‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself’ once said Franklin D. Roosevelt, clearly he never dealt with Xenopmorphs…and Dinosaurs…and Predator.
I never cared much for children’s films as a child; they were too happy and bright. Where was the drama, the danger, the fear? I would watch them and usually did enjoy them, (let’s face it, put on the Jungle Book and I begrudge anyone not to raise a smile or sing along) but I never longed for them or adored them, I had far too much self-respect. Until 1993, the summer when Jurassic Park came out!
Damn, I reacted to that film. I think it may well have been that moment that I embraced my geek side. On a bright, summer morning at the beginning of July, I awoke to a new life as an eight year old and was subsequently overwhelmed by a tsunami of Jurassic Park themed presents. Colouring books, stationery, clothing and all manner of tie-in products were received by me. This was before I had even seen the film (it was released a whole two weeks after my birthday), but by gosh did I know about that film! I had known the story months before it had come out, I had known the characters and I had known all the dinosaurs in it. Finally, on opening day, I saw it. I savoured every single moment those dinosaurs were on the screen…apart from when my mum covered my eyes because people were being eaten! I still haven’t forgiven her for that.
Jurassic Park was the first real flashbulb moment for me as a child. A moment where I distinctly remember being equal parts excited and terrified of the events unfolding on screen. I was scared stiff for the safety of the characters, but equally unable to look away. I was excited to be scared, or as Dr. Ian Malcolm said in the film’s 1997’s sequel, “Oh, yeah. Oooh, ahhh, that’s how it always starts. Then later there’s running and screaming”.
I wanted more, I wanted to feel that rush of fear and exhilaration again, but when you’re an eight year old boy, where do you get it? Your brother’s video collection, that’s where! When your brother is seven years your senior, gaining access to films that both scare and excite you is a trial made considerably easier.
A few months after I had seen Jurassic Park, I was sat on the living room floor; unbeknownst to me my brother had started watching a film that would fill me with almost pure fear and captivation. I sat, innocently playing with my toys, not paying a great amount of attention to the screen, creating adventures in my head, ”Joe, why are those soldiers in a dark factory? I don’t think I like this Joe, can we watch Thundercats instead please? WHAT’S THAT THING COMING OUT THE WALL, IT’S MAKING CRAZY SQUEALING SOUNDS, IT’S GOT HIM, AAAAGH, TURN IT OFF, TURN IT OFF!!!”
“…turn it back on, that was so cool!”
I had lost my ‘Aliens’ virginity. It remains one of my most cherished films, partially because it still scares the hell out of me and excites me beyond belief. The detail sold it to me and continues to do so almost twenty years after I first saw it.
The creatures were, and still are, startlingly lifelike and mobile, yet fundamentally otherworldly and removed (it’s the lack of eyes that always sold it for me), making them utterly believable and conceivable to my then young mind. The technology and environments appeared futuristic yet plausible, meaning for my eight year old self that maybe, just maybe it was a real place where all this was taking place. The characters are so well defined as well. How can you not hold a special place in your heart for Pvt. Hudson, with constantly quotable lines like ‘we’re on an express elevator to hell; going down!’ (Something I shouted the first time I went on the Nemesis at Alton Towers, a few years later).
They say necessity is the mother of invention, but surely fear is mother of necessity (although I heed that Nietzsche would have us believe ‘Fear was the mother of Morality’ which is just as relevant). It’s necessary for us to stay healthy and active, so that we may breed, procreate and continue as the dominant species on this little blue rock. But at the same time, we fear death, pain, misfortune and hardship; therefore fear makes it necessary for us to invent new means and methods of survival, be they scientific, economic, political or social.
Humanity thrives on fear. Explain to me the point of ghost stories, fairy tales and Cheryl Cole if nothing else than to put the fear of God in to us? We adore that rush of adrenalin and the sensory overload fear produces. It’s an addictive feeling. Addictive because it ensures we return to the emotion time and again, an extremely clever and primal survival mechanism Mother Nature shoved in to our grey matter to ensure we learn to stay away from pointy things (I hate knives), amongst others. We are biologically forced to experience fear again and again, forced to learn from it, forced to master it and use it to our advantage. If learning to overcome fear wasn’t within our nature, we’d never survive as a species. We need to cope with fear if we are to cope in life, especially in this globalised world we live in, where E-Coli breakouts in Germany are reported across the media as though the plague hath returneth, where images from protests can be streamed live to the world not just from official news sources but from the protesters themselves, where even oral sex gives you cancer!
This is why I am glad my brother proceeded to sit me down and make me watch the rest of ‘Aliens’. Had I not watched it, I wouldn’t now know how to handle myself when faced with an acid blooded, Xenomorph! (For your information you nuke the site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure!).
I was then introduced to Predator, both of the Terminator films and The Running man in quick succession – all, in varying degrees, scared me witless. The Predator’s violent animalistic nature, its stealth nature and brutal attack of each soldier causing me to think there was a Predator in my local park ‘any time’ the trees started moving from the wind! The Terminator’s detached, mechanical and unstoppable manner was akin to time and tide, solely focused on the mission at hand, producing a visceral fear in me of men in sunglasses and leather jackets for a good few years! And the Running man, where I had to sit through an entire film of Arnie in a gold and silver leotard!
Being introduced to the fear of the unknown, the supernatural and the mysterious at an early stage makes everyday life seem positively tranquil in comparison. How can a child be scared of fireworks and thunderstorms when they’ve been weaned off of invisible, four fanged jungle monsters and Velociraptors?
I say to all of you with young’uns, stop pandering to the Daily Mail’s insistence that children be mollycoddled and wrapped up in cotton wool. Let them shiver with fear, let them have sleepless nights, because in the long run, it’ll do them more good than harm. I don’t want to romanticise too much about my childhood (which I know it appears I have done) but being scared shitless made me appreciate that I had things pretty good. I had a safe home and a loving family, I wasn’t living on LV 426, I wasn’t rescuing survivors from a helicopter crash in a South American jungle only for it to go tits up, and thankfully, I wasn’t John Connor.
Let your kids watch a scary movie. Let them watch Snow White at an early age, it’s scary as hell when she’s running through the forest. Watch Pinocchio again with your youngest and YOU try not to shuffle uncomfortably when the vagabonds and ne’er do well children mutate in to donkeys! Bang Jaws on during a rainy afternoon, kids need to learn about health and safety at a swimming pool, why not from a man eating shark? Plus they’ll learn photography tips too, ‘Smile you son ova bitch’! And definitely, definitely let them watch Jurassic Park, because if they learn one thing, it’ll be they should be terrified of theme parks and just imagine how much money you could save not having to take them to Alton Towers!?
So tell me, what films scared you as a child and do you wish you’d never seen them? Or did watching programs and films that scared you prepare you more for the ‘real’ world?
Words: Fuzz Caminski.
Images nicked from Google. No ownership intended or inferred. Puns courtesy of the editors. Sorry.