I think that I’ve watched too many science fiction movies. This may have been a mistake, as this choice has obviously altered my sense of reality. Let me explain.
I’m in my sixties, and have watched many, many science fiction movies over the course of my life. Some of them were very entertaining, some enlightening, and some scared the crap out of me. It’s that ‘scared the crap out of me’ thing that might be the problem.
My mother was a movie addict, and she started taking me to the movies when I was a little boy. Back then our family went to the drive-in, cheap entertainment in the comfort of your own car with lots of popcorn that you could bring from home. There were usually two or three movies, beginning at dark, and I got to stay up very late, when the imagination is at its height of activity.
My mother loved scary movies. The drive-in was located in the middle of nowhere, with corn fields all around. Since we didn’t have a lot of money, my parents liked sneaking me into the drive-in by putting me in the trunk. To their credit, they let me out for the movies. My father worked long hours as a plumber, so he drove us there, parked and slept the entire time.
One of the first science fiction movies that I remember was an old horror film entitled The Tingler, that came out in the late 1950’s. This movie starred Vincent Price, and the plot line included a mad scientist who discovered a parasite in the human spinal cord that came to life if the person was really scared. The man scares his wife to death in order to release her tingler, removes it to study it, and it goes on a killing spree. The only way to stop it is to scream.
Only 6 or 7 at the time, I remember hiding in the back seat of our car, peaking up over the front seat once in a while, really scared. I spent several weeks looking under my bed for human spinal cords at night. There were never any there, but I kept looking. I saw the movie again as an adult, and it was actually very silly, but it scared the crap out of me as a little boy.
Though not so much science fiction as horror-thriller, in 1960 she took me to see Psycho, also at the drive-in. She really liked Alfred Hitchcock. I never knew why, although the name Jessop has its roots in jolly old England. Maybe he was some long distant relative (that would explain a lot about my family of origin).
Anyhow, the shower scene was scary enough, but when the killer revealed his momma sitting in the rocker, I was in for several years of counseling. The shock was so great I spilled my greasy buttered popcorn all over the back seat, which did not endear me to my father. I’m guessing that scene had a similar effect on a lot of children, who shouldn’t have seen the movie in the first place. I didn’t come out from behind the front seat for the rest of the movie.
Then in the late 1960’s, the original Night of the Living Dead showed up in theaters. An all-time classic, and often cited as the original zombie movie, this one left me with several nights of nightmares. Thirteen or fourteen at the time, my imagination was in full bloom. The zombies appeared due to contamination with a chemical called 2-4-5 Trioxin, or something to that effect. The idea of a bunch of rotting dead people walking around, killing us living folks and eating our brains, frightened hell out of me. At this age I was too tall to hunker down behind the front seat of my parents’ car, so I closed my eyes for the really scary parts.
The end of that movie made me sad when the cops killed the poor guy who’d survived the entire night of zombie attacks. This was one of those science fiction movies that seriously impacted me. I checked the closet in my bedroom for zombies multiple times each night before I got into bed. I don’t know what I would have done if I’d found any, but I always looked.
At the end of the 1970’s, the movie Alien came out, with Sigourney Weaver. Twenty-eight and married, I appreciated that Sigourney Weaver was an attractive young woman (a fact I did not share with my wife). The alien was not, attractive that is. That movie was well written and directed. The hideous alien just kept popping up at the most inopportune times, grabbing up cast members and tearing them to bits. I couldn’t help but jump every time it happened, in spite of trying not to. The invulnerability of the creature was also impressive, and frustrating.
Why the hell can’t the cast ever figure out how to kill these monsters until there’s only one or two characters left? I guess if they killed the monster in the first couple of minutes the movie would be too short, but it would have been much easier on my nervous system. This movie had me on the edge of my seat, and my wife thought it was kind of lame. Does that mean she’s braver than me? Or do I just have a much richer imagination? (Let’s just say she slept like a baby that night, and I did not).
In the early 1980’s my wife and I went to see the first Nightmare on Elm Street movie, of Freddy Krueger fame. In my early thirties at the time, I acted the part of the strong, brave, protective husband for my wife, ready to comfort her in her terror. Turned out that wasn’t really necessary, because my wife of little imagination again thought the movie was lame. On the other hand, I didn’t sleep for a week.
The thought of having a demon come after me in my dreams scared me and disturbed me in a way that I do not understand to this day. Apparently I have a little too much imagination, and my wife’s condition is preferable in this case. I avoided the remainder of the Freddy Krueger science fiction movies when they came out. Easy peazy, I just pretended to agree with my wife that they were lame.
After Alien and Nightmare on Elm Street, I explained to my wife how my mother had dragged me to scary science fiction movies when I was a little boy. That must be why these two movies affected me so strongly as an adult. My wife’s nurturing side took over as she told me that I was a grown-ass man, and needed to stop blaming my mother for things that were my responsibility as an adult. Our adult daughters are all strong, unafraid and independent, and I used to take credit for that. Perhaps I need to rethink that particular premise.
Don’t get me wrong, not all science fiction movies have affected me in a bad way. Nor has my vivid imagination completely screwed me up. I am an avid fan of Star Trek, Star Wars and any other star-related science fiction movies. I love movies like Blade Runner, all super-hero movies (The Avengers, Black Widow, Thor, Iron Man, The Hulk, Spiderman, The Flash, Batman, Superman-woman-girl-dog-cat, you get the idea), 2001 A Space Odyssey, The Firefly TV Series and the movie Serenity (the Reavers were kind of disturbing), The Fifth Element, The 12 Monkeys and a whole host of others.
Some of my favorites include those grade ‘B’ science fiction movies like disaster movies, Earthquake, Tornado, Sharknado, Volcano and giant reptile and fish movies like Anaconda, Jaws and Piranah. I also like anything with cyborgs, replicants and artificial intelligence. UFO movies where the aliens abduct humans and probe parts (like in the X-Files) have also always intrigued me, although my greatest fantasy has always been to be abducted by an alien race of blue women (don’t tell my wife).
As I originally mentioned, I am concerned that all of these science fiction movies may have affected my sense of reality, and safety. As I’m sure everyone on the planet Earth is now aware, there’s this thing called the Corona virus that’s scaring hell out of people.
My wife and I were sitting on the beach yesterday, a beautiful sunny day in the mid-seventies, and not too crowded. We sat in our beach chairs reading and enjoying the thrumming of the ocean waves. I looked up the coast, saw several people innocently walking on the beach and headed in our direction, and all I could think was, “There’s a scary new virus, it’s the zombie apocalypse and here come the zombies.” To my credit I calmly mentioned it to my wife and went back to reading my murder mystery.
My wife and I recently watched the new sequel to the original Blade Runner, where Harrison Ford is like a hundred years old. In the end, the replicants wanted to do away with all humans. My wife looked at me seriously and asked, “Why is it always with same with these movies? Why do the cyborgs, robots, replicants and any other artificial intelligence always want to get rid of the human race?”
I thought for a few moments before responding. “Maybe it’s because the human race is so screwed up.”
Wife. “And why might that be?”
Me. “Maybe it’s because their mothers took them to the drive-in to see scary ass science fictions movies when they were little.”
If you got some laughs from this blog, you might also enjoy my book PLEASURIA: Take as Directed (Koehler Books) available in bookstores and on Amazon at http://bit.ly/pleasuria.
I am giving all of my after-tax profits from the book to two children’s charities, Holly’s House and Darkness-to-Light.