Thursday, August 28, 2014

Doctor Who: Future Shock

This article was originally published in the New Zealand Herald. There is also this interview with Jenna Coleman. Who was lovely.

For two-and-a-half long months last year, Peter Capaldi knew he would be the next Doctor Who, but wasn't able to tell anybody he had scored the role of a lifetime.

Instead, he would visit the Forbidden Planet comic store in the heart of London, sneak up to somebody reading the latest issue of the Doctor Who magazine, and stand by them, taking joy in the fact that the oblivious reader had no idea the next Doctor Who was standing right next to them.

It's something Capaldi will never be able to do again without being recognised. His first episodes as the latest incarnation of the Doctor - and his own take on the televisual juggernaut of a character - are about to be revealed, and he'll never be able to walk into any comic shop in the world again without somebody knowing exactly who he is.

Especially when the BBC is celebrating the latest season, and kicking off the second half-century of the show, by sending Capaldi and his latest companion, Jenna Coleman, on a 12-day, six-city worldwide tour, just days after they finish filming of the latest series.

The latest Doctor and his companion stopped in Sydney last week on the fourth leg of the tour, and despite the punishing work and travel schedule, the pair were unmistakably excited about the new direction of the show.

Capaldi admitted he was nervous about the reaction to his debut, because although he was an unashamed fan of the show growing up, that didn't help much with a 21st century version of the character.

"I think he is different because the show has changed very much from when I was a kid, so one has to be true to what it is now, as well as hanging on to the past. And that's one of the things I love about Doctor Who. It carries the past with it, but is also moving into the future."

The role was a new challenge for the actor after a lifetime of strong work in films such as Local Hero and TV shows such as The Thick of It, where his magnificently eloquent Malcolm Tucker found all-new ways to fit outrageous profanity into his day.

But even though Capaldi had appeared in Doctor Who in a supporting role during the David Tennant era, playing the Doctor himself is something altogether different.

Each Doctor has his own personality and style, and Capaldi says he found his way into the character through head writer Steven Moffat's scripts.

"I guess because he had me in mind, he's been thinking about who the Doctor should be and how he should behave. I try and put as little space between me and the character as possible. So I don't think hugely about it. I just get on with it and try to do it."

Capaldi couldn't help bringing two things to the role: his extraordinary eyebrows - which got a special cameo of their own in the Day Of The Doctor 50th anniversary special last year - and his Scottish accent.

Tenth Doctor David Tennant had to suppress his Scottish accent when he took on the role, but Capaldi said he was always determined to keep it.

"I felt that it was important that I bring the Doctor to myself, rather than add a lot of layers of acting technique to it. I wanted to bring him close to me, so it would just be a faster conduit between me and the camera and the stories.

"We did do some other accents and stuff, but I was very clear that what I wanted to do is this. It would just be me."

Capaldi's first moment as the 12th Doctor was the regeneration scene, when Matt Smith transformed in the blink of an eye into something new and unknown.

Fittingly, the only thing Smith had to pass on to Capaldi for that scene was the wristwatch he had worn as the 11th Doctor, passing the time along.

As the Doctor's current companion Clara, Jenna Coleman was there for the pivotal scene and the handing over of the watch and though rumours are circulating that she may be about to move on from the role, she is now on hand to take the Doctor's hand as he runs off down a corridor into a new era. Despite working through the Doctor's biggest year ever in 2013, she told TimeOut she did not have much advice to help Capaldi deal with the phenomenon.

"Not really. It's really difficult to explain, really, I think you just have to experience it. It's just something you have to experience and go with the flow and just enjoy it.

"You just have to take it day by day. It's so huge and it's such a big franchise, it's like being on a freight train that's moving really fast. Because so much happens - you meet the Queen and do things like Dr Who Proms and go off to Comic-Con and all these amazing things, not to mention the day-to-day filming. So it's its own beast."

But there is also a new, more unpredictable dynamic to the relationship between the Tardis crew, and Capaldi said an initial spikiness between the two would not be resolved easily.

"Occasionally we would find that the Doctor and Clara think that they're okay, but they're not, because the Doctor can change, and that triggers different changes with Clara, also.

