I hate being scared.
But I looooove being scared.
I realize that makes no sense. But let me take you back for a few moments, if I may, to my childhood, where my love of freaky movies began.
I grew up in the 1980s, the era of the slasher film, home video (“Would someone please fix the tracking?”), and the dawn of cable television. I was exposed to far more frightening films and scenes in films than my parents had ever been, most of it while I was sitting on the living room carpet while they were in the kitchen smoking and playing cards with the neighbours. And I loved it. I was terrified afterwards, but I loved it.
Some stuff that scared me honestly probably never even came across my parents’ radar. Disney’s “Pinocchio”? Traumatized me. Fecking traumatized me. There are two scenes that give me a heart attack to this day — the scene with Stromboli threatening to burn Pinocchio alive, and the scene where Pinocchio’s red-headed delinquent buddy turns into a donkey on Fantasy Island. Good God. I have not watched that film in over 25 years, and fully intend to never show it to my own children. And my fright at “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” is already documented on a previous post. The only way my kids got to see that was because my parents bought the Blu-ray and watched it with them.
Me: “Mom! I asked you to babysit, not scar them for life!”
My Mom: “Seriously? What’s wrong with it?”
Me: “Don’t you remember going to the theatre to watch it? And me crying and wailing and begging to go home because I was scared?”
My Mom (sighing): “…I raised a drama queen.”
Maybe. But I like to think my quaking in terror at the movies I’m about to mention at least gets a nod or two out of someone else who watched them at an impressionable age, as well. So I assembled my Top 5 Freaky Movies That Affected Me list below. I watched them all before the age of 13, and I still feel their influence today.
5. An American Werewolf in London
Even my mom, generally wholly in denial, remembers me watching this one — because she let it happen! She sat in the kitchen at my grandmother’s house while I sat in the living room with my uncle (who was a teenager at the time) and a bunch of his friends and soaked it all in. She’d pop in every once in a while, shake her head, and say, “Are you sure this is okay for her?”. One of my uncle’s helpful buddies, a fellow called Lizard, would nod and reply, “Oh, yeah. We cover her eyes during the scary parts.” Yeah — that one time. I saw everything else clear as day, including the violent, painful looking werewolf transformations that still make my skin crawl when I think about them. And the ripping and the tearing and the screaming… I don’t think I’d even hit the first grade yet. I still take a pass on werewolf movies, if I can help it.
In my mom’s defense, she wasn’t around when I watched this one. And the adults who were (a friend’s parents) probably didn’t know how scary it could be for a kid (never mind the fact that it was directed by the same guy who directed “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”). I have an incredibly active imagination, and I really only remember impressions, emotions around this film, not actual images or plot concerns. I remember being petrified of being sucked into the walls of my own home, lost in limbo somewhere, looking blonde and pretty (I was freckly and redheaded, but in my minds’ eye, I was Carol Anne), calling in vain for a short woman to help me. Snow on a television gave me the heebie-jeebies after that.
3. Raiders of the Lost Ark
Oh, I still watch this one. Every chance I get. And it does belong on my list! Most certainly not a horror film, but those snakes at the dig site when Indy is buried alive — in the dark — genuinely frightened me. And the monkey was so evil! And creepy! And evil! I still shudder at that thing. What doesn’t really hold up, though, was the most influential part of the gore-factor, which is the face-melting scene at the end. I just shrug now, but you could’ve knocked me over with a feather when I first watched it with my dad on VHS back in the day. This is still a go-to for me, unlike the previous two films, as is the lesser-but-still-not-bad sequel, “Indiana Jones And The Temple of Doom.” Kali-maaaaaa…
This Stephen King novel-turned-TV-movie cemented my dislike of clowns. Sweet Jaysus. Tim Curry is at his hideously sinister best as groteque clown Pennywise who eats kids in a small Maine town. I was older when I watched this (thirteen, I think), but my mom had watched it first and really enjoyed it, so gave it the green light for my younger brother and I to watch during a visit to my aunt and uncle’s house one summer. The book is worse, naturally — and I loved it when I read it several years later. Just the rememberance of Curry whispering, “They all float…” makes me want to shriek and flap my hands around in panic. It was my King gateway drug, and I devoured his back catalogue the moment I had the chance. Delicious.
1. A Nightmare on Elm Street
This film screwed me up big-time. I watched it at a sleepover when I wasn’t quite 10 years old, and came home the next day exhausted because I had not been able to sleep afterwards. My little brother slept on the floor of my room for days because I was too terrified to sleep by myself. I slept with the radio on and the door open to help alleviate my fear, but all I could see was Heather Langenkamp watching Freddie Kruger pull her friend down the school hallway in a body bag. And the jump ending just about made me pee my pants. I have since seen all the sequels (and all the “Friday The 13ths” and “Halloweens”), and not one of them made me truly petrified for my own life like this movie did. It stuck with me years. Years. Which means it was good.
And I could go on! “Labyrinth” and “Return To Oz” had scary parts, as did “Superman” (I will never, ever forget Margot Kidder getting buried alive near the end of that film. Not for as long as I live). “Carrie”, which I saw at the tender age of twelve as a midnight movie while I was babysitting, had me hiding in the corner of the couch covered in an afghan. Many films that scared the hell out of me are now films I love and hold dear. I wouldn’t trade my movie-viewing past for anything, although I am playing it a little bit differently for my own children. I sometimes wonder, though, if I’m not playing it a little too conservative with my elementary school-aged children’s film choices — but “The Avengers” isn’t that bad, is it?
Not when compared to “Pinocchio”.