As a child of the 60s and 70s, I was weaned on scary movies. Just like our parents allowed us to run—shrieking and giggling—through the poisonous fog spewing from mosquito-control trucks, they didn’t monitor our movie or television-watching either. We were free, at a young age, to poison our brains. Maybe it was due to our parents’ simple innocence or ignorance. Or maybe they were just too busy bowling and playing Bunco.
I saw all the classics, including “The Omen,” “The Exorcist,” and “The Other.” What still haunt me most, however, were any films featuring an aged and categorically creepy Bette Davis. I can’t listen to the song “Bette Davis Eyes” without seeing Bette turn to a lunch-eating Joan Crawford and saying oh-so-nonchalantly, “Oh, Blanche? You know we’ve got rats in the cellar?”
Sometime around my twenties, I grew weary of shielding my eyes from freaky images and trying to erase disturbing dialogue from my mind as I lay awake in bed. It wasn’t blood and gore that troubled me; it was pure psychological terror. The last horror movie I watched was the 1990 TV mini-series of Stephen King’s “It.” Thanks to Pennywise, I never watched another scary film. And clowns haven’t been able to find work for nearly 25 years.
So, at the age of 52, I decided to test my wimpiness by adding a night of watching horror flicks to The 52/52 Project.
The added challenges were that I had to stay up the entire night—until dawn—watching these. And, I had to do so while totally alone in the house. My mother suggested I should up the ante by keeping all my blinds open and doors unlocked. Thanks for that, oh sweet, nurturing mother of mine.
I armed myself with a 12-pack of fully caffeinated Diet Coke to keep me awake and every form of junk food known to slowly kill a human. If I was going to die of fright, I’d do it while binging on Oreos and chips and dip.
I also advised Ringo, my golden-retriever mix, that he was on door-watch duty.
With suggestions by Son #1 and several readers, my Horror Fest line-up included “The Ring,” “The Blair Witch Project,” “Paranormal Activity,” and “Insidious.” WARNING: The rest of this story contains spoilers. If you haven’t already seen these movies, I apologize. If you have seen them and are a horror film aficionado, you clearly have other issues.
Shortly into “The Ring,” just as the main character answered her ringing phone (WHY? WHY did you watch that friggin’ tape, and WHY are you answering the damn phone?), my own phone rang.
I stared, wide-eyed, at my ringing phone. It was after 11 p.m. No one ever called me this late. Was it possible that just viewing that deadly tape WITHIN THE MOVIE was enough to curse me? Would I die in seven days, too? No, it was just my mother, wondering how my movie-watching was going. Of course. And, also, thank GOD.
A few minutes later, Ringo began pacing the house, frantically barking. I bit my bottom lip, paused the movie, and let him outside. I peered out the sliding glass door as the dog patrolled the yard and peed. Once it appeared no straggly-haired demon was lurking around the corner, I quickly let Ringo back in. Then, I locked the door. Screw my mother’s added caveat to the night.
“The Ring” indeed proved to be a bit freaky, but still, not as bad as I envisioned. SPOILER: The evil, immortal little girl had me hugging myself a couple times. However, if the main characters endure a series of awful events, yet don’t die a horrible death, it’s practically a Hallmark movie.
Next up was “The Blair Witch Project.” Except for the cellar scene in the final two seconds, which was clever and beyond disturbing, I found nothing else frightening about this film. In fact, only 20 minutes into it I was so annoyed by the three main characters’ constant whining and bickering, I PRAYED someone would kill them.
”Paranormal Activity” was another pseudo-documentary movie. I didn’t totally hate the characters, but I couldn’t conjure up any love for them either. Especially the husband, who lost me at his first moment of stupid. SPOILER: They both die. And I didn’t care.
By the time I got to “Insidious,” at nearly 4:30 in the morning, I’d learned a bit about what really frightens me in movies. Perhaps it’s the writer in me, but I knew I needed likeable characters who eventually get horribly screwed over, a good tight plot without pointless and irritating dialogue, and lots of shocking “OH SHIT” moments. “Insidious” had this all, as well as a childlike demon dancing to “Tiptoe through the Tulips.” SPOILER: Just when you think it’s a happy ending, it’s so not.
I panic-popped a lot of Ballreich chips with French onion dip during this flick.
I finished up my night of terror around 6:30 a.m. Remaining awake until dawn wasn’t much of an issue; even in my middle-age, I proved to still be a night owl. Who says all-night college parties don’t help prepare you for real life?
And as far as my long-time fear of scary movies? I discovered I’m mostly over it. Perhaps horror films weren’t as terrifying as I remembered. Or, maybe, The 52/52 Project had just helped me grow a set of big ones. I never once hid under a blanket or toyed with the idea of turning off the TV. Ringo, on the other hand, eyed me nervously every time a scream emitted from the TV.
While I proudly survived my Horror Fest with only a handful of heart palpitations, I can’t say I truly enjoyed any of the movies. Give me a good drama or rom-com anytime. Before I headed off to bed, just around sunrise, I watched two episodes of “Parks and Recreation.” I might have felt braver than eight hours earlier, but I wasn’t totally stupid. I figured a good laugh would soothe me to sleep better than any lingering scream.
I tossed and turned for hours. I’d like to blame it on the onion dip. But truth be told, it was the refrain from “Tiptoe through the Tulips.” Three days later, I still couldn’t get that creepy song out of my head.
Somewhere, in an alternate horror universe, Tiny Tim, Pennywise, and Bette Davis are dancing and cackling together at my expense.
Horror fan or not? What’s your favorite scary film, and what one haunts you still? Will you ever tiptoe through the tulips again?