We’ve been doing these Writer’s Room posts sporadically for a while now, and I hope you enjoy these long reads, because I love putting them together. I try to ask questions that will provoke a personal anecdote, because I like to think of writing about movies and talking about movies less as a way to argue about the minutiae of comic books or which actors should play who, and more as a jumping off point for telling stories in general. (Probably a self-serving belief to make my job seem less asinine, I’m sure).
For this week’s Writer’s Room, I asked Is there a movie that scared the crap out of you as a child, or maybe inspired a weird superstition or compulsion?
In addition to the usual cross-section of Uproxx staff, writers, and comedian friends, this week I tried to ask actual people in the filmmaking profession. Turns out, people who make movies for a living don’t mind talking movies. Crazy, right? So in addition to some of the familiar names, this week’s panel includes Scott Pilgrim/21 Jump Street screenwriter Michael Bacall, Universal Soldier/Smashing Machine director John Hyams, and comedian/Project X actor Jonathan Daniel Brown (who recently wrote this pretty great piece for Vice). Enjoy!
MICHAEL BACALL, Screenwriter (Scott Pilgrim, 21 Jump Street)
SPOILER ALERT: Do not read this if you haven’t seen “Time Bandits”. Instead, slap yourself in the face twice and legally procure “Time Bandits” for immediate viewing.
Eleven* things I became afraid of after my Mom took me to see “Time Bandits”:
1. British game shows.
2. A full grown angry horse hiding in my closet.
3. International time traveling dwarf thieves from heaven.
4. Napoleon. Also, Ian Holm.
5. That one Minotaur.
7. That one Ogre.
8. The fact that a Bald Sea Giant will crush a crying infant and give zero shits.
9. The futility of male nipples.
10. The Titanic, and boats in general.
11. The notion that my parents could explode and leave me alone in a cold world.
On the DVD commentary of this “Chinatown” for children, Mr. Gilliam mentions his belief that kid’s movies should not have happy endings. Harrowing stories allow a young audience to emerge stronger on the other side for having survived the telling. Nice try Terry, but I still can’t watch my parents make toast without shitting my pants.
*BONUS FEAR: Toy robots that turn themselves on and stare at you, which also happen to be identical to the toy robot I was given for my 8th birthday.
JONATHAN DANIEL BROWN, Comedian, Actor (Project X, Bad Milo)
That Evil Asshole Judge Doom Slowly Murders A Shoe
Other than the time when I was 6 years old and had to walk out of Mars Attacks after Jack Black was vaporized with a laser, nothing ever seemed to shock me as a kid. Despite my parents’ best efforts to contain my inner demons, I was determined to desensitize myself to adult content at a way too young age. When I was 8 years old, I picked up Leonard Maltin’s Film Guide 1997 and read as much as I could about R-Rated and NC-17 movies, culminating in me seeing The Negotiator with Kevin Spacey on VHS at a friend’s house. (I also carried the book around in a plastic bag and could recite the cast and crew list from “My Cousin Vinny” verbatim. No wonder my teachers thought I had Asperger’s.) By 10, I had already seen South Park: Bigger Longer, and Uncut, Scream, and Boogie Nights after stealing my dad’s AOL password, shutting off the Parental Controls, and downloading a bunch of R-Rated movies off of KaZaa. I spent years of my childhood blowing up my friends and older brother with Rocket Launchers in Goldeneye 64, stabbing demons in the face in Diablo, and fielding off requests to cyber from the future cast of To Catch A Predator (before they got famous!) on Yahoo Chat. I watched stick figures mass murder each other on Newgrounds and had been Goatse’d, Tubgirl’d, and LemonParty’d by randoms on my Buddy List more times than I could count. I felt like I was a smart kid and I knew the difference between reality and fantasy and I was unphasable. And then I saw Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
In a scene that to this day makes me more uncomfortable than Schindler’s List, Judge Doom, whose terrifying performance by Christopher Lloyd should have gotten him Oscars, demonstrates his new ultimate weapon, The Dip, by opening up a crate of Toon Shoes, eyeing an innocent and adorable Red Sneaker while it chirps, squeaks with delight, and hops around like a newborn puppy. The Sneaker even goes as far as to nuzzle the Judge. Bad move. Doom puts on a pair of gloves, grabs the Sneaker by the scruff, and opens the vat of paint thinner, holding the Sneaker over it as its coos and purrs turn into shrieks of fear. Then, at a snail’s pace to prolong the horror, Doom lowers the poor creature to its demise. The Sneaker’s screams and whimpers turn into muffled and tortured moans as its face slowly melts off like a Walking Dead zombie. It groans one final time as Doom savors the agony and finally, the shoe’s torturous death throes, before it gurgles one last time and dissolves into a puddle.
