I would be the first to admit that I’m not going to be the dude running into a zombie infested house in order to save the family dog. I’m not the guy who’s going to take up arms and defend the village from the growing evil just obscured by the trees at the edge of the forest. I’m not going into the basement. I’m not digging up the killer’s grave “just to make sure.” I’ll have nothing to do with a boiler room of any sort. I definitely do not give a shit if the doll’s head moved on its own and I sure as hell am not going to question anything that goes on in a mirror because it’s a god damn mirror and I shouldn’t be afraid of a god damn mirror. I’m a grown up. I do grown up shit.
But in all honesty, I love all of these things about horror movies. I don’t know what it is that I find so intoxicating about being scared by scary movies (to clarify; I don’t enjoy being scared by a host of things that are reality based, things like junkies breaking into my house in the middle of the night or terminal illnesses in family members, etc…) but I do adore the sensation of covering my eyes just as the crazy stuff starts to happen just so I won’t get nightmares later. It’s fun for me and, presumably, for everyone else who loves horror movies.
Still, I’ve seen a million horror movies by now and I’m jaded. The scares that I had at the hands of movies in my youth just can’t be replicated anymore because I’ve seen it all. I watch every horror movie with the hope that something will happen that will scare the living daylights out of me and I lose sleep over it. I know that this is possible; as stated earlier, I’m what one may call “a coward.” The last time I was scared like this by a movie, I was 12 years old.
The year was 1988 and I was sleeping over at my Uncle Rudy’s house with my brother and Uncle Rudy’s son, Bad Michael. Uncle Rudy was instrumental in developing my taste for horror movies; he indulged us in our quest to find the most macabre movies to watch during these types of sleepovers. He had both the Prism channel and Cinemax. He showed us all types of movies that my more conservative parents would not allow, movies like A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Cujo and Phantasm. You know the ones, the type of horror movies that are pretty bad when viewed through adult eyes but are all-encompassingly terrifying when seen through children’s eyes. This particular sleepover, the movie we were watching was the Stephen King directed Maximum Overdrive, starring Emilio Estevez.
Admittedly, this movie was a stinker. Legend has it, this is the only movie that Stephen King directed after losing creative control of The Shining to Stanley Kubrick and it sucked so bad that he never directed a movie again. The premise, for the uninitiated, is that machines on planet Earth suddenly become both autonomous and sentient. They turn on humankind and they’ve corralled Emilio and company into a diner/gas station. There’s a big rig truck in there that has a huge Green Goblin face on the front. A military jeep is shooting guns at them. They’re trying to come up with a plan on how to get away. Oddly enough, Yeardly Smith is in the cast. None of these things are scary at all and yet, I was inexplicably terrified.
I have no clue why I was so freaked out, but I was. There was a scene in there where an old dude (played by Stephen King) gets a can of Coke shot at him by a vending machine. That scene killed my formative mind in a way that had not happened with any other scene that I had previously witnessed. Also in the movie, a kid baseball player gets run over by a steamroller, totally gets smushed into the ground. My mind was blown.
I was so scared by this movie that, later that night, after Bad Mike and my brother and Uncle Rudy had fallen asleep, I had taken it upon myself to walk back to my parent’s house in my pajamas. It wasn’t a far walk, but it was dark, it was cold, I was in my pj’s and I was 12 years old. I remember jumping behind bushes every time a car drove past, just in case it decided to turn sentient and kill me. I was a dumb child. When I got home, I didn’t have a key because I left it at Uncle Rudy’s house. I rang the bell and my dad, groggy with sleep, opened the door to find his eldest son, trembling not from cold, but from fear. He was mad. Not just mad, but MAD. In his thick Filipino accent he bellowed, “WHY DO YOU WATCH THAT HORROR HORROR ALL THE TIME?” and pulled me into the house.
The next morning, Uncle Rudy called my parent’s house in what I imagine was a harrowed frenzy over my unexplained absence. Maybe he thought that a chainsaw became self aware and chopped me up. My dad told him about my episode of terror and assured him that I was home safe. For years to come this story would emerge almost annually at inopportune times like family gatherings and parties. Funny every time.
I want to be scared like that again.
Author: J.T. Alvarez
Joshua Alvarez is an avid film appreciator and musician from the Philadelphia area. In addition to being a PFS member and the lead singer for various bands in the Philadelphia hardcore scene, Joshua also possesses the strength of a lion that has the strength of two lions.