What Was The First Film To Scare You?
Cinema Junkie / October 30, 2015
Last week I gave you a tease of my Cinema Junkie podcast about the first film people remember scaring them, now listen to more memories including some horror celebrities.
Beth Accamando – Welcome back to the KPBS cinema junkie podcast. I am Beth Accamando. It’s October and Halloween is just around the corner, in fact too close. My home haunt is not yet completed and I’m here recording a podcast but this is Halloween, my favorite time of the year and I want to share all the frighteningly good memories I’ve been gathering about the first film to scare people.
My memory of the first film to scare me is so vivid that I wonder what other people might recall about the movies that scared them. Last week I provided a preview of the podcast on midday edition to whet your appetite but here is the full show.
Let’s begin with this simple question - do you remember the first film that scared you? I certainly do. Fear is a primal human emotion and experiencing fear is something we all tend to remember vividly. My parents took me to some inappropriate films when I was young, but I have to thank them for that because it probably laid the foundation for my love of horror. I saw things that terrified me and kept me awake at night and when I did fall asleep the images invaded my dreams. I remember that damn dog carrying around a severed arm in “[film name indiscernible][0:01:09]” and I had vivid nightmares about the film “The Collector” starring Terence Stamp and Samantha Edgar especially a scene she cracks him over the head with a shovel trying to escape.
But the very first film that I remember being scared by, although Disney probably scarred me much earlier but I'm just not recalling the specifics is “A Boy Ten Feet Tall”. I must have seen “A Boy Ten Feet Tall” when I was only about four and I’ve never seen it since but it dealt with a young Anglo boy recently orphaned in Africa and starred Edward G. Robinson as with a film called “White Hunter”
Handcuffed to a dead man, yes that’s exactly what I remember being most terrified by. I don't know what was actually in the film although I should go back and see it again just to see what it was really about. But I had nightmares about being in a dark jungle and not being able to see and dragging a dead body behind me. The film was billed as an adventure for kids but it's the first memory I have of being scared.
So it's not always a horror film that provides the first scare. As writer and filmmaker Clive Barker reveals.
Clive Barker: The first movie I remember scaring me was [Film name indiscernible] [0:02:33]
Beth Accamando: Disney is responsible for the nightmares of many children.
Clive Barker: He was I think triumphantly good at a particularly American mixture of scares and sentimentality.
Beth Accamando: The thing about fear is it also produces adrenaline and the rush from that is kind of exhilarating, that maybe why many people can immediately recall the first film to ever scare them.
Mike Helm: My name is Mike Helm; I am a sculptor and monster maker. I’m at Monster Puza; the first film to frighten me was Christopher Lee’s “Dracula”. [Soundtrack][0:03:12] Taste of blood of Dracula, that scared the pants off me as a child and I guess that’s the first time I was terrified. It was a coach going for Transylvania Mountains or wherever and there is a nasty guy on the coach and he ends up throwing up this innocent guy out of the coach and the guy you know he is lost in the middle of nowhere and hears this high pitched screaming and then next minute he sees Christopher Lee flaying around with a big cross through him and you know to me it was just terrifying and it was blood, it was red. I think it was the garish red blood that did it, you know because the classics I was used to, also it must have been when we got a color TV because before that it was all black and white. So yeah I think when I saw that blood it just scared the pants off me and stuck with me. And like about your question because I forgot all about it, you’re right yeah that was the first one.
Tom Holland: Hello, I’m Tom Holland; I’m the writer director of Fright Night, Child's Play, Psycho II. The first scary film I remember is “Them”, a science fiction film about an atomic blast creating giant killer ants and they invade Los Angeles. [Soundtrack][0:04:43] and that was the most fun scary film I remember as a little kid and the film that changed my life was Psycho by Alfred Hitchcock in 1961 and I was like 16 or 17 and that was such a huge jump in terms of montage in the way it was edited and that film really did scare me. It was the shower scene; no I'd never seen your female lead killed off in the first 20 minutes. I mean that was – it violated all the rules and I never saw something that was that graphic and that terrifying even though we didn't see anything. It changed my view of editing because before that I’d been watching MRR movies and AIP which were very traditional, deeply saturated. If they did a close up it was a big deal, you know Psycho changed all that. Psycho was the beginning of modern art and Alfred Hitchcock is the genius of suspense horror film making and the father of it. [Soundtrack][0:06:31].