"It becomes incredibly complicated," said Coleman, "especially because this Doctor is still trying to figure out who this Doctor is. So that kind of unpredictability and instability between them both is really interesting, from story to story over the series."

Capaldi had little problem summing up the appeal of the 51-year-old show, pointing out that it changes and grows over time, while also being able to tackle any genre.

"The great thing about Doctor Who is that you can move from genre to genre, week by week.

"So sometimes you find yourself in the middle of quite a sombre episode, and the next week, you are in an all-out slapstick comedy episode, and then the next week you're in a chamber drama.

"And there is one episode in particular, which I think is wonderful, where we have a monster where we're not even sure it's there, which is really quite scary, and there are really very few people in it.

"I think it's unmistakably Doctor Who, but there aren't many larks in it. But at the same time it's quite funny, in a different way."

Coleman said the different directions the programme takes meant the two lead actors could have their own ideas on what makes a great Doctor Who story.

"Me and Peter are quite different. It is such a boy/girl thing. He likes the excitement and the explosions and the Daleks and all that, while I'm more into the ones that are a bit more fairy tale."

For Capaldi, his Doctor starts in the first scene of Deep Breath on a dark little beach on the banks of the Thames, and any romance he felt about the job took a hit when he had to hide himself away in the Tardis shell for the first time, squashed up against Coleman, with a props guy spraying a smoke gun at their feet.

It was a chilly, cramped start to his career as the Doctor, but after knocking off his first season, he is already getting the hang of things.

"I think in future I'm going to have a little electric fire in there, and a kettle. And some beverages."

 New face, new everything

Life-long Doctor Who fan Robert Smith says the first episode of the new Doctor points to a future of beautiful uncertainty - just like it should.

It's more than just a new face when a new actor takes on the role of the Doctor.

Some things will never change - there is always the Tardis, the snappy sidekick and a sharp coat - but a new Doctor means a whole new dynamic for the time-travelling sci-fi drama, with a new personality, new style and new tone for the overall series.

That dynamic is obvious in Peter Capaldi's very first episode. Deep Breath spends a lot of its extra-long running time asking who this new Doctor is, and leaves his companion Clara wondering what his nature truly is, and what he is capable of.

It's difficult to judge a new Doctor's era based purely on his first episode - the new incarnation is usually still recovering from the shock of his regeneration, before getting his head together and standing up tall to the latest monster.

But it's also clear from Deep Breath that this is a very different Doctor from his younger, more energetic predecessors - less friendly and open, but no less determined, and more compassionate than ever.

Of course, even with all the pressure of kicking off a new era, Deep Breath is still a Doctor Who story, so there are horse chases and desperate grappling with a monster - both verbally and physically - high over the streets of Victorian London.

Director Ben Wheatley brings a sense of gloomy darkness into the bright world of the Doctor, with lots of scowling and concerned looks, but there are also the usual light touches typical of an average Doctor Who adventure, including a couple of moments of outright slapstick humour.

It's this invigorating mix of scares and cheers that makes the series just as fresh and new as it was in the days of William Hartnell or Jon Pertwee. Doctor Who is always changing, and always becoming something new, riding the zeitgeist into a whole new generation.

And Peter Capaldi's new Doctor is just the ticket for that ride. He is not the cute and cuddly Matt Smith Doctor, or the dashing, verbose David Tennant Doctor, or the grim and Northern Christopher Eccleston Doctor.

He's something new, and it will be a pleasure to uncover his personality.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Kick-Ass: "Wait... Wait for it to be funny."

If you are going to take the piss out of super-hero comics, you have to really, really hate them, or really, really like them. One way or the other, or it just won't work.

There is no middle ground – Garth Ennis is supremely apathetic about super heroes, so his parodies always feel a bit too clever for their own good, and the super-decadence was always the most boring part of The Boys and Hitman.

But you can get away with it if you really hate them, because then you can rip into them with glee. Pat Mills fucking hates super-dorks, and that hate is a powerful driving force behind Marshall Law, and the amount of shit he puts them through in that comic is always, always entertaining

And you can totally get away with it if you adore superheroes. Without Mark Millar and John Romita Jr's love of all things superheroic – from the carnage of battle to the ultimate ideals – Kick Ass would have been a bloody grim comic.

