(This is the first installment of what we plan to make an ongoing blog series here, featuring horror fans of all walks of life sharing what sank its claws into them early in life and made them into lifelong devotees of the genre. Enjoy!)
Movies have been a passion for me for as far back as I can remember. And some of the ones I am the most passionate about are horror films. Nothing can quite replace the thrill and adrenaline rush you get from having the crap scared out of you while sitting in the relative safety of your living room, your local cinema, or even your car at the drive-in. The impression these movies have left on me are frequently fond ones and some of my oldest memories. (My wife says they just warped me, but that’s for another blog.)
My earliest and clearest cinematic memory is of the family piling into an old Plymouth station wagon in the summer of 1975 to head out to the drive-in near our home. Mind you, I was barely passed the age of two, but I do remember my siblings and me being told to just lay down in the back and get some sleep while Mom and Dad watched the grown-up movie. Rebel that I was even then, I peeked out from under the blanket and saw a woman running down a beach and dive into the ocean while some guy just sat on the beach watching her.
Yep. My first movie-going memory is from the opening scenes of Jaws.
Time would pass, as it tends to do. Star Wars would consume my youth and become another lifelong obsession that I now share with my own daughter (who’s also quite the gorehound now). But during that time, I still loved a good scare. My dear aunt, Charlene, was a fan of the frights, too, and she would introduce me to many of the classic films from the 50’s, 60’s, and earlier. I always loved the story she told me of watching Psycho for the first time and screaming three times before the private eye hit the bottom of the stairs after Mrs. Bates stabs him.
At the tender age of seven, there was a night that my mother and I shared together that is still one of my fondest childhood memories. We rented a video disc (not to be confused with a laser disc) from Webster’s Furniture to watch together. I even remember what I got to eat as a treat that night: Swanson’s Fried Chicken dinner with the mashed potatoes, corn, and the brownie dessert. The movie we watched? Well, let’s just say mom and I both screamed and jumped off the couch a little when Jason lunged from the water and tipped Kristy’s canoe.
But then we both laughed at each other. That roller coaster of building and releasing tension, when done right, was one of the hooks that horror films had sank into my psyche before I even realized it.
My first honest-to-goodness-horror-movie-in-a-cinema experience, though? I was a very blessed little eight-year-old. My mother, my aunt Charlene, my sister, and I all went. Mom and Charlene joked that we only needed three seats since my sister was probably going to be in someone’s lap the whole time.
— Now let me state here that my sister is 2 years older than me and enjoys a good horror movie, too. But she did tend to be a duck-and-cover kind of viewer for the scary bits and had the occasional bad dream from the movies back then. Myself? Even then I was discovering Fangoria magazine and was fascinated by the make-up effects. I even wanted to attend the Tom Savini School of Special Make-Up Effects when I got older. And to this day, I have no memory of a nightmare directly related to a horror movie I watched. Back to the story. —
I said I was blessed for how I lost my big screen horror movie cherry, right? For an 8 year-old boy that loved make-up effects, what better film was there in the fall of 1981 than the John Landis classic An American Werewolf In London?
As a parent now, I briefly glance back now and say to myself with a grin , “Holy shit! My parents let me see this stuff when I was that old?!?!” That reaction is understandable but again, brief. Would I have let my daughter watch any of those at that same age? No way. But that is because she was a totally different kid than I was. At that age, I could barely get her to walk by the skeleton decorations in a Halloween aisle. Now, at the age of 17, she’s currently working on her own Ashley Williams cosplay for Crypticon Seattle in May. I do my best not to judge other parents on what age they let their own offspring watch different horror movies or other entertainment. They know their kids better than I ever will. And my mom knew what I could and couldn’t handle. Do I feel like these movies had a lasting effect on me? Hell yeah. But not a bad one. (Shush, dear.)