Bernard Rose: Hi, I’m Bernard Rose; I’m the writer and director of “Candy man”. The first film that I remember really terrifying me is actually a masterpiece in my opinion, it’s a film that Ken Russell made in 1971, it’s called the “Devils” and it is based on Aldous Huxley’s book “The Devils of Loudun” [Soundtrack][0:06:57]. It’s about the possession of a convent of nuns in the 17th century in France. But what the film is about is not the possession of the nuns; it’s about how Cardinal Richelieu uses this event to frame the priest Urbain Grandier and torture him and burn him to death. [Soundtrack][0:07:48]. And I think that what truly terrified me was that how the film brilliantly exposes how the state uses fear as a form of oppression, fear and superstition to achieve fascistic games and you know all you can say is that’s truly terrifying and that’s the world we still live in. I mean it’s a testament to how dull and tame sounds have become since then, really nobody has got even close.
Lance Hendrickson: Hi, I’m Lance Hendrickson and the first movie I ever saw that scared me to death was around when I was around 11 and I had gone into the theatre sort of in the afternoon, by the time the movie was over it was dark and it was called “The Thing” with James Arness. [Soundtrack][0:08:52] and I had to walk up the middle of the street I was so scared something was going to jump out of the doorway or somewhere. The movie changed my life pretty much forever; it was very well made you know so. And it was back in the day when it was - language was everything and it was black and white and it was a brilliant, brilliant movie. [Soundtrack][0:09:21]. It was the overlapping dialogue, how to – touch of reality that other movies did not have and you know it was directed by a great director but also the music and also there were no special effects, there were only practical effects, so it was very cool.
Tony Times: I am Tony Times; first movie I ever saw that really got me was probably Rose Mary’s baby. I love, I am from the East Coast, spent a lot of time in New York City, south of Dakota which is also famous for or infamous for where John Lennon was assassinated has such an eerie creepy presence. And a cast which included Ruth Gordon and John Cassavetes and Mia Farrow, it was just – the casting was exquisite [Soundtrack] [0:10:23]. The psychological terror that lay within what would happen if this child is taken from a person and diverted to nowhere. So that go under my skin and I loved the psychological tension in it, as opposed to just blood and guts. [Soundtrack][0:10:42]. Sidney Blackmer was a great classically theatre trained actor and Ruth Gordon walking up to Dakota. After Dakota we had just met with Mia Farrow in the [indiscernible] [0:10:54] that said be careful and she jumps off the balcony and that point we all knew that there was something creepy going on with this couple. It was the way it was shot, Roman Polansky knew how to edit, capture these elusive moments which is what good films should do – show you the moments that you don’t expect.
Howe Obronski: Hi everybody, this is Howe Obronski from Monster Paluzza remoistening about that I have enjoyed growing up with and that have affected my love of horror and science fiction. The real movie that absolutely made me jump and shiver watching the entire film was Jaws. The fact that I go to the ocean and I can swim and ride in a boat and the fact that there is a creature lurking below that surface that really I knew nothing about and the fact that it could potentially hurt me terrified me. And the fact that this thing was so big at least in the film, it terrified me that I could be just literally within feet of something that I don't even own it’s there because it’s under the water. And I just remember absolutely walking out of that theater saying oh my god, I can't believe what I just saw, it’s can this happen. And to this day no film has ever affected me that way.
Kirsten McCallion: I am Kirsten McCallion, I’ve written a few horror films, I wrote on the Texas Chainsaw 3D movie and Exeter which came out just recently. The first movie to scare me would definitely be “Jaws” because I have not been swimming since without total paranoia. You know the buoy scene I was pretty much reeled in and scarred for life, but that’s great wonderfully scarred for life. [Soundtrack][0:13:00].
