Do you remember the first truly scary movie you ever saw? I sure do… For me, it was “The Shining” starring Jack Nicholson.
1980. I was 12 years old when it came out. I had never been allowed to go to a horror movie before in my life, but man-o-man did I want to see this one. But my requests were denied – previous to this I’d only seen two other movies in a theater: Star Wars and The Muppet Movie. This was a whole different ask. I (eventually) finagled a deal with my parents – do all my chores, bring home a straight A report card, and in return I’d get taken to see The Shining. Pretty easy deal, and in hindsight I bet my parents wished they had upped the requirements a bit.
Now, for those reading this who must be thinking my parents were terrible people for even considering taking a 12 year old kid to a movie like this, recall that this was before the days when you could easily research a movie before it came out. Add to that the fact I grew up in a house that wasn’t tolerant of TV in general (my dad hated TV and we didn’t have cable), and you can imagine a scenario where I had naive / uninformed parents that I straight-up played. But while my parents had no real information about the film, I had seen the trailers / ads for the movie via my best friend. His father worked in the TV entertainment industry, and every week he would bring home laser discs and tapes of trailers for current cartoons and films that were in the market. I’d sneak out to go to his house late at night, and we’d set ourselves up in their den to watch them. We were getting advance private screenings straight out of Hollywood! Pretty cool… So, suffice it to say, I had a pretty good idea of what I was getting into. So don’t blame my parents. :)
So now I had done my research, and selected my movie of choice. I had negotiated a deal, and had delivered my part of it: a straight A report card in hand. It was time for my parents to make good on their promise. My dad despises pop culture in general, so that meant my mom had to “pay up”. She loaded me in the car, took me to the theater, and sat down next to me. As the movie began, and the plot began to pick up, my mom slowly clued in that this was WAY too much for a 12 year old. I predicted this would happen, and knew that I’d have to exude an air of aloof indifference to let my mom know I wasn’t being scarred for life. If she saw me flinch / cover my eyes / show any signs of being scared, out we’d go. So I had to play it VERY cool. Ha! Easier said than done. For those who know the film, you know it’s a slow buildup of madness and tension as the lead character descends into chaos. I was completely knotted up inside, but I couldn’t let my mom know that. The fear of getting pulled out of there, combined with the fear generated from the movie, led to more stress than most 12 year olds endured in movie theaters that day.
Long story short, I survived the movie and made it to the credits. My mom whipped us out of there and into the car in a hurry, and the whole way home she was in “counselor mode” – asking me what I thought about the movie, did I realize it wasn’t real, yadda yadda yadda. I assured her I was fine, and gave every outward impression it had no impact on me (hey, I was already thinking ahead to scamming my way into my next movie!) But that night, I didn’t sleep at all. I was scared witless. And to this day, when I see that film it triggers the fear in my gut that no horror movie since then has ever been able to replicate. The Shining is forever seared onto the deepest surfaces of my brain, and it will forever haunt me.
Knock knock knock…
Special thanks to IFWDRM for the excellent animated images from The Shining and other great films.