After watching that scene for the first time, I had to pause the VHS and cry before forcing myself to finish the rest of the movie. The calm and calculated brutality of Doom’s act contrasted with the victimization of such an innocent and pure thing was just too much for my little brain to handle. As I locked eyes with Bob Hoskins as he watched Doom’s toonicide in shock, I realized the world was a pretty scary place and there are some truly sick and evil motherf*ckers out there. In two short minutes, I learned about brutality, cruelty, and the depths of evil us humans could sink to. I still struggle to watch scenes in movies where an innocent animal gets hurt and I still have occasional nightmares about slowly being dissolved in acid. Then again, I also have a recurring dream where I get into a fistfight with Yassir Arafat while we’re being chased by Pac-Man.
ROBOPANDA, Writer (Uproxx, GammaSquad)
I watched every R-rated slasher film on HBO as a kid and didn’t get scared, yet this scene from Superman 3 was hide-behind-a-recliner-and-talk-to-the-cat disturbing because I wasn’t expecting anything freaky in a Superman movie. I was not prepared for this.
Also, the toilet scene in Ghoulies had me always looking in toilets before sitting down. I’d heard the urban legend about baby alligators in sewers, and the two mental images converged into one assumption that baby alligators are conniving butt-biting sociopaths.
Editor’s Note: Clearly Robo wasn’t the only one who had this reaction to Superman 3. You’d be hard pressed to find a more thoroughly bizarre mainstream movie than Superman 3.
MATT LIEB, Comedian, Frequent Frotcast Guest
The Movie: GHOST. The Result: Scared of minorities
This movie horrified me as a child and turned me into a racist. Let me explain—
When I was 8 years old I saw the movie Ghost on television. Having only seen a promotional teaser trailer for the film, the majority of which focused on Whoopi Goldberg’s award winning performance as Oda Mae Brown, I had assumed that Ghost would be a hilarious religious romp akin to Sister Act which I had seen only a few month prior. In fact, I specifically remember a clip within the teaser of Whoopi saying with her charming urban drawl “Molly… you in danger, girl,” and repeating it to myself over and over again, silly in anticipation of what I thought would be another hysterical Whoopi Goldberg vehicle.
I was mistaken— nay, lied to.
Instead I was treated to Patrick Swayze bleeding out in Demi Moore’s arms as she begs “somebody, somebody, please help us, oh god, please” while rocking back and forth, like a would-be mother rocking her stillborn in denial, helplessly trying to rouse her one true love awake while his ghost looks upon the scene in abject horror as he witnesses his own death. Did I mention I was F*CKING 8!!!! Listen, I knew there was going to be a ghost in the movie Ghost but Jesus f*cking Christ! Demi Moore’s agonizing cries haunt me to this day.
Not only that, but the brutal and senseless way that Swayze was murdered in the film affected me as well. Walking down a city street one moment, gunned down for your wallet the next. And by a minority, no less. This is why I am fairly certain that Ghost made me racist.
