By Gary Meyer

(Updated October 29,2022) 

Do you ever tell people about your scariest moments? We asked all kinds of people to tell us theirs.

From prehistoric cave drawings we can tell that the earliest women and men were storytellers.The tradition of sitting around a campfire telling scary tales surely started with them. Every culture has myths and folktales filled with otherworldly spirits and monsters. Homer and Shakespeare filled their works with the supernatural. In the mid 1770s showmen and charlatans created phantasmagorias and séances, the most popular form of visual entertainment before cinema. 

Using a combination the early magic lanterns and ancient magicians’ tricks they obtained physical and emotional responses from audiences as ghosts, demons and even deceased members of the community flew overhead screaming with terrifying sounds. The technology improved and in 1862 the Pepper’s Ghost was introduced and is still being used in amusement parks and concerts. 1897 Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol opened in Paris offering graphic horror plays.

In our modern times we know about special effects and don’t trust spiritualists. But we can still be scared. We asked a wide range of people including filmmakers, writers, actors, magicians and other friends what scares them and they gave us their exclusive thoughts,

We asked them two questions:

1.  The scariest created work(s) you have experienced? It can be a movie, TV, audio, live performance, work of art, etc.
2. The most frightening thing(s) to ever happen to you?

The answers were full of surprises. Some were very short and made their point. Others required storytelling. They might only answer one question. The responses might be funny but just as often were deadly serious. 

We warn you that some of the videos will be effective at scaring you. 

If you enjoy this collection feel free to pass it on to your friends. And there is a part two, MORE SCARIEST MOMENTS


My favorite frightening scenes are in Psycho.  Not the murders.  I love the quiet, romantic conversation between Norman and Marion in his “parlor.” The words “they scratch and claw, but only at the air, only at each other, and for all of that they never budge an inch” is a perfect setup for what Marion will soon experience.  

And I love the images and words of the final monologue.  Like a figure in Caligari, Norman is a black and white drawing, wrapped in a corpse blanket:  “They’ll see.  They’ll see and they’ll say, ‘Why she wouldn’t even hurt a fly…’

Great horror and humor always, always go together.

Teller, magician, illusionist, writer, actor, painter, and film director (TIM’S VERMEER)


When I was a kid I was most freaked by the giant ants in THEM! which emitted noises that sounded unsettlingly like the insects in my back yard.

But later it was the dark psychosexual ghostings of THE INNOCENTS that most memorably raised the hairs on my spine. If I even had hairs on my spine in 1961!

Watch these scenes (or better yet the whole film)

“Now it’s your turn to hide….”

The lady in the lake.

Trump’s election was the scariest real life thing. 

Joe Dante, director (THE HOWLING, GREMLINS 1 & 2, MATINEE, INNERSPACE), “The Movies That Made Me” podcast host, “Trailers From Hell” curator

I think my scariest moments in works of art are both from movies — the monkeys in THE WIZARD OF OZ  when I was eight or so— and the guy behind the diner in MULHOLLAND DRIVE when I was somewhat older. I imagine these are pretty generic. (Similarly, I’m currently seeing a physical therapist for a rotator cuff issue. He asked if there was a trauma and I said, “Well, I walked in on my parents,” and he said he gets that a lot.)

 My personal scariest moments include being held up when I was an ice cream man, which I tried to give some  entertainment value in this piece I wrote for Threepenny Review as part of “A Symposium on Fear.”
Charlie Haas, screenwriter(TEX, GREMLINS 2, MATINEE, OVER THE EDGE), author (THE ENTHUSIAST, many magazines)

Living in a nearly century-old house made entirely of wood, fire was our biggest fear. One night, a faint whiff of smoke jolted me awake. I sniffed, cocking my head, and hoped the smell had only been in my imagination. The door at the end of our bed stood wide open, offering an unobstructed view into the dark expanse of the “great room”. Allowing my eyes to adjust, I squinted into the shadowy recesses beyond the doorway. A soft breeze whistled through the window casings, making an eerie, high-pitched moan as a hazy wisp of smoke curled into view. I froze. Before I had time to come to my senses and shake my husband Mark awake, the smoke swirled and floated into the doorway, coalescing into what appeared to be a living, breathing human being. A woman, wearing a white 1930s-style nurse’s uniform and a short, navy-blue cape, stood in the doorway for a moment before drifting, soundless, toward me. My throat tightened and I could feel the hair on my forearms raise. Bending very close to me, she whispered, “I have to take him.” Her gaze lifted, then settled on Mark, still sound asleep. I swallowed hard. Even though it was a warm summer night, an ice-cold chill coursed through my body and tingled across my scalp. “Take him . . . where?” I choked out. Mark  sighed and shifted in his sleep. 

