White Zombie (1932)
Summary: Bela Lugosi turns Madge Bellamy into a silent, obedient zombie, presumably for erotic reasons.
Age Seen: 7, a good age for the new Lemony Snicket book The Dark, in stores now.
Circumstances: Watched in horror on TV with older kids while our parents drank wine and laughed their asses off upstairs in the living room.
Lasting Effects: Never liked that stupid band.
Hush Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)
Summary: Bette Davis driven mad by assorted relatives for motivations too convoluted to recall.
Age Seen: 7
Circumstances: Watched with my parents on television; freaked out when Bruce Dern’s head rolled down the stairs.
Lasting Effects: Occasionally suspect my wife is trying to drive me mad, because why else would she put my perfectly good cup of cold coffee in the dishwasher? Mad! Mad, I say!
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Summary: San Francisco beset by pod people, one of whom is Leonard Nimoy.
Age Seen: 8.
Circumstances: Taken to see the film in the theater. At age eight. By my mother. In San Francisco. Invasion of the Body Snatchers. A movie in which they get you when you fall asleep. Eight years old.
Lasting Effects: Whenever my mother asks me why I treat her so poorly, I remind her that she took me to see Invasion of the Body Snatchers when I was eight years old.
Love at First Bite (1979)
Summary: George Hamilton plays Dracula looking for love in Manhattan discotheques.
Age Seen: 10
Circumstances: Watched on local TV. Didn’t realize it was a comedy, which meant the ending seemed nihilistic rather than romantic.
Lasting Effects: My sister gave me the DVD last summer and it’s just as scary, albeit in a different way.
Oxford Blues (1984)
Summary: Rob Lowe goes to Oxford or something.
Age Seen: 14
Circumstances: Misread the cable TV schedule and so thought it was a slasher film. Watched in continuous, unbearable suspense, particularly during shower scene.
Lasting Effects: When watching boring movies, I like to pretend an axe murderer could arrive at any minute.
Mommie Dearest (1981)
Summary: Joan Crawford was a bad mother, whodathunkit.
Age Seen: 16
Circumstances: Watched with my mother, who kept saying Joan didn’t seem that bad.
Lasting Effects: And then sometimes I say, “And it wasn’t just the Invasion of the Body Snatchers thing.”
The Shining (1980)
Summary: Jack Nicholson doesn’t like his caretaking job and gets all cranky about it.
Age Seen: 19
Circumstances: Played at my college moviehouse. Was drunk. Kept screaming.
Lasting Effects: Sometimes old college friends say, “Remember that showing of The Shining where that drunk guy kept screaming like a little girl?” and I say, “No, I do not. I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Also: I hate Bed & Breakfasts.
Summary: Tattoo artist scalpels an enormous design into a woman’s back while she is having sex with a young man.
Age Seen: 20
Circumstances: College girlfriend’s favorite movie. It turned her on.
Lasting Effects: Married an Umbrellas of Cherbourg girl.
Summary: Oliver Reed something something scary people in a house.
Age Seen: 29.
Circumstances: Clutching my wife in our apartment.
Lasting Effects: Sometimes when I get up in the middle of the night I think that masked figure is hiding in the bathroom ready to get me.
The first ten minutes of Experiment in Terror (1962)
Summary: Lee Remick drives across the Golden Gate Bridge while Henry Mancini’s music plays. When she pulls into her garage a guy grabs her.
Age Seen: 30.
Circumstances: My charming wife: “Is this too scary for you? It might be too scary.” Me: “Let’s wait five minutes…..OK, it’s boring.”
Lasting Effects: A deep love for Henry Mancini. But I had that anyway.
Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends (1984)
Summary: Trains won’t stop bickering with each other.
Age Seen: 36.
Circumstances: Listened to my toddler son’s endless delight while feeling my reason depart forever.
Lasting Effects: Still shudder at the word “cheeky.”
The last five minutes of Rec (2007)
Summary: A really scary skinny zombie thing is in a dark room and a woman is quite upset about it.
Age Seen: 42.
Circumstances: Fell into a YouTube hole when sick one day.
Lasting Effects: Writing my congressman re: YouTube suggesting scary things to tax-paying citizens. Moveon.org, can’t you get with me on this?
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)
Oh, don’t get me started.