When I asked my good friend Graeme to write a review of the film You’re Next (a film that we’ve watched together and enjoyed immensely) for Horror October, he was all too happy to get stuck in. I’m not sure he really needed to spend an entire week watching horror films in the dark in preparation, but who am I to argue?
What Graeme, affectionately known as Biggie (it’s not what you think…no, not that either), actually came up with was a whole lot better than just another review…
You’re Next (Part 1)
It was back in 2007.
Deep in my postgraduate lull, I am holed up in my parents’ cottage in the remote Scottish countryside. It’s a cold, quiet night, but then it always is. The closest neighbours are the cows in the back field, who only really cause a stir when their calves are being taken from them (and whenever that happens, it’s the worst noise imaginable).
Since being here, when I’m not complacently watching hours of sitcom reruns, I half-heartedly tend bar at a local pub, serving pints to grizzled farmers who physically recoil at the mere mention of ‘London’.
It’s fair to say that post-grad bemusement at my circumstances has allowed the stench of complacent superiority to settle around my shoulders. I indulge this most every evening, pithily mocking my listless, bumpkin existence to the delight and curiosity of Big City friends on MSN Messenger, a bottle of something strong at my side.
It was business as usual on this fateful night, except I had been left alone to babysit two West Highland terriers. The elder was lolled by the study door, her old deaf ears sagging on the carpet. The pup insists on my lap, which is fine as long as I can reach the keyboard and the whiskey bottle.
A light comes on.
Somehow too near or too bright to just be the security lights out front. Then the pup leaps noisily (and painfully) from my lap, 0-60 in seconds, rumbling urgently through the corridor. I follow, annoyed. The kitchen light is on. The kitchen light that I remember turning off after I let the dogs out earlier. Flies and moths gather otherwise, you see.
Just as I rationalise that maybe I did leave it on, the pup springs past my legs and starts clawing at the back door. When I crack it open, she noses herself out and swoops through the night, to all intents and purposes chasing something.
Now, I’m no fool. I’ve seen horror movies.
I don’t leave the house in such circumstances without picking up a weapon of some description. So, armed with a broom, I follow the little furry barker out the door.
It was only when the back door was out of sight – a mere ten steps – that I realised that I was, in fact, a fool. You see, I’ve seen horror movies. If someone wasn’t already inside, they will be now.
Or maybe they’re in the garage, outside of which the puppy has planted her puppy-hind. Specifically, three safe metres away from the wide open garage door, giving her options. Still noisy. Still aggressive. Making one hell of a stink, but no way is she shortening those three safe metres.
What was previously assertive, scattershot yapping, like usual, is now one long, strangulated growling; a noise caught midpoint between fear and the instinct to attack. Held in that indecisive spot, drawn out, but decidedly aimed in the same direction, at one target. Something inside the cavernous black of the open garage.
As I move tentatively closer to the garage, every step incenses the puppy more. She’s flipping out. Almost literally flipping, like those toy dogs that used to be Christmas presents.
Now, I’m no fool. I’ve seen horror movies.
I know the dog always senses the malevolence first. I know the dumb human about to have their head hacked off always shushes them ignorantly, assuming superiority to their canine wisdom.
I discard my broom and make a sharp right turn to the greenhouse, blindly knocking over several things before I pull out a garden fork. It’s not an axe, but it’s weighty enough. Thinking about it, a garden fork is probably easier to retract and re-stab into an assailant; I’ve cooked baked potatoes before.
Armed, I rejoin the pup, although she’s less intent upon the garage door than she was, instead scrambling at my leg, moaning, giving off a whole understudy-for-Lassie vibe. Telling me something. Bravely, I shout into the cavernous black – ‘SHOW… YOURSELF!’ – and immediately realise how underprepared for my impending doom I am.
No-one shows themselves. I tentatively approach. My fingers search the wall inside and I flip on the garage light. Nothing. And then – BAM! – a fucking bird flaps straight into my face and soars out towards the stars. I shake my head, laughing.
But then, a light turns on from inside the house.
A howl of pain electrifies the silence of the night. A cloaked figure appears at the window. A white mask, an immobile yet somehow taunting expression.
The window creaks open.
The figure raises an arm, and tosses out the severed head of an old, deaf West Highland terrier. Bouncing once, her head lands at my feet, her dry pink tongue lolling out of her open jaws. I find myself noticing how, even with her head detached from her body, her old eyes don’t really look much deader.
And then I fall back in disgust. I feel the vomit rise from my gut and then I watch it splatter out of me, onto the puppy who is scratching at my chest, begging me to do something.
When I look back up at the window, the figure has disappeared. But he’s let me know one thing:
That story is partly true. You can decide when it starts being fictional (although I will tell you that the dogs survived). But that realisation – that severed head, those two-and-a-half words, the moment that suspense gives way to terror – are the key to horror for me.
In the aftermath of my “ordeal” I realised just how deeply home-invasion horror had registered with me, how its rhythms and clichés – however hokey – dictated my behaviour and accelerated my grim imagination in a real-life situation. It’s been a durable genre, and one that has attracted a lot of pop psychology attention as to why, when it comes down to it, we feel so paranoid about our own homes.
In the next post, I’ll revisit some of the most unsettling home invasion movies, movies that keep us double checking our front doors.
Sometimes, Graeme Reid likes his movies to be as cheap as his wine. When I asked him what I should write in this bio he described himself as ‘an erstwhile blogger and full time nurse person who would like to see what your insides look like’. At the very least, two of those things are true.