The alarm clock on the bedside table gave  off an electric glow that illuminated the chiseled cheekbones of the nurse’s face from beneath. Her eyebrows were penciled in a sharp, dark arch above her aquiline nose and perfect red lips.

“Into the pool,” she said, then disappeared, literally in a puff of smoke. I lay wide awake for the rest of the night, heart pounding, and occasionally reaching over and laying my hand on Mark, just to feel the rise and fall of his chest. I played the scene over and over in my mind, telling myself that it had to be a dream, but I knew it wasn’t.

For days afterward I was frightened to death every time I saw Mark go near the pool. 

Cassandra Peterson (aka Elvira Mistress of the Dark); horror show host, actress, author (new book: YOURS CRUELLY, ELIVRA:MEMOIRS OF THE MISTRESS OF THE DARK)


For me the first movie that had a scary impact was in the summer of 1951 when I saw THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD. After a childhood of growing up with westerns, war movies and action films the likes of CAPTAIN FROM CASTILE,  it was my introduction to creatures from another world. And Dimitri Tiomkin’s weird, weird music capped it off for me. 

The next film to scare the hell out of me was a year later when, in the Uptown Theater in Napa, I focused my eyeball sockets on THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. The most terrifying moment was when Patricia Neal is trapped inside the flying saucer and Gort is coming to find here. The look of terror on her face is still unforgettable to me. And of course who would not be impacted by that delightfully scary score by Bernard Herrmann. 

Well, after  that there were many films in the horror genre that would have an impact. One of them was the first 3-D film I ever saw, HOUSE OF WAX with Vincent Price. Everything about it was wonderfully weird, especially Price and Charles Bronson. Especially when the latter comes after Phyllis Kirk near the climax.

I have been working on a book that is almost finished, THE CAREER THAT DRIPPED WITH HORROR.  Included with my interviews with Stephen King, Adam West, Kirk Alyn, Noel Neill, Roddy McDowall (as an apeman), Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, Karen Black Phyllis Coates, Stan Lee and many others will be a 25-page spread of how Bob Wilkins and I returned before the public in 2000 and once again entertained the fans who had watched our shows from 1971-1984.  
     John Stanley, Creature Features host, author, historian 


It’s hard to scare me nowadays with any medium since I am pretty entrenched in the spooky on a daily basis but growing up as a kid is a different matter. I think one of the best/scariest movies that still exists is John Carpenter’s remake of THE THING. Those special FX are untouched in my opinion to this day. No CGI can top what they did in that film.

As for a personal scare, it was the time I locked myself in a car trunk when I was a kid. My family used to sell toys at collectible shows and they were loading in one night at a venue. I was trying to sleep in the back seat of the car but the parking lot lights were too bright so I climbed into the trunk and shut the lid but not all the way. Little did I know this car had a motor that would suck the door closed if it got too close.

At first I was fine thinking it would be funny when they came back to get something and I was in there but after a while my mind got the better of me. I was in there a little too long and I freaked out. I eventually started banging on the hood and got someone’s attention who found my parents and got them to open it. I came out unscathed physically and mentally thankfully. I can still get put into tight spaces and my strait jacket without issue.. ha ha.

Bizzaro, magician, inventor


My scariest moviegoing experience occurred in the early 70s at a midnight movie event in the United Artists theater in Berkeley (before it was ruined by being chopped up into 7 auditoriums).

The series was produced by my late friend Bob McClay who was the top DJ at KSAN radio.

The film was THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and upon leaving the theater the audience encountered a group of patrons who had seen the film the previous night who dressed up as zombies and were chewing on  raw meat and animal entrails.

It was terrifying!

