19 September 2012

it knows what scares you.

2. Poltergeist (1982)

In the summer of 1982, I was ten years old. My father—undeterred by the clamorous warnings in the media that the film was too frightening for children (despite its PG-rating)—dragged me to see Poltergeist with him. This, you must understand, was the modus operandi with my parents. If they wanted to see a particular movie and had nobody else to go with, I was either tricked or strong-armed into accompanying them and, thus, for the sake of two hours of cheap entertainment my fragile psyche was scarred for life. (Thanks, Dad.) 

My mother simply refused to see horror films, and because she was an adult, this disinclination was generally respected and codified into family law. The preferences of a ten-year-old boy, on the other hand, are swatted away as easily as a gnat. At first, my father tried a little persuasion—to prime the pump, as it were: he would remind me that Steven Spielberg had his hand in this movie—and that was the same guy who made Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T.—which were movies I loved. Of course, his logic was spurious, but he capitalized on the fact that I wasn't the debating powerhouse that you see before you today. Still, I remained leery... Eventually, my father got tired of the appeasement route, and one day he just told me that we were going. Case closed. Fast forward to me a few hours later: sitting in a cavernous, old-school movie theater, watching an evil toy clown assault an eight-year-old boy in his own bedroom. (Yes—in his own bedroom!)

This incident is but one ingredient comprising the psychological goulash that is the David of Today. To be honest, Poltergeist didn't leave any lasting scars because—even at the time—it wasn't that scary (except for that demonic clown, of course). Sure, I was probably scared while I was in the theater, but once I was in out in the bright June sunlight, my fears were mostly dispelled and I went back to worrying about death in general, my default angst.

Watching Poltergeist last night—for the first time since the 1980s, I think—flooded me with memories. In the end, it became more of a bittersweet experience than a thrilling one. For an hour and fifty-odd minutes, I felt exactly like I did on those Saturday afternoons in the early '80s—when my father and I would fortify ourselves with Sno-Caps and popcorn and hunker down in a frigid theater for a summer tent-pole movie (before they were known as tent-pole movies, of course). One thing I remembered—or seemed to, anyway—was how those two hours were the whole world while you were watching. School, teachers, chores, bullies—all of it vanished and the ever-present nowness of the experience overtook you.  It reminded me that, as children, we usually lived in the moment. We weren't obsessing over the past or wondering about the future. The whole world was there—on that movie screen.

The thought of living that way now as an adult is both appealing and frightening to me. On the one hand, I want to let go of it all—and to experience the fullness of the present—but on the other hand, in order to do that, I would have to relinquish control. I would have to trust that today was good enough and surrender my tight grip on tomorrow. I don't know that I'm quite ready to do that—or ever will be—but maybe remembering what it was like, if only for a little while, is the best I can hope for. 


  1. And here I was thinking that all children worried terribly about the future.
    No wonder I was such a nervous ass.

    The scariest thing from my childhood (other than life itself, of course) was that
    evil looking thing from Trilogy of Terror and Tunneler from Puppet Master.
    I haven't trusted dolls since.

    1. Yes, puppets and clowns... always fodder for childhood nightmares. There was another puppet-related horror flick called Magic (with Anthony Hopkins), I believe.

  2. I recall a scene with a guy ripping his own face off too. I'm pretty sure it was the same film. I think that impressed me more than the clown.

    I don't recall the specifics, but I believe the film also reinforced (or started, who knows?) my general distaste for Craig T. Nelson.

    1. Yes! The face-ripping scene! That was very memorable--but more just gory than actually scary. (When I rewatched it, I was surprised how cheesy the face-ripping looked. But then again... it was 30 years ago.)

      Yeah, I was never a Craig T. Nelson fan. But what the hell ever happened to Jobeth Williams?

  3. I saw this in the theater when it came out. Scarred me for life.