The official movie trailer for Part One of Stephen King’s IT came out within the last couple weeks. Have a looksie, if you haven’t already:
After viewing it, I immediately reposted the trailer to my mom’s Facebook page, telling her to mark her calendar for dinner-and-a-movie night. Soon after, people started commenting about how scary it looked and asking why I would want to watch something like that, my wife among them.
Why, they ask? I’ll tell them why: there’s something about being terrified that makes me feel more alive. I suppose on some level that makes me a weirdo — I’m not sure I could argue to the contrary, even if I wanted to — but it’s who I’ve been as far back as I can remember.
For instance, most little kids are scared of something awful lurking under their bed. I’m sure the same thing bothered me at some point as well, but I can remember flipping that fear on its head at a very young age. I quickly realized that if I befriended The Thing Under the Bed, it would not only stop being my tormentor, but would also turn into my protector. And so, once I settled myself into bed, I dropped a make-believe steak and an imaginary bottle of water down the gap between my bed and the wall, bid The Thing goodnight, and peacefully slipped into an easy sleep.
Every. Single. Night.
[photo credit: hawanja at DeviantArt]
Quite the imagination, eh? Problem is, as I grew older and partook in adult scares via my movies and books (some of them at an earlier age than I should have seen them), my mind wasn’t able to negate the fear they instilled in me. Then again, maybe I didn’t want to do away with it. Could be I embraced the thrills and chills they caused me because deep down I enjoyed them, even if they affected me.
My earliest scare from a movie came courtesy of The Shining. I saw the movie way, way too young, somewhere in the 8-10 range, if I’m not mistaken. There was a bunch of frightening imagery in it – the sexy woman in the bathtub who morphs into a disgusting hag, the tidal wave of blood that comes rushing down the stairs, the grisly murders – but nothing creeped me out more than the twin girls who kept showing up when Danny rode his Big Wheel through the hotel’s hallways. They haunted my dreams for years, without even having to do anything on-screen.
[Look at them. I mean, seriously…they still give me goosebumps!]
A couple years later I saw the movie version of Pet Sematary. In it, a young boy named Gage Creed dies and is buried in a cemetery that brings him back to life. Only problem is, the people who are buried there come back nasty, and Gage was no exception. In one scene, Gage is hiding under a bed and reaches out to slice the Achilles tendon of a man who is looking for him. The violence didn’t really affect me – it wasn’t a particularly gruesome scene – but the idea of a person under the bed (so much more menacing than my aforementioned buddy, the Thing) scared the bejesus out of me. I wouldn’t get closer than a foot or two from the underside of a bed until I was welllllll into my 20’s: that’s how much it affected me. At the end of the day, I’d do a little jump into bed to keep Gage from using his scalpel on me.
[Adorable kid during his life; mean son of a bitch after his reanimation.]
Movies weren’t the only things that got my heart pounding. There have been plenty of books that effed me up while I was reading them. My memory is hazy on some of the stories because it’s been so long since I’ve read them, but I have the gist of them: the vampires in Simon Clark’s Vampyrrhic, which were jockeying for position outside of a window, looking in at a petrified person; the nasty little buggers in Doug Clegg’s The Children’s Hour, which in one scene were dragging sandpapery tongues over the blood from one person’s wound (I read this immediately before tucking in one of my little kids, and you better believe I was watching him closely so I wasn’t the next victim); but the coup de grace was the book version of the aforementioned IT. I didn’t read it until my junior year of college. I would have been around 21 at the time, so it wasn’t like I was a virgin to this kind of material. But I’ll be damned if I didn’t read long passages of the book right before going to bed, only to set it aside, turn out the lights, and stare at the ceiling for a lonnnnnnnng time. No book has gotten to me like IT did, and if the movie can come even close to the terror Stephen King was able to put on paper, my guess is I’ll have a few more sleepless nights in my future.
[“So you think you’re going to sleep tonight, eh? Bwahahahahahaha!”]
There are some topics that remain off-limits for me, as I just don’t have the stomach for them. First, I can’t do hardcore sex/rape scenes. Rape is one of the most terrifying things a person can go through, and it’s just too brutal for me to read about in any detail. The other topic I can’t abide is torture for the sake of torture (aka “torture porn”). I understand torture is an integral part of some stories – a prisoner of war being tortured for information or a serial killer performing his shenanigans on innocent folk – but when a story revolves solely around the idea of brutalizing someone for shock value and eschewing any sense of storytelling whatsoever, well, I’ll be taking a pass, thank you very much.
Is it strange that suspense makes a person feel more alive, or at least appreciate the relative safety of his or her daily life? Perhaps. Yet with the continued success of horror stalwarts like Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Robert McCammon, not to mention the next generation of writers such as Jonathan Janz, Ron Malfi, and Brian Keene, I doubt I’m far from being the only one who feels this way. I would argue someone doesn’t even need to be a fan of this kind of entertainment to feel the way I do. How many times have you heard a creak in the night that makes your ears perk up? How does it feel when you’re alone in the basement, lights out, and a sudden tingling on the nape of your neck makes you charge up the stairs and into the light? What makes you gaze at an open window late at night, only to pull the blinds and block out the darkness (along with what lurks in it)?
The answer is simple: fear of the unknown, a fear that sends one’s body into an adrenaline-fueled awareness and vitality. Some people do whatever they can to stay away from it. Me? I welcome the dread and its side effects. So, I’ll plunk down my hard-earned cash for a ticket to IT and an over-priced popcorn-and-soda combo. I’ll put on some elbow pads for when my mother falls for a jump-scare and clamps onto my arm. I’ll sit transfixed as I watch Pennywise the Clown terrorize The Losers’ Club on the big screen.
And I’ll love every moment of it.
Until we meet again…