The movie remake of Stephen King’s ‘It’ has been all over the interwebs for weeks, with the movie finally opening last week to record setting earnings. I never saw the original ‘It’ TV movie starring Tim Curry (say what you will about his iconic roles in ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’, ‘Clue’ and It, but I will also love him most as the Grand Wizard of HBO’s 1986 Worst Witch movie), but I am intimately acquainted with the creepy visage of its sewer-dwelling titular character. This and the sick reality of John Wayne Gacy are single handily responsible for my fear of clowns and I’m sure many people can relate. But child-eating and serial killing clowns were only about 1/8 of my childhood nightmares. The world delivers many, many other opportunities to terrorize the minds of helpless children. I’d like to share a few:
*Denotes things that my brothers specifically weaponized against me per their required duties as sadistic older siblings
**Denotes things that still make me uncomfortable to this day
The Leo the Trash Lion in Kiddieland: Seriously? Who’s idea was this? What kid didn’t think that the lion was going to “accidentally” eat their hand? Although the video shows that he specifically says he doesn’t eat kids, the whole thing is so creepy, no kid really hears that part. And that’s a little too long of a monologue. Just say you eat paper–damn! Was this a payback for parents who had to forgo their own fun to watch their kids cautiously ride rides that go 2 MPH? And it doesn’t even look like a lion! It looks like a wild-eyed, satanic bear.
*Large whale replica at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History: Extremely large replicas of animals and humans alike (see: statues) have always and continue to unnerve me. One of my brothers’ crowning achievements in their endeavors to traumatize me was telling me that the whale told them that he specifically ate little girls named Shanna. Needless to say, my mother had to usher a near hysterical child through the museum for the rest of our visit.
**Larges statues/Statue Faces: In my attempts to pinpoint the origin of this fear, I am lead back to 1981’s Clash of the Titans movie. A movie I watched at the behest of who, you ask? My brothers. Le sigh. Anyway, there is a scene in the movie where Queen Cassiopeia compares Princess Andromeda’s beauty to that of the goddess Thetis. Thetis does not take kindly to this comparison and shows herself and her righteous indignation by having the head of a HUGE statue of herself fall off. Promptly upon landing on the ground, the head “awakens” to curse Andromeda and sentences her to be sacrificed for her mother’s crime of vanity and sacrilege. The fear has stuck with me for all of these years. It’s really inconvenient. It makes museum exploration and sightseeing, which I love, intermittently uncomfortable. I think the worst experience was when I visited New York City for my first college Spring Break. My friends and I visited the Statue of Liberty and went all the way up to her crown to see the magnificent city skyline. I was uneasy when we were walking up the steps just behind her face, but I preoccupied myself by talking to my friends and not looking directly at it. Anyway, upon our descent to the museum store, I somehow lost my friends. As I turned around to look for them, I came face-to-face with the statue’s GIGANTIC previous face. During the monument’s renovations in the 80’s, her face was replaced and someone thought it would be a great idea to mount her old face to a wall. No. I turned around in what seemed like slow motion and ran outside. I’ve been to NYC many times since then and I refuse to return to the SOL.
**Egyptian Museum Artifacts: Museum/Monument terror makes yet a third appearance on this list. It is my cross to bear in this life, I suppose (FUN FACT: I was obsessed with dinosaurs between the ages of 5-7, so I’ve never had a problem with large dinosaur statues–weird). This fear is two-fold; one is obviously the size of many of the statutes, i.e. more large faces. The second is mummies. Like, REAL, well-preserved, ancient dead people are in those beautiful sarcophagi. Hell to the no, to the no, no, no. To this day, I cannot visit this part of the museum alone, and I will talk non-stop as a means of self-soothing, kind of like how kids stick their fingers in their ears and chant “Lalalalala!”. #Lifehacks. Once again, I blame cinema and its obsession with turning seemingly harmless and static relics into bloodthirsty monstrosities. I was only able to watch the Night at the Museum movies because the artifacts were overtly benevolent or at least amusingly comedic, but I find the idea alone of things coming alive at night chilling.
Miami Vice: Watching the original, Jheri-curled version (shout out to Philip Michael Thomas) Miami Vice was a family night event when I was growing up. Sadly, the only episode I remember is the one where Tubb’s girlfriend dies in a booby-trapped car explosion. I just remember experiencing shock and disbelief by the depravity of the crime and that it could actually happen. Years later, watching a similar scene in my favorite movie ‘The Godfather’ only aroused momentary sympathy for my anti-hero Michael Corleone. #Growth…or #desensitization. You decide.
Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ song/video: This one was a doozy. When this phenomenon dropped, there was no escaping it. One time when the video was on the TV in my house, I vividly remember running into the kitchen and sticking my fingers in my ears so I wouldn’t hear the creepy monologue. I did the same thing at Hills when the video department was playing it on a loop. And once again when my dad gave me the opportunity of a lifetime to see MJ in concert at the Civic Arena in the early 90’s.
*Basements: This is a childhood fear staple– dark, subterranean fear factories basically. My family did not jump on the furnished basement bandwagon. Our original basement was a dank, cement floored, mold-proliferating laundry room, storage space, older brother torture chamber and when I was brave and it was still daylight outside (it had a few windows), a decent hide-and-seek space.
*Bullfighting portrait in my grandparent’s bedroom: This time, my brothers united with my cousins to convince me that the bullfighter in the portrait above my grandparents’ bed was actually a picture of THE Boogeyman. And much like statues, in my mind, it could come alive and jump out of that picture and snatch me at any time. Whenever my grandmother asked me to retrieve something from her room–which was often– I would do it as fast as I could, my heart pounding, while averting my eyes or contorting my body to avoid looking at it.
Shanna K Houser Contributor to Urban Media Today