To lend some context, understand that at the time I saw this film the Los Angeles riots had just occurred and all I knew was 1) I lived in LA, 2) I was a white person and 3) minorities were very very angry at white persons. And this scene in Ghost reinforced my general fear that going outside late at night, no matter how well lit the street, can and will get you shot by a Mexican. Yes, I understand that Swayze’s murderer was probably Puerto Rican, and yes, I understand that the real reason for Swayze’s murder was because his Jewish friend totally Judas’d him for 30 pieces of silver. But try explaining that to an already-a-little-bit-racist 8 year old Matt Lieb after seeing Johnny Castle get shot in cold blood by a brown guy. I wept knowing he would never dirty dance again. The damage was done; the racism reinforced. I was inconsolable. I couldn’t even finish the movie. I just cried and cried until my mother finally assured me that I probably wasn’t gonna get shot and that had I only continued watching the movie I would have seen how funny Whoopi Goldberg was (and I would have seen the happy ending in which Swayze gets his revenge). But I declined to finish the movie on the grounds that I had already been lied to once about the film’s contents. (Fool me once, shame on Whoopi. Fool me twice, white power?) It would be years before I reached the point in the film where I could finally hear Oda Mae Brown say “Molly… you in danger, girl.” It was scarcely worth the wait.
JUSTIN HALPERN, Writer (Sh*t My Dad Says, I Suck at Girls, Cougar Town)
Without a doubt my most terrifying movie going experience was Event Horizon. I knew I probably shouldn’t have gone to the movie when they find the lost spaceship, there’s no one inside it, and my first thought is “I hope they don’t board it and check it out,” which is the entire f*cking premise of the movie. It’d be like making a reservation at a restaurant and saying “I hope they don’t serve any food.” I was already regretting my decision, then I forgot Sam Neill was in the movie, and to me, Sam Neill is scary in that “clown at a kid’s party” sort of way. He reminds me of Liam Neeson if he was a registered sex offender. Anyway, after the movie I went home and did that thing where you jump in to your bed so that whatever’s hiding under your bed won’t be able to grab you and pull you under because you were too quick. I sit for the next hour wide awake, until I finally start to drift off to sleep. Then I felt something on my leg and I flipped out and ripped the covers off me, which accidentally flung my cat in to the wall and he laid on the ground and made the cat version sound of the Grape Lady.
ALISON STEVENSON, Comedian/Writer, Vice/FilmDrunk Contributor
I have a really horrible memory for some reason. I remember maybe 10% of my childhood. It’s probably because my childhood was boring as shit, but that’s pretty much the case for all kids unless they’re child stars or Precious or something. For some reason, the majority of my earliest memories have to do with watching movies.
At the age of six, I remember very clearly being in the living room with my mom who was vacuuming while talking on the phone. She was distracted, and popped in a random VHS tape for me to watch. She thought she put in some random kids movie but what she had me watch instead was the Rocky Horror Picture Show. The only scene I remember watching was when Tim Curry sings “Sweet Transvestite”. I actually liked the movie even though I had no idea what was going on so I didn’t tell my mom that she had slightly f*cked up as a parent.
A few weeks later I watched Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory with my dad, and everything in that film scared the crap out of me. To this day, that movie creeps me out. I equate this movie to the creepy uncle you have to invite to family dinners even though no one wants him there, but also nobody really knows why they don’t want him there. He just does weird things like giggling before speaking that makes you think he might be a serial killer, you know? Well, that’s Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory to me. The tunnel scene, the Oompa Loompas, Gene Wilder’s crazy eyes—all nightmare inducing. I struggled with horrible dreams involving Oompa Loompas chasing me, or Gene Wilder locking me in a chocolate basement, which I couldn’t eat my way out of cause it was dark chocolate and that’s f*cking gross.
What I did to distract me from the Wonka nightmares was play in my head the scene where Tim Curry sings “Sweet Transvestite”. Mind you, I didn’t know what a transvestite was. I’m pretty sure I thought he was talking about being a vampire. I thought he looked like a Vampire, and also he says he’s from Transylvania. Regardless, playing that scene in my head helped me fall asleep at night, and blocked horrible images that came to me from an actual kids movie. I told this story to my dad a few years ago and he responded with “this explains a lot”.I’m kind of surprised this whole ordeal didn’t have me develop some strange can-only-jerk-off-to-an-orange-vampire-in-heels-chasing-me-in-a-basement type fetish. Too bad.
LAREMY LEGEL, Writer (Film.com; Film Critic), Frotcast Guest
This is a story about how The Sixth Sense nearly ruined my future real estate dealings (and part of one Sundance Film Festival).