The long-running Kick-Ass storyline finished recently, with the last issue of the third (or fourth; the jury is still out on the Hit-Girl numbering) series finally coming out a couple of weeks ago.

One of the main appeals of Kick-Ass is that the main character is constantly getting the absolute crap beaten out of him on a regular basis, and the only reason he wins any fights at all is because he’s a tough little bastard who won’t stay down. It’s that masochist subtext of superhero comics, made explicit text. We sometimes just like to see people get punched in the face. It's as simple as that.

And Kick Ass has also taken a critical beating, to match the in-story bruising. It’s ideologically unsound, outright offensive and gratuitously violent. This was never going to be a comic that people of good standing would bother with, and it always knew it, so it never bothered pandering to them.

But… I dunno…

I thought it was funny.

While I am a total ultra-pacifist pussy who deplores any real-world violence, I love bloody fiction, and it didn’t get much bloodier than Kick-Ass. It only takes a little tongue-in-cheek action for extreme violence and gore to become incredibly funny.

And for all its faults, I could never complain about Kick-Ass' willingness to go balls to the wall. If you're going for crazy, intense action, there is no need for a brake pedal, and this comic never shied away from making its situations EXTREME to the MAX, even if it led to the horribly unfunny moment where the bad guys mow down a bunch of kids.

(One of the failures of the second Kick-Ass movie is that it faced the same problem and blinked, and then joked about it, which didn't work at all. If you're not going to go all the way because you're too scared of what people will think, you've no business telling that story. Go hard, or go home.)

Still, thanks to some broken wiring in my brain, I have a soft spot for things that try and be offensive as possible, and Kick Ass went after some easy targets in modern culture, and gave away the game with the big shit-eating grin it always had. I still feel a tremendous amount of white male guilt about it all, but I just can't ever get offended by something I see in a comic book, because it's just a fuckin' comic book.

I just always thought it was hilarious how Hit Girl is clearly a psychopathic little shit who is genuinely mental - and I certainly don’t totally agree with her politics, but watching her gun down defenceless scumbags was never not funny. And seeing people complain that she wasn't a very good role model was ever funnier.

Of course she isn't a good role model. She's a psychopathic little shit who is genuinely mental!

But beneath all that happy anarchy, Kick Ass was built on a sheer, undisguised affection for super heroes. Not just Marvel and DC heroes, but the whole ideal of the super hero. What they mean, and what they represent.

There was always a part of Kick Ass that was maliciously laughing at how stupid the whole thing could be - the costumes, the masochism, the secret identities and all the fetishes, but there was also an unashamed love for the masks and heroism.

By the end of this series, Kick Ass grows up and puts on another, more adult, uniform, but he doesn't regret being a super hero, even with all the blood and tragedy. Because super-heroes gave him hope, and showed him that any problem, no matter how huge or horrible, could be figured out and solved.

We could all be a bit more Batman, or be as smart and kind as Superman. You don't have to dress in spandex to have a moral code and always do the right thing. Even the Motherfucker - one of the nastiest characters in the story - learns this lesson in the end.

Kick Ass could be a supremely annoying comic, with smart ass characters and smart ass writing. The post-credit sequence in the final issue is painfully arch, and the panel where Millar ties all of his comics together in one big dorky continuum is incredibly tacky.

But there is a joy to it all. It can sometimes feel like a waste of time and effort, caring so much about stupid superheroes and their stupid adventures, but the heroes themselves have valuable lessons to teach us, and can lift us up to their level, if we're willing to take the chance.

That's something worth going for. You can laugh at how stupid something is, while wholeheartedly loving everything about it, if you believe that enough.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Nine books, magazines and comics that made a great Tuesday afternoon even better

One of the extremely fortunate side effects of being flown to Sydney to hear the new Doctor Who talk last week was that I got a free couple of hours to kill in the centre of town in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon, which meant I could hit up the local comic shops for the first time in a couple of years.