Allen Michaan, Grand Lake Theater, Michaan’s Auction and Alameda Point Antiques Faire


The scariest movie was THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER when I saw it on TV as a child.

My First Communion as a Catholic youth in 1956.

Joseph McBride. Film historian, author (new book THE BROKEN PLACES)


I think the scariest horror novel I ever read was Pet Sematary by Stephen King.

Stephen King. INSCRIBED. Pet Sematary. Garden City: Doubleday, | Lot #92077  | Heritage Auctions

The idea of bringing someone back from the dead–but then they’re not quite the same as the first time they were alive–is horrifying to me. I liked this plot so much, I’ve stolen it three or four times!

R.L. Stine, horror story author, TV producer, screenwriter


I saw Mary Lambert’s PET SEMATARY on VHS at too young of an age and Gage’s return from the grave is still the scariest image I have ever seen. 

 Karina Longworth, film historian, writer, and creator/host of the podcast “You Must Remember This” (check out “Bela and Boris”)


THE SHINING is by far the scariest, creepiest film I’ve ever seen. It’s so disturbing, and its creepiness was heavily compounded when viewing it for the first time as a 10 year old. It’s a masterpiece, but one that I can only view in 25 minute increments…and I’m talking about the censored TV version. 
Being jumped and beaten by two guys while I was walking home one night. I thought I was going to die. It shook my nerves up so bad that it took me a couple of weeks before I could leave my apartment. Ghost are nowhere near as frightening as real people. 
Anthony Lucero, director, screenwriter (EAST SIDE SUSHI, PAY IT FORWARD), visual effects editor at ILM

Just after leaving college, when I was freelancing around for a living, I shared a house in East Hollywood with four good friends.  It was an old house on a hillside that had been completely remodeled to within an inch of its life in a nondescript 1980’s sort of way.  But it was a good house, that had a great kitchen, patio, parking, and expansive views overlooking the neighborhood.

One evening, I arrived home to find no one else was there—pretty unusual for a house with 4 other people.  One of our roommates had a well trained  Labrador Retriever, who usually was happy to see anyone—especially after spending some of the day by themselves.  

Not this night.  

As I set my bag down and turned the lights on, I called out to see if anyone was home. The only answer I got was a light bark from the small bathroom at the end of the dark upstairs hall.  I made my way to it.  The door was open, and the lights were off.  But I could see, clearly, the dog sitting patiently, staring up at the wall.  It would shoot quick glances out of the side of it’s eyes to look at me, but would not turn it’s head, and would occasionally give out a light, gruff “half bark.”  But he remained seated staring up at the wall.

Suddenly, I thought to myself:  “Someone’s in there,” thinking “someone I don’t know,” or “someone who’s broken into the house.”  I quietly backed up towards the front door.  The front door opened, and it was my roommate, the dogs owner.  I told him what was going on, and he called out for his dog to “come.”  

It did not.  I told him what I thought—that the dog could have cornered someone who was backed up in the darkness of the bathroom—afraid of the dog.

So I got a bat, he got a knife, and like a pair of shaking, frightened Don Knotts’, we made our way slowly down the hall to the bathroom.  

My roommate saw what I saw.  He called his dog again, but STILL the dog wouldn’t move.  I slowly reached around the door jamb and quickly turned the bathroom lights on.

NOTHING.  There was nothing there.  We went in, and yet the dog STILL wouldn’t move—sitting…staring at a spot on the wall a few feet above it’s head. What we also noticed was an abrupt temperature change in the room—much cooler, with a “musty” smell.

We knelt down and pet the dog.  His heart was racing a mile a minute, but it calmed down enough to follow us out of the bathroom.  To be sure, we did a slow walkthrough of the entire house to make sure no other unexpected intruders were there.  Again, nothing.

Later, when our other roommates got home, we told them the story.  No one could figure it out.  And although none of us wanted to admit it, we talked quite a bit about the house possibly being visited by a ghost of some sort.  

It never happened again, but we always wished it had.  The idea of us living in a “haunted house” thrilled us all.

