[Exclusive Column] SCARRED FOR LIFE – September 2022

The bloodgates are open! Halloween season is now upon us, and new horrors are coming from all directions. In Gruesome’s ongoing survey, we check in with our favorite fright fiends—as well as today’s new breed—to find out what early screams left them Scarred for Life!

Tom Savini, FX creator (Friday the 13th, Dawn of the Dead); director (Night of the Living Dead remake, Creepshow Shudder series) and mask co-designer (The Black Phone, now streaming on Peacock)

“Ken Russell’s The Devils [1971] is the one. I vowed never ever to watch that movie again, even though I saw the film as an adult. I expected Oliver Reed, as the doomed priest, to kick ass and save himself and end the horror he goes through. But no! I felt the same about Mel Gibson’s Braveheart.

“[But] the movie that changed my life was Man of a Thousand Faces [1957]. A metamorphosis happeneda mental metamorphosis. Until that time, I would go to the movies to see things like Creature from the Black Lagoon. Those creatures were all real to me and that’s what scared me. Then when I saw Man of a Thousand Faces, not only did it introduce me to Lon Chaney, it was also the first movie that showed me the making of movies: preparing for the Phantom, him doing the makeup for the Hunchback. A smarter kid would have realized that before then, but I was just engrossed in the magic of movies. Man of a Thousand Faces showed me that people have to make this stuff. And to me, Lon Chaney became a hero—my son’s name is Lon. I just wanted to be him when I grew up. From that day on, almost all my time was spent in the basement, playing around with makeup.”

Daniel Roebuck, actor (Lost, John Dies at the End, Final Destination, The Fugitive, and The Munsters, available on disc and digital September 27)

“I discovered the Universal horror films at about 6 years old. They never scared or scarred me. As those stories unfolded, I felt pity and excitement for the creatures, but never fear. There was a film, however, that I saw at a very early age and a character in it that truly terrified me…

“The film? Chitty Chitty Bang Bang [1968]. The character was The Child Catcher, played sinisterly by ballet dancer Robert Helpmann. As you can imagine, long before Freddy, Jason, or Michael, a character who’s referred to by others in the story as ‘The Child Catcher’ should scare the begeezus out of any 6-year-old boy! Everything about this guy: the creepy black undertaker’s costume with a flowered hat, the hissing voice, the Cyrano proboscis, and, well, the big hook and net he carried, were far scarier than a metal glove, a knife, or a machete. If I am completely honest, as the father of two, the insidious idea The Child Catcher represented is still a plague on society. So, I’m OK with staying scared and always being on the lookout for monsters that are real.”

Darren Geare, co-writer (The Retaliators, now in theaters)

“Being a little kid in the ’80s, I watched an endless number of movies in those early cable-channel days, regardless of how age-inappropriate. Alligator [1980] was one movie that left some profound scarring on my young brain. I didn’t know it was even possible for a little kid to be eaten alive in a movie. When the kid was eaten by the alligator in the swimming pool scene, it completely warped my mind. To this day, I love Alligator’s B-movie aesthetic, the awesome Robert Forster, the super-fun plot, and the fantastic