Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Edification of Horror



In honor of October and things that go bump in the night, I'm writing about the times in my life when I was scared shitless by horror. I admit, I was inspired by Stephen Kozeniewski's recent post on different types of horror, and my love/hate relationship with this genre. Dredging up the past was painful, it's like visiting the gravestones of long buried fears, exhuming them one by one, and contemplating the edification of horror. 
"From goulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties and things that go bump in the night Good Lord, deliver us!"
The first movie that I had no business watching was The Bad Seed staring Patty McCormack. I was maybe nine or ten years old, I already had a dysfunctional fear of the dark, and this movie only served as confirmation. It is the story of a young girl who was born bad to the bone and I'm not talking 'mean girls' here. She is a self indulgent little girl, who looks and acts like an angel, so no one suspects she is capable murder. Her behavior is so unsettling it had me questioning the very nature of my most trusted companions. Eventually we find out her biological grandmother was a psychopathic killer. The movie suggests killers are genetically determined and the thought that this could lead one to kill without remorse is troubling. I remember glancing sideways at my angelic sister and wondering if either of us had a dark side buried deep in our genetics? I slept with a nightlight for several years, okay, until I got married.

The next horror movie I got talked (coerced) into seeing was The Exorcist. My best friend promised, "It's so ridiculous it could almost be considered a comedy." A scream, I'd say. It was released the day after Christmas in 1973. I was a young teen by then, barely over The Bad Seed, and now I'm confronted with a possessed teenager, and two determined priests. Most of the movie involves these priests trying to exercise the devil from a young Linda Blair who does an amazing head spin, floats in thin air, stabs her vagina repeatedly with a cross, and barfs green slim. It is the most horrifying, disturbing, immoral film I have ever seen. I spent most of the time with my eyes closed fantasizing about the beach on a warm sunny day. I was completely traumatized and perhaps this is the reason I became a Catholic. This movie introduced me to the idea that an innocent person could unwillingly be controlled by an evil presence. Who writes this shit? I thought this would be the end of my short horror movie career but it was not to be. 

I started dating Larry in high school, when he finally got his driver's licence, I was promised popcorn, ice cold soda, and a great movie at the drive-ins. I wanted to appear sophisticated and maybe a little dangerous so I eagerly agreed. When the title scrolled across the screen, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, I turned a few shades lighter, the nausea came later (Linda Blair style). I spent most of our date on the floor of the truck and if that wasn't impressive enough I screamed right through the chain saw scenes to drown out the sound. If not for his adorable curls and sweet disposition (haha) this could have been our first and last date. The movie is about two siblings who are attacked by a family of cannibalistic psychopaths while visiting the grave of a grandparent. I feel compelled to mention meat hooks are involved. The movie is so unbelievable the trauma is actually minimized, if that is even possible, and the fact that I fit comfortably in the foot space of a truck is pretty damn impressive. 

I have to admit, my forth exposure to horror was intentional. It was early December, 1983, in my first month of marriage. Larry could not believe I hadn't seen the "iconic" movie Psycho, a pretty descriptive title, but I was naive (in love). So we snuggled together on our second-hand couch and settled in for a horrible experience. I had to get up and pace it out in the hallway a few times but I made it to the end. This movie explores issues of mental illness, identity, and showering in hotel rooms. It does not end well. Of course there was a storm raging outside, we lived on the outskirts of Portland Oregon, and I didn't sleep a wink that night. A few nights later, still feeling spooked, I went into the bathroom to wash my face before bed. Our bathroom was located in the middle of the apartment with no exterior windows. It was very dark. When I pulled back the shower curtain to reach for my washcloth, I encountered a strange man standing in my shower, holding a butcher knife. I screamed bloody murder, popped a few veins, and I'll only admit this to you, I peed my pants. Larry worked for Proctor and Gamble at the time and he 'borrowed' a life-size, full color, cardboard display of a man pointing to the shampoo aisle. He cleverly duck-taped a kitchen knife to the raised hand. He thought it would be hysterical to surprise me with this unexpected guest. I tore that display to shreds, slammed the door to our bedroom, after throwing Larry's pillow in the hall. He slept on the couch until about 2:00 am when fear outweighed my anger. What a comedian. 

I avoided horror movies for at least another decade. Then it happened one night, almost organically, when I was all alone. Larry was traveling for business and I just put the last kid to bed. I switched on the television and the movie Halloween was just starting. I was a full fledged adult for goodness sake and my sister lived only seven minutes away. How bad could it be? The movie is about a psychopathic killer who returns to his hometown for a killing spree on Halloween. Trust me when I say it builds, and perhaps you'll understand why I called my sister late that night, and demanded she spend the night. She was eight and a half months pregnant, but she waddled over with her overnight bag, and climbed into bed. That's my sister. Her water broke in the wee hours of the morning, Larry's side, karma's a bitch.

So that is my walk down horror lane and one that I hope to never repeat. I decided in honor of October I would read a scary novel instead. Since this post was inspired by Stephen Zoeniewski, I decided to try one of his novels. Billy and the Cloneasaurus should be arriving any day. I'll be sure to let you know how it goes...





Love to hear about the edification of horror in your life. Join me in the comments?

Itching for more? Visit me at Living in the Gap a lifestyle blog minus the horror.

9 comments:

  1. I can't watch horror -- I have a delicate constitution, but I love to be haunted. Spooked. Creeped out. But not scared. You know what I mean?

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  2. Yes I do and I solidly agree, take be through the haunted house at the grammar school but I don't need blood, guts, and fear on the big screen. Happy Halloween.

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  3. Oh, I love so many of these movies! Your reactions to them had me in stitches. Hope you enjoy the book, Cheryl. It won't cut too deep...I think. :)

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    1. Glad my blog earned a smile or two! Thanks for reading. Your book arrived yesterday! Grabbing a cup of joe, diving in...

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  4. Very interesting, do all genres of horror freak you out to the extreme or are there any types that just make you go, meh? It seems like your examples here are "across the board," yuck yuck yuck.

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    1. I did enjoy a ghost tour at the Stanley hotel in Colorado so I'm not a complete woos! But I admit Abigail I have a weird fear of most horror movies. As a kid I watched The Adam's Family with great bravado. I believe Witches of Eastwick is more my speed.

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  6. I'm not much on horror either. Of you movies you list, I've only seen parts of The Exorcist and Halloween. The first scary movie I remember wanting to watch was Poltergeist. My mom wouldn't let me, saying I was too young. When I was finally old enough to watch it, it scared the crap out of me and I didn't sleep a wink for a couple days.

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    1. I haven't seen Poltergeist, a blessing, and I believe your mom totally had your back. It was a movie about a suburban family who movies into a new home that is haunted? The famous line, "they're heeere," is so creepy. I remember reading there was all sorts of tragedies experienced by the cast members. Someone postulated it had to do with the fact they used real skeletons on set? I think I'll remain unscathed by this one. Thanks for reading Carrie.

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