Monday, October 10, 2005


Most everybody likes a good Scary Movie every so often, including me. But there was a time when I avoided them like the plague.

Roll the clock back to 1960, deep in my Snot-Nose Days. As a seven-going-on-eight-year-old, I was cursed with an overactive imagination. One of the things that got my imagination jacked up was my knowledge of nuclear weaponry, unusual in someone so young, the result of reading too many books on that fearsome subject.

Alone among my age cohort, I knew exactly what would happen if New York City was hit by a 20 megaton airburst. Even 35 miles to the east, where we were, it would not be pretty...and the prevailing winds would cover us in fallout. Assuming we survived the blast and subsequent firestorm, we would be looking at a two-week sojourn in the basement. Two years later, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, I would go to bed convinced that the Nuclear Attack Sirens would go off during the night. Little did I know how close to the brink we really were.

Back to 1960. One Saturday, I went with a group of friends to see The Time Machine. It was a great movie, this George Pal version, with award-winning (for the time) special effects. But parts of the movie disturbed me deeply.

It was the Morlocks, you see. Nasty looking customers, they were, all green and fugly, with teeth that would make a British dentist blush. But what really got to me was the scene in which George, the Time Traveller, stops his machine in August 1966 – a mere six years in the future! – just in time for a nuclear attack. The bomb falls on London, setting off a volcanic eruption from which the Time Traveller barely escapes. The special effects, cheesy by today’s standards, were Damn Convincing to seven-year-old me.

As I lay in bed that night, I kept thinking of all the poor bastards who had sought cover in the underground fallout shelters and who must have been incinerated when the volcano erupted. Through a completely illogical leap of intuition, I connected those unfortunates with the Morlocks who would take their place underground some 800,000 years later. Illogical it may have been, but it kept me tossing and turning. And so I got out of bed and sought the comfort of my mother.

She was up, watching a late movie, and she invited me to join her. The movie was The Day The Earth Stood Still, an authentic classic from 1950, and I was spellbound by the story. Unfortunately, however, it just added to my base load of Perfervid Imagination. I probably didn’t sleep but ten minutes that whole night. Klaatu barada nikto, my aching ass.

But the coup de grâce for me was shortly thereafter, when I caught a showing of She Demons on Chiller Theatre.

She Demons belongs to the category of Incredibly Cheesy 1950’s B-Movies Featuring Nazis and Caged Women on a Tropical Island. Plot: stupid. Special effects: practically nonexistent. Acting: lame. But it had sexy, bikini-clad women with really hideous faces – the result of Nazi Mad Scientist Experiments Gone Awry – and for some reason, it scared the living shit out of me. Caught me at a vulnerable time, I guess...but it would be years before I could force myself to watch Scary Movies again.

The upside of all this is that watching “The Twilight Zone” and “The Outer Limits” was much more exciting for me than it would have been otherwise. Nerve endings all jacked up, and all.

Now? None of that stuff bothers me. But a few years ago, I found out that one of the well-kept secrets of the Nuclear Age was the caching of several nuclear warheads in Amityville (yes, that Amityville), one town to the east. That would have made Amityville a prime target in the event of a Soviet nuclear attack. Glad I didn’t know that as a kid, or I never would have gotten any sleep...

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