My Horror Journey: Full Circle, parental fears – and me Simon Fitzjohn October 30, 2019 Features 428 For purposes of full disclosure, let me state right from the outset that this is going to be a pretty raw feature – it’s been one I’ve considered writing for some time now, but always ended up putting off (for reasons that may become obvious). To kick things off, although I was a fan of horror from a very early age, the fact I had two younger brothers and a sister, along with there being just one (small) television set in our living room, my exposure to horror cinema was more through reading about/imagining it, rather than actually ‘seeing’ it. I spent hours in Cardiff Library poring over books in the film reference section, gazing longingly at the lobby cards outside cinemas, or sneaking a glimpse at Fangoria in the city’s WH Smith, building up some of these films into something way more important than they deserved to be. That all changed (big style) when I hit university in the early 90s, where the combination of a video rental store being across the road from my hall of residence, a TV and video player at my disposal and a lecture timetable that saw my teaching week end at midday on Tuesday meant I hoovered up every horror I could lay my hands on, ploughing religiously through the ‘Splatter Movie Guide’ and ticking classics (and plenty of stinkers) off as I went. The focus back then was simple – the gorier the better. I salivated over slashers, zoomed in on zombies and drooled over the work of Savini, Fulci, Argento and more. Vipco were churning out a whole host of video nasties via official release and, while often heavily edited, sitting down to watch flicks like Zombie Flesh Eaters (or bootleg copies of Blood Feast) for the first time had me shivering with an excitement that films since have barely matched. Perhaps it is the natural progression of things, but as the years (and indeed decades) passed, my appetite for gorefests waned – to be sure, I’d still love a spike through the eyeball as much as the next genre fan, but as I ‘matured’ my tastes changed, wanting a bit more meat on the bones as it were in terms of plotting, characterisation and atmosphere. One of the big kicks I got through this period was chatting about – and indeed watching – horror films with my mother (actually my stepmother after my birth mother walked out on me when I was a toddler, leaving me to live with my grandparents and bounce around homes for my early years – another facet of my past which is at play here). My stepmum had been a huge horror fan for many years, visiting her local fleapit every weekend for a horror double bill when she was younger. She could rarely remember the names of films, but vague memories of plotlines and scares would often have me scrambling through film guides trying to track films down – in fact, it was my stepmum that would keep dripfeeding me info about Bob Clark’s Black Christmas before I finally worked out what film she was going on about. And, let’s be honest, how could you tire of hearing stories such as her throwing her ice cream over the person in front of her when ‘jump scared’ by the ‘head appearing in the hole in the boat’ moment on Jaws’ original release! Anyways, more than a decade ago now things were to change forever, when one of my younger brothers passed away, a death triggered by an overdose. While Daniel’s death did not come as a total surprise, the effect on the family was still (obviously) considerable. Practically overnight, my mother abandoned the horror genre, telling me (and I’m paraphrasing here) that ‘I’ve had enough horror in my life, so why would I want it as entertainment’. For me it has been (and still is) very different – horror has been my release, my safety blanket, my refuge through years of family upheaval and custody cases, of visits from social workers, the years of bullying at school for being a ‘swot’, of being an outsider, of struggling to fit in and feeling ‘different’ in some way. It is why, without question, I clung like a limpet to Winona Ryder (the queen of outsiders for my generation) after being ‘double-whammy’d’ by Heathers and Beetlejuice while still at school, and I’m still clinging. If anything my love of the genre deepened, but I now focused on more ‘adult horrors’, those infused with a sense of reality and deciding to take something akin to an academic approach to the genre through researching and writing blog pieces, magazine articles and even books (the first being on the horror films of Bob Clark to provide a nice flow to my journey). Another huge event came along in 2012, which was the birth of my daughter Astrid. I know it is a huge cliché, but nothing could prepare me for the impact her arrival would have on my psyche. My outlook, my priorities, my role in life changed – forever. Words cannot express my love for Astrid and the joy of getting a smile, a ‘I love you daddy’ or simply doing stuff together just cannot be beaten seven years on. But, and here’s the weird thing, my outlook on horror cinema changed once again as well. Of course I was never going to ditch the genre, but my patience for immature bloodbaths or clichéd, cheap offerings pandering to the basest of tropes just really didn’t float my boat anymore – in fact they would flat out annoy me. Instead I would find myself inexorably