Nowadays (which are the best sort of days) everyone dismisses M. Night Shamalan with a curt “This guy” and a thumb motion. But there was a time, let’s call it 1999, when he was the absolute tits. You couldn’t run a medium sized bee-keeping operation without people droning on and on (see what I did there?) about The Sixth Sense. The Sixth Sense was everywhere, and for about four minutes it even threatened to overtake the other senses, even touch, even from Destiny down at the club. That’s how big it was.
Now, I wasn’t exactly a child, so I’m stretching the boundaries of the theme a wee bit, but I certainly wasn’t a full-fledged adult or anything. I couldn’t, for instance, get a loan for anything above “beer money” or then even buy the beer once I’d secured the theoretical mini-loan. But I could go to the movies, or the “talkies” as we called them back then. And I could see The Sixth Sense, with that adorable scamp Haley Joel Osment. So I did just that, in place of buying beer.
Admittedly, when you’re talking Sixth Sense with Sixth Sensers, the first thing everyone wants to do is talk about the ending. Or when they “knew”. Or blah, blah, it’s no Unbreakable. However, that is not what I came to discuss today. I want to talk about Mischa Barton and red doors. Because that whole scene was craaaaaaaaay.
You may not remember Mischa’s part, because she’d later become much more famous for her role as Marissa, featuring acting, on “The O.C.”:
But in The Sixth Sense she was the kid who was being poisoned by her mom. Charming, right? I think her mom was feeding her cleaning product or something else that the human body doesn’t take to, regardless, she was always getting sick, because, you know, cleaning solutions. Before that reveal, however, they made it seem like she was just a sickly little kid and her momma loved her, and oh God, I should have known by the overall sense of dread that pervades the whole film that little girl Kyra Collins was not long for this world. Because Mrs. Collins was the absolute worst.
And then there was this red door angle. And the red doorknob. And a red dress. Back then, no one knew M. Night had one trick, this was a new and emerging director, so the constant banging of the head with the color red wasn’t obtuse or unwarranted, it was jarring and effective. In the film, little Haley Joel would bang and bang on a giant red door, looking for answers, never quite finding them.
In my mind, after the film, I started tying in Mischa Barton’s poisoning with red doors, though, at this point, I’m not entirely certain the film even made that connection. But in my head? Connection established. I avoided houses with red doors, dorm rooms with red doors, girlfriends who lived in a house that had a red door. It became a sort of nervous tic, the ominous red door, because I told myself, “Dude, you are never getting fooled into drinking pine cleaner”. And I never have!
Fast forward to the near present. I’m a man of means, able to afford to live places, in the market for locations that don’t actively have homeless people panhandling me in the shower. I started coming across apartments and townhouses to rent or buy that had, gulp, red doors. I tried to impart my phobia upon my wife, but she seemed far more concerned with things like “closet space” and “1.5 bathrooms”. So I had to cave, sort of. I write this from a mauve-doored townhouse, though I’ve at least managed to never ever eat soup with pine cleaner in it. I guess I pretty much just avoid soup in general these days.
But what about that Sundance angle I teased? I was scheduled to interview Mischa Barton for a film called Assassination of a High School President, a film you’ve never seen, or even heard of, because no one has, or ever will. This will immediately become the highest rated Google search for the film, because no one cares. The film went on to make $70k in theaters, cha and then ching, but prior to Sundance the publicity folk were working hard to sell it, and of course they turned to ol’ Uncle Laremy, protector of starlets, defender of the cheese. For my purposes, the interview would have been an excellent time to really dig deep into “The O.C.” and ask her if she still loved Ryan Atwood, and would there ever be an “O.C.” movie, and what ever became of Seth’s comic book career? Basically, I was going to pretend Assassination of a High School President didn’t exist, intuitively prepping for when the world would also ignore it. I was also, gulp, going to ask about the draino scene, and would she potentially be able to get that scene out of my head, potentially by making out with me?
Yes, it was to be a banner interview, one for the ages.
