Ah, October – my favorite month of the year. It’s getting colder (I need to move to Minnesota), the sun sets earlier and earlier (or maybe Alaska?) – and yes, that’s right, I prefer cold and dark days to hot and sunny days. Don’t judge.
When I was a kid, October found me smack in the middle of volleyball season. CYO volleyball back then was a lot different than it is now. Our practices and games were outside – even when the temperatures dropped into the 50s. I can still feel the sting of the ball on my hands. Our uniforms were jumpers so our legs froze as well. But, if you loved the game like I did, none of those things mattered. What mattered was smacking the ball over the net on one powerful, net-skimming hit (yes, way different than today’s game) and closing out the match in two games.
October also meant we were fast approaching basketball season – and I loved playing basketball even more than volleyball. I’d spend the weekends after volleyball games on the courts at Rittenhouse – taking shot after shot in solo-games of Around the World (I played so much I could go 360 around the globe without a miss) if I had the court to myself . But the best was when there were enough kids for a pickup game, and Kevin Shields brought his metal nets so we weren’t shooting at bare rims.
But the best thing about October – which I discovered as a senior in high school – are the horror movies that dominate the air waves come October 1.
The last weekend in October, 1978 — my first experience with the movie “Halloween.”
My friends and I went that opening weekend, and since then I’ve probably seen the movie a gazillion times. Exaggerating, of course, but it feels that way.
The very first horror movie I saw was a two years prior, when Sissy Spacek hit the big screen as “Carrie” in November 1976. I was hooked on horror from the opening scene. I still don’t know what I consider my favorite scene – when John Travolta’s car flipped (revenge is sweet), when Carrie hurled all those kitchen gadgets at her crazed mom (gotta love that potato peeler) or the (spoiler alert) hand shooting straight up from the leaves. All were pretty awesome.
Stephen King’s tragic story of a misfit teenage girl drew me into the world of horror/suspense/slasher films that are still my genres of choice. Should I watch a rom/com or suspense movie like “Scream” – not even a question. Tear jerker or a movie that forces you to watch with your eyes covered because you can’t take the gore? Gore every time.
I tried to pass my love of horror/suspense/slasher films on to my children, but they really didn’t take to them at first. In fact, they have accused me of “traumatizing” them (a little dramatic if you ask me) because I thought they’d enjoy “The Birds” as much as I did. OK, in my defense I thought since it was in black and white and made in the 50s, it was suitable viewing for kids. And since I found “Gremlins” to be more comedic than scary, I for sure thought my son Tommy would love the movie.
Apparently, I was wrong. I was also wrong about “Mars Attacks,” which I found to be very amusing and not scary (much like Kizmo and Stripe of “Gremlins” fame).
Tommy still chastises me for “traumatizing” him (again, way too dramatic). As they’ve gotten older, their tastes in movies have also matured, and I’m proud to say my daughter has even binge-watched all “The Exorcist” movies.
That’s more than I can say. When we were teenagers, my friends and I gathered at my house to watch “The Exorcist” on cable — either Prism or Home Box Office, which was the correct name back then. My kids think it’s hysterical that I sometimes refer to HBO by its given name. I fail to see the humor.
I went into this viewing of “The Exorcist” knowing the reputation this particular movie had – the scariest movie in the history of film making. For crying out loud, it was reported that some viewers fainted, vomited and had heart attacks. I didn’t know if those reports were factual, but I did know that when my sister saw it in the theaters in 1973, she slept with a crucifix under her pillow. And this was the sister who found great fun in scaring the heck out of me by saying in a really creepy voice late at night “I’m in the closet and I’m going to get you.” I was about 10 at the time, and my bed was next to the closet…so, needless to say, she was successful in traumatizing me (not dramatic at all).
So my friends and I were, by this time, veteran horror/slasher film fans (you name it, we saw it –“Friday the 13th,” “He Knows You’re Alone,” all Halloween movies to date, “When a Stranger Calls,” and a score of others that were forgettable. As experienced horror/slasher movie fans, we confidently took on “The Exorcist.” When the final credits rolled, we were all in agreement – what the heck was all the fuss about ?
Granted, it was disgusting and really uncomfortable to watch, especially for young Catholic girls who trusted in their faith. But the special effects, to our now mature viewing eyes, seemed silly.
But I did come away with one very important lesson – steer clear of Ouija boards. In my mind, if I stayed away from those infernal things, I was safe.
So while I considered “The Exorcist” mildly scary, and most certainly unnerving and uncomfortable, it didn’t come close to what I considered the scariest movie ever made.
I distinctly remember the night I saw that movie in June 1976. My friend Michelle and I were dropped off at the Plymouth Meeting mall to see it (we were too young to drive). A few other kids from Kenrick were also there, so we all sat together. We all experienced fear and dread, along with the need to check everyone’s scalp.
For months after seeing that movie I avoided having my photo taken because I didn’t want to see a shadow of some horrible thing crushing/impaling/decapitating me. Nope, no thanks. Truth be told, I also avoided walking on piles of leaves for several autumns after watching “Carrie,” but I’m OK with it now.
As Michelle and I and the other kids waited outside the mall for our rides, we came to the same conclusion – there was no need to worry about demonic possession, as long as those Ouija boards stayed in their boxes. But those triple 6s on Damien’s head? Well, that could be anybody; at any time and anywhere.
Since my teenage years I’ve seen countless horror/slasher/suspense movies and television shows, and I maintain to this day that “The Omen” is the scariest of all. I loved all the Conjuring movies (clap, clap) and any movies featuring the original ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren (and of course Annabelle). I skipped all of the Jason vs. Freddy vs. Michael Myers comedies, fell asleep in the theater during the original “Paranormal Activity,” but thrilled at all the “Scream” movies (right up there with any and all Halloween movies with Jamie Lee Curtis).
But “The Omen” has a truth behind it that I find more than just jolting – it’s terrifying.
For sure that’s one movie I’ll avoid this October, but not the others. And I know, with all the streaming choices out there I could probably watch any movie I want, regardless of the Halloween season. But there’s some added sense of horror (and fun) that comes with watching a movie being aired on a cable channel — maybe it reminds me of being wonderfully scared in my living room as a teenager while watching the classic “The Shining,” which, of course, never gets old, or “Night of the Living Dead” for the first time. Suggestion: Don’t watch that iconic zombie movie while eating lasagna – a misstep on my part for sure.
And after all, as I get older, I’m realizing reality is a hell of a lot scarier than anything that comes out of Hollywood. Innocent bystanders being shot; gun control a laughable phrase; kids being abused and murdered; politicians putting their agenda before their constituents. All these things are mostly out of my control — and are much scarier than Jack Torrance, Freddie Kruger or Michael Myers put together.
What I can control is my geographical proximity to a Ouija board…and being mindful of triple 6s.
Email Cheryl Kehoe Rodgers at [email protected]