Sunday, July 25, 2010

October 6, 2009: Things That Scare Me: Case Study #9

In spite of (or, perhaps, because of) my adult infatuation with all things horrifying and horrific, I was scared of absolutely everything when I was a kid. A television commercial for a horror movie was enough to send me racing from the den in a sweaty-palm panic. In this ongoing series here on Psychobabble, I've been reviewing some of the things that most traumatized me as a child and evaluating whether or not I was rightfully frightened or just a wiener.

Case Study #9: The prologue of Twilight Zone: The Movie

In keeping with the ongoing Twilight Zone 50th Anniversary festivities here at Psychobabble, I’m going to delve into one of the more embarrassing installments of “Things That Scare Me.” “Embarrassing?” you ask. “But I too found the opening sequence of Twilight Zone: The Movie terrifying when I was five-years old!” OK. Mistake number one: I was not five-years old when I saw Twilight Zone: The Movie. I was nine or ten, which is well out of the range of acceptability. I mean, this sequence is surely one of the better things in the very hit-and-miss big screen adaptation of Rod Serling’s great series (George Miller’s remake of “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”? Hit! Steven Spielberg’s remake of “Kick the Can”? Great big stinking miss!). But scary? I don’t know. Judge for yourself with your jaded, 21st century eyes.

The scariest thing about this is the build up: Dan Aykroyd asking Albert Brooks if he wants to “see something reeeeally scary.” Nice establishment of suspense, director John Landis! Too bad you didn’t bring a similarly deft hand to your lame full-length segment in the film, which finds racist Vic Morrow trotting through history as the victim of various violent bigots (I’m not getting into the whole death controversy thing here, though). The problem is that the pay-off is weak: Aykroyd turns into a demon, growls like a cougar, and strangles Brooks. Thud. Still, many people profess to having been scared by this scene as kids, so perhaps I shouldn’t flagellate myself too much.

But then again, maybe I should. And this brings us to mistake number two: I wasn’t actually scared by watching this scene. You see, my mother was the one who watched it. I asked her what happened in the movie, and she began to explain this opening sequence in intricate detail. Once she got to the “You wanna see something really scary” part, my terror had apparently become so palpable that she halted the story, perhaps out of concern that I might piss the bed that night. But that was a bad move on her part, as my overactive nine-year old imagination commenced completing this scene with every horrible horror it could conjure. Had she simply said “Akyroyd turns into a cougar monster and throttles Albert Brooks,” I think I would have slept quite soundly that night. Instead, I had the fear something awful.

The Verdict: Obviously, I lose considerable points for being frightened of something I hadn’t actually seen. But let’s not underestimate the power of oral-storytelling, which utilizes the listener’s imagination in a way that no film could (The Blair Witch Project excluded). The fact that my mother didn’t finish telling me what happened at the beginning of Twilight Zone: The Movie left even more room for my imagination to go nutty. When I finally watched the movie, I was pretty unaffected by it, so I think I score some points for that. Perhaps the bottom line is that I was nine, though. That’s too old to get spooked by an unfinished story told by my fucking mommy. What a wiener.
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