Anyone who knows me can tell you that the fall is my favorite time of year and it’s no secret that this is at least partially due to the anticipation of Halloween, my favorite holiday. Being someone who loves spooky parties, haunted houses and hayrides, and monster movie marathons, I am often asked about the things that truly terrify me. What sends a chill down my spine and instigates some time spent huddling in the corner with my back to the wall?
Here are a few things that I can’t watch without turning on every light in the house or inviting someone to watch them with me.
“Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”
(The Twilight Zone, season 5, episode 123, 1963)
It’s nigh impossible to be involved in a conversation about the most memorable episodes of The Twilight Zone without someone bringing up this episode, although it may not have been referred to by name. It’s often been called, “That one on the plane with the creepy gremlin on the wing-oh yeah-and William Shatner.”
William Shatner plays Bob Wilson, a salesman on an airplane for the first time since suffering a nervous breakdown. He sees the gremlin on the wing, but when he tries to point it out to others, there’s nothing there. I’ve seen this episode countless times (none of which were alone or in the dark) and I still have to bite my tongue to keep from screaming when Bob Wilson opens the blind and the gremlin is right there with its face pressed against the window.
I have also seen the version of this episode redone for Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) starring John Lithgow in the Shatner role. It didn’t scare me. Maybe it’s because I expected it to make me jump the way the original did, or then again, maybe it’s Shatner. I say this because my close runner up for the most chilling episode of TheTwilight Zone is “Nick of Time” (season 2, episode 43, 1960), also starring-you guessed it-William Shatner.
(Buffy: the Vampire Slayer, season 4, episode 10, 1999)
“Hush” is, in my opinion, the creepiest episode out of all seven televised seasons of Joss Whedon’s Buffy: the Vampire Slayer. It even comes complete with its own creepy little song in a creepy little girl’s voice. I offer you an excerpt from said creepy little song: “Can’t call to mom, can’t say a word, you’re gonna die screaming but you won’t be heard.”
If you’ve not seen the episode, or haven’t gathered from the clues above, there isn’t a whole lot of talking that happens in “Hush.” In fact, there are only about 17 minutes of dialogue in the entire 44 minute episode.
The premise is that villains called “The Gentlemen” (fairy tale monsters in this episode) come to town and steal everyone’s voices so that no one can scream while they’re cutting out the victims hearts, of which they need seven. This is what makes this episode so creepy for me. I have had, as I am sure many people have had, that nightmare in which I know all I have to do is scream, but I can’t. What happens when no one hears you? How powerless do you become when your voice is gone? Shall I quote the little song again?
And The Gentlemen are just…creepy.
That said, even though I can’t watch “Hush” alone, I think it is one of the most brilliant episodes of the series. From the reactions of the characters when they realize they can’t speak, to themes like how people communicate when the words can’t get in the way, and how hard it is to say what needs to be said once their voices are back, it is spot on all the way. If you’ve never seen an episode of Buffy before, this is one you need to see.
(The Exorcist, Warner Bros. Pictures, 1973)
I trust I’m not alone on this one. There a whole lot of people who can’t watch this movie about Regan (Linda Blair), the demon possessed girl by themselves. I know some people who can’t watch it all. And yet, even people who haven’t seen it seem to know that Linda Blair’s head spins all the way around and that pea soup makes good fake vomit.
The movie is based on the novel by William Peter Blatty who also wrote the screenplay. I’ve never read the novel, but seeing as how the movie did to me what it did, I must admit that it’s simply because I haven’t mustered up the guts.
I was about 16 when I saw this movie against my mother’s wishes. She had seen it in the theater in 1973 and warned me that no matter how badly I wanted to see a movie that would really scare me, I was not prepared for The Exorcist. She went on to say that a copy of that movie was not even to be brought into her house. So I did what a lot of teenagers do. I saw it at a friend’s house. Long story short, I spent the next week waking up in the middle of the night (after exhaustion finally overtook fear), trying to figure out if my bed was shaking or if my heart could really be pounding that hard. Yeah, it was my heart. I vowed never to watch that movie again. That vow lasted until the director’s cut came out. I was in college by that point and I just had to see it. Guess how I spent the week following.
The thing is…
…I like being scared. While it may seem like I painted the above examples in a negative light, the fact is that they did their job. My muscles tensed; I bit my nails to the quick; I screamed and I jumped. All things I was supposed to do.
I find myself longing for new horror challenges. Please, someone create them. I dare you. Give me your worst (or best).
Although, it has occurred to me that, given my aspirations, I might try to rise to my own challenge.