Erden Somanje: Hi my name is Erden Somanje [phonetic][0:13:00] and I directed a film called “My Mother’s Songs” and the first horror movie I ever saw that really, really scared me and freaked me out was “Night of the Living Dead” [Soundtrack][0:13:25]. It was just really scary because I was young, I think I was about [laughing] think I was about like 10 years old actually when I saw this film and I didn’t speak any English. It was just visual for me and obviously with like the screaming and yadda yadda yah, it had a I guess impact on me and really interesting part for me and why it really stuck out was me being from Tanzania as a kid I’ve always heard stories about zombies but they operate differently. So seeing them or seeing these types of zombies on screen really freaked me out as like I always remember that film. I think what really got me was the whole like the zombies just walking really slow, that’s just really freaky to me, you know and I think that’s part of the reason why I was really, that's what really made it really strong was the type of zombie. So in Journo it was just the zombie walking really slow and that just really freaked me out you know because it creates that intensity in you and I think it was a lot more intensified for me because it was the first time I’d ever seen a scary movie.
John Skipp: My name is John Skipp, co-director of “Tales Of Halloween”. The first movie that actually terrified me and drove me out of a room was “Invaders From Mars”, the original science fiction film from the 50’s [Soundtrack][ 0:14:59]. When I was a little kid I had a terrible fever and rats were crawling down the walls, I mean I was hallucinating like a son of a bitch and they had to do the Jacob's ladder thing on me where they threw me into the bathtub full of ice cubes to break the fever before I like burned up. So I was terrified of everything, but when I saw Invaders From Mars on a Saturday afternoon in Milwaukee Wisconsin and I would say in 1962 and I was five or six years old and what it was specifically was that if you went out to the back of town and were walking in the sand, all of a sudden the dirt would suck you under and when you came back you weren’t yourself anymore. And the main characters of the little kid and it’s shot with his forced perspective and everything's like looking up, everything is taller than him from a POV standpoint I completely related. I felt like that little kid and it was the first time I realized if this movie was right I can't trust grownups. I can't trust the people who I am supposed to trust and that was really, really terrifying thing. [Soundtrack][0:16:14].
Andrew Kasch: My name is Andrew Kasch, I’m co-director on Tales Of Halloween and never sleep again The Elm Street Legacy. I had a lot of movies that scared the hell out of me as a kid, but they were all like really scary moments and kids films like Disney movies and Return Oz and Raiders of the Lost Ark. But the first like out and out horror movie that truly fucked me up was Alien, I saw that when I was 10 years old. I was really not prepared for it at all, I knew nothing about it, I didn’t sleep for a week afterwards but it started my whole lifelong obsession with monsters and various creatures in movie making in general, so yeah you never forget your first. Alien is the perfect experiment in like visual audio horror, you know it’s just the movie that fucks with your head and it has you scanning every inch of the frame and there is a tripping with the atmosphere and characters and it has amazing monster design and mythology behind it that is just completely terrifying and it taps into the whole love craft thing, the fear of the unknown and it's just to me it’s the perfect horror movie.
Dante: The name is Dante, writer director from [indiscernible][0:17:55] productions. I remember Aliens, HBO or Cinemax, one of those two and I was at my aunt’s house and when it came on they showed like you know review before the movie and I looked at it and I looked at my mom and I said “Oh, can I watch it, can I watch it?” and she was always one of the people that when the guy would come out she would mark if there is nudity, there is too much profanity, or if there is violence and stuff like that, nope, nope, nope you can't watch that. But she looked at my aunt she goes, “Is there any nudity in this?” and she is like “No, it’s just you know a creature movie and more like a drama or anything like that”, “Is it okay for him to watch?”, “oh yeah, yeah”. She goes alright I am going to let you watch this and then if you do I don’t want to hear about it. I said like “Oh come on mom, I’m a man, I’m a man”. So I watch the movie and at the end of the movie she said alright, it’s bedtime and that’s when it got stone quiet in the room because I knew I had to go into a dark room by myself and I was like pretty freaked up for a long time because I swear I could hear the Alien crawling on the ground, crawling through the duct system, calling my name, coming to get me. But I survived the night, so that was awesome but after that there was one of those things where it’s like I don’t like these movies. I mean I always liked the old hammer movies and what not but they never had that type of intensity. And so as time went on I really got into like some of the gore films.