Only her people kept jerking me around, which is waaaaay worse than off. First it was all, “The interview will be after the screening.” Then it was, “9am at The Yarrow Hotel”. Next up they went with, “Sunday evening at the ski slopes”. And on and on. I wanted a one-on-one interview, 30 minutes worth, the better to do all the planned necking with. They kept countering with conditions, what about 15 minutes? What would my questions be? Why did I think she’d want to make out with a pasty overweight lover? I wiggled out of all of these counterpunches nicely, but they kept at it, and at some point, right before the plane to Park City, I just bailed on the whole thing. It became “not worth it” – as does anything that requires more than two phone calls by me (for instance, I’ve never won One Direction tickets). We mutually cancelled, and I told them to get bent or thereabouts, and then about a week later Mischa went into rehab. Myself and her people have not spoken since.
A shame that, because I never really got to exercise myself of my Sixth Sense demons. And now I live with a mauve door. But if Haley Joel ever knocks? I’m opening up, you guys, I’m opening up.
Laremy wrote the book on film criticism and also liked Winnie Cooper.
JOHN HYAMS, Director (Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning , The Smashing Machine)
I was nine years old when I saw Alien at the Avco Cinema Center on Wishire Blvd, along with my older brother and a friend. With horror, as with comedy, context is important. And that movie, in 1979, with two other kids my age in a nearly empty theater, scared me more than anything ever has before or since.
While a horror fan, the list of films that have legitimately frightened me is short. Jaws is probably number two, and lives in my mind to this day every time I step in the ocean. The Shining’s sounds and images have certainly imprinted on my psyche, and proved that a) horror can be achieved in brightly lit areas, and b) frightened faces are as important as frightening faces. In The Shining, Shelly Duvall and Scatman Crothers are even scarier than Jack Nicholson. There’s Halloween, Texas Chainsaw, The Thing and a slew of slasher movies, many of which I’ve loved. However Alien is different, especially to my nine year old self.
It starts with the fact that Ridley Scott created an environment that was utterly believable. While it takes place on a spacecraft, in the future, and deals with a creature from H.R. Giger’s imagination, it’s as aesthetically naturalistic as any horror movie I’d seen. A great deal of the film is shot hand held, the lighting all appears motivated, and the design creates the illusion of function dictating form. The Nostromo looks like an off-shore oil rig, and the cast looks believably blue collar.
The casting of relatively unknown character actors rather than stars is crucial to Alien’s success. There’s no Robert Shaw to remind the viewer they’re watching a movie. Since I couldn’t identify the star of the film I didn’t know who would survive — I assumed it would be Tom Skerritt, but he gets killed with time to spare. The performances are straight out of a Cassavetes movie — when the crew sits down for a meal we feel like we’re eavesdropping. Instead of delivering standard movie exposition we get small talk, overlapping dialogue – an air of improvisation. When John Hurt starts coughing, I think nothing of it, until he really starts coughing.
When the chest bursting occurred my older brother sprinted out of the theater, never to return. At the time, it seemed like an appropriate reaction. While 70s cinema certainly exposed audiences to a new level of violence and bloodshed, nobody before had ever seen something so unbelievable depicted so believably. It’s not just the brilliant practical effects that make that scene, it’s the performances. Ridley Scott’s well documented strategy of keeping the cast in the dark as to nature of the creature’s reveal pays off in the sheer power of Veronica Cartwright’s blood curdling scream.
It was the first of the “space expedition finds abandoned ship, which turns out to be a house of horrors” genre. From the first 40 minutes of pure buildup to the relentless third act, where music takes a back seat to sound, no film before had ever created more sheer tension and more pure sensory overload. Before studios felt the need to obliterate a city to get audiences’ attention, Alien employed strobing lights, pipes bursting with steam, and Ripley sprinting down claustrophobic corridors with a flame thrower in one hand and a cat carrier in the other… I’m sure my nine-year-old heart rate had never before been elevated for such a sustained duration.