Ralph Eggleston (1965-2022) Filmmaker // Pixar Animation Studios (Incredibles 2Inside OutWall-eFinding Nemo)


When I was about 6 or 7 I remember being scared out of my wits by that sequence in ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN where Costello is locked in a room with Lon Chaney Jr. who is slowly turning into the Wolf Man. Costello narrowly misses being pounced upon by the Wolf Man several times – I still remember hiding my eyes with my fingers, and eventually running out of the room. It was too scary. Kids really related to Lou Costello and took characters like Frankenstein and Wolfman seriously – so this was quite traumatic to me at that time. I still get goosebumps thinking about it! 

Jerry Beck, animation historian, author, editor of Cartoon Research


The scariest, creepiest film I’ve ever seen was THE EXORCIST, which used sound and music to create an atmosphere of unease right from the start. (I much prefer the original theatrical release version to the one Friedkin re-edited for its reissue).

The most frightening thing I’ve ever experienced was riding the Tower of Terror at Walt Disney  World, wanting desperately to get out and knowing I couldn’t until the ordeal was over.

Leonard Maltin, historian, author, co-host “Maltin on Movies” podcast, new grandpa


I’m not into horror, but Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone, with its combination of tension and fantasy would often scare me as a child. When I was a tween, I somehow acquired a hardbound book: “Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone”, published in 1963: “13 new stories from the supernatural, especially written for young people.”  In particular, I recall a story about ghost hunters separated by a wall when a ghost came to call. Truly chilling. The anthology of stories was actually written, or adapted by, Walter B. Gibson, much better known as the creator of The Shadow (aka Lamont Cranston), the long-running radio and pulp hero of the 1930s and 1940s.

Rod Serling's : The Twilight Zone: Gibson, Walter B., Mayan, Earl E.: Books

Every time I saw William Shatner recently interviewed about his space flight, I flashed on the classic Twilight Zone TV episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” where a passenger spies a creature on the wing of the plane. Terrifying still.

It streams for Paramount+ subscribers or you rent the full episode (Season 5, Episode 3) here.

Radio shows can effectively scare so turn out the lights and listen to this radio version.

Saturday Night Live did a spoof.

C.J. Hirschfield, EatDrinkFilms film critic, retired Executive Director of Children’s Fairyland


My answer would be the movie TESTAMENT (1983)  All too real and frightening in its possibilities.

The most frightening thing(s) to ever happen to you?

My answer hands down would be 2016 election night.

Pete Hammond, film journalist for Deadline


Usually, “scary movies” don’t affect me much. I remember all the hoop-la about how scary THE EXORCIST was. And when I went to see it, I found it “creepy” but not frightening. After all, “it’s only a movie” – – and the effects pale even more if it’s a movie I”m showing at the time.

That being said, there were two movie scenes that made even “me” jump while showing them in the projection room.

The first one was that scene at the very end of the 1976 version of CARRIE, where the hand suddenly pops up out of the grave.  – – It made me jump, even after I’d seen it a couple of times. Since that scene was very near the end of the last reel, I was always standing by the projection port window waiting to bring up the lights, and I had a bit of a good time every might waiting for that scene and watching most of the audience jump and hearing some of the gasps and screams, even over all the projection booth noise.


My second scene experience was that shot in JAWS where the shark suddenly pops it’s head up out of the water.  Again, that often made ME jump, even after I knew it was coming.

It’s interesting, I think, that both of these scenes relied somewhat on the element of surprise. They both occurred in scenes that were otherwise rather ‘quiet’ or peaceful- – and then the bloody hand or the shark’s head would pop up when you least expected it to give you an entertaining combination of shock and surprise.

The scariest personal moment(s) I can remember have nothing to do with movies.

It was several years ago when I needed to have some major surgery done.  In general, I’m not scared of doctors OR surgery, but in the 6 or 8 months prior to my date with the scalpel, I knew 3 different people, all of them younger than I, am who went into the hospital for relatively minor procedures, – – and never came home.  Now, two of them had some other underlying health issues, (were very overweight and/or heavy smokers & drinkers, etc.) which may have contributed to their demise, but the 3rd person was a complete shock to me. I had breakfast with her less than two weeks earlier, and she even called to wish me a “Happy Birthday” the day she went into the hospital for what she described as some “simple surgery” (although she never told me exactly what she was going in for).  As my surgery date approached, the unexpected loss of my friends weighed heavily on my mind more and more every day.  I told a couple of my cousins what I’d like done with my ‘stuff’ if anything should happen to me. I even made sure I spoke to a priest, “just in case”, and because I had already been told that the procedure(s) I was going to have carried more than the usual amount of risk, partly because of my age and because of proximity to vital organs.

