Imagination

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Just for fun I recently watched an old Vincent Price movie, House on Haunted Hill. I told my husband that I remember seeing it at a local movie theater back when I was a kid. Every Saturday the theater hosted a “Fun Club” that featured games, cartoons and movies. One Saturday the film they showed was House on Haunted Hill and I remember feeling terrified as I watched it. I wanted to see how it held up as a thriller over sixty years later. 

Aside from the horrific acting and slow moving story there was very little to recommend to anyone who might want to watch something scary. I had a difficult time imagining why I had been so frightened when I watched this as a child. It was so hokey that I find it difficult to think that anybody would find the story to be spine-chilling, but it was definitely horrifying in the sense that not much about it was entertaining. Even the ending was flat. 

I grew up on a dose of Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. My cousins and I got together whenever our parents were playing cards. While they were occupied we quietly watched whatever we wanted to see. Of course we chose the scary shows over those that were more child friendly. We’d sit in the dark staring at the flickering of the black and white images on the screen. The stories on those shows were amazing and unforgettable. Great writing and a modicum of good acting made such a difference. That’s why those shows are classics.

Modern day horror films are so creative that they put me into a state of extreme anxiety. I literally worry about the safety of the characters and jump at every sound and shadow. Sometimes I can hardly breathe as the action unfolds. Twists and turns of plot are shocking and even the endings are often a total surprise. Is it possible that human imaginations are actually better than they once were or is it the visuals that are better? 

I never cease to be amazed by the stories that screen writers and novelists create. Not only am I hooked on certain plots from beginning to end, but I find myself feeling a kind of awe that someone is capable of writing such tales. I suspect that I have indeed come to expect more and more from entertainment, but over and over again there are geniuses who surpass what I had hoped to see. I wonder where these ideas originate.

Long ago I decided to write a murder mystery. Mine was about a serial killer who was traveling up and down an interstate highway abducting and killing young girls. He had a certain physical type that he hunted and even though the deaths piled up, he was cunning enough not to be caught or leave clues that might implicate him. Without revealing who this person was I wrote general descriptions of the thoughts going through the his mind. I had to become that monster as I described the evil that coursed through his brain. It was mentally exhausting and I literally had to cease my writing after a time because I began to feel untethered. My story telling sessions became too painful to continue. I threw my manuscript away. 

I’ve read that really talented writers sometimes become so involved in their stories that they begin to lose their hold on reality. They literally get carried away by their imaginations. I found that to be debilitating when I was penning my mystery. I wonder if I would have done better if I had created a happy inspiring character and story rather than a tale of evil. If such a story is the creation of someone else I am able to distance myself, but to write about violence and killing I have to imagine the tiny details of both the victims and the evil doers. Such exercises make me feel as vile as the make believe that I am attempting to describe.

As a teen I really enjoyed reading Agatha Christie mysteries. They were more cerebral and investigative. Solving the puzzle of the crime was the goal. I liked those very much, but I learned that even Ms. Christie had some quirky behaviors that made her a bit of a mystery herself. I wonder if writing so many of those tales had the same kind of effect on her as my one foray into murder did with me. Maybe it is such a taboo topic that it is best left alone. Not even the imagination should go to certain places. 

I’d no doubt do well to write a few scripts for Hallmark movies, but where is the challenge in that? A friend and I once created an entire outline for such a story in about fifteen minutes as we sat around his pool sipping on wine. I am convinced that our tale would be embraced by those who enjoy such things, but somehow it felt as trite and silly as that old Vincent Price movie that was only scary to a child. 

I’d like to create an idyllic world but something would have to happen there for anyone to be interested in reading about it or watching it on a screen. I’m searching for a remarkable idea like the plot of Field of Dreams. Now that was imagination at its best! I haven’t thought of anything to equal it yet, but I am working on it.

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