But like I remember the first time I saw The Evil Dead, and I was an altar boy, you know so growing up Catholic man I was just for watching this movie I am going to hell. [Soundtrack][0:19:30]. And it has been a great experience and I think I will be a horror fan till the day I die. [Soundtrack][0:19:40].
Ben Ragunton: My name is Ben Ragunton, I’m from Phoenix, Arizona, and I’m with the TG Geeks podcast and the very first scene that really freaked me out I must have been eight or nine years old and it was actually the James Well Frankenstein. There's a scene right after the monster is actually up, Dr. Frankenstein comes into the lab, sees him standing there and they did a really scary film technique where they do these little quick close-ups bang, bang, bang. So you see him almost you know half body up and you see shoulder up, then you see face up and its clip, clip, clip like that. And the way Boris Karloff was acting it without makeup really as a child freaked me out beyond belief, I mean I literally ran out of room into my bedroom. It just so terrified me. The very first thing that ever scared me in the films [Soundtrack][0:20:35].
Keith Lane: I am Keith Lane, I am from Phoenix, Arizona and I have a most memorable scary sequence and that was from The Dark Shadows movie and that was what 1970. [Soundtrack][0:20:55] Barnabas had taken the medicine that was supposed to cure him and they flashed that close up of his face. My sister and I we were at the Ritz theater which was fondly known as the rats because your feet stuck to the floor, it was one of those old vaudeville theaters converted to a movie theatre. We were sitting on the second or third row and we ran halfway up the isle when that flashed screaming like little girls, well my sister was little girl but, so was in 1970ish. And I think the first film that scared me was in the seventies on Mazeppa Pompazoidi’s uncanny film festival in camp meeting at midnight, it was the midnight creature feature and it was the Dracula film. I curled up in the fetal position on the couch because I was the only one up watching TV at that time. So that was two scarable memory moments [laughing][[Soundtrack][0:22:01].
Nick Reveles: I am Nick Reveles, I am the Director Of Education And Community Engagement at San Diego Opera. The first movie to really scare me was the first Hammer film “The Curse Of Frankenstein” [Soundtrack][0:22:30]. I was I believe eight and I didn't sleep for like two or three weeks but then it came out I think in the summer. So I was at summer school and I started drawing the creature over and over again, I sort of got used to him and got familiar with him and that sort of got me into horror. I just enjoyed the scare, the thrill, it was really cool. [Soundtrack][0:23:21] All of the pre creatures stuff that Peter Cushing as Dr. Frankenstein was doing in the lab but the other thing was just the makeup of the creature .It just scared me, the image, the icon, I mean I was sort of used to the old classic Frankenstein, I wasn't expecting that make up at all. It just did me in.
J.T. Seaton: Hello my name is J.T. Seaton and I am the writer director of The Peripheral. The first movie I remember scaring me was and it’s probably going to be cliché but the original Halloween. [Soundtrack][0:24:07]. I remember seeing the film and being so scared that when I went to bed that night I could literally see the outline of Michael Myers in my doorway and hear the breathing through the mask. That's how scared I was by that film, so that's my – that’s the first movie I remember really scaring me was John Carpenter’s the original Halloween. [Soundtrack][0:24:43].
