[Exclusive Column] SCARRED FOR LIFE

In Gruesome’s ongoing survey, see what horror hits left some of our favorite fear personalities—and today’s genre practitioners—Scarred for Life! Skip that summer vacation and watch a scary movie today!

Mali Elfman, writer/director (Fun Size Horror: Volume One and Next Exit, playing the Tribeca Film Festival)

“I have a favorite horror film that I saw way too young, which was Poltergeist. But actually, the original made-for-TV miniseries It [1990] scarred me for life. What’s funny is that I haven’t gone back and rewatched it because it scarred me so much. And I kinda like that. I like my memory of it, and I know it’s not gonna live up to that memory, so I just let it live there like that.”

Peter Hengl, writer/director (Family Dinner, playing the Tribeca Film Festival)

“Not so much scarred. I was a very easily scared kid. So, for a very long time, I actually stayed away from horror out of my own choice. I really only got into horror very late, but one of the films that is still one of my favorites—very appropriate for the city I’m in right now, New York for Tribeca [Film Festival]—that certainly has horror elements, is Ghostbusters [1984]. As a very young kid, I found the ghosts pretty scary, to be honest. Maybe not the Marshmallow Man, but some of the other stuff. The terror dogs and the librarian at the beginning in particular. Those scared the living shit out of my very young self.”

Joyce Meadows, actress (Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Bad Influence and The Brain from Planet Arous, on disc June 21 from The Film Detective)

“When I was 10 years old, my cousin Donna, who was six years older than me, said, ‘We’re going to the movies,’ and I said ‘OK!’ She took me to see Arsenic and Old Lace [1944] at the local movie theater in Ontario, California. I was watching these two old ladies doing their thing, and I was probably too young to be understanding that they were murdering all these people. But then there was a scene where Raymond Massey (looking like Boris Karloff) has a knife, and he’s approaching Cary Grant, whom I already was fascinated with. I was so scared, I didn’t scream or say anything. But long after that, I would have nightmares about the movie. Sometimes I’d be dreaming about my Uncle Josh or somebody else, and all of a sudden, I’d see Massey with a knife coming to get them. It wasn’t until I was much older and saw the movie on TV that I realized it was a comedy!”

Stephan Rick, director (The Dark Side of the Moon, The Super and The Good Neighbor, now in theaters and VOD)

“When I was 4 years old, my 6-year-old cousin and his parents came to visit. While the grown-ups were having a dinner party, we were allowed to watch TV. We stayed up really late when the 1931 Boris Karloff Frankenstein came on. I had never seen anything like that before. The whole morbidity of digging up dead bodies and stitching pieces together was something my 4-year-old mind couldn’t quite comprehend. The most shocking scene was when the Monster ruthlessly killed a little girl. This terrified me so much that I refused to sleep in the dark for years to come. Only much later I found out that there is a restored version of Frankenstein with a previously cut scene. [In that one], it becomes clear that the Monster actually didn’t want to kill the girl, but merely play. I wonder to this day if this version would have had a less traumatizing effect on me.”

Robert Sigl, director (Laurin, School’s Out, Lexx)

“I was at a very young age when I saw Roman Polanski’s Repulsion [1965]. More than 40 minutes into the film, nothing scary had happened—we only saw Catherine Deneuve walking around in the streets or in her apartment. Then she enters her sister’s bedroom (the sister is away on a trip to Italy and Deneuve has been left alone in the huge apartment), opens the wardrobe to try on one of the dresses. When she moves the wardrobe door, we spot the ominous figure of a man standing behind her for a brief moment. I consider this scene the mother of all jump scares—it was made in 1965 and in black and white. Boy, was I scared and scarred for life.”

Armand Mastroianni, director (He Knows You’re Alone, The Supernaturals, Tales from the Darkside, Friday the 13th: The Series)

“I was 10 or 11 when I first saw The Thing from Another World [1951] on late-night TV and never forgot my reaction to it, just like another favorite, Invasion of the Body Snatchers [1956]. I have to mention this one because to me the films are similar in that they deal with fear of an unknown evil lurking out there you couldn’t see and led to your inevitable demise.

“What captivated me about these films is how they slowly build suspense by not showing what’s haunting you except for some quick glimpses. A slow burn, which gives fear all the time it needs to crawl on you, just like when you’re a kid thinking of what’s under your bed. Both films terrified me and certainly influenced some of the films I’ve made. John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing in 1982 was brilliant and even more scary, but the original still haunts me. My first exposure to a terrifying concept!”

Matthew Hensman, co-director/writer (The Prey: Legend of Karnoctus, now on VOD; digital July 7)

“Back when I was 16, having just watched A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors [1987], I remember coming home after the movie and sitting at an old-fashioned typewriter knowing that I wanted to write movies. I fell in love with the concept that anything was possible within the dream-like nature of that particular story. It was having no restrictions but being bound only by imagination that had really captivated me. I also enjoyed the beautiful irony of how well comedy mixed with horror stories.”

Phil Flores, co-director (The Hamiltons, The Thompsons, The Violent Kind)

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark [1973], this basic made-for-TV movie, was an absolutely horrifying childhood experience. Little whispering deformed demon creatures that live in the basement, trying to cut you and pull you into the furnace was fucking terrorizing. Psychologically, it breached some dark places in the subconscious during that ’70s era. Undercurrent themes of banal status quo identities that spiraled into failure were the real horrors that haunted my home and childhood during that time. But, ultimately, films like Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark gave me an outlet to experience those fears and even navigate me to create my own horror films.”

Gustavo Sainz de la Peña, writer/producer (The Prey: Legend of Karnoctus, now on VOD; digital July 7)

“I’d have to say The Exorcist [1973]. Boy, that film got me good. It goes to show how impactful a movie can be in your life and gave me a new respect for horror movies. I wasn’t that young when I saw it, probably 11 or 12, but it still shook me. Being raised in Uruguay, the Catholic culture is very strong, so monsters, fairies and witches, I knew were not real. But the Devil, man, that’s another story!”

Eric Hensman, co-director/producer (The Prey: Legend of Karnoctus, now on VOD; digital July 7)

“The horror film that impacted me the most was The Shining [1980]. I remember watching it late at night when I was very young and being freaked out when the boy started saying ‘REDRUM,’ and the twins in the hallway were super-creepy! But it wasn’t until I saw the creatures in Big Trouble in Little China and Predator that really planted the seed in my head and made me want to make my own monster movies.”

(Follow me on Twitter: @tonytimpone1 and Instagram: timponetony)

Tony Timpone