I grew up being scared by Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, as well as B movie disembodied heads and floating brains. The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits kept me on the edge of my dad’s den couch or gripping the carpet—I spent a lot of time on the floor back then when watching television. But over the years I grew less scared by such movies and shows.
The last scary movie that made my hairs stand on end was The Ring. I’m mostly bald, so my scalp simply goosebumped trying to erect hairs that weren’t there. But my arms, hairy as a Sasquatch but not as hairy as Robin Williams (God rest your soul and how dare you) bristled with expectational fear.
Before that, the last movie that made me peek through my fingers was Night of the Living Dead, the original, which I saw when I was thirteen-years-old in Korea. I snuck in because I heard that people were throwing up in the aisles as they rushed out of the theater. The scene that forced me to hide behind my hands was when Judith O’Dea (Barbara) walks up the stairs. My ghost-follicles are prickling just thinking about it. (For a long time I thought she was Teri Garr.)
Oh, other movies made me react in different ways. After watching Jaws I could no longer eat a large pizza with everything on it; I could only eat one slice of a small cheese that night with my fellow soldiers on the town, and forever since I can only eat a slice or two, depending on the size and toppings. It’s Alive, about a fanged baby who escapes the delivery room and reeks bloody havoc everywhere, made me sit up straight in my theater seat, but the FX kept pulling me out of my suspension of disbelief. E.T. pissed me off when the alien didn’t elongate his legs, like his neck, so he could run faster. I’ve watched many other movies and shows, hoping for a good scare, but always I mostly enjoyed the humor of those scripts. The quips and slapstick kept me watching.
Now and then I try to recapture that special adrenaline rush (or is it dopamine?) by sampling the horror movies on Netflix. The last time I tried, I discovered ninety-nine percent of them displayed a bit of bar and asked if I wanted to resume watching. No I did not. The fare of fear available seems to me to be in slow-motion, with too much leadup for very little surprise. The last slowmo scary movie that caught my attention was The Changeling, 1980 with George C. Scott. The Exorcist was also slow, but pretty good (saw it at a drive-in with my wife five years after it came out—the only other drive-ins we went to were for Beyond the Door and Laser Blast) but I never hid behind my fingers and they didn’t affect my eating habits.
Many years ago I rediscovered a movie that I remembered seeing on TV that made me crawl away across the carpet when I was really young: the original Godzilla (the Raymond Burr version). When the puppet peeked over the hill it was a shock, and I wish I could have been in the original audience when it first showed in Japan.