In the end, as you know, everything worked out OK. 

But for a couple of days before that surgery, I was downright more scared than I can ever remember being.  (I never told my folks- – no point in worrying them to death)

P.S.  When talking with my surgeon about my fears and what happened to my friends after they went into the hospital for “simple surgery”, the surgeon scowled at me and said “there is no such thing as ‘simple’ surgery!  – – if you think it’s so simple, than YOU should try doing it sometime! ) I got his point and have avoided using the term ever since. I think “routine surgery” is a better description. Surgeries can be routine, yes, but “simple”, no! lol)

Jim Cassedy, movie projectionist


This is hard because there are so many!  When I was about 12 my Dad took my brother and me to an “Insect Triple Feature” that was TARANTULA, EARTH VS. THE SPIDER and THE FLY.  I couldn’t sleep that night I was so scared.  But for pure terror, I’d have to list these two I saw as adults:

#1 is probably JAWS.  I had tried a couple times to see it and it was always sold out (in pre-Fandango 1975), so I waited a few months and went on a Saturday afternoon to see it by myself in what was then almost an empty theater.  I had really heard nothing about the film, so I didn’t know what to expect.  When I came out, I was shaking so badly that I had to sit in my car for 10 min before I was able to drive.

#2 (a close tie to JAWS):  I was living in Raleigh and a friend worked for the local ABC affiliate TV station.  He asked a few of us (I think David Pierce was there as well) if we wanted to see an advance preview of “a new science fiction film” that he had tickets for.  The film itself wouldn’t be opening for another day or two so we literally had never heard of it and we went to the theater not even knowing the name of the film.  It was ALIEN.  Theater was packed, it was a late-night showing, and people were screaming.  My heart was pounding throughout the movie.  I think ALIENS is a better film, but it didn’t have the pure, visceral terror of the first movie.

Thanksgiving Day, 1990.  My wife was 8 months pregnant with our first child and we were driving home from Thanksgiving dinner at a friend’s house.  I merged right to make a turn and I must have cutoff a guy closer than he liked, because he rolled down his window and said, “I’m going to fucking kill you.”  He started following and chasing us, flashing his headlights and beeping his horn.  He had a pickup truck hauling some kind of trailer and was less maneuverable than my small car, but I was having trouble shaking him.  In my panic, I’m trying to remember where the police department is and I just can’t remember.  There’s a fire station near our home so I go there, but I pull in and the station is locked up.  Now the guy pulls up and has us blocked in and he jumps out of his truck and starts screaming at us.  I’m thinking of ramming into him and pinning him to his truck, and instead I squeeze around his truck, driving on the sidewalk and get back on the road.

I know where the police station is in the next town over because it’s next to my office, so I get on the freeway with this lunatic in hot pursuit, but I was eventually able to lose him and made it to the police station.  I was shaking uncontrollably to the point that I could barely talk, but the cops were helpful, got me calmed down, and they took a report.  I didn’t have his license plate so it was pretty much impossible to track him.  We were worried about him identifying the car (my wife’s VW Rabbit), which is normally parked in the driveway, so we ran by the house, picked up my car, and then drove over and dropped her car in my work parking lot and left it there for a couple days.

Jon Mirsalis, musician, archivist, film scholar, Lon Chaney fan, scientist


 PSYCHO and  THE EXORCIST scared the hell out of me. Let’s throw in THE OMEN and JAWS.

Ron Chaney, CEO Chaney Entertainment, Inc.(grandson of Lon Chaney Jr.,  great grandson of Lon Chaney)

In the center is Creighton Chaney's grandson Ron with his family. :) And of  course, the photo on the left is Lon and the o… | Lon chaney, Lon chaney jr,  Silent film


Scariest movies:  


THE OMEN (haven’t been in a church without thinking about it since) 


The scariest thing that ever happened to me was when I almost lost the use of my hand after a car accident. 

