The Film That Frightened Me Most

A recent series in the Guardian in the run-up Halloween got me thinking. What films have really scared me? Not made me jump by going BOO! every two minutes, or made me unsettled with gore or horrible music, or shaky camera-work and whispering sonics. No, I'm talking about those ones that leave you staring in terror at the ceiling in your bed at night, too frightened to move, too frightened not to move. For me, none of the usual suspects - The Exorcist, The Shining, Halloween, excellent though they are - can really claim that. Perhaps I've never really been frightened by movies?

But then, some long-buried memories spark somewhere deep in my subconscious and I realise the films that REALLY scared me are the ones I saw as a child, when my tiny mind didn't necessarily realise stuff on TV wasn't real. Fleeting memories of Pennywise the clown whispering from a storm drain, or a little boy floating outside his brother's window. A red-eyed thing threatening a couple of sleeping children on a train in Horror Express. Jaws, obviously. Carry On Screaming is a comic homage to horror, which I've never re-watched since it made me cry as a child. But it wasn't just horror films to blame. Where the Wind Blows was an animated PG-rated film from the writer of  The Snowman, in which an elderly couple slowly succumbed to radiation poisoning after a nuclear war. Nice. Well-meaning parents unwittingly exposed almost every child in Ireland to the horrors of Watership Down, with its scenes of violence, death and the terrifying, milky-eyed General Woundwort. The much maligned Heaven's Gate could hardly be called scary, but as a youngster, those nudey scenes were deeply disturbing. Bill Bixby's rage-filled eyes in The Death of the Incredible Hulk had me hiding behind the sofa. Spartacus, a regular appearance on afternoon TV, has a man knifing his best friend to death before being crucified. Return to Oz and Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang are SERIOUSLY fucked-up films. Note - none of these are suitable viewing for kids, people. 

But one childhood viewing experience stands out above the others. I have no idea when or where I seen it, but I remember the key moments like it was yesterday. Oh yes, I remember it only too well, and my psychiatrist now says it might be good therapy for me to share.

Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) is much derided by fans of the original TV series, because it dared to take some of those sacred old episodes, re-make them, and package them together in a transparent attempt to cash-in on the reputation of the originals. But what if you were a child who hadn't seen the originals? Or had never heard of this place called the Twilight Zone? Which the man on the film made sound pretty damn real, if you ask me? Hmmm? What then? Brown trouser time that's what. 

Truth be told, I have no idea if the film is any good. It's probably terrible. But I wouldn't know because I've never watched it since seeing it as a child. Indeed, I have no memory at all of the second and apparently weakest segment of the film, Steven Spielberg's syrupy tale set in a retirement home. However, the others all contained scenes that burned themselves indelibly into my memories. 

In John Landis' 'Time Out', a bigot gets a flavour of his own prejudices before he is packed into a train bound for a concentration camp, shouting out in despair to his friends who cannot hear him. I had no idea what a concentration camp was then, but it didn't sound too good, that's for sure. And then the segment ends - WHAT THE HELL HAPPENS HIM?? He gets saved, right? Doesn't he? 

Joe Dante's 'It's a Good Life' sucked me in with its premise about a boy who can have whatever he wants, just by wishing it. That sounds good, but wait! Nobody warned me there would be a MUTANT RABBIT in a hat trick, not to mention the *shudder* GIRL WITH NO MOUTH!! Sure, it ends kind of happily but what about the girl? She's get's her mouth back. Doesn't she?

Already deeply shaken by these two episodes, I blame the final segment, George Miller's 'Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, for my fear of flying, as a man watches a creature outside his window mess with the plane engine. HE'S TELLING THE TRUTH, YOU FOOLS!! And then they forget about him as he heads off in an ambulance, which is driven by....... He'll be okay. Won't he? Anyone???

And so, there I was, a gibbering wreck shaken to my very core, with no-one to reassure me about the fate of these poor people from this scary Zone place. I still can't hear those famous opening lines without thinking back to this first exposure to real horror, and I still don't like anyone calling dusk 'twilight'. I don't even like people talking about the Twilight films, although I guess I'm not alone in that. And I never forgave it because the only cast member I recognised was good old Dan Aykroyd, who I thought would be good for a few laug......AGGGHHHHHHHHH! JESUS FUCKING CHRIST!! 

Wanna see something scary?

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