How I embraced fear and zombies
As a kid, I hated scary movies. I saw too many of them at an early age. My sister, five years my elder, had an appetite for horror that couldn’t be satiated. Stephen King novels inundated her bookshelves and films like “Halloween” and “Alien” were right up her alley.
My sister’s proclivity for Hollywood blood trickled into my consciousness. At the time, horror movies would quickly make it onto network television. And if a scary movie was on, my sister was watching it. Too often I’d wander into her televised bloodfests and witness a Salem’s Lot impaling or a murder perpetrated by Mike Myers. My sensitive nature was particularly averse to the sound effects of knife on human flesh.
My distaste for scary movies followed me into adulthood. I managed to avoid the half-dozen “Friday the 13th” and “Halloween” sequels that studios seemed to churn out every year. My abhorrence reached an apex when the film “Saw” splattered onto the silver screen. That movie was about repugnant images, not fear.
I’m guessing that the creators of “Saw” agree with Stephen King’s theory about why people watch horror & gore movies; according to the master of horror, we all have an inner sadist that must be satiated. Thus, viewers relate to the killers. Horror movies are all about satisfying our killer id.
A minuscule portion of the population just might watch horror films for this reason. However, King’s assertion that a supermajority of individuals possesses a “gator that must be fed” is excessive.
Strangely, I had to become a parent before I embraced the benefits of scary movies — and I reached a far different conclusion than Mr. King.
When my first son, Alex, was four years old, my family experienced a crisis. My wife had to go to the hospital for a couple weeks. She’s fine now, but at the time, things were touch and go. It was, as the cliché goes, a matter of life and death. Shock helped me handle the situation. I went into cruise control mode.
I also made a conscious decision to be exceedingly upbeat and positive around my son.
During the upheaval, I tried to generate as much joy as possible for Alex. We had a fun routine. We would go to the park every evening. After our park foray, we’d eat dinner together in front of the television. I exuded an all is well persona.
At the time, Alex was big into spaceships and stars and galaxies. One evening, he glanced at our DVDs and came across “Star Wars” — the original. He looked at the disc cover in awe. “Spaceships,” he said, almost as a mantra.
Granted, “Star Wars” was far from a horror, but it had a lot of action in it. And it had a truly evil villain. I knew the movie was probably too much for Alex. The kid was four. It was inappropriate. But he wanted to see the spaceships so badly. I sat him down and described how good guys had to blow up a bad-guy “moon.” There are a lot of explosions, I warned him. He looked at me as if to say, SO?
I let him watch the final scene of “Star Wars,” the one where Luke destroys up the Death Star. Alex was hooked. He wanted more. He wanted the whole movie. I warned him of the bad guy scenes, of Darth Vader.
He didn’t care.
I gave it to him. At first, I fast-forwarded through the scene where Darth Vader chokes a guy to death, the sound of his windpipe crunching under the pressure of a Sith lord. But after a few viewings, Alex asked to watch. I explained the scene, warned that things ended poorly for the good guy. I know, Alex said.
That’s when I realized that Alex wanted to be scared. Sure, Darth Vader was frightening. He killed people and tortured a princess. But when given a choice between thinking about his mom or Star Wars, the decision was easy. Darth Vader could be turned on and off; he could be controlled. In some bizarre way, Vader helped Alex cope with his mother’s hospitalization.
Alex is 12 now and, not long ago, I took him to the movie “World War Z.” As a tween, Alex keeps his emotions to himself, but at times I can see past his stoicism, and I see a kid who has as many fears and worries as the rest see of us. Mind you, I am careful about what excesses that he is allowed to watch. But fictional fears can sometimes be a fantastic distraction from the horrors of the real world. So I take him to scary movies and we revel in the beautiful, hair-curling frights.
David Weinshilboum is just starting to overcome the trauma caused by his older sister. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.