Another scary thing was when one of my birds had his head bitten off by a geek when I was working on the streets.

Chris Capehart, magician


Without question THE EXORCIST. I worked on it back then at WB and every time I watched it, it sent chills.

Then, some years later, I worked on the four-wall rerelease and viewed it again as we cut new marketing material. 

It freaked me out even more!

I see clips of it from time to time—same memory!

Sid Ganis, producer (BIG DADDY, AKEELAH AND THE BEE), past President of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, former studio  executive (Lucasfilm, Columbia, Paramount)


In 1973 when THE EXORCIST was released, my daughter Anna Fox was 4 years old.  I went alone to a screening at W. B. but had to leave the theatre because I got so frightened when Regan’s head spun around. Anna looked so much like Linda Blair, so it really scared me.  Friedkin freaked me out!!  

I was in a big gray circus tent and the only thing in there was a white coffin on a raised pedestal.  My father sprang up from the coffin and chased me with a huge knife.  I ran all around the tent, trying to get away from him because he wanted to kill me.  He stabbed at me and missed but sliced a big hole in the canvas tent.  I ran out and got away.  I was 7 years old and it was a dream.

Penelope Spheeris, filmmaker (WAYNE’S WORLD, DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION TRILOGY, SUBURBIA, etc.), Rock ‘n Roll anthropologist


I was at the UC Theater in Berkeley watching THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY. We all knew the events of his tragic and sudden death. Nonetheless, at that moment when the plane crashed, the cinematic tension was huge, and everyone in the audience screamed. The person seated in the row behind me not only screamed, but threw her hands up, thus propelling her large popcorn and coke containers up in the air, landing on the row in front. Luckily, it landed on the empty wheelchair spot next to me, and thus, the flying food avoided causing further damage.



I love to repeat the recollection of seeing NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD in 1979 at (of all places) the UC Theatre, when I was all of 11 years old. It was on a double bill with DAWN OF THE DEAD which, astonishingly, I didn’t stay to see for some reason. The reason I love to repeat this story is that I feel like 1979 was the last year when audiences were actually, truly frightened by images on a movie screen; once Ridley Scott’s ALIEN became the biggest thing since sliced bread – that year – images of extreme horror were mainstream. They were anticipated. You heard all about them ahead of time, went to the cinema partly expecting them, couldn’t possibly be truly terrified by what you saw.

But with NOLD in 1979, at that screening, I vividly remember that as the tension racked up, people began panicking and running up the aisles of the theater to escape when the on-screen shit would hit the fan. They simply couldn’t handle it. This wasn’t the same as making an audience jump (e.g. pulling back the shower curtain in PSYCHO), exactly – it was more like trapping the audience in a no-win situation that was beyond their imagining and turning up the heat with virtually no humor relief valve. You were stuck in that barricaded house with the characters as zombies who wanted to eat you tried to break in, maybe into the cinema from the lobby. Or through the emergency exits. It was too dark to know for sure, and pretty soon, the tension was just overwhelming and you had to flee (because your rational mind told you you could… though the same rational mind should have been able to keep you sitting there and saying “it’s only a movie”). That’s how you scare people.

Peter Conheim, freelance film preservationist, sound engineer, curator, noisemaker


For one who’s public life and work is so closely associated with the macabre and occult, I’m almost embarrassed to admit that my scariest film experience was after seeing Dan O’Bannon’s Return of the Living Dead when I was ten years old. I was a few years younger than most of my neighborhood pals, who hit their teenage years a few years before I did, and as a result was introduced to more mature music and media well ahead of the curve that I might have otherwise experienced it. And by ten years old, horror was nothing new to me, and we voraciously consumed every scary VHS we could talk our parents or grandparents into renting, from the popular hits of the day like Nightmare on Elm StreetAn American Werewolf in LondonThe Thing, and Phantasm, to more disturbing fare that my young eyes should never have been allowed to witness, like the Faces of Death series. Which makes it all the more embarrassing to admit that out of all of that consumption of classic horror, some of which was truly horrific, the one that got me, and truly sacred me, was the schlocky comedy-horror of Return of the Living Dead.

