We all experience some bitter truths during our upbringing. We learn there is no Santa Claus. Sooner or later, you’ll have to get a job and pay taxes. Death is inevitable. You can’t always get what you want. And, at some point, the horror icons that once sent you cowering under the covers of your bed for protection as a kid are no longer terrifying.
Instead of fearing a cinematic monstrosity or crazed killer, you come to embrace it during your adolescence. You defeat the creature/killer’s power by fixating on an aspect of it that makes it weak. Of course, losing that fear of “the boogeyman” can also be attributed to “just getting older,” but for me it was much more than that. As a kid, I would try to find the crack in the armor, so to speak, to make me think, “Y’know, maybe this thing isn’t so scary after all.” It would take some time, believe me, but it ultimately would happen.
Inspired by a conversation I had this week with my dear friend Annette, I wanted to share the moments – those grand realizations – when the sheer terror I felt for a handful of horror icons washed away…
The Cenobites of the Hellraiser Series: My curiosity to see Hellraiser and to know “what the big deal was” was only heightened when my folks vowed to keep it away from me as a kid. Needless to say, I sought it out and watched it. And yep, the Cenobites were some fucked up shit with their black leather and their ashen skin. They kept threatening to tear souls apart and rip flesh from bone with their hooks ‘n chains that came out of nowhere, but you know what? They were formerly human. And it wasn’t until I saw Hellbound: Hellraiser II, moreover, that the Chatterer Cenobite was (gasp!) a kid, everything seemed okay. Also, they had an agenda. Don’t mess with the box and they won’t mess with you. As an 11-year-old, I thought I was totally safe since I wasn’t a complete scumbag with a desire to push the limits of the flesh and seek out the Lament Configuration. At that point, the Cenobites were all good in my book.
Jason Voorhees: This was a big one. For many, many films, the almighty hockey mask-wearing killer spooked the hell out of me. He was relentless and relentless with his kills and he stalked the woods, which was a big issue with me since my parents frequently sent me off to summer camp. Even when he was absent from the fifth chapter of the series, there was still a dude in a hockey mask killing teens…and that messed me up good. It wasn’t until Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives rolled around, that I found a glimmer of hope, something that would help me overcome my fear of this asshole who didn’t discriminate in who he killed. And I can pinpoint the exact scene in which I thought, “Okay, cool…he doesn’t kill kids. I’m safe!” That scene comes when Jason enters a cabin filled with sleeping kids at Camp Forest Green. He doesn’t disturb them. Instead, he walks over to the fireplace until an awake, scared little girl catches his attention. As she prays for safety, he leers at her through that mask of his until he becomes distracted by the sound of the police pulling up outside of the cabin. Now, I rationalized this good as a kid – if he immediately walk into that cabin and begin his slaughter of the innocents, no way was he going to kill that little girl. And on that day I saw Jason Lives, I stopped being scared of Jason Voorhees.
Freddy Krueger: I’ve recounted this story before, but my first experience with A Nightmare on Elm Street came by way of not seeing the film, but listening to it play out. My father had rented it on VHS, but I wasn’t allowed to see it, naturally. So, I acted like I was asleep and I cracked open my bedroom door and listened to the film instead. And what I heard was positively chilling. Eventually, I saw the movie and yes, in my young eyes, it was a scary, but Freddy as a horror icon – as we all know – took a tumble because he became more of a comedian than something to fear. When his punchlines began, Freddy’s power as something to fear fell away – for me, that was around A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors.
The Blob: The Blob remake really messed me up. As a killer, it was pretty ruthless. It absorbed you in the most painful, messy ways possible and it didn’t care if you were a kid. Let me say that again: IT DIDN’T CARE IF YOU WERE A KID. And for that reason alone, I suffered Blob nightmares. Truth. This was incredibly difficult on me as a kid since I was balancing a healthy crush on Shawnee Smith and freaking out over, well, THE BLOB. There was no specific thing about this veiny, disgusting entity from space that I got over. But I knew that if I could hang out in a cold environment long enough, I’d be okay. Silly, I know. Still, thinking about my survival skills in a freezing place helped me get by.
The Zombies of George Romero’s Dead Trilogy: I got over my fear of zombies rather quickly because I was introduced to the “Dead” trilogy in the span of a few months. Night of the Living Dead and its slack-jawed roaming band of zombies were disturbing, no doubt. It wasn’t until Dawn of the Dead that fear washed away to understand and sadness. Romero started to give his zombies a “face” or personality. We had the nurse zombie, the zombie with the underbite who was fascinated with the gun, the Hare krishna zombie… Much like the Cenobites, it dawned on me that these were not “monsters” at all, but humans driven to a certain fate. I’m sure they didn’t want to be monsters. It’s not their fault they wanted to eat the flesh of the living. I suddenly became incredibly sad for them and, instead, feared not zombies but the incredible loneliness that Romero instilled within his undead films.
That said, there are a handful of horror icons I never really did get over as a kid. Genre baddies where “age” allowed me to let go, embrace who they were and move on – and I think that’s a testament to their strength. Michael Myers was hard to move on from. I couldn’t find any weakness in him that I could latch on to and carry me out of my irrational fear. Leatherface was another one. Although just a big brute who could easily be bullied by his family members, the dude was going to eat me no matter how young or old I was. And then there was the creeper lurking in the attic and making obscene phone calls in Black Christmas. On second thought, he still disturbs me.
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