It’s our custom at Halloween to watch old scary movies. Not the gory ones that masquerade as scary but the ones that play with your mind– the classics: Pyscho, Poltergeist, The Silence of the Lambs. Ones that have a bit of gore, but are not bloodbaths. Well you get the picture.
Going to a scary movie is truly a rite of passage. The first one I can really remember seeing is Snow White, at the old State Theatre in Fulton, New York, when I was about 8. Today Disney has come to mean “wholesomeness, sweetness and light,” but there is a really dark side to those first Disney movies. Ask anyone who has had to answer the question of a small child: “What happened to Bambi’s mother?”
In Snow White the darkness is not hidden but out in plain sight: the Wicked Queen asks for Snow White’s heart to be cut out and brought back in a be-jeweled box to prove the Huntsman has killed the young princess. All this of course went over my 8-year-old head. It was the transformation of the Wicked Queen into the Witch that really scared the crap out of me. Now that Witch is truly a frightening figure. My mother found that out later that night when I had nightmares about the scary, old hag. I think I was in high school before I could even look at a drawing of the Witch, and she still creeps me out.
My “cool” cousin Patty took me to my first adult scary movie.
It was The Creature from the Black Lagoon, shown in black and white and in the wonder of 3D. I was 10 and it was probably the first time I went to the movies without my parents. Patty was 15 and filled the role of an older sister in my life (I was the oldest in our family of three siblings) so I looked up to her and basically believed anything she told me. Small children do that, they invest a lot in those kid relatives who older and believe what they say. How Patty got my mother to agree to this is a mystery to me some 60 years later. In addition we went to an evening movie, usually my mother took me to the matinée. I suspect that Patty was with her friends also, but the details of the evening are basically gone. We sat in the State Theatre’s balcony, a real teenager hangout– I suspect that the most exciting activities in the balcony escaped me at the time. We put on our 3D glasses and something truly magical happened: the images jumped off the screen. There above my head were fish swimming in a tropical lagoon and then there was the large gilled, and of course misunderstood, monster, who only wanted to be left alone.
As an adult I have seen many scary movies and tend as I said to avoid those with lots of gore, think Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Thus, it may be surprising when I say that my favorite scary movie is Halloween, a John Carpenter film from the 1970s. It has a modicum of blood, a dash of violence, and a great atmosphere. It builds and adds to the suspense found in Pyscho by replacing Norman Bates’ mother with a truly frightening “bogeyman.” And like the truly real terrors of life, just when we think he is dead or gone, he pops up again and again. Leaving the unanswered question of whether he is really gone for good or biding his time.
Hmm I wonder where that Wicked Queen is hiding?