The Fantastic, the Paranormal, and Me

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Tasked with writing about the paranormal this month I found myself at a bit of a loss. Subsequently, I am stretching the definition of the paranormal, to mean science fiction, to mean cult movie, to mean hit musical, to mean Little Shop of Horrors (1986). Thirty-five years ago, Frank Oz directed perhaps the best-known version of this cult film that leans heavily on mid-twentieth century American popular culture. ‘How is it paranormal?’ I hear you ask. Well, to think about the paranormal is to think about telepathy, ghost hunting, spiritualism, ufology, and anything else that goes beyond the scope of normal scientific understanding. For the most part, this sort of stuff is not my bag at all. That is not to say there is no worth in such work, it is just my position on it. Or at least I thought it was.

I am one of those who when questioned about his favourite books, television shows and films will respond with that somewhat uncool statement, ‘I like gritty realism’. I know. I know! I cannot help it, but  I am just drawn to texts like This Is England, The Royle Family, and We Need to Talk About Kevin. I will make a hash of trying to explain my position I am sure, but I will give it a go; what excites me, with a book, a poem, a TV show, a film, a song, any expression of art is the idea that with just a small jump of the imagination, it could be about me. Daniel Kitson once said that we spend our lives telling people that the world does not revolve around you, when the truth is, from the perspective of the person being told, it kind of does. I cannot escape that I am at the centre of my universe, and what excites me most is that which I can make sense of. That is art which includes frames of reference. Hooks. Ins.

silhouette of man standing on rock while looking in sky

Consequently, I turned myself off to science fiction, and the paranormal a long time ago. Buffy? Not interested. Star Wars? As if! However, when I was tasked with producing something on this theme, I slowly began to realise that a great deal more of my favourite texts would be considered by any other onlooker to be examples of the paranormal, or science fiction. I am thinking primarily about the Stephen King oeuvre. King is a much maligned writer, but his ability to capture the human side of things is superb. He is much more than just another horror writer. He is the King of the Mountain. Yes, I get mad at his metaphysical endings (11.22.63 anybody?), and while I would never in a million years pick up any of The Dark Tower books, I am totally obsessed with The Body and IT. Those drawing of childhood, of friendship, of sexual awakening are so well observed. Interestingly, I watched an interview with Reece Shearsmith recently that throws some light on this conundrum of mine. Shearsmith pointed out that the thing about King is that he can scare you with a radiator. And that is my point! I will go with you on your journey into the paranormal, to an extent, if it is remotely believable. If your story is about the world I know, the world I inhabit.The reason I can put up with Doctor Who, is because the Doctor looks human, many of the stories take place on earth, and the character flies about in a TARDIS.

black box mod on green plant

And so, returning to my focal text, Little Shop of Horrors; a movie about an alien plant (a kind of Vagina dentata), that arrived in mid-twentieth century USA in the midst of a solar eclipse. Little Shop… is perhaps a retelling of a couple of fairy tales, it is a reverse Cinderella story, in which it is the male protagonist goes from rags to riches, although the whole narrative is perhaps more closely related to Jack and the Beanstalk. Have a think about that one! Today, I wonder, what is it about this film that has always made me happy? Why do I like it so much? The answer as I see it is linked to my aforementioned appreciation of Doctor Who, it is the real world, pop culture references. There is no escaping the banging soundtrack, (Skid Row is one of the best songs I have ever heard in a movie, and the fact that Levi Stubbs played Audrey II adds weight to this). Even the three street urchins are named after three of my favourite girl groups (Crystal, Ronette and Chiffon if anybody is wondering). Among all the doo-wop; the references to classic shows like I Love Lucy and The Donna Reed Show; the cameo roles from Bill Murray, and John Candy; the star turn from Steve Martin (who dresses like Marlon Brando’s character in The Wild One (1953)); is this utterly surreal, ‘paranormal’ story of an alien plant that promises to provide everything that lead character Seymour can ever dream of, ‘Money? Girls? One particular girl?’, in return for being fed human flesh. For me, what is strange is that I do not just forget that this is the plot, but that I forgive the fact that this is the plot because I am drenched in pop culture references, these frames of reference, these hooks, and I find that it is really a story about me. The fantastic is just fine, when the line between it and the real is blurred.

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