Sunday, August 21, 2016

Zombified? Count Me Out

Scary movies scare me; don’t judge. Dolls that come alive. People drifting in the universe on a space ship infiltrated by aliens that systematically kill them. Creatures with extra appendages in the attic. Slime oozing from the lighting fixtures. Ominous communications with the dead. Eerie organ music emanating from the dishwasher. Unlit basements with drippy sounds. A strange face appearing suddenly at the window in the dead of night. Monsters under the bed. Inexplicable vaguely malevolent phenomena. Supernatural encounters. Evil Martians with bad hair, extra eyes, and extreme weapons. I can’t handle any of that stuff.

When Ron took me to see the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, I hid my eyes through almost the entire film. (The only reason I went was that it was filmed in San Francisco and we had friends who worked on the film sets.) “Now what’s happening?” I kept asking him, and he would describe the scene in gory detail, until the guy sitting behind me exclaimed in exasperation, “Lady, just look at it.”

A few weeks ago my sons recommended a Netflix sci-fi/supernatural/soft-horror web series they liked called Stranger Things (produced by the Duffer Brothers). They know I love sci-fi but that horror scares me. My youngest son reassured me that it’s not that scary, more of a sci-fi thriller than horror. I was skeptical. “Oh don’t be a baby, Mom,” he emailed me. “Just watch it. It’s good.” When Ron watched it to vet it for me, I could hear the music and sound effects from the other room. I thought the music was pretty scary.

Although I consider The Sixth Sense (M. Night Shyamalan) an excellent film, I never should have watched it. It came out in 1999, and it took me until about 2012 to be able to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night without turning all the lights on. Remember that scene when Haley Joel Osment goes to the bathroom in the middle of the night and a dead person flickers past behind him, flitting into the kitchen? Heart-stopping! One of Ron’s favorite movies is the very first Alien (Ridley Scott). He says it’s a classic and is a brilliant piece of filmmaking; and he can critique its merits for hours like only a guy with a degree in film can. You wouldn’t catch me within 50 miles of that film. I saw a picture, by accident, of Alien-star Sigourney Weaver with one of the sets for the film in the background, and was so traumatized that I couldn’t watch anything starring Sigourney until she did Galaxy Quest in 1999. Since that’s my favorite movie, I think it’s safe to say that I have recovered from my Sigourney Phobia. But, to be honest, in 1999 I graduated from my fear of Alien to leaving the lights on at night when going to the bathroom because of Sixth Sense.

I don’t get why people want to watch a movie to scare themselves. I spend a lot of time talking myself out of being terrified in this horrifying world in which we live. It baffles me why anyone finds it exciting to watch teenagers have their car break down in the middle of the night in fog that growls. Or animated mannequins wielding meat cleavers. Or slime-oozing evil from outer space stalking government officials. Or small children following instructions from distorted static voices emanating from the toaster telling them to murder their parents. Or unexplained flashing lights in the garage swallowing up the neighbors’ dogs. Eek. I’m scaring myself.

Ron says that people who watch horror movies don’t get scared, though. He says it’s funny, often campy, and that people who like horror films aren’t fooled by the stage blood and hair-raising soundtrack. I can sort of understand that. I can usually handle goofy space aliens, zombified people if they aren’t gruesome or bloody, spirit communications (as long as any ghosts look 90% lively and have no open wounds on them), and even animated kitchen appliances that run amok as long as they don’t murder anyone. It’s hard for me to define the moment when, for me, images cross the line from hilarious and firmly implausible to alarming and too real. I don’t do gore. I don’t even do implied gore. Period. It does not amuse me. I don’t watch violent films and, no matter how terrific the film or its message or whatever. I refuse to subject myself to violent images. They are not entertaining or educational. I just say no to torture, rape, murder, abuse, or people being force-fed beets.

My problem is probably that I have a ridiculously active imagination. Ron says the actual film image is usually nowhere near as horrifying as what I imagine. But I don’t want any of those images in my psyche. When my children were very young, they were afraid of scary movies too. We could be afraid and practice avoidance together. That lasted for about fifteen minutes. While I hid under the table until I was twelve years old whenever the Wicked Witch of the West or the flying monkeys appeared in The Wizard of Oz, my daughter laughed her way through that film before she had reached the tender age of three. She wanted the ruby slippers and Glinda’s dress, and she wasn’t intimidated by a woman in green-face who had no fashion sense. One of my sons was afraid of department store mannequins until he was four years old. He outgrew that, but I’m still afraid of them. Have you noticed that these days mannequins often don’t have faces on them? (Shivers.)

Ron waits for our children to come home to visit to watch horror movies. I guess it’s more fun to be horrified together with other people. They stay up late at night together after I go to bed watching, and they laugh their heads off. Well, not literally, because then they would be headless. At least I don’t think they do. Are my family members zombies? I don’t want to know. I’m hiding my eyes right now. People who eat actual food can’t be zombie, right? I mean, zombies eat other zombies, chainsaws, babies, small dogs, and beets, right? I have never seen a zombie eat. Does a normal person turn into a zombie if they witness a zombie eating?

Life is already too frightening and creepy, full of bad stuff happening to people, to pile on arbitrary fabricated images of pain and woe. We live in a mysterious world where inexplicable things happen, particularly to people like me who have little or no grasp of fundamental physics. So please help me out here and have a little understanding. Don’t tell me to just look when a scary being with ill intent is waving around a small animal impaled on a weapon or revealing a large mouth full of metallic pointy teeth or lovingly stroking a fat red beet. 

I was going to put an image of zombies, 
but they were too scary, so I chose this classic instead.

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