The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Horrorphobia: My Life Afraid of Fear

Written by: Rob Van Winkle, CC2K Staff Writer


A movie title…and a description of how I feel about such movies

My relationship with horror movies is short and unpleasant, and as strange as it may seem, it began in the playroom of my childhood home.

I was four-years-old on the day in question. The house was empty except for me and my father, and we were about to leave on an errand or something. We were in my playroom so I could pick out a toy for the trip, and like normal in situations like that, I was having trouble deciding on which one. My father endured this patiently, and then not so patiently, and ultimately told me to come to the car when I had finally made up my mind, and walked out. I DISTINCTLY remember, all these years later, the sense of terror crawl up my chest like a spider as I heard that door close. You see, to this four-year-old (and, I’m willing to guess, many many more like him), being alone in the house was the scariest of all possible scenarios. Hell, even being on a different FLOOR from the rest of the family could be scary. Solitude was the moment when the evil beings climbed out of the shadow and started to whisper without words. Every step was like walking on an ocean of malice threatening to drown you, at least until the second an adult was once more in your vicinity. When my father left me all alone in the house, it was the scariest moment of my life to date. I grabbed a toy as quickly as I could (I don’t remember which one, but for the sake of those people who will obsess about such details, let’s say it was a Slinky), and ran for the door and safety.

As it turns out, my “scariest moment of my life” was soon to be outdone.

My father, for reasons to this day unexplained, decided to play a little joke on me. Instead of leaving the house and going to his car, he opened the door to the house, closed it without stepping through, and hid in the shadows waiting for me. Imagine little me, petrified of my big empty house and all of the unseen danger around me, running to the comfort of my father’s presence, only to have him leap out of one of the aforementioned shadows, screaming bloody murder.  (If this seems as though I’m painting my father as senselessly cruel…then good. This is ALSO the man who famously made me take a huge whiff of chopped horseradish when I was two.)  I am almost literally at a loss for words to describe how profound my terror was at that moment. I am sure I cried, just as sure that my father has no recollection of this moment.  But the damage was done; I have never sought an intentional fright in my entire life.

Over the years, there were plenty of opportunities for me to finally succumb to the allure of watching horror movies, but nothing could ever convince me to go through with it. There was the movie party with “the older kids” watching Cujo who promised to tell me when to cover my eyes. There was the school recess rainy day showing of the (certainly unscary) movie House to which I had to avert my eyes. And there was even the middle school co-ed party showing of Night of the Living Dead that would have finally cured me (because there is never an excuse to seem afraid in front of girls. Never.) if not for the timely (in more ways than one) appearance of bare breasts that forced the parents to make an emergency movie change.  However, right as things looked like I might be getting over my fear…came Misery.

Between the Stephen King novel and the Oscar-winning movie of the same name, everyone must know the story of Misery.  An author is in a hideous car accident, and his mangled body is rescued and nurtured by his “number-one fan.” However, he has made the disastrous decision to kill off her favorite character, and when she discovers his new manuscript…it’s only a matter of time until her rosiness gives way to something far worse.

God, even writing about it makes my heart beat faster. Here’s why:

This movie came out in the late autumn of my eighth grade year. Around the time that the previews were ubiquitous on television, I went to visit my aunt and uncle in Philadelphia. They had an unusual sleeping arrangement for me. Out of their back door was a deck, which led to a tiny unattached room. This room was going to be my “quarters” for my stay, complete with its own bathroom and television. I can’t be sure, but I’m pretty sure that this was the first time in my life that I was spending the night in a room entirely by myself.

I’m sure you can guess what happened: whenever I turned the television on in that little room (it was ALWAYS pitch black when I was there, at least according to my memory), I would see Kathy Bates with a sledge hammer, going for James Caan’s legs. I would then turn off the TV and the lights, listen to the howling winds outside (also a constant in my recollections), and try not to imagine her out there waiting for me to make a mistake. I’m told this is actually a great movie. Maybe I’ll be able to verify this for myself one day. But for now, its only legacy for me was the final nail in the coffin (no pun intended) of my relationship with horror.

Of course, that is an overstatement. Kevin Williamson’s Scream movies brought me back from my pathetic abyss, by showing me that it was okay to look at everything – even horror – with a jaundiced post-modern eye. I began reading horror books (including Misery), and eventually I was able to take a step back from movies that threatened to bring me back to that playroom all those years ago. In other words, if you can’t face your fears, at least you can make an ironic joke about them.

Today, I won’t say that I’m “afraid” of any movies, horror included. And yet, not only have I never seen any of this new spate of torture porn films that have been released in the past five years or so, I have also never seen any of the horror movies from yesterday either. Jason and Freddy might have fallen from true scares to pathetic hackery throughout the course of their respective films, but I had long before vowed to stay away forever. I’m not afraid…but the four-year-old in me still is. And really, hasn’t that kid been through enough?