We had rented it not long after its release, and as a young skater-punk, something about the mohawked zombies on the VHA cover appealed to my friends and I, so we managed to find the tape in-stock one weekend and bring it home. The chosen venue for viewing that evening was a friend’s home, and I still remember the dread of those opening scenes of a barrel of experimental government chemical reanimating a couple of corpses, followed by the spread of the chemical by the rain, which fell on a dark local cemetery, which…well, is how your basic zombie invasion starts.

The effects seemed real enough, and while I had little issue accepting that Freddy Krueger’s dream invasions were totally made-up and that the subjects of The Thing were merely victims of clever Hollywood special effects, there was something about the evening, and the viewing, that hit on all receptors. Like the movie’s opening, it was raining hard that night, and we watched at my friend’s place, and he lived in a rather creaky mobile home not far from the woods, the highway, or the train tracks, and the home’s lack of any real insulation made it an echo chamber of disturbing noises. What’s worse, it was only a half mile or so from the Lipscomb Cemetery, where we often rode our bikes to and explored, and something from the film stuck in my brain and just a hyper-plausible scenario that certainly must-be-taking-place-right-outside-the-trailer-right-now. It remains the most frightful night of sleep I have ever experienced in my 46 years, and I lay under the covers shaking and shivering in fear, my eyes wide open, staring at the door convinced mohawked zombies would tear through it at any moment. 

Somehow, I made it, the zombies never arrived, but morning did, wiping away what felt like the very real possibility of a zombie invasion with the addition of a few of the sun’s sweet rays. Never have I felt such relief!

Unlike my funny experiences as a pre-teen watching horror movies and being frightened by the most unlikely one, which might also be the answer here, given that my ten-year-old self was absolutely quaking in fear, the most frightening experience of my life was a very serious matter, and one that could have ended much differently. It was only a couple of years ago and I was walking with my young children along Austin’s popular Greenbelt. It was a relatively quiet day, with few other hikers in the area, and we took advantage of the quiet to look for hagstones–river rocks with natural holes in them–to use as folklore dictated and look through them to try and spot fairies. On our way back to the car, we descended the trail that ran along the then-dry creek to cross to the other side, and froze in place as a young woman’s wolf-dog hybrid that she had neglected to leash loped up to within 20 feet of my family and I. The owner was hundreds of feet away and struggling to catch up with her escaped animal over the rough river rocks, and I stood there in a locked gaze with what didn’t look so much a pet as a predator. Its ears were back, its head lowered, and its eyes firmly fixed on mine as it evaluated the least threat and biggest reward. I’m calmly backing up while instructing my kids to stay on the upper bank as I puff up and let this animal know that I’m not to be trifled with, and that it would be in its best interests to return to its struggling owner. But instead, it broke gaze and sprinted directly past me…and toward my children. At the time, my daughter was almost 7 and my son around 4, and they did the worst possible thing: they broke and fled from the animal, and in opposite directions up the trail. The next few minutes were pure terror, as this large wolf-dog stalked first my rapidly fleeing daughter, who made it a couple hundred feet before I could catch up, large stick now in hand, as the animal circled her on the trail. But as I approached screaming, it fled from my daughter, and ran through the woods in the other direction–up the trail to where my young son had fled, and I turned myself and rushed to catch up with him, barely arriving in time to keep the stalking animal at bay. I’ve never known such horror as feeling as helpless as I was to intervene in my children’s potential mauling, barely seeing my son’s terrified face through the bushes, with the animal’s upright tail circling him like a shark’s fin only a few feet away. This scenario repeated, as I approached the animal and it abandoned my son, only to run back the other direction to my daughter, and, after being again thwarted, back to my son again. Only my daughter’s action of overcoming her fear and running back up the trail with me back toward her brother the second time finally united us, as I grasped my close children and again threatened the stalking animal now desperately encircling us all. But by then, the owner had clumsily climbed the bank nearby, and at the sight of her, the wolf-dog darted off to make its escape, and we were, finally, safe. But to this day, it remains the single most frightening thing that’s ever happened to me, and a parent watching near-helpless as their child is threatened certainly appears high on the list of all-time terrors.

Brandon Hodge, proprietor Big Top Candy and Monkey See, Monkey Do (in Austin, TX) & Spiritualism Historian 


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