My father not only enjoyed reading, but he also loved to go to the movies. I still remember viewing Shane with him. Alan Ladd was one of his favorite actors and Daddy loved the story which he talked about long after we had seen the flick. One of the last movies I watched with him was The Mountain with Spencer Tracy, perhaps my father’s all time favorite actor. We had also seen The Old Man and the Sea together and while that should have been a painfully slow film for a child my father’s enthusiasm for the artistry somehow translated to me and I have always cherished the profundity of that moment that I shared with him.
Daddy was a man of many interests which was reflected in his reading habits. One of his volumes was filled with the horrors that came from the mind of Edgar Allen Poe. My father not only enjoyed reading such stories but also liked movies that were scary. Being a bit more protective of my psyche, my mother insisted that he not expose me to such things lest my little mind would not be capable of dealing with fright. Eventually my dad convinced Mama that a monster movie would be okay. He reasoned that I was bright enough to understand that imaginary creatures were not real and that such creations of the mind were simply good fun. So my parents took me to see Godzilla.
Daddy had explained that people had somehow imagined dragons and non-existent creatures for all time. He told me about Loch Ness and insisted that any so called sightings of the strange animal had been faked. We laughed as he showed me stories about Big Foot and then recalled the story of King Kong. He did his best to rationally prepare me for yet another silly story about a nonexistent creature that we would soon enjoy at the movies. I thought I was totally ready for the event and my father was more than sure that I would be able to handle the story without fear.
Things began well but soon I felt my little heart pounding and creeping into my throat as Godzilla terrorized the places and the characters in the movies. It seemed more real than make believe and I had never in my life felt so scared. I was determined not to visibly show my real feelings because I did not want my mother to become angry with Daddy for subjecting me to such a thing. I knew that she would remind him that she had thought that I was too young and impressionable for the intensity of the movie even thought he had tried so hard to prepare me with logic and truth about so-called monsters. I laughed nervously when I wanted to scream. I closed my eyes when the images were too difficult to absorb. I somehow found courage to be steadfast even though I really wanted to cry and beg my mother to take me from the theater. When it was finally over I managed to smile weakly and proclaim that the movie had been great fun.
My mother watched me closely and seemed certain that I was covering up my fears but she kept quiet as we drove home. I never told her how I really felt but as I lay in my bed in the quiet and darkness of our house that evening I did not want to close my eyes lest I see the horrific creature from the movie once again. Somehow sleep eventually overtook my attempts to stay awake and to my surprise did not lead to nightmares or visits from Godzilla to my bedroom.
Once I had made it past that first night I seemed to be a changed person. I spoke of the movie with my father and even admitted to him how scared I had actually been at times. We laughed about how real the monster had seemed to be and Daddy spoke of camera tricks and makeup that made it all feel so possible. He asked if I was really okay and I assured him that not only was I good but I found myself looking forward to many more forays with stories of horror much like riding on a terrifying roller coaster again and again.
I have to admit that some of my favorite movies are those that scare to the point of being almost breathless. My brain tells me that they are fiction but some part of my mind gets so involved that I almost feel as though I am one of the characters fighting for my life. I feel the danger in the tightening of my chest as my heart beats ever more quickly. I jump in my seat and find myself almost gasping for breath. Somehow the thrill of it all is mesmerizing, addictive and so strange. It would make more sense for me to avoid purposely scaring myself but maybe my father was right when he told me that we humans have been telling frightening tales from the beginning of time and somehow still finding such moments entertaining. Perhaps it is our need to allow the demons inside our imaginations to run free lest keeping them inside might drive us to madness.
Even my husband is sometimes baffled by my attraction to horror. It seems out of place with my general character and tendency to be cautious. I suspect that somehow I see it as yet another link with my father and a kind of proof that I can be brave when I need to be. Watching horror films is a kind of practice for facing fears and a way of enjoying the amazing variety of our human minds. I’m always ready to grab some popcorn and a Diet Coke and sit shivering in the dark when the monsters appear on the screen. I almost hear my father marveling at the really great stories and fabulous camera work and telling me how they managed to put it all together. We share a wink and pretend that we were never scared at all.