A friend of mine just had her second baby (Congrats Loretta, Mike and Madison and welcome Carly) and it got me to thinking about when I was a baby. No, I’m not one of those weirdoes who tells people that he can remember being in the womb. You know the ones, “I remember seeing a bright light and feeling pressure in my ears and the next thing I know I’m being held upside down by a guy wearing a mask and he’s smacking my ass!”…yeah, those people, but I’m not one of those. In fact, the memories that seem to stand out in my mind from childhood are the movies that I watched. So, in honor of the Bennett Family and to get Carly off to a good start, I thought it would be a good idea to reminisce about the movies that scared the hell out of me as a child, that way the kids out there and their parents can avoid them before their kids (God Forbid) turn out like your very own Bad Movie Guy! And maybe even teach a little lesson about movie viewing with your kids.
The first movie that I can remember scaring me was the 1934 horror flick, The Black Car starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Now, being that I was about 7 or 8 years old I don’t really remember the plotline, but here’s what I do remember. Boris and Bela, who, when I was a boy were the two biggest horror icons ever, if they were in the movie you sat and watched…period. But at the end of the movie, Boris straps Bela to a giant ‘X’ and takes what looks like a metal carrot peeler and peels the skin off of Bela’s back. Now, you don’t really see any gore, but you do see the shadows of Boris and Bela and you hear the screams of Bela as the skin is ripped from his body. This movie gave me nightmares for months! If you have children, I don’t think I’d let them see this until they had reached at least 12 or 13 years of age.
The next thing that I remember putting the fear into me was a little Disney movie called Darby O’Gill And The Little People. This movie made in 1959 was something that my parents took me to the Drive-In to see, and before you think I’m a terrible old geezer, this was one of those famous Disney re-releases, I wasn’t around in 1959!! Now, again the plot of this movie eludes me. I remember something about a bunch of leprechauns, and they live in the shadow of a mountain, there’s Sean Connery and they all drive around in a car for some reason. Yeah, I know my memory is a little fuzzy, until you get to the end. At the end of the movie, a giant figure looms over the mountain terrorizing the little people. This figure was in a black hooded robe, not unlike the spectre of death! And, since I was a young child, this completely freaked me out! That and the fact that since it was at a Drive-In on a cloudy night, it sort of looked like a large dark figure was looming over me anyway, plus the fact that my father kept asking me if that was the figure over me! Which may be part of the root of my father issues, but that’s another issue for another column. I don’t remember the story, I don’t remember how the movie ended, since it’s a Disney movie I’m sure there was a happy ending, all I remember is that damned black robed figure terrorizing those poor little people! Since this is a Disney movie, I’m sure it’s okay for kids of all ages, just don’t terrorize the kids about death looming over them after the movie’s over, I’m pretty sure that’s what scarred me so terribly!
Now, a little fear can go a long way, so those two movies kept my fevered imagination busy for quite a little while, this is until something worse came along to replace them. That happened when I went with my parents to see the 1967 classic Bonnie And Clyde. Now, on the surface you might think that this is just a cops and robbers movies and that there’s really nothing frightening about it, but if you’ll remember with me, the scene where the gang shot their way out of a motel. Gene Hackman is shot in the head, but he doesn’t die! It takes him the better part of ten minutes (it seemed) to suffer and scream and then die. By today’s standards this seems a little tame, but when I saw this I was probably 10 years old and it scared the living hell out of me. I didn’t want to even go to bed, because Gene was shot while cowering behind a mattress! And I had a mattress in my bedroom!!! It’s a wonder that I slept at all for weeks after seeing this movie. I’d wait until my kid was well into his teens before showing him this movie, classic or not, I can still hear Hackman’s screams if I think about it too much!
Now, the intervening years between my horrible childhood and my misspent teen years, I spent immunizing myself against horror. I spent every Saturday afternoon happily sitting on the floor in front of the TV watching Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The Mummy and any other horror icons in any combination that they’d put in front of me. So, the older I got, the harder it got to scare me. But I once in a while something unexpected still had the ability to get to me. I remember my brother asking me to drive him and his friends to see the latest horror movie to hit the midnight movies, the 1979 classic, Dawn Of The Dead. Well, I had seen literally hundreds of horror movies, so why not, I loved horror and since this was being billed as unrated, I was curious. So, there I was, about 18 or 19 years old, with a gang of 15 and 16 year olds, in the theatre, with my popcorn and my soda pop in hand ready for a horror movie. Then, in the opening scene a guys head is blown into small pieces, that was something I hadn’t seen before, and then a zombie bites a huge piece out of the neck of his still living girlfriend! This was the first time I had seen a movie where the camera dwelled on the gore, and I have to admit, that popcorn and soda were there in my hands mocking me! So, I had to take a fresh air break and go out and drop my snacks off in the courtesy garbage bin, get a drink of water, gather myself for what was sure to be a unique movie-going experience. Now, I didn’t have nightmares, and I wasn’t scarred by the experience, but I was most definitely shaken up. Dawn Of The Dead is a movie that I wouldn’t let my kid see until he was way into his teen years!
These days my sense of horror is a bit more sophisticated than it was back then. The things that scare me now aren’t the blood-drenched zombies or the horrors of torture or crime, the things that will make my skin crawl as an adult are the things that might actually happen. The last time I can remember being in a movie theatre and finding myself being a little tense was when I went to check out the 1991, Oscar winner, The Silence Of The Lambs. This horror movie was really presented as a suspense/mystery, not a horror movie at all. But, as I sat alone in the dark theatre, I suddenly realized that the killer in the movie appeared to everyone around him to be perfectly normal. Then I thought about my neighbors, they, too, appeared to be perfectly normal! Oh My God!! Could my neighbors be hiding a Buffalo Bill style pit in their basement? Could that nice looking gentlemen sitting three rows ahead of me be there, not to see a movie, as I was, but could he be hunting for his next victim? Yep, these are exactly the kind of things that went through my twisted head as I sat an enjoyed The Silence Of The Lambs. For not being a horror movie, this one had me looking over my shoulder for days afterward. No nightmares, nothing lurking in the dark, the horror that overcame me after watching this movie was right there in front of me in the open daylight, which made my skin crawl a little harder than it had for years!
So, there you go, for all you parents out there, let me just say this, you know your child better than Hollywood, so don’t complain about the kinds of movies that they’re putting out, just don’t take your kids to the kind of crap that they’re throwing at you. And as for young Carly, I couldn’t be more envious. There’s a whole wide world of movies out there for you and it’s all brand new! Willie Wonka awaits, The Wizard Of Oz is brand new, and as you get older things will just get better and better…hopefully. Just listen to your parents…mostly…and don’t grow up too fast. And for all you parents out there, remember, keep an eye on what your kids are watching but don’t get all overprotective. Remember all kids are unique and what will scare each of them is different, so if they want to see it, let them, just watch it with them, if it gets too scary for them, shut it off and go on to the next movie. And, remember the movies that you’re all watching today are the memories of tomorrow that can be a good thing or a bad thing, that’s all up to you guys, so just keep your eyes open. Happy Viewing Everyone!