here is the most terrifying thing that ever happened to me:
i remember the first time i saw this on prime-time tv, at home one evening with my dad. i was, i guess, eight. i remember watching it in actual horror, and then looking immediately to my dad, who looked — well, impressed, i guess is one way to put it.
at that point, i had watched a lot of things that kids younger than me would not have tolerated. i had been a big fan of kolshak: the night stalker and loved the spookiest halloween things, never going for princess, clown, or hobo (can you imagine kids today dressed as hobos or clowns for halloween? my god, i think kids were still dressing as COWBOYS sometimes when i was a kid!).
anyway — i don’t think anyone would have guessed that evening how wretchedly all-encompassing that clip would become to me over the next few months. i had never known fear like that before. the poster for the movie was at the mall; i had to work to avoid it. the new editions of the paperback novel with the movie tie-in covers were in bookstores; i had to avoid those. every evening i had to sit in front of the TV with an afghan at the ready, and any time a show went to commercial, i had to get the afghan over my head AND get my ears plugged.
my charlie mc carthy doll, whom i had had for years and for whom i had never felt anything but affection, was put away indefinitely.
eventually, i got over it all. i reclaimed charlie with the hopes of passing him on to my children (check!). in my late teens, while babysitting, i rented magic and watched it on my own. it’s a good movie; i’d call it underrated. vent figures are fertile territory for terror, but i haven’t seen it done any better than this.
so a few weekends ago we were in asbury park for the zombie walk. and there were literally thousands of terrifying, live beings all around us. béla had one brief dance with terror during this day — very brief, but loud — when his own fudge-fueled tantrum coincided with the appearance of a very elaborately costumed glow-eyed skeleton thing, and i suggested that it was a constable of sorts, checking out misbehaving children. whoever was inside the costume went along with this idea more than béla would have liked him to. but really, it was a blip in the day.
so who would have guessed, that an innocent — and APPROVED, at the time, by béla — purchase of an asbury park tillie shirt:
would turn into the scariest thing about a day when we were literally surrounded by fifteen thousand of the undead?
who would have guessed? — well, why wasn’t it ME who guessed?
i tried to put the tillie tee out for b.’s clothes the day we got back from asbury park. he balked, asking to instead wear his bloodspattered monroeville mall shirt. i said he couldn’t wear that to school — tillie was nice, and school-friendly, didn’t he want to just wear tillie?
he continued to sulk about tillie, but only when i asked why he hadn’t worn it yet. offering to buy him a packet of snickers pumpkins IF he wore the shirt almost worked. but he continued to hold his ground. i’d take it out; he’d say no; i’d put it back.
until this morning, when he wouldn’t even open his drawer to get ANY shirt out, for fear of seeing tillie.
now i knew where we were. i just couldn’t believe i had so unwittingly bought us the ticket.
when b. got home from school i told him i had hidden the tillie shirt and that he wouldn’t have to see it anymore. he was happy that i had tried to save him from the shirt, but this “hidden” thing… he had to know exactly where it was. so i told him. he wanted it further away than that.
claudia, with a cheery machiavellian equanimity, suggested that SHE just take ownership of the tillie t-shirt. it was all too easy to picture claudia, at two in the morning, wearing the tillie shirt and squatting at the foot of béla’s bed, willing him to awaken just so she could terrify the shit out of him. no claudia. you don’t get the tillie shirt.
we talked, at dinner, and i told them the story of the movie commercial that i had seen when i was little, and how afraid i had been of that puppet, and how much that puppet had reminded me of tillie. i told this story by way of apology, but neither of them were interested in my apology. they wanted details. WHAT did this puppet look like? show us. what was this VOICE you speak of? do the voice. is this on the computer?
obviously — or maybe not so obviously, since i AM the mother who sicced a skeleton on my son and bought him a terrifying grinning silkscreened rictus that made him unable to open his own bureau — i was not going to show them the clip from magic. and i did not show them the clip from magic.
there are a very limited number of things that have terrified me over the years. a surprising number of them were made in 1978 though. here is a clip from the tv movie “the mud monster”, which also nearly destroyed me (this is sometimes credited as being released in ’77). neither this film, nor this clip, have been retained very distinctly in my memory, but for the sake of history we should get this down.
1978 was also the year that this scared the shit out of me:
i still have a hard time watching that.
and although trilogy of terror was made in 1975, i didn’t see it until i was in my twenties and NEVER made it with my face uncovered to the end of this final scene until i was, well, forty. (if you want to skip to the meat of the thing, start at about nine minutes.)
that’s about it for film. and after all our talk about film at dinner, as we prepared to go to all hallow’s read at woodland cemetery tomorrow, béla scrutinized our offering — arthur machen’s the great god pan — and wanted to “see the pictures”.
but he still doesn’t want to see tillie.
and now i have this premonition of a thirty year-old béla, driving his luxury car to my house in the dead of night and trying to get in bed with ben and me, because he’s just finished reading the great god pan.