My relative contentment led me to become involved in initiatives on campus and I enjoyed understanding what other people deemed to be scary. The Hammer films had come before but in a lot of ways, as students, we had the opportunity to write the second act of horror history and up the ante for a new generation. The success of auteurs such as Alfred Hitchcock and Roman Polanski, who were pushing the boundaries of acceptability and taste at the time, proved it was possible and that there was a continuing appetite for it. The rules of the genre hadn’t been written yet and I knew I was holding something in my possession that could have a massive impact on everyone I met. Peers used to discuss the distress that films such as Peeping Tom and Psycho had caused them. I would smile and nod politely.
I made my mark everywhere I could. They thought of me as that ‘creepy movie guy’, but it was an affectionate nickname; my constant badgering of other students, asking to gaze into their very souls, wasn’t for everyone but most got a kick out of analysing why Dracula made them hide behind the sofa.
One day after class I was scribbling into my notepad when my professor approached me and asked if I wanted to partake in a short study. The prerequisite for admission was unclear but Professor Holmes was a good man, one who encouraged open debate on all subjects, no matter how taboo. Often I’d invade his theory classes with my ramblings about the emotion of fear, extracting information I thought could form structure around the premise of my ghouls. For his pleasure I agreed and he incentivised me by adding that my fledgling film career could be assisted if my results proved to be ‘agreeable’.
Holmes convinced me to treat everything as an opportunity. Many of the greatest filmmakers of the 20th century owe their careers to hard work and good fortune and so every conversation could be the innocent exchange that opened a door. Never be so distracted that you miss the big break unfolding in front of your eyes.
The study began as a short career interview; straightforward questions providing straightforward answers with an attending officer who in every facet of his appearance looked like he had conducted such dialogues a thousand times before. Then, after about thirty minutes of mundane back-and-forth, the discussion took a left turn.
A few years earlier and unbeknown to the general public, the officer explained, the US government had been involved in all kinds of outlandish projects, investigating the possibility of concepts such as telepathy, mind control and telekinesis. There were testing centres established in major academic facilities and their objective was to unearth citizens who possessed extraordinary abilities. They were attempting to extend the range of what was humanly possible; New Age theory, Human Potential Movement theory – extreme stuff like that. Along with the Space Race and putting a man on the moon…. wow, back then we had money to burn. President John F Kennedy had authorised the funding but as far as the record books show many of the initiatives collapsed after the testing phase. There were some places humans couldn’t reach, it seemed.
Anyway, the gentleman continued explaining this and I wasn’t quite sure what it had to do with me.
‘Tell me about these visions you’ve been having, George. Tell me about your ghouls.’
I hadn’t told a soul about what I’d been experiencing, not even my doctor. There’s no conceivable way this officer could know. I sat in silence for longer that I’d cared to as I processed his statement, but he interjected before I could gather myself.
‘What’s going through your mind, don’t concern yourself with it. Put it to one side. Just explain what you can see. That’s all I need to know.’
So, with a quiver in my voice, I did as he asked. I explained the ghouls, my notepad and the frequency of my visions. When I was finished it was cathartic to have finally laid everything out on the table and, crucially, he didn’t look at me like I was insane. He leaned forward with a smile, thanked me for coming and showed me the door. I never saw him again.
Not long after Holmes approached me once again, only this time my participation in a follow-up session was not optional. With decidedly more apprehension than before I made my way into a room where two scientists, I assume they were scientists, wearing white laboratory coats, attached various pads and gadgets to my head as if they were looking for something in there. They remarked towards a small monitor and made various incoherent noises for around twenty minutes before thanking me for my time, not referencing what they had found, then showing me to the exit.