One of the more overlooked but important facets of Alien is how brilliantly it’s edited. It’s an art form that’s come a long way since going digital, and usually the first element that dates an older movie. Scott perfected the “more you show the less scary it gets” rule of monster movies, and created a terrifying creature that we couldn’t quite wrap our heads around. Part of that was design and shot selection — its moist and serpentine appearance, backlit and glistening, with tight shots of vibrating teeth and the extended jaw. But the way it struck like a cobra, just hammering a gaping hole into your skull, or something like that… which gets me back to the editing.
The way Scott, along with editors David Crowther, Terry Rawlings and Peter Weatherley calibrate the pace, from the macro to the micro, is a master class in cutting. They slow down and linger, so you have no sense of when the next attack will come. And when it does come, the way they abbreviate and juxtapose quickly – you don’t know quite what you just saw, but you feel it. Quick cutting, when done improperly, obliterates geography. Great editing gives you the perception of geography, whether or not it’s correct. Which is all that matters — you don’t have to actually know where the Alien takes Harry Dean Stanton, you just have to feel like it makes sense at the time.
The relentless adherence to making Alien real is where its greatness truly resides. The fishy, intestinal underside of the face hugger, Ash the robot’s rubbery innards and milky blood, are perhaps familiar by today’s aesthetic standards, but they weren’t then. It’s important to understand that there’s no Fincher without Ridley Scott, there’s no Aliens without Alien, and there’s no CGI monster that has ever compared to Giger’s creation.
It’s all about context. And for me, at 9 years old, in that theater, without any idea of what we’d just walked into… well, not only is Alien one of the greatest movies ever made, it’s also, for me, the scariest. No other experience has ever come close.
JIM VAN BLARICUM, Brooklyn-based comedian, host of Crappy Cinema Council (the second Friday of every month).
I was pretty young when I realized that movies aren’t real, just a bunch of rich people playing dress-up, so I was lucky enough to really only have one traumatizing movie affect my childhood. That film is, of course, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.
Terrifying Scene: Pee-Wee returns from the magic shop and realizes that his bike has been stolen, and there’s a quick shot of a plastic clown taunting him. It’s only onscreen for 3 or 4 seconds, but that horrible, soul-chilling, unspeakably terrifying clown face led to a horrible, leg-chilling, and unspeakably, uh, pee-filled stream of pee in my pants. It’s like Tim Burton locked a team of child psychologists in a dungeon and held them hostage until they designed something that would leave permanent scars on the psyche of any kid who looks at it (note to James Wan: this idea’s on the house). Seriously, f*ck this clown.
Lasting Psychological Effects: Intense hatred of clowns; refusal to lock bike to clown statues.
Terrifying Scene: It’s the middle of the night and Pee-Wee is hitchhiking through the desert on his way to the Alamo, when he’s picked up by a big rig truck. The driver tells Pee-Wee, in graphic detail, about the worst accident she’s ever seen, then turns to him and shows him what the accident victim looked like. We then learn that Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure is set in a universe where traffic accidents kill people by making their eyeballs bulge out to 500% of their normal size. This scene is SO funny to rewatch as an adult because Large Marge’s face is next-level goofy, the animation is jerky, the whole thing is so campy… and yet as a kid it was like staring into a dark abyss ever so briefly and being filled with a sense of the utter futility of existence. What’s the point in enjoying this pudding cup if I’m just going to end up in a mangled truck cab with monster teeth and softball-sized eyeballs anyway? Who can be excited about recess when there are ghost-monsters prowling our nation’s highway system, eager to pick up and torment unsuspecting passengers?
Lasting Psychological Effects: Fear of truck accidents; fear of hitchhiking; fear of garbage truck falling on my head while walking in midtown Manhattan; nostalgic appreciation for stop-motion animation.
Terrifying Scene: Pee-Wee– and, by extension, 6-year-old me– has a nightmare where he sees his bike broken into pieces. A team of clown doctors runs up to the bike debris, loads it all onto a stretcher, and hurries it through a hallway that couldn’t be more Tim Burton-y if it was tiled with Helena Bonham Carter. A seemingly-human* surgeon pulls down his surgical mask to reveal grotesque clown makeup around his mouth.
* Clowns are not human beings.
Lasting Psychological Effects: Intense hatred of clowns; refusal to visit clown-staffed hospitals.
