In my opinion, The Amityville Horror (the 1979 classic, not the new one) was, by far and without the possibility of rebuttal, the scariest movie of all time.
Horror movie connoisseurs (of which I am not one) will undoubtedly be rising indignantly, even as I speak, with rebuttals, but I have already said "no rebuttals", so pipe down and take a seat. I’m not saying that it IS the scariest movie of all time; I’m saying it is IN MY OPINION. This leaves plenty of room for argument except in the little world that is me, so you can have your picks. Mine is sealed and delivered. Let me explain.
It isn’t the scariest because of the scary voices, or the room that filled with flies to chase off the priest, or the red room under the stairs, or James Brolin’s wild-haired, scraggly-bearded, fuzzy-eyed madman routine, or the ax, or “GET OUT!” None of that. Although, to my twelve-year old brain those were all pretty scary. No, the elements of plot and special effect and dramatic tension were only accomplices to my night terrors for weeks after seeing the classic fright-fest.
The real credit goes to my Mom.
You see, The Amityville Horror was a Restricted Movie. I’d gone to see it with my Big Brother, Trevor* (this is all post-parental split) who had, in his defense, not realized it was a Restricted-and-for-old-people-only movie, a fact that my Mom was apparently unaware of as well. They both knew it was a scary movie, but not how scary – so scary that only adults could view it safely. Moreover, to his credit, he was ready to turn tail and go bowling when he saw the rating at the ticket window. That would have been when I did the puppy-dog-eyes thing in combination with the don’t-crush-my-young-dreams-of-coolness thing with a side of the I-will-make-you-pay thing. I cajoled and convinced him that my mom wouldn’t mind (which was certainly true - she didn’t mind at all) and that I’d be fine (oh hell NO, I wasn’t). He signed the release and we went in.
The movie was scary. At least to me it was; Scarier than I’d anticipated for sure. but it didn't kill me. I jumped in my seat often and was thoroughly spooked, but it’s not like I cried or anything. When we left the theater I was buzzing with skittery energy, unnerved but trying to be cool about it. I was, after all, nearly thirteen, and I had been the one to convince Trevor that there should be Restricted Movie Watching.
Apparently my act was convincing. Convincing enough at the very least to make Trevor think it was a good idea to prolong the excitement.
I was quietly trying to hold myself together in the dark car, driving home on the dark road when the car weaved. I jumped a bit and braced my hand on the dash. Trevor chuckled and said, “Sorry ‘bout that”. Then we weaved again. I jumped again. No apology this time. I looked over at Trevor and he had this demented look on his face, all scrunched and bunched and leery-eyed. Then another weave. And finally, the coup de gras: An other-worldly voice that sounded like equal parts chains dragging on gravel and blood gurgling through massive fleshy rents started coming out of his mouth. My Big Brother’s mouth! This, along with a now-continual weaving from one side of the dark road to the other!
I’m trying to find the words… Imagine, if you will, the sound of an old, hand-cranked siren, beginning low and rising in volume and pitch. It mixes in a horrible harmony with the basso scratchy gargling coming from the thing that is now driving. Imagine, in concert with those sounds, my twelve-year old, gangly frame collapsing on itself, knees drawing up as I twisted, back towards my door, away from him, hands stretching out to fend off whatever demon had possessed (this cannot be stressed enough) MY BIG BROTHER! Finally, picture that cool effect where the wax heads of the Nazis at the End of Raiders of the Lost Ark melt so that the eyebrows and lids disappear and they are all eyeball just for a second.
That was me, sketchy to unhinged in three seconds flat. Trevor stopped immediately and, between uncontrollable guffaws, apologized with a degree of gusto that was admirable, if somewhat undermined by the aforementioned laughter. I think he felt bad the rest of the way home. I think my hyperventilation helped him feel bad, but that might be giving my discomfort undue credit.
By the time we pulled into my driveway I had mostly stopped breathing hard. I think there was even an attempt at macho bravado and some self-deprecating laughter: “Ha ha, I’m such a scardee-cat. You got me real good, mister,” was probably what I was hoping to get across. This to hide the “Ihateyou!Ihateyou!IHATEYOU!” that was actually running through my head.
Trevor offered to walk me to the front door, but I declined. Seriously, I think he was worried about me, but I wasn’t a) going to let him have the satisfaction of knowing I was almost out of my skin scared and, b) he was, at that moment, perhaps the last person I wanted in a position to be the benefactor of my trust, thank you very much.
I got out of the car and watched as he backed and turned, and then drove away. I turned back to the house.
The front light was on, but the rest of the house was dark. It was a late show too, you see, and it was comfortably after eleven. Late. And dark.
I let myself in quietly and left the light off, not wanting to wake Mom up. I took off my shoes so as to be even quieter. I stopped and steadied myself in the dark, rational me in an all-out war with irrational me to enforce calm and reason. I tip-toed down the hall past my bedroom, towards the bathroom at the end, so I could brush the popcorn, chocolate and pop off of my teeth. Everything was going to be all right. Everything was fine. I was home. It was all going to be just fine.
These are the lies we tell ourselves.
When Mom jumped out from around the corner I don’t think I actually jumped in response. I’m sure the story would be better with a jump, something instinctual and epic, perhaps including hitting my head on the ceiling I jumped so heroically. That didn’t happen. That would have required a degree of coordination that was altogether impossible for me at that point.
Rather, there was a general spasmodic herky-jerky, each leg wanting to move in a different direction at the same time, gravity and connective tissue making that somewhat impossible, arms also flying, completely without heed to what the other was trying to do, in opposite vectors. My eyes probably even looked opposite directions.
There may have been a shriek. Yes, yes, I’m quite sure about the shriek.
And then there was simply an implosion. I crumpled. There were tears of fear and a pathetic batting of arms as Mom, suddenly all too aware of how intense her little prank had been on my obviously fragile psyche, and also suddenly far more scary than I had ever possibly imagined Trevor to be, tried to console me.
I am reluctantly proud to say that there was no soiling of pants in any way. This is not repression; I am sure it is fact.
After a few minutes of inconsolable blubbering, and after I had shamed my mother away from me with accusatory glares and unspoken recriminations, I managed a Tim Conway shuffle into the bathroom on my spasming legs. When I came out the lights were on. Silently, my OWN MOTHER standing there and by now managing to both express profound sympathy and laugh at me at the same time, I trundled past her into my room.
I may have slammed the door indignantly.
I’m not proud of the slam, but then, really, what about the episode is there to inspire pride. I figure the slam was my small recompense.
*All names other than “Mom” have been changed to protect the identity of GUILTY PERSONS!