John A. Douglas

Living Passionately In the World of the Moving Image

John A. Douglas John's life in pictures

“Being Scared”

April 28th, 2009 · No Comments · Personal Stories

There were a few times in my youth when certain movies absolutely terrified me. When I was watching one of the Mummy movies, for instance, I absolutely had to keep saying to myself, “This is only a movie. This is only a movie” and even that provided precious little comfort. And when I speak of Mummy movies I mean the ones produced by Universal International in the 1930s and 1940s beginning with “The Mummy” (1932) starring Boris Karloff. I saw these films for the first time when I was in junior high school and the Universal films were in re-release.

I remember being scared out of my wits in “The Mummy’s Hand” (1940) when the Mummy, played by Tom Tyler, was chasing some of the good guys. It was a surreal film because even thought the Mummy was forced to lumber along dragging one foot, he always seemed to be gaining on those people who were running for their lives.

It never occurred to me that real live human beings could probably take down with ease a creature made up of rotted cloth and dried up flesh and bones. As far as I was concerned, the Mummy was to be feared and I feared him to the max.

As an adult I miss that fear engendered by the movies like “Frankenstein” and “Dracula.” Modern horror films have given up on trying to frighten and have settled for producing revulsion which is not nearly as rewarding as fear. Only occasionally do I get a touch of the old time Mummy fear. It happened in “The Exorcist” and it happened for me a couple of times in a little known film called “The Evil” (1978) with Richard Crenna.

My most recent old time scare came to me in “Seven” (1995) when Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman, playing cops, were driving a dangerous serial killer, played to a fare-the-well by Kevin Spacey, into the desert. The serial killer is bound and caged in the back seat of their car and he had no weapon but somehow you know that this is a man to be feared and he scared the dickens out of me even though I knew he posed no real threat. (Oh yeah??)

Fear can be great fun when you know deep down that your fears are groundless and that “this it is only a movie.” But what about fear that has some basis.?

I spent a lot of time at the movies when I was a kid and often when I came out of the movie at the Fayette Theate in Fayetteville, West Virginia, it would already be dark which was no problem for me up to a point and that point was where the street lights stopped and deep West Virginia darkness began.

My grandparents lived at the bottom of a hill and it was at the top of that hill where the darkness took over. It was at this point that I had to make a decision. I could walk slowly and allow my ears to tell me if any horrors lurked just outside my range of vision or I could just run like mad until I reached the front door.

The decision was usually based on the kind of film I had seen. Walking at a normal rate took great courage and that is not something I had a whole lot of if I had just seen a movie with spooky elements. So after a murder mystery, a horror or a science fiction film I generally opted to make a run for it.

The problem is that as soon as I began to run I knew in my heart that the hounds of hell would be unleashed and they would be right at my heels. I could almost hear them closing in behind me as I ran like I have never been able to run since. I would run up the front steps and up on the porch of my grandparent’s home. If I could just get inside I would be safe and every single time I managed to open the door and fall into the security of home.

I am talking here about 30 seconds of pure terror from start to finish but the security of home immediately dissipated the fear as I walked into the living room to tell of what amazing things I had just seen in the Fayette Theater.


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