Hypothetical Tim Burton-helmed 2013 remake cast:
Clown statue: Johnny Depp
Large Marge: Helena Bonham Carter
Clown doctor: Tim Roth in ape/clown makeup
Pee-Wee: a stop-motion-animated puppet, voiced by Johnny Depp doing a Pee-Wee impression
Francis: Helena Bonham Carter in a fat suit
Dottie: James Franco (setting off a decades-long, bitter feud between Burton and Sam Raimi)
Pee-Wee’s bike: Helena Bonham Carter
Mickey: Channing Tatum (note: C-tates reference required by FilmDrunk bylaws)
Psycho. Even now, if I think about it when I go to shower at night, or even to take a shit, I’ll think of someone running into the bathroom to stab me to death. So then I hurry the f*ck out of there. For THREE DECADES I’ve been psyching myself out because of that movie.
DAN SEITZ, Writer, GammaSquad
For years, YEARS, after seeing Gremlins as a kid, which scared the ever-loving shit out of me, I sang Gizmo’s song without realizing it. Like, it would run through my head constantly. I think it didn’t stop randomly popping up in my head until I saw Gremlins in college. Thirteen years of THIS:
No idea where it was from, no idea what it meant.
VINCE MANCINI, Editor, FilmDrunk
As the person who came up with this topic in the first place, I realize I should have a really good answer, but when I think of things that scared the crap out of me as a child, the first thing that comes to mind isn’t a movie, it’s America’s Most Wanted. I was an only child raised out in the country with no other kids my age for miles, so I basically watched whatever my parents watched, which explains why, to this day I’m pretty ignorant when it comes to Disney stuff and nursery rhymes. What it doesn’t explain is why the hell my parents were watching America’s Most Wanted. I know it took a while for cable to get to us out there, but even on the four or five channels we did get, there had to be something better on than a show where John Walsh sternly urges you to be on the lookout for all the serial rapists and child murderers still at large, who are probably at the end of your driveway right now, hiding behind the orange trees with a knife in their teeth, just jonesing for a good rape.
We had a long driveway lined with orange trees leading to a barely-maintained asphalt country road that cut through acres of grape fields, and one of my chores was taking the trash cans out to the pitch-black ass street before garbage day. I probably would’ve eaten a cat turd to get out of that awful chore, and I blame America’s Most Wanted for convincing me that every dark place was lousy with murderers (also, my neighbors had big scary Dobermans that would bark at me). I’m convinced the late 80s/early 90s was really the heyday of TV news fearmongering – about crime, killer bees, Satanism, the Japanese, etc.
As for a movie, the one that really sticks out in my mind is The Fly. I had to be younger than 10 when I saw it, and holy hell is that a dark movie. Oddly, it taught me a lot of strange fly facts, but only in the most terrifying manner possible. For instance, did you know that flies have super strength? I learned this when fly-human hybrid Jeff Goldblum went into a seedy honky tonk (this entire scene would be super creepy even if the main character wasn’t part fly) and arm wrestled a guy, and eventually snapped his arm in a compound fracture that bled all over the table as the guy shrieked in agony.
While Cronenberg doesn’t shy away from lingering shots of the protruding bone, the sound might actually be worse than the visual. Even watching it now, the vibrating, and the weird creak of sweaty fingers tightening against skin makes me a little queasy, to say nothing of the actual arm snap.
Another thing about flies I learned from Jeff Goldblum, they puke on their food before they eat it (I think he dissolved a guy’s arm, if I remember correctly). Oh, and you can pull off rotting pieces of flies’ flesh and they’ll just keep right on living until you blow their head off with a shotgun. To be honest, I think Cronenberg might’ve taken some liberties, scientifically speaking.
As John said, the normal rule of suspense and horror is don’t show too much, but Cronenberg shows EVERYTHING, in excruciating detail (as he’s wont to do), and the result is some of the most revolting and disturbing 10 minutes in all of cinema. Especially if you’re 8. Even now it’s pretty gross, though the sight of Geena Davis weeping over the decapitated pile of mucous that used to be her boyfriend makes me giggle uncontrollably.