It was the perfect way to fill time between chats with famous people, and I managed to find a few gems in the back issue bins, and one appropriate brick of a book on the bookshelves, and a Bicentennial Battle in a glorious mess.

How do you make the greatest Tuesday afternoon even better? With comics!

Captain America's Bicentennial Battles
By The King

My favourite comic shops are messy comic shops, and one of my favourite messy comic shops is Comics Kingdom on Liverpool St in central Sydney. There are all sorts of weird gems in that place, hidden beneath unloved copies of '80s Doctor Fate comics.

I last went there in 2010, and it was just as random and colourful as I remembered when I returned. I came away with a couple of things I'd been after for literally decades, but it was the random shit I was looking for, and I found the ultimate example.

Maybe they were just too big, or maybe the print runs were too small to send stuff all the way around the world, but I would never see the treasury comics that Marvel and DC put out. The stories might eventually show up in cheap, smaller, black and white reprints from Australia, but those big-ass comics never made it to my end of the world.

And I ached for them, because I'd see them in the ads in the regular comics, promising exciting thrills and gigantic art that I would never see. That ache only grew over the years, as I'd read about those comics in things like Back Issue Magazine, and I did see the odd one floating about at conventions and stores, but they were always priced incredibly high.

So, of course, Comics Kingdom has a small box full of Marvel and DC Treasury editions in good condition for less than twenty bucks, and the only trouble I had was deciding which one to get. In the end, despite a longing for those big, important Legion of Super-Heroes tabloid comics, I had to go for Captain America's Bicentennial Battles by Jack Kirby, because if you can only get one bold, brash and bright Treasury Special, it should be the boldest, brashest and brightest.

Because it's a Kirby-psychedelic trip through the history of the USA, with all the right-on political correctness you'd expect in a comic from 1976. It's glorious and silly, and massive, and perfectly random.

Wimbledon Green
By Seth

The comic collectors and traders who make up the cast of characters in Wimbledon Green would doubtlessly sneer at me for implying that anything as mundane as a Kirby Captain America comic from the 1970s could be rare, but it's the same strange obsession, at different scales.

I'm surprised it took me so long to get my own copy, instead of mooching off the library, because Wimbledon Green might be my favourite Seth comic. It's partly because I recognise that obsession, and partly because it was a book created on a lark, with no hint of self importance or real pretension.

It still manages to be a withering portrayal of men destroying lives over trivial objects, but it's also a hilariously deadpan and subtly complex  story, even if it is just a lark.

2000ad # 761
By Tharg and chums

Even in this age of instant gratification, and the assurance that you won't ever miss anything you don't have to, I still miss the odd issue of 2000ad, and sometimes I have to travel to other countries to plug the gap.

As a reading experience, it can be a total pain in the arse, but it's enormously satisfying to find that one single issue you're looking for, especially when they're hard to locate.

Alec: The Years Have Pants
By Eddie Campbell

Every other time I've been in Australia in the past few years, I've thought I should get Eddie Campbell's excellent collection of his decades-spanning Alec comics, because it seems like the sort of comic that should be bought in the country that stars in many of his strips, but I've always decided not to, mainly because it's such a brick of a book that I'm pretty sure it will put me over the limit of my baggage allowance when I fly back home to New Zealand.

This time, it was a two-day business trip, so I had loads of spare weight in my bags heading home, so I had no reason not to load up on hundreds and hundreds of pages of real-life boozy autobiographical comics.

There are many reasons why somebody might buy a certain book at a certain time, and this is probably one of the dumbest.

Judge Dredd Annual 1985 / Star Lord Annual 1982
By TB Grover, John Howard and John Wagner

British hardback comic annuals weren't as rare as the Treasury comics, and some years there would be a huge variety showing up at the local bookstores in the 1980s, but not always. Some years, there would just be those same tantalizing ads, with no chance of actually reading them.

So the local shops would be flooded with copies of the Judge Dredd Annual 1981, or the 1986 2000ad annual, but I've still never even seen the 1983 annuals anywhere.

