I am not a big fan of scary movies. I am not a little fan, either. I don’t go to scary movies, and if a movie I’m at turns out to be – gotcha! – scary, I will leave, at least for the scary parts.
So it should come as no surprise that I am not familiar with Wes Craven’s oeuvre. No “Nightmare on Elm Street” for me, and no “Last House on the Left,” either. No “Scream,” or “Scream 47.” He’s got his audience, and it’s not me.
Recently, though, he was interviewed on one of my favorite public radio programs, Studio 360. The show’s host, Kurt Andersen, talked to him about his greatest hits, and then the two announced a contest. Listeners were dared to come up with the scariest videos they could make, with just two rules: It had to be about a child genius, and it had to last only thirty seconds.
Thirty seconds! That’s my kind of scary movie. By the time I got out of my seat to exit, it would be over.
I could have made a whole bunch of my own short scary movies. Many could have taken place in just one room. You know the one – the kitchen. Open with a close-up of . . . the junk drawer from hell. Pan out to gaze upon the terrifying . . . dishes to be washed. Turn quickly to a view of the sickly . . . oranges in the fridge, turning green.
Cue the screeching violins for a close-up of . . . the butcher knife in the drawer, sitting in its own wooden cradle, just waiting to wreak havoc on . . . a pile of big white onions. Onions that make the cook cry, for No. Apparent. Reason.
In a completely unscientific poll (my Facebook friends), I learned that my favorite people fear the following, in no particular order: bugs, especially spiders; heights; large groups of people; clowns; the dentist’s office; mice in the house; the government; deep water; driving over bridges with open steel-grating decks; bees/wasps, whether indoors or out; outhouses; and, oh yeah, death. Wait, there’s one more. Flying monkeys! You’ve seen the movie. You know what I mean.
That’s scary, but I can think of more.
The place in my childhood home most frightening to me was, big surprise, the basement. Even though it was a clean, well-lit, cinderblock expanse, I found it horrifying. That’s where the furnace was, after all, and the water heater, and for some reason, those monstrosities made my heart quake. Or maybe it was the no-way-out aspect of being in a space partway underground without a door. Or the windows without curtains, staring blankly every night. I’m shuddering even now. (And this was before I owned a house in Dubuque, with a limestone basement that looked too much like the inside of a grave. Even the happy curtains I hung made no difference.)
When I became a single mom, I had to kill the bugs, no matter how big and hairy. I let my kids sleep with nightlights, but I toughed it out in the dark. Only once did I call the police, when I arrived home from book club and a man called, as if he knew I had just come in. I didn’t give him a chance to finish his sentence until I slammed down the phone and dialed 911. When the cops got there, one sat me down and asked a lot of boring questions while his partner walked all over the house. (The kids, thankfully, were away.) It all seemed routine, and I didn’t realize until later that this was their plan, to calm me down by not acting excited themselves. By the time they left, I was fine. Thanks, guys.
Mice in traps and bats in ceilings were things I couldn’t call the cops for, but found, to my shame, that I could not handle myself. My son, bless his heart, learned early to dispose of the mice, and a work colleague volunteered to handle any bats. Bless his heart, too. Sometimes you have to ask for help, for the things you just can’t do. (Mice die with their eyes open! Talk about a scary movie!)
These days, I have a husband. He’s not afraid to check out a noise outside at midnight, or to dispense with various rodents. (Leo, our cat, has also caught his share.) A good husband also helps allay less clear-cut terrors: Fear of job downsizing, worry about power failing in a winter storm, angst after an unexpected diagnosis, dread over the planet’s future.
Franklin Roosevelt’s famous words come from his first inaugural address: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” That’s always sounded a bit like circular reasoning to me, until you add what follows: “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” What he was exhorting the nation to do was to give support to the leaders who represented us in those trying times of war and – well, war is about as bad as it gets.
It would seem that just putting things into perspective might help calm some of our fears. After all, it’s not like there’s a world war going on in the attic, or clowns lying in wait at the dentist’s office. Just some dust balls under the bed, dark windows and crickets in the basement, and ice that might pull the power lines down for an outage we know will be only temporary. We may have slightly more to fear than fear itself, but hey, we’re all in this together. I’m willing to go first, as long as I know you’ve got my back.