it’s said that sources of trauma and terror in childhood become sources of attraction later in life. if nothing else, this basic tenet of human psychology goes a long way to explaining my love of horror films and, i would wager, yours as well. would i still love slasher films if i hadn’t been scared out of my seven year old mind by halloween one late october night? or, if in the years after, my grandparents had been a bit more strict and not allowed me to rent the entire friday the 13th series (only six films at that point)? i somehow doubt it.
one of the better horror blogs out there seems to be based on this simple idea. while covering many aspects of horror, kindertrauma seems primarily aimed at covering those aspects of film and television that scared you as a child. whether intentionally frightening (like sleestaks) or not (like slim goodbody), kindertrauma covers everything that made you into the horror fan you are.
with that idea in mind, i thought i’d list some of my own childhood experiences that contributed to my current love of the horror genre. (note: animated gifs may take a moment to load.)
halloween: closet scene
halloween scared the ever-living shit out of me. i was so scared that night, i couldn’t eat, sleep or walk straight. watching the film now for the umpteenth, it’s sometimes hard to appreciate the effect the film can have on its initial viewing. when i was seven, every second of that film was terrifying. even the seemingly benign scenes like the girls chatting after class held a since of dread, since you never knew when that haunting bit of music would start up, alerting you to the shape’s presence.
after laurie first “killed” michael, i was so relieved. i didn’t think i could take much more of michael leaping out of the shadows, and a sense of calm washed over me. little did i know that the single scariest moment in my movie-watching life was about to take place… i hid behind the sofa when michael appeared at the top of the stairs, not as dead as i’d hoped, and laurie ran for the bedroom. she leaves a window open and locks herself in the closet. michael’s no dummy though and doesn’t fall for her clever ruse, and begins pulling on the closet door handles. i wish i had a video tape of myself watching this scene for the first time… as best i can recall, i was crouched behind the sofa, peeking over the edge… all the while sort of bouncing up and down and yelling “oh my god! oh my god!” as michael crashed through the closet door, knocking the single light bulb swinging, i’m certain i screamed.
the sense of excitement and fear this film left me with in the hours, nights and years that followed is why halloween is still my favorite film and, at least partly, why i am a horror fan today.
whoever came up with this urban legend is a genius. this legend is so scary that you don’t even need to know the back story for it to work. when i was a kid i think there was some vague story about a woman named mary having her baby killed or something… it doesn’t matter. the only important part is that you’re supposed to go into a dark room alone with just a candle and say ‘bloody mary’ three times into a mirror which makes mary appear. i remember doing this with friends when i was seven or eight in our center bathroom (which had no windows) and being absolutely convinced that if i said it all three times, a woman covered in blood would be behind the shower curtain in the mirror’s reflection. i could only say her name twice before running out yelling.
the headless roommate
i recall reading daniel cohen’s “the headless roommate and other tales of terror” alone in bed, late one night while at the beach. i’d checked out the book from the school library, so it was a hardcover with no slip cover, leaving the book just a plain red with small white lettering… which somehow made it creepier. the book is basically just a collection of urban legends, many of which you’d already be familiar with (e.g., “the vanishing hitchhiker”). the story that stuck with me the most, however, is usually referred to as “the furry collar.” the gist of the story can be read here, but cohen’s version is much longer, better paced, and scarier. i remember that the room i was in while reading it was at the top of a long flight of stairs, just like in the story. what little sleep i got that night, i got with the lights on.
scary stories to tell in the dark
if you’re reading this site, then i’d bet good money you’re familiar with these books. and i doubt i need to remind you of the scariest part of these books… it wasn’t the stories (which were typically rather lame… e.g., “i’m the viper: i’m here to vipe the vindows”) — it was the pictures. the artist for these books somehow tapped directly into what nightmares look like and put it on paper. even twenty years later i could recall the four pictures that scared me the most… and it didn’t take me long to find them.
while not a particularly scary movie, witchboard caught me at just the right time. i was spending the night alone for one of the first times and it was on hbo at midnight. i don’t recall exactly what in the movie hit me so hard, but i remember being utterly freaked out all night afterwards. i ran around the house, double-checking all the locks on the doors and windows and would jump at every floorboard creak. i watched the movie again recently, and i honestly can’t figure out how i could be so scared of a movie about a plank of wood that features a bubble-gum chewing, uber-1980s dressed psychic named zarabeth.
friday the 13th: the novel
this is a weird one for three reasons. for one, the film friday the 13th hadn’t scared me. two, while reading the book it was daylight at a friend’s birthday party. and three, the book isn’t particularly well written. regardless, somehow reading about the doomed counselors at crystal lake was somehow so much more frightening than watching. i distinctly remember annie’s (the cook) death scene, and its description from her point of view as the blood ran out her throat and everything faded to white. i was rattled for a while after reading that chapter… at least until my friend’s dad put rambo on the tv.
i don’t really understand why the circus keeps going with the whole ‘clown’ thing, since i don’t know anyone that likes them. clowns are scary, case closed. i don’t recall the moment i realized clowns were bad news, but i remember a couple contributing factors.
- my mom hated circuses. she was unnaturally terrified of popping balloons and avoided the circus when i was a kid… which clearly conveyed to me that something there was to be feared.
- octopussy. psycho, knife-wielding twin clowns open the film. ’nuff said.
- clive barker’s “dread.” one of my favorite barker short stories, it features a psychologist obsessed with the study of fear and an axe-wielding clown.
- it. tim curry. awesome.
jaws, being the sneaky little devil that it is, wasn’t content to just scare me once. like everyone else in the world, the film made me afraid of the ocean for… well, ever. the scene where the shark first surfaces in front of brody knocked me down into the seat cushions. however, it was years later that i read the book and was traumatized all over again. in particular, i remember the opening scene with the skinny-dipping girl. the book describes her feeling a slight tug from below, which she wasn’t very concerned about. she reaches down to see what it was, and feels the cleanly sliced stump where her foot should have been. that concept, of being in the black water and being cut so cleanly and quickly that you don’t even realize it, freaked me out so completely that i think of it every time i go near the beach to this day.
a lamb on elm st.
i don’t know why, but the scariest moment for me in a nightmare on elm street was during the opening credits when a lamb wanders by. while it may not sound like nightmare fuel, for some reason it got me. it’s so weirdly out of place and surreal, it strengthens the dream-like quality of the scene… and for some reason that bleating lamb in midst of the steam pipes and krueger’s laughing left me really disturbed. if tina’s immediate reaction to the shot of the lamb is any indication, this effect was intentional.
halloween: michael sits up
ending up where we began, halloween deserves another mention on this list. while michael crashing through the closet was the scariest moment in the film for me, the creepiest moment happens a few minutes later. michael is dead… again. unfamiliar with horror clichés at the time, i completely believed the killer was finally dead. then occurs the creepiest moment in film history… from over laurie’s shoulder, michael sits up and turns towards her. the action is so mechanical and unemotional, watching it still tingles my spine and heebies my jeebies to this day.