So I can never resist getting them when I do see them, even if they're $12 for books that have had coffee spilled on them, with the spine coming away. And they might be full of one-off, unimportant short stories and flagrant reprints, and that Star Lord annual might be a particularly cheap affair, with a Blake's 7 cover, just after the gritty space programme was unceremoniously dumped, but I don't care.

I'll get them anytime I see them, because I might never see them again.

Running Through Corridors
By Robert Shearman and Toby Hadoke

The authors of this book watched every episode of Doctor Who, in order, two a day, and wrote to each other, saying what they think about the episode. It's going to take them months and months, and several books – the one I bought in Sydney, 20 minutes after Peter Capaldi grinned at me, only covers the sixties episodes.

It's a mammoth effort, and a pretty silly thing to do, devoting so much time and effort to this ridiculous little television show, and I'm totally going to have to do it too now.

Flash #71, Ronin #4
By Miller, Waid and LaRoque

Man, I've been after these fuckers since 1992.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Doctor will see me now

Earlier this week, I spent 20 minutes in a one-on-one interview with Jenna Coleman about her role as Doctor Who's latest lovely companion, and even got a grin out of Peter Capaldi when he overheard me saying how brilliant and experienced he was. I also got to see the two of them talk at length about the new series and their roles in two separate Q and A sessions, and saw the first new episode twice on a cinema screen.

I'm not saying it was the greatest day of my life,  but it was almost certainly the greatest Tuesday afternoon ever.

When he was asked about the Doctor being trapped on Earth, Jon Pertwee always liked to point out that seeing a monster wander around some alien world wasn't nearly as interesting as finding a Yeti on the loo in Tooting Bec. The unreal and the real, colliding in CSO-scalding brilliance.

The Third Doctor had a point - bringing that alien weirdness into our mundane reality is always pretty effective  - but as somebody who lived on the arse end of the world, it was an analogy that never really worked for me.

Because even though the Doctor Who production team would occasionally throw in a taste of the real world to contrast with all the weird stuff, that real world was still half a world away from where I was, and places like Tooting Bec, Perivale or the Home Counties could be just as exotic and alien as Skaro, Dido or Metebelis III.

There was always this incredible disconnection, all my life. New Zealand is an isolated country, cut off from the rest of the world by the prejudices of geography, and while this has been heavily eroded in this age of internet connections and cheap global air travel, it remains a big part of our culture and attitude.

And even with our strong British-based heritage, things like movies, TV shows, books and comics that come from the UK still have the whiff of the exotic. They came from far away, and Doctor Who was no exception.

It didn't stop the programme building up a passionate audience, half a world away, and I was one of them. But growing up, I never thought I'd ever really see these places, or meet the creators or the actors who played the Doctor and their companion. They didn't come to my corner of the world, unless cloaked in fictions.

And then I grew up, and while I never grew out of Doctor Who, that sense of UK otherworldliness slowly eroded. I got to go to London several times and see where the Cybermen stalked the streets beneath St Paul's, and follow the Daleks' path across Westminster Bridge.

I actually got pretty bloody emotional when I saw the 1980s TARDIS console, (along with a shedload of other props and costumes) at the Doctor Who exhibit in Cardiff, and some of the primary people involved with the show were suddenly a single tweet away.

And then, four previous Doctors were on a stage in Auckland last year, down to celebrate the 50th anniversary and they were just a few metres away, and they were all inordinately charming, and so polished at running a room. I've now seen McCoy and McGann speak multiple times, and it's always been a joy, and it's always felt a little unreal seeing them close-up, and I can't ever think of anything to say to them that they haven't heard a million times before, so I don't bother.

And then, one day the Eleventh Doctor rang my house to talk to the wife. She was interviewing Matt Smith for the local TV Guide, and I was freaked out a bit, and had to go for a walk around the block, until she'd finished.

We're both journalists, and that fact that she has interviewed Doctor Who has been brought up in arguments over who is more awesome in our household – I tell her I influence the national discourse and have personally pissed off the most powerful politicians in the country, and she tells me she's interviewed Matt Smith and Bryan Cranston. She usually wins that argument.