Kevin: I am Kevin [indiscernible][0:24:52], I live at the Burbank and I am a horror fan and script reader and sometime writer. So the first film that I remember ever really scaring me believe it or not was the Exorcist because I saw it way too young and I had heard of it, I was maybe eight or nine years old. I was at a friend's house and we were being babysat, while our parents were out. It came on and I said “Oh we should check this movie out, this is supposed to be scary”. So it was me and another nine year old then the poor teenage girl who was babysitting us and shortly after we started the film we had the blanked laid out on the ground with two peaks in it so that we could duck and hide behind it when things got scary. And teenager was curled up tighter and tighter in the field [inaudible][0:25:31] couch and I remember at one point I had to turn off the sound because Mercedes McCambridge voice it just terrified so much. So we ended up half watching it silently for the rest of the evening and it just stayed with me since then. It’s still the scariest movie I have ever seen. [Soundtrack][0:25:49]
G.G.: Hi my name G.G. [indiscernible][0:25:54] I am here at Horrible Imaginings in San Diego. Man the first film that scared me, well, I was always really afraid of all the covers that I would see at blockbuster and the horror isle, I was so scared. But the first film that really scared me was of course the Exorcist. I was not allowed to watch it but then in Mexico it came out again re-mastered. I must’ve been only nine years old, so had new sound, new color, new scenes, so my mom was like okay, do you want to get scared, I’m going to take you so you can shut up because I was begging her to take me. And she is like fine I’m going to take you, so she took myself, my cousin, we were little and yeah traumatized the hell out of me. I am a huge believer in all that paranormal stuff, so that move made a huge impact on me and I don't think any film has done that to me since. I've been scared, I scream, I’ve squirmed but yeah, no Exorcist wins, 100%. [Soundtrack][0:26:54]. It was one of those films where it was so creepy from the beginning and it was so slow and it was a slow burner but just that imagery, and the dialogue and Linda Blair, I can see why her as a kid she went to a psychiatrist after – what she did was insane like yeah traumatizing. Everything about the film is so scary. They crossed that line you know, so yeah. I want to see more like that.
Jennifer McCleary: My name is Jennifer McCleary and the first movie I was scared of was the Exorcist and that bed scene where her head turns [Soundtrack][0:27:45]. I was about seven years old and I was shocked. And I think it was one of those moments where I've truthfully put my hands over my eyes and screamed. I had to watch it over and over again though later on even through my teenage years just to be like alright I got to see that again and I didn't think that priests could do stuff like that. It really made me think about probably my belief system in some form or fashion, and that maybe stop and think that maybe folks could actually be taken over by demons and that kind of freaked me out in a way where I wanted to search into that more which I still do to this day.
Amy Bossler: My name is Amy Bossler, I am the Executive Director of the regional Emmys in San Diego and the first horror movie that I saw I begged my father to take me to see the Exorcist because my older brother and sister had seen it and I was in second grade. And pestering prevailed over good parenting. The pea soup kind of started it, the green barf even though my dad said “Oh, it's just a special effect, it’s just pea soup”, the bed shaking and everything like that really horrified me. I couldn't go to sleep without my dad sitting next to me for about two months. It didn’t help that I shared a room with my sister, my sister thought it was really funny to shake the bed and pretend like you know the devil was coming after us, I have never seen it again. I don’t think I could actually sit through it again because I think my reaction was just so strong. I don't think even though I know [indiscernible][0:29:47] I still don’t think I could sit through it because just the emotions that it would bring up would be so strong I don’t think I could -- I probably wouldn’t sleep again for like another six months if I saw it again.
Beth Accamando: And to go out here is Director Guillermo Del Toro, his Gothic romance “Crimson Peak” just opened. He talks about being scared not by a film but by a TV show.
Guillermo Del Toro: What happened is when I was a kid the first time I saw any lasting image of horror was through a TV program called The Outer Limits. [Soundtrack][0:30:23]. After seeing that program I unfortunately [inaudible][ 0:30:33] terribly by my brother and I peed on my bed. It was actually my crib and then after that night I started seeing monsters in my room. Every time I see the monsters in my room I wanted to go to the bathroom and I couldn’t so I ended up being in my crib again and my mother started punishing me. One night I just stood in my crib and told the monsters in my room if they allowed me to go to pee, I would be their friend for the rest of my life and that’s how I fell in love with monsters.
Beth Accamando: Once again it seems like it's not always a bad thing for a child to be scared by a movie or TV show. Thanks for listening to the KPBS Cinema Junkie Podcast. As I close I want you to think about the first film that scared you and share your memories with me on my cinema junkie blog at kpbs.org/cinema junkie. I'll be heading off to Wales next week for the Abattoir Horror Film Festival and hope to snag a few podcast interviews for you, but I might not be hitting the regular Thursday and Friday posting times, so please be patient and keep checking back for some horrific fun.
Satisfy your celluloid addiction with the Cinema Junkie podcast, where you can mainline film 24/7. This film and entertainment series is run by KPBS Film Critic Beth Accomando. So if you need a film fix, want to hear what filmmakers have to say about their work, or just want to know what's worth seeing this weekend, then you've come to the right place