For as long as I can remember, I’ve been irrationally frightened by horror movies, whether in a theater or on my television screen.
I used to think I’d outgrow the fear. It’s silly, after all. Movies aren’t real, right? As an adult, I should be able to reason my way through the fear, I tried that for a few years, but it’s been a long while since I’ve watched anything that even hints of scary or horror. I found that I cope best by avoiding such movies, and I’d like to say to any counselors in the audience that avoidance sometimes gets a bad rap.
I learned recently that I apparently passed my fear of horror films on to at least one of my granddaughters. This one is a young adult, and in a blog she recently wrote, “I seem to have the same problem with horror movies as I do watching ghost-hunting shoes. They freak me out and I can’t sleep at night.” Yup. Me, too, although I can’t recall ever trying to watch a show about hunting ghosts. There’d be no upside for me in that.
So the granddaughter is like me in her fear of scary movies. But she’s not at all like me in her response, at least not so far. She decided to face her fears by deliberately watching a selection of horror films from each decade in film history, starting with the 1930s. I’m thinking, “Who in their right mind would intentionally go back and watch a bunch of scary movies?” This young woman would, apparently. I suppose there’s merit in facing one’s irrational fears and overcoming them, if possible. At the very least, she says, she will be able to pinpoint the decade during which the horror films being made became so frightening they began to scare her.
Well, that sounds reasonable, I guess, and pretty brave, too. I‘ve never seen a horror from the 1930s that I know of and I can’t recall any from the 1940s. The first scary movie, the film that sent me running home from the theater and not sleeping for nights and nights, came out in 1955. “Tarantula” was the title, and it nearly scared the life out of me.
“Tarantula” was about a giant spider that escaped from a science lab hidden deep in the Arizona desert. A well-meaning scientist (scientists in horror films can ge one of two types: well-meaning or demented) was experimenting with ways to make things grow to enormous proportions. His goal was to revolutionize the food industry and feed the world. What he did was created a giant spider that got loose and terrorized the neighborhood. I just read a synopsis of the film that said, “when cattle remains are found in the countryside, evidence points to a giant tarantula as the culprit.” Well, sure, that would have been my very first thought.
A young Clint Eastwood played a fighter pilot in the movie, although he didn’t make the list of credits. I’m sure the special effects were crude, probably laughable to a viewer less inclined to terror than I was. I didn’t analyze the special effects. I brought the whole idea of a monster spider down to my core.
After I watched “Tarantula” in the downtown theater, I ran all the way home. Well, most of the way. For the first few blocks, I walked with my friend Mike. He lived on River Street a few blocks from the highway bridge. We used to walk together after scary movies. When he peeled off to his house, though, I faced a long stretch of street with no houses or street lights. Trees lined the deep gullies on both sides of the streets, and I knew “things” lurked in the shadows. I covered that dark, dangerous stretch at a dead run.
That might be how I developed my modest ability to run the quarter-mile in track. Coach always told us not to look back when we were running. I learned that back on River Street in grade school. I could only imagine what might be chasing me, and I had an incredible imagination.