But it also meant that I might end up with a similar opportunity, and that's exactly what happened, as they flew me out to Sydney to cover the Doctor Who 2014 World Tour. I got to a couple of Q + A sessions with Capaldi and Coleman, (the main things I remember are that both actors genuinely love what they do, and that Capaldi has excellent boots), and I got a ten-minute interview with Coleman.

At first I thought I was going to have to interview Capaldi, and I was massively intimidated, after overdosing on Malcolm Tucker over the past decade, I even had an awful nightmare about it, where the interview went horribly, horribly wrong.

But it was also because I hadn't seen his take on the Doctor, so really wasn't sure what I could ask him about it. Even seeing his first episode never helps – you can't trust a Doctor's personality on their first appearance, because he always rooted from his regeneration.

And my favourite Doctor has always, always been the current Doctor, and there he was, being all charming and Scottish, and right there, talking passionately about the show.

When it turned out I was interviewing his loyal companion instead, I was actually a bit relieved. If I'd interviewed the Doctor, it might have got messy.

Jenna Coleman was, of course, incredibly nice and passionate about the show and her character, and the 10 minutes I had allocated blew out to 20 minutes, which is always a good sign. And I got that grin out of an eavesdropping Capaldi, so I got the Doctor to smile, which was the most geekily gratifying moment ever.

I'm such a goddamn professional, I didn't ask for an autograph or a selfie or anything like that (like I'd need such a memento to remember hanging out with the Doctor and his companion), and I don't think I asked Jenna anything she had heard a hundred times before, but she was a splendid interview subject.

I only showed my inner dork once, when I admitted just how much I'd always loved Doctor Who, but that was more than enough. I still walked out there feeling like I was floating two inches off the ground.

It's no spoiler to say that Capaldi makes a fantastic Doctor – mature, unpredictable and biting, but still compassionate and moral – and I have no doubts the immediate future of the greatest TV show ever is in exceedingly safe hands.

There can be no better way to spend a Tuesday, than having the Doctor crash into my world like that. I know they're only actors, doing their job, and I can still talk to them like they're proper human beings, but they're also living, breathing symbols of everything I really love about Doctor Who – the cleverness, the passion and the beautiful sarcasm.

Thirty years ago, I was wandering the banks of the Opihi River, wishing beyond hope that the TARDIS would be around the next bend in the track. If I did have a time machine, I would go back to that moment and let myself know that one day he'll be sitting in the same room as the current Doctor Who, and talking to his companion about him, and watching the latest episode of the greatest show in the galaxy before everybody else in the world.

I'm fairly sure I wouldn't believe myself.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Scary movies

Horror movies are rarely genuinely scary. They can be funny, or stylish, or gory, or even utterly horrific, without actually being properly scary in any way.

It's easy enough to shock or surprise an audience – a cat jumping in from off-screen with a harsh musical sting is enough for that – but getting an audience to really feel The Fear is a lot harder than it looks.

But it does happen. And it can happen at the mall, in the woods, outside cheap restaurants, and out in dull suburbia.

Despite things like a morbid fear of the 1970s, I don't really scare easy. I was a horror film fiend for years, and watched everything I could get my hands on, no matter how rubbish they looked, and never got that scared.

Because some of them were hilariously awful, and some of them were just beautiful and moving, and some of them were bloody smart. Only a couple of them snatch the right mood, and were actually scary.

And I always felt a bit stupid at getting scared by a movie, tempered by the fact that I was incredibly impressed that anything can get a reaction like that out of the viewer. It takes something special to do that.

The first Dawn Of The Dead film was certainly special enough. It's a smart and funny movie, with the distinct palette of that terrifying and washed-out seventies. It's ridiculously thrilling, with one of the great soundtracks of all time.

But when I first saw the trailer for it at the end of the Jewel Of The Nile video tape we'd rented when I was 11, I was fucking petrified. There was something there, in the mindless stares of the undead, and that deep, throbbing score from Goblin, that triggered something in my head.

