My mom is the queen of inappropriate when it comes to allowing children to watch horror movies and television. On her most recent visit, she waited for me to leave the room so she and the kids could tune into a ghost hunting show. My kids slept with me for the next two nights.
One of my earliest childhood memories of terror is a slumber party when I was about eight or nine. Several of my friends gathered in the living room around the TV, watching Friday the 13th. My mom hovered by the window and finally pulled back the curtains. She told us all to look, and we didn’t think to question her. A man with a pillowcase on his head and an axe jumped against the window. Lots of preadolescent screaming ensued. I’m almost positive none of my friends came back for another stay over. We didn’t finish the movie either. I really don’t think my parents had any intention of letting us see the entire film. It was a setup for the big scare.
The “Jason” window attacker was my dad. He’d snuck out the back window dressed in overalls and a pillow case with holes cut out for the eyes. That’s how committed my parents were to scaring us–he actually climbed out a window. If you know your Friday the 13th movies, you’ll know that Jason didn’t make an appearance in the first movie with the pillowcase hoodie, but my parents were more concerned with scare factor than accuracy. Good thing YouTube didn’t exist yet. I’m sure they’d have been a hit. To this day I don’t press my face against a window when I hear a noise. I call this real life Horror 101 survival knowledge.
I’d like to say this is an isolated incident of inappropriate behavior from my parents, but the scares kept coming. There was the time they allowed my brother and me to watch Piranha II: The Spawning. My older brother had to sleep with the lights on for a week with fear of flying piranhas swimming in his dreams. I have not seen the movie in over 20 years, and I can still remember the beach attack scene.
Fast forward to being a teen when my mom rented Leprechaun and forced me to watch it with her. Then she got up during the middle of the movie and went to bed. Thanks to the tricycle coming out of the barn scene, neither of my kids has ever owned one. Tricycles are creepy.
I’d also like to say these incidents as a kid have not affected me as a grown-up, but obviously that’s a lie. I don’t mind suspense in movies or television, but I don’t do well with horror. I’m definitely not a fan of gore. Interestingly enough, my brother now loves it.
I try not to criticize my mom for being an inappropriate scarer. She and my dad have always loved Halloween and pulling scary pranks. They’ve enjoyed a few non-movie related Halloween pranks as well. There was the time my dad built a small coffin out of plywood. He painted it black and on Halloween put me inside it with the candy bowl. Looking back, being in the coffin was great. Assuming I was a doll, the older kids had to reach in for their candy and I’d open my eyes and say boo. We were the talk of the neighborhood for months.
The last great Halloween prank happened when I was 15. I had a Halloween party with school friends, and after we’d already performed a cheesy candle seance asking for ghosts to appear, my parents drove us out to an old cemetery. My parents’ friends hid in the bushes covered in white sheets. When we walked by, they jumped out. The prank was simple, yet effective. My friends pushed me down and ran over me to get back to the car. I peed my pants. You’d think other parents would wag their fingers at such behavior, but even the local police department had given my parents the approval to take us out there with the caveat we didn’t disturb or disrespect any graves.
I say I don’t criticize or condemn my parents, but that doesn’t mean I approve of their antics. These are stunts I’d never pull on my kids. Fear is not fun. However, I may be in the minority. There are many adults and children who enjoy the thrill of being scared. An interesting article in The Atlantic explores the science behind those who enjoy a good thrill. In the article Dr. Margee Kerr, a sociologist, says,
Not everyone enjoys being afraid, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that no one wants to experience a truly life-threatening situation. But there are those of us (well, a lot of us) who really enjoy the experience.
Dr. Kerr goes on to say that brain chemicals could be the difference between those who enjoy a good scare and those of us that don’t. The most interesting to me is the reasons she lists behind scaring,
Humans have been scaring themselves and each other since the birth of the species, through all kinds of methods like storytelling, jumping off cliffs, and popping out to startle each other from the recesses of some dark cave. And we’ve done this for lots of different reasons—to build group unity, to prepare kids for life in the scary world, and, of course, to control behavior.
I don’t think any of this applies to my parents. I believe they did it all for the laughs—their own twisted humor while not realizing the lasting effects scary situations can have on kids. Some will say it’s a parenting fail, but to keep a good relationship with my parents I’m just going to call it their bad and try to realize that even without their pranks, it’s possible my brain may be chemically wired to never have enjoyed scary movies and scary situations to begin with.