Finding freedom from frightful films

By Dennis Minich

Sunday night, a parade of zombies marched around the Harrisonville square and then headed into the Chamber of Commerce office to watch the movie “The Night of the Living Dead.” I did not hang around to watch the movie because I am not a horror movie aficionado. In fact, I will do most almost anything I can to avoid spooky films. That goes double for hair-raising literature. While I know many people love the genre, it is not for me for one very simple reason: I’m a scaredy cat.

I learned early on scary movies were not for me. The first I remember came on Halloween in 1963. I remember it vividly because new bedroom furniture was being delivered to our house and to keep me out of the way, I was planted in front of the TV. Broadcast that afternoon was “The Canterville Ghost.” I watched it alone and it scared the bejeebers out of me. Although there have been remakes, I watched the original flick, a 1944 film starring Charles Laughton and Robert Young. I remember early in the film, Laughton’s character is sealed into a room with bricks, hence the origin of the ghost. I was a nervous wreck for a week.

What makes this revelation so hard to admit is “The Canterville Ghost” is actually a comedy. It was written by Oscar Wilde and is probably about as scary as an episode of “Three Stooges.”

While I generally love holiday episodes of television shows, sometimes they can miss the mark. I remember an episode of “Petticoat Junction” about a guy who many years earlier had stolen towels from the hotel and his spirit wouldn’t rest until he returned them. At the end of the show his towels mysteriously appeared. I spent the rest of the night hiding under covers.

I think these examples fairly well demonstrate my fright tolerance is pretty low. I know my trepidation is unrealistic. I like to think I am pretty rational about such things: I know there are no zombies, witches, mummies or vampires, so I don’t sweat them at all. I also don’t believe in ghosts, so you would think I wouldn’t be afraid of them. You would think that, but you would be wrong. They don’t exist, but I don’t want to hear about haunted houses, ghost sightings or poltergeist activities. I don’t believe, but I am not a zealot about it.

Throughout the years, I have sat through a few “thrillers” with varying degrees of mental issues afterward.

A few years ago, the big thing was “The Blair Witch Project.” I was coaxed into watching and when it ended, my only emotion was confusion. I didn’t understand how it could have scared anyone. I am not a Stephen King fan, but I did watch the original “Carrie” one evening. I was deeply disturbed for days. Following that film, I never watched another of his flicks, so other than knowing Jack Nicholson says “Here’s Johnny” in “The Shining,” I know nothing else about the film. The same goes for “Cujo,” “Children of the Corn” and anything else he might have penned.

I will admit I was intrigued by “The Sixth Sense” and never saw the plot twist coming, but it really didn’t cause me any discomfort. The same cannot be said “The Omen.” I am of the belief the author of that thing was seriously demented.

While I enjoyed many Alfred Hitchcock movies: “Rear Window” for example, “The Birds” was a little tough to handle. I can proudly say I have never seen and have no plans to see “Psycho.” Likewise, I am perfectly content to have never seen such fare as “The Exorcist,” “Rosemary’s Baby” or “Scream.”

I know there have been many great horror films through the years, but I sleep just fine never having seen them.

Many years ago, every Saturday night, there was a late-show horror movie on Kansas City television. The host of the show was a frightful figure named Gregory Graves. In keeping with my anxieties, I rarely watched the films, but did run in when he was on because I found his creepiness funny.

Since today is the holiday of spooks and hobgoblins, I will leave you with Graves’ weekly epilogue: “Until next week, have a good fright and pleasant screams.”

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