My eyes were like organ stops and there was no looking back. I was a Monster Kid now, and way beyond redemption – but it was in this crucible, where youthful exhuberence clashed with reactionary, but well-meaning antagonism, that my abiding love of horror was forged.
As time wore on, my grandmother mellowed in her approach. My Usborne Guide to the Supernatural World was returned to me, and, for the sake of my mother, I agreed to stop taking Dennis Wheatley books with me when I stayed over. I was even allowed to watch AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON once, when it turned up on the telly, although I was packed off to bed before Jenny Agutter got her claws into the Kessler boy. I may not have always been so gracious, but I’m thankful now for having had such a fervant moral guardian. She was my Duc de Richelieu and my Father Merrin, ever ready to swash her buckle with whatever dark forces threatened to drag me to Hell. I’m also thankful to grandmother for stopping short of fetching out her ducking stool, in order to determine whether I should be burned as a witch, and I’m sure she was equally relieved to see me reach adulthood without falling prey to satanists or becoming an axe-wielding maniac. Perhaps I’m just a late bloomer. Well, then I should be forced to acknowledge that she did indeed tell me so…
Diana, in memoria.
© RMRenfield and Blackwood Article, 2014