I had nightmares about zombies for months after that, and my hands would shake when I looked at the video cover in the local store. I didn't actually see the film for years – partly because it freaked me out so much, and partly because I wasn’t even a teenager yet, and it was a total R18. I didn’t end up seeing it until I was 15, and then it turned out to be two hours of sheer fear. That gloomy, doomed world, overrun with dead people who couldn’t be reasoned with, or argued with. They just kept coming with their rotting faces and dead stares, and would never, ever stop.

I’ve had a totally non-ironic plan to deal with the zombie apocalypse ever since. And a good zombie film always gives me nightmares, and the green faces and bulging eyes of the ghouls in Dawn Of The Dead still haunt me.

The first time a movie actually made my heart skip a beat in fear, it was the Blair Witch Project.

It was actually a few hours after I'd seen the film in the very late nineties, and I was lying in bed on a cold Tuesday night, and thinking about the part in the film when something is tapping on the tent, and there was something in the way the only thing between us and unspeakable things is this thin fabric of a tent, and right as I'm considering this beastliness, the wind picks up and scrapes a tree branch up outside my window, a metre from my head, and I swear, I felt my heart stop for a beat.

I had to sleep on the couch for the rest of the night, with the BBC World Service on all night, to fill the quiet darkness.

The only other time I thought I was about to totally shit my pants in fear in a movie theatre, it was all David Lynch’s fault.

Well, it was also partly my own fault. I watched Mulholland Drive at a cinema late on a Sunday night, at the end of a long, strange, sexy and druggy weekend, which is the perfect state of mind to see something like Mulholland Drive, with its long, strange, sexy and druggy story. I was right into the movie and its twists and turns, and then there was the part where the two guys go out behind the chain restaurant and there’s SOMETHING THERE.

The best horror films always give me nightmares, but this was the first movie that really felt like one of those dreams. The way it takes place in a boring part of Los Angeles, in an ordinary world, but then the noises of that real world fade away to be replaced by an ominous drone. And then an irrational fear turns out to be painfully real, and the victim just shuts down in pure shock, and I know how the dude feels, because that’s the worst kind of nightmare, up there, on the screen, shared with the wider world.

Because sometimes, the fear is just in your head, and sometimes, it's real, and the thing that can't possibly be there lunges at you out of the dream world, and all you can do is collapse.

It’s the dullness of that setting that makes it so bad – it’s the sort of place we all wander past without a second look. One that means nothing to anybody, until it reveals that the Worst Thing In The World is waiting there.

That recognisability is a key to tapping the fear, and one I’ve felt since the 1980s, when the suburbs suddenly became a place of slashing maniacs and sudden death. Michael Myers was suddenly stalking your big sister in a boring small town suburbia that is painfully familiar, coming into the homes of the kind of people who watch this kind of thing, in the dark, when the parents have gone to bed.

All those wide, empty streets in the middle of the day, that vague figure three blocks away, the only sound a sudden wind whispering through the trees that line the road. There is horror here, and it's not just in the maddening unpredictability of the spree killer, but in the bland world they stalk through.

That tradition of unspeakable horror living in the dull darkness of suburbia triggered another blast of pure fear at a new movie I saw, only just last week.

It Follows is a terrific little independent horror film, written and directed by David Robert Mitchell. It's the story of a sexually-transmitted curse, where the victim is followed by some kind of supernatural thing that can take on any human form, but will always be walking straight towards you, at a steady pace, and if it catches you, you're dead. You can outrun it, but it will always be following.

And it's a creepy movie, with that Carpenter mix of synthesiser nightmares in teenage girls' rooms. And there was one part, where the hero opens the door to her friends - who can't see the monster - and it's just them, but then OH JESUS IT'S RIGHT FUCKING THERE, and she freaks the fuck out, and I don't fuckin' blame her.

The film is loaded with metaphor for the teenage condition, and is beautifully unpredictable. But I'm always going to hate it a bit, because that horrible figure, looming up out of the darkness, scared the living shit out of me.

Any film that can get to that point, and can achieve that level of terror, is to be commended. I hate being scared – it is, by definition, an unpleasant experience – but anything that gets inside the head of the passive viewer and provokes that kind of reaction is something worth seeking out.

Sitting and watching a good scary movie is all well and good, but actually feeling some kind of primal flight-or-fight reaction is even better.