Not sure why, but I’m getting a lot of old memories based around movies bubbling to the surface at the moment. They mostly come at night, mostly.
As a kid who went to boarding school, the holidays were difficult for me. Not because of having to be away from school – far from it, because that place was a dumpster fire – but because I didn’t have friends where I lived. My nearest friends were inevitably a good half an hour away by train, or they lived in Scotland, or somewhere in the home counties. Even when I lived in London the other kids who in the city never lived in the same part of the sprawling metropolis as me, so while we could maybe meet up occasionally and bum around the Trocadero Centre playing on the arcades, most days over the long summer break were spent at home. Alone. But I didn’t have it as bad as some.
For instance, there was a kid I had an on/off friendship with whose parents lived in Germany. He was a forces kid, and so while I had it bad enough in London, he had it immeasurably worse. He had to hop on a plane to see anyone. One summer his parents asked him if he wanted to invite a friend to come and stay a week, and he invited me.
I was pretty excited. I got to fly on a plane by myself, the first time I’d ever done so, and I got to go to Germany, a country I’d never been to before. What was more, I’d be living on an Army base for a week, which sounded tremendously exciting to the kind of kid who had more than a little obsession with tanks and heavy artillery. On the down side, me and this kid weren’t actually that close – we were in the same dorm, but we weren’t exactly what my daughter would now call ‘besties’.
While we might not have been close, I wasn’t counting on me and this friend of mine falling out within hours of me getting there. However, that’s exactly what happened. Looking back through the mists of time, I have absolutely no memory of why we fell out. I don’t even remember the argument. What I do remember was feeling very much alone and far from home and this friend’s Mum taking me aside and saying that she’d look after me, and maybe I might want to watch a video to take my mind off it. I can’t imagine how delighted she was to have to entertain a child she didn’t know who her son refused to speak to.
I liked watching films, but at that stage I didn’t watch many of them what with school and all that, but I enjoyed them enough. My parents would occasionally get me to watch one with them, if I was interested enough to do so. But stuck there on an Army base with nobody to talk to, it made sense. I wouldn’t need anyone to keep me company after all.
She set me up in the TV room with a bookcase full of videos. All black, no covers, just scrawled labels, pirated or taped off the telly, who knows. You have to assume that all the way out there in Germany there’d be a healthy trading scheme and tape-to-tape copying going on.
One of the tapes had one word on it – Aliens. I have no idea why I grabbed it, but grab it I did. If I grabbed any others, I don’t recall them now. Only one.
I stuck it in the machine, probably as completely unaware of the age-inappropriateness as my friend’s mother was of me grabbing such a grown up film. Down I sat, hoping for something to take my mind off my desperate and lonely situation.
Two hours later, terrified and thrilled and transported to another world, I rewound the tape and hit play again. And again. And again. I loved it, was fascinated by it. Repelled and drawn in and absolutely captivated by it.
In the days that remained of my trip, I didn’t make up with my now-ex friend (we would never reconcile) but I did rewatch that VHS, again and again and again. Having never seen Alien parts of it didn’t make any sense, and as a kid other elements were just as strange to me, but I was drawn in by it. I don’t know how many times I watched it, but it was enough that by the time I climbed the steps to get back on a plane (much to the relief of all involved, I’m sure) I knew every beat, every line, every jump.
I returned to England utterly enthused for this strange world. The first VHS I asked my parents to buy was Alien (I think they managed to hold out a little while) and the first comics I ever bought were Alien vs Predator. I bought the Allen Dean Foster tie-in novelisations, and as soon as the director’s Cut came out, I was on that, too. In short, I got obsessed in the way only kids can. Soon I branched out to other films, discovering the twin joys of Horror and Action movies, and developing a penchant for anything with Tom Cruise in it.
And now, as a man in his forties putting the finishing touches to his very own sci-fi horror novel set on a strange land with mysterious creatures, I wonder what might have come of me if I hadn’t fallen out with the kid from school whose name I barely recall?
What was the film you remember turning you onto grown up movies of your very own? What was your first movie obsession? Leave a comment below.
Paul Stephenson is an author and blogger. His first series, the post-apocalyptic thriller trilogy Blood on the Motorway, is available now in ebook and print from Amazon, and free to read for Kindle Unlimited members. Get Short Sharp Shocks, a collection of three exclusive free short stories when you join the reader’s group. Subscribe to the blog to get a weekly roundup of all posts sent directly to your inbox. Also you can share using the buttons below, or why not buy Paul a coffee?