drawn to films like Don’t Look Now, The Changeling, Burnt Offerings, Stir Of Echoes, Session 9 et al, psychological horrors where very often fears were played out through the eyes of parents, all too aware of the fact that you can never guarantee the safety of your offspring, no matter how much you try. My wife and I have chatted on a handful of occasions over the years about just how we would cope should anything ever happen to Astrid (the short answer – we wouldn’t), and barely a day goes by that my emotions are not heightened by some ‘parental fears’, whether that be through entertainment, trying to avert my eyes from news stories of child illness (or worse) or that balancing act of trying to keep your child safe, while also fostering their independence. And then along came Full Circle. If, for some reason, you are a fan of my writing, or at least have checked out the site over the years, you will know just how much the film means to me. And, here’s the thing which I have never really said to anyone before, it is because the tale of Julia (and especially Mia Farrow’s performance) taps in to every real life fear I have – and then some. To have your only child die – in your arms no less – is a trauma I know I simply could not cope with and the grief, the loss, the pain and the guilt that is etched across every part of Mia’s face for a huge chunk of the film’s running time hits me so hard it practically hurts. In fact, Julia’s desperate wails of ‘don’t die, don’t die’ as she tries to salvage the tragedy literally unfolding in front of her have me tearing up just thinking about it as I type this. With everyone telling her to ‘get on with her life’, with the father Magnus seemingly able to move on from the tragedy seamlessly, the film’s scenes of Julia breaking down in tears (and there are a few of those) are painful to watch, and director Richard Loncraine does not shy away from that stuff – the film practically revels in it. Julia is then offered the chance of salvation through the mystery of ‘Olivia’ – and here is the thing: while anyone would normally stay as far away from a murderous spirit as possible, Julia is not ‘anyone’, but rather one consumed by grief or, as I penned once, suffocated by sadness. Every nuance of Farrow’s performance resonates with me – while I have heard others claiming it is slow (even boring), every glance, every breath, every steely bit of determination Julia musters to overcome all the obstacles put in her path have me not only wanting to give the character of Julia a huge hug, but to also give Mia a huge hug of thanks as well. Every memory pains Julia, innocuous dialogue wounds her and what would be considered trivial matters by others take on enormous significance in her emotionally-skewed landscape. Again, this is a malaise that has beset yours truly, from replaying conversations with others over and over in my head looking for hidden meaning, to ‘why are people not responding to my DMs’ panics, to irrational upset over how little engagement I get with my tweets. This all, of course, brings me on to my quest to try and get Full Circle restored and re-released, a quest that has caused me more frustration than you can possibly imagine. So many people seemingly do not want it to happen that I have often wondered just why I keep plugging away, but I have realised the answer is somewhat obvious – Julia’s ‘redemption’ or eventual peace through her journey to solve the riddle of Olivia is something that I yearn for – a sense of closure, the ability to move on, the chance to break free of the shackles of my ‘maudlin’ (still my favourite term that someone used to describe me years ago) demeanour. I had it hammered into me by my parents that obsession is a bad thing – heck, I was banned from watching Tom Baker’s Doctor Who after they spotted I had drawn a Tardis in my school homework book, and I still remember my stepmum’s sneering ‘you’re not a student anymore Simon’ aside when they turned up at my first flat to see a handful of film posters adorning the walls. But here I am, more than 20 years on, still obsessing over things which, in the grand scheme of things, really don’t matter. I am not sure I will ever succeed or change, but I shall certainly keep trying. This is not a cry for help (I have shied away from the darker elements of my issues), and I fully appreciate me penning this piece is self-indulgent in the extreme, but fuck it – this is who I am, this is who I have always been, and this is who I probably always will be. Richard Loncraine, Mia Farrow and Full Circle have held up a mirror to my soul and, while I might not like or appreciate the view, at least I can recognise it. My favourite exchange in Full Circle is a nice way of concluding, especially considering I have brushed off two ‘you OK?’ passing-a-colleague-in-the-corridor-moments with ‘good, thanks’ already today… MARK: How are you anyway? JULIA: I’m fine… MARK: Really? JULIA: Oh…..really? Let’s see…I’m happy, excited about everything being suddenly new like all this…and I’m more frightened than I have ever been in my whole life. It’s like stepping out on a window ledge and feeling so alive…because all the time some part of you wants to jump (laughs to herself)…sometimes I feel I’ve already jumped… If you have managed somehow to read this all the way through, I thank you.