August 29, 2014

A brief history of the effects of scary media on a child who loved being scared.

Poltergeist is 32 yrs old now and the remake by Sam Raimi has just entered Post Production for release next year. I have faith in Sam and know he will do it justice, but nothing can match the terror the original film inflicted on me; thank god for that.
I was 9 when my sister dragged me screaming and crying in terror into the theatre, she was laughing at my mortal fear that the clown would drag me into the closet. She told my mom she was taking me to see Disney's Fantasia; evil truly exists in my sister. I never have and I never will forgive her for that; I was scared of TV's with snow on them until I was 11 and would not own any clowns or stuffed, human shaped toys of any kind until my 30's.  

 I am middle aged now and Poltergeist is still scary to me..

I made this to illustrate the terror this scene still invokes in me.

The media we see when very, very young leaves its marks for sure. Not everyone is the same in this of course; my niece, when she was 3yrs old is a perfect example. Late one night she snuck into the living room, secreting herself behind the couch I was sitting on to watch forbidden TV. I was watching "Creep Show"  another film that had scared the hell out of me as a boy but in the best kind of way.    On the screen, a monster underneath the darkened staircase, sealed in a box concealing its ferocity springs forth and sucks one of the former protagonists inside, where he meets a grizzly screaming death as he is eaten alive. I knew it was coming, I had seen this film about 20 times at this moment, it was the sudden proximity of a tiny child voice squealing with laughter at the carnage she was witnessing that almost gave me a heart attack before turning 20.  I pulled my terrifyingly adorable niece into my arms and asked her "You don't think that was scary, aren't you scared it will come and get you?" to which she replied, "Nope, Tiffy can't be stroided! (destroyed)" . In her world monsters stay on the screen or in the box, but were not worth worrying about, good for you kiddo.                      

I, on the other hand, have always had a very vivid, powerful imagination, thankfully surprisingly rational; an imagination which accounts for 90% of my terror by filling in the blanks so well. While most things didn't scar me as much as scare me, other specific things have creeped in the darkness, hunting me ever since I first saw them.

On the topic of childhood fear by associative trauma.
When I was 3 1/2 or 4, I watched in horror as my parents had a massive screaming, crying, angry fight. I tried to stop them, but they were to involved in their battle. I was so scared, maybe for the first time in my life , but I was not going to let this continue. So I went upstairs, grabbed a toy slot machine I liked and went to our second story balcony. My plan was to hurt myself so badly they would have to stop fighting, but I still didn't know how bad I would be hurt, thats why I brought the toy, as a test. 

The toy slot machine survived the fall with minimal damage, so I jumped of the roof, right in front of the main window to the living room. I landed on my side, bashed my head a little and probably bruised some ribs; the desired effect was created as I howled in true mortal pain, choking on the air as I tried to breathe through my sobs. They stopped fighting and rushed to my aid, I had won the argument.

What made this an associative event was the music that was playing really loud on the record player; the score to "2001 a Space Odyssey".
I would burst into tears and either attack the record player or run away every time I heard the main theme song.

I couldn't bring myself to watch the movie until I was 17.

A Short List of serious nightmare dwelling fears I have picked up along the way;


1. Creepy Toys (see above) and the heads/faces of old Mannequins. (My family owned a mannequin head they called Herman. Herman, I am absolutely sure, wanted to hurt me. He used to stare at me and make faces and turn his head as I watched him until passing out from terror.
 I informed my mother after awhile of Herman's bad behavior
 and she gave him to my older sister to care for. 
37 years later and he still sits in my sisters house, although her own family requested he move to the storage closet; serves him right for being a evil creepy head!

2. Small Pitch Black closets with the door cracked open. I don't mind if it is open or closed, but something about halfway between either just creeps me out.

3. The Undead, especially if they are unseen but can be heard. Many a pleasant nights sleep has been invaded by the groaning, scratching, shuffling sounds of risen corpses. Mummies were the first but were replaced by zombies as I grew up. As to the others within the pantheon of undead antagonists only Vampires stand out, not because they scare me as individuals, actually they are pretty damn interesting. No, they started to scare me when I was living on the streets at 17, squatting in abandoned buildings often with many other young people living underneath society. I was fully aware that our value was beneath the concerns of the world outside. Street kids disappear from the world all the time; far to many of the ones I have known have just vanished. Vampires hunt people for food and street kids make easy targets with little chance of the world taking notice that they are gone. 

18 yr old Mouse (Titus) & 15 yr old Pinky (name unknown)
We squatted in San Francisco together from 90-91
 So yeah, around that time, I decided it was a good idea to be scared of Vampires.

4. The Alien from Alien. It's a ruthless, intelligent hunter lurking in the darkness, filled with a single minded tenacity that scares the shit out of me.
I am behind you, again.

5. The Terminator. Even after they tried to make him all nice and heroic, the very idea of hyper intelligent, humanoid battle chassis relentlessly hunting down all organic life without any emotion spooks me the fuck out.

Seriously dude, I love machines!
You are smiling, right?

6. Large Ghost Ships, or being trapped inside of a ship as it sinks and is being crushed by the water pressure.

Abandoned Cruise Ships are terrifying.
Obviously that ship was full of scary or people wouldn't have ran away and left it on a deserted shoreline. It had a long and illustrious history and was the stage of many a dastardly plan.
I did check that BTW; this ship ran aground outside of an island in Greece, then was towed in 94 to be retrofitted but broke loose in a storm and grounded herself on the nearly uninhabited western coast of  Fuerteventura, in the Canary Islands.

Built  in 1939, she was christened the SS America. She finally dissolved beneath the waves in 1996 as the American Star.


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