I love movies. I was always an avid reader, so I’ve always appreciated a good story in any form. And even though it’s dwindling in popularity with the onset of Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming apps, I love the experience of going to the movies.
On the big screen, I get to witness a story brought to life through the talent of the director, the actors and actresses, and the entire production crew. The first movie I saw in the theater was at the age of four, when my Mom and I saw The Adventures of Milo & Otis. I was in awe; of how big the people in the movie looked on the giant screen, of how much popcorn was in this paper carton tub we’d purchased at the concession counter, of the sounds and the flashing lights of the previews. And at four years old, thanks to Milo & Otis, I experienced the unlikely: a dog befriending a cat. At the end of the movie, I loved pets even more than I had in the beginning, and I couldn’t wait until we returned home so I could hug my dog, Chelsea. In that first-time theater movie experience, I felt happy.
The Power of Groups
Growing up, I continued going to the movies, and these movies left me with many different emotions: joy, sadness, anger, love.
But I learned the hard way to avoid one emotion in particular: fear.
At that age when parents started taking their kids to PG-13 screenings, some of my friends saw Freddy Krueger. My Mom was horrified, stating that there was no way she’d be taking my siblings and I to see that. While I probably was too young for that movie at the time, I later learned that my Mom also dislikes experiencing fear during movies.
My friends spent the entire lunch period, for weeks after seeing Freddy Krueger, talking about things I’d never heard of: a gloved hand with razors, a burnt face, people dying in their sleep.
As an 8-year-old, I was pretty creeped out, but I was also intrigued.
A Delayed Reaction
So, at a family party months later, when I passed by my older cousins while getting a Sprite from the basement and saw Freddy Krueger’s mask on the screen, I stayed.
It was fascinating, seeing my friends’ stories of a twisted face and a clawed hand come to life. There was more blood than I’d ever seen in a movie that wasn’t a cartoon, and the whole movie seemed to be shot at night.
Surrounded by my cousins and their friends, eating pretzels and drinking Sprite, I was surprised to find that I wasn’t scared.
But later that night, lying in my bed back home, the memories of the 10 minutes I’d spent in front of that screen returned. And they were scary. I was too afraid to fall asleep for fear that I’d have a dream where someone killed me, like the kids in the movie. I was too afraid to stay awake for fear that someone with a mask was next to my window, or outside my door, or under my bed. Sounds that I’d normally hear outside my bedroom (which I actually shared with my sister, which meant that I wasn’t alone) were amplified. Footsteps in the bathroom. The faucet turning on. The bathroom door opening. I kept imagining that these were the sounds of Freddy Krueger himself, that’d he’d someone found our house and was here to terrorize me and my sister.
My imagination was running wild.
Unable to sleep, I ended up sleeping in my parents’ bed for weeks. Eventually, I ended up in my sister’s twin bed, unable to sleep in my own bed even when there was someone else in the room.
Different Movie, Same Imagination
Months went by, and I’d watched enough movies and read enough books to be able to sleep in my own bed and forget about Freddy Krueger.
Until I watched another horror movie.
There was Scream. And The Blair Witch Project. And I Still Know What You Did Last Summer.
I never watched any of these movies in the theater. It was always at a friends’ house, at a birthday sleepover or at a party after a school dance.
And every single time, the same pattern of events unfolded: I watched the movie and convinced myself, surrounded by my friends, that I wasn’t scared; I returned home, and the memories of the movie I’d watched the night before returned; I imagined the same things that happened in the movie happening to me; I couldn’t sleep; I avoided horror movies for weeks/months.
After several attempts at watching horror movies, I couldn’t sleep had turned into I couldn’t sleep without the light on, I couldn’t take a shower without the door open, and even I couldn’t be in my room by myself. I was becoming paralyzed by the fear that these movies caused me to feel, and my imagination was getting more creative.
A Pattern Broken
The Sixth Sense was the last straw. I was just shy of 15 years old, and everyone was seeing this movie. It was all anyone talked about at school. It had a cult-like following, with people quoting entire scenes and seeing the movie in the theater multiple times.
Intentionally not seeing it in the theater, I waited until it was on VHS to watch it. One night, my best friend and I holed up in her parents’ family room with buttered popcorn, Mountain Dew, and Keebler Elf sandwich cookies. We kept all of the lights on, and her Mom watched the movie with us. Her Mom kept all of the lights on the in the adjacent kitchen, as well.
I was absolutely terrified.
Disclaimer: I am actually scared now, remembering how scared I was by this movie.
The previews had scared me, so I’m not sure why I’d let a cultural calling overshadow the fact that I was going to be absolutely terrified of this movie.
Ironically, my fiancée loves horror movies, and as a film teacher, he often cites The Sixth Sense as a “classic American horror film,” in his classes.
I believe that the subject, combined with the fact that it was so well done, made The Sixth Sense an inevitably bad choice for me to watch. Blame in on the unknown and often unseen, but the subject of ghosts is the one that terrifies me the most in horror movies. And then, there’s the fact that the movie is clearly set in Philadelphia, my hometown.
I was afraid to be alone for months. I slept in my sister’s twin bed for a month. I refused to use the bathroom or the shower with the door closed. At school, if there wasn’t someone else in the girls’ bathrooms, I just waited.
As a 15-year-old, you’re not exactly a child anymore. In Pennsylvania, you’ll be getting your driver’s permit, and then your license, soon. You’ll be able to vote in a few years. You’re just a few years shy of starting college.
I still felt like a child, but without realizing it, I made a very adult decision after watching The Sixth Sense, the kind where you decide to do something for yourself even if it’s a different decision than everyone else’s.
I decided to stop watching horror movies.