We’d adjusted the aluminum foil on the antennae to reduce the static. We peered through the den’s darkness. The television glowed, reflecting off our faces. My older brother and I sat on the sofa, unable to look away. Our hands dug sightlessly into the popcorn bowl and made the trip to and from our mouths by rote.
On screen, Frankenstein’s creature trudged across the countryside on unwieldy legs. It grunted and groaned and scowled and loomed and did the things beasts do. Then the monster emerged from the woods and moved toward its victim. It closed its fingers around a woman’s neck, squelching her screams and squeezing off her head.
The horror of the scene seared into my brain. I will never be able to erase it. My brother says the same black-and-white images lurk behind his eyes, too. He can’t shake them.
I want my children to have memories like that. I want them to be haunted by the screeches of the bodyless woman in The Brain That Wouldn’t Die and to lie in bed at night replaying The Killer Shrews attacking.
I kicked off October with The Mummy’s Curse from the ’40s. It has the classic horror genre elements. An ugly ancient mummy seeks to reunite with his stunning mummy princess. Dragging a foot, his right arm clenched across his chest, his left hand extended in a strangulation grasp, the awkward mummy keeps pace with the sprinting woman, who heads straight for the desolate swamp at night. Characters go alone to investigate strange sounds. Unsuspecting nonvictims are oblivious to the mummy’s presence, though he comes within inches of them.
My pulse raced. This was good stuff. This was the flavor of fear.
The next morning, I entered my children’s rooms dragging a foot, clutching one arm to my chest and reaching toward them with the other.
They got out of their beds and proceeded with the morning routine as usual, so I tried again in the kitchen when they came to breakfast.
That night, I exposed them to the 1960 Village of the Damned. It opens with characters dropping to the ground in death poses. “The acting is good so far,” said my supportive husband. This picture features a beautiful woman, an unattractive man in a bad suit, and blonde children with bowl cuts who read minds. Adults who know better look into the children’s white eyes and then do self-destructive things such as run their cars into brick walls or shoot themselves in the head or light themselves on fire. The gore is left to the viewer’s imagination.
“Classic,” I said when the final credits rolled.
Thursday morning, I stared into my children’s eyes over French toast. “Mama,” the middle boy said, “you’re not scaring us.”
Thursday night I announced that I’d made the evening’s selection: The Last Man on Earth. Exasperated, my daughter asked, “Is this one black-and-white? What year was it made?” She didn’t appreciate what I was doing for her, but she would. I would make sure of that. No child can resist vampire zombies.
After she went to bed, I stood outside her bedroom door and whispered in the strained chords of Vincent Price’s un-dead wife, “Let me in. Let me in. Let me in.” My oldest child got up and clicked his door shut. My husband called out, “Huh? Do what?”
Defeated, I climbed under the covers. My beloved turned over to face me and said, “We can’t do this every night.” I fell asleep ruminating on ladies’ heads popping off, disturbed that my children weren’t. Neither Frankenstein nor, I guessed, parenting would be this hard.
(Lucy Adams is the author of The Beast of Blue Mountain. She lives in Thomson. E-mail Lucy at firstname.lastname@example.org.)