Admittedly, the above is the worst title of all time, but what the hell can I do? My family buried my Mom on Thursday, and today is Mother’s Day. In her honor, I had a mini “Have Gun – Will Travel” festival at home because she loved westerns. It didn’t cause my anxiety, tension, and sadness to subside, but I always learn a bit about life from Richard Boone’s Paladin. But I was thinking more about what Mom did for me with horror movies and my initial fear of them.
When I was seven, we headed down to the Route 3 Drive-In in Rutherford, New Jersey, to catch a double bill: Oddly, THE RED TENT (1969) was paired with 1972’s THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK. I still remember haunting images from Sean Connery’s arctic drama, but BOGGY CREEK messed with my head. I can still hear the foreboding howl of bigfoot from the swamp, and can see his hairy arm reaching out to take a human soul. I hunkered down in the back seat of my Dad’s Plymouth Satellite, and begged for the movie to end. I don’t think the movie had the same effect on my five-year-old brother Mark.
Regardless, we lived on Wilson Avenue in Kearny at the time, and our bedroom was right next to the kitchen. I slept in the bottom bunk, and my brother above. I was scared shitless, and cried, but Mom stayed with us, left the door open, and kept the stove light on for three days. Going to the bathroom at night when everyone was asleep during that time became its own nightmare. After all, sasquatch just had to reach out, grasp my leg, and pull me under – and I knew by the time I screamed for help, it would already be too late. Therefore, I jumped out of my bed and ran to the toilet. To get back into bed, I dove in like a stuntman. Once, however, I leapt too high and smashed into my brother’s bunk. Good times.
Bigfoot didn’t haunt me alone. I remember watching the bastardized American version of GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS! (1956) with Raymond Burr. It wasn’t the giant lizard that scared me so much as his roar. Well, then again, Godzilla rising out of the Passaic River to squash my house did come to mind, but what’s a kid supposed to do? Yet, Godzilla was too cool to be ignored. And even though his cry made me cringe (still does), the only time I was allowed to not eat dinner with the family came during ABC’s “The 4:30 Movie” whenever it was “Godzilla Week.” Other than that, although I can’t remember any of the movies off the top of my bald head, I can never forget the “Chiller” intro whenever I watched a creature feature at night with my Dad.
At this point, I was still pressing on, trying to face up to the jolts, squeamishness, and fear that lingered after watching a horror movie. But it wasn’t just horror. Disaster movies seemed to have the same effect. In 1974, we went to see THE TOWERING INFERNO. Now, if that’s not horror, I don’t know what is: Burning building, trapped people, despair, hopelessness… Well, my young self couldn’t take it anymore. I burst into tears, during a scene of intense flames and a screaming woman (Susan Blakely?), and Mom led me into the lobby. “It’s only a movie,” she had told me. And no, Mom never indulged in Wes Craven’s THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, which had been released three years before. But she did show me on television during a behind-the-scenes news report, how the special effects guys had made movie magic. That did make me feel a bit better – and helped come to terms with other horrors down the road.
Yes, THE TOWERING INFERNO kept me up all night, and for several days thereafter. I replayed the screaming fireman as he burned down the line into the elevator shaft a million times in my little head.
1975 brought television’s “Trilogy of Terror” with Karen Black. Like many, I can’t remember the first three installments, but the fourth with that Zuni fetish doll – Holy shit! I freaked out, and immediately pulled my feet off the living room rug. I knew that little bastard had to be somewhere. And four years later, thanks to me clinging to the walls of the same living room during “Salem’s Lot”, Mom and Dad felt at fourteen that I wasn’t ready to see ALIEN in theatres – which ultimately turned out to be my favorite movie of all.
Over time, I faced my fears by watching horror after horror, and fell head over heals for vampires, and spooky ghost stories. And although I keep a master list of the horrors I watch, several titles escape me, and I’ve yet to figure them out. Now, after staring down my phobia with one movie after another, I long to find horrors that will bring that chill back. Sigh.
But I thank my Mom for her patience and help when facing fear during my younger years. She was one hell of a woman. And although she wasn’t into the slasher sub-genre, Mom did indulge in dramatic horror. I know she was upset with Polanski’s ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968), because he didn’t show her hoofed devil child (she’d read Ira Levin’s novel), and she told me that she and the kids in the theatre screamed like mad during BUD ABBOTT AND LOU COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948).
Granted, I can crawl into bed on my own, but certain horrors still freak me out and bring me pause, but that’s another post for another time. I only hope you got a chance to tell your Mom you loved her today – and if you are a Mom, please don’t teach your kids to be afraid of anything, but help them tackle fear when it overwhelms them. I’m not sure how many mother’s tell their kids not to worry about the monster on the screen, but for all who do, thank you.
PS: Two years ago, I revisited THE LEGEN OF BOGGY CREEK – and laughed out loud.
(Original movie poster from Imp Awards.)