Archive for Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Horror as entertainment?

October 30, 2002


Here's why I should have seen the movie "Red Dragon" by now:

It stars one of the greatest actors of our time, Anthony Hopkins.

It has box office success with almost $100 million in ticket sales.

It's the last of the masterpiece Hannibal Lecter series, and critics such as Joel Siegel of "Good Morning America" say, "You've got to see 'Red Dragon."'

With due respect, Mr. Siegel, I won't be able to.

This is not because I doubt it's quality.

It's because I am too scared.

Time for confession: I am part of a mostly hidden subculture of adults too afraid to see horror movies.

Even the previews for "Red Dragon" unsettle me. I can't fathom why moviegoers would pay money to watch a demented psychopath take bites out of other people's faces.

Maybe I'm the abnormal one for not wanting to see that, but it's not my fault. I blame my parents.

I was 9 when they took me to a movie whose title spooks me to this day.

It was called "Premature Burial." The subtitle was "Within the coffin, I lie ... alive."

Hey Dad, great flick for a 9-year-old.

The main character had an illness that occasionally made him utterly motionless, leaving him worried he'd be mistaken for dead and, well, buried alive. He's so obsessed about this, he builds a coffin rigged with a trap door and stocked with food and water.

Now that I think about it, I'd love to find out where they sell those.

He has some dream about opening a coffin to find it full of worms. Oh, and whenever something bad is about to happen, someone in the background starts whistling "Alive, Alive-oh," which, as a result, remains my least favorite song, with the possible exception of "Muskrat Love" by the Captain and Tenille.

Of course, he soon falls into the motionless state, and everyone thinks he's dead. So they have a funeral. His wife never a fan of his trap-door idea buries him in a regular coffin and grave.

If I recall right, you can hear his horrified thoughts as they close the coffin door. I remember bloody fingernails as he tries to scratch his way out.

Around the same time, I was further traumatized by a particular "Twilight Zone" episode. Most boys dislike dolls out of gender discomfort. I dislike them because I keep expecting them to say, "Hi, I'm Talking Tina, and I'm going to kill you."

Adults with my syndrome don't hate all horror movies; only a specific kind. Most of us can handle monster flicks. I liked Alien. And Signs. Even as a kid, I was all right with "It, The Terror From Outer Space." As well as that movie with giant ants called "Them."

The problem is when the evil creatures seem human.

That's why "The Exorcist" just about did me in. It was one of the first scary movies I attempted since "Premature Burial." Big mistake. Even when Linda Blair later became an adult star, I could have never dated her. I'd have been afraid she would throw up pea-soup on me, and turn her head around to admire the result.

I avoided such movies for another 20 years or so. Then, not long ago, my wife made me take her to see "What Lies Beneath," because it featured Harrison Ford, who she has a thing for.

She promised it was a harmless chick flick. But it was like "Premature Burial" all over again with Ford injecting his screen wife, Michele Pfeiffer, with a paralyzing drug, and leaving her slumped in a filling bathtub. I am not sure why my wife would be attracted to a man who would do such a thing, but there's little accounting for the tastes of women.

I am only grateful she does not have a thing for Anthony Hopkins.

As far as the end of "Premature Burial," I don't remember it. I probably repressed memories of it due to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Of course, I wouldn't give the end away anyway.

Why ruin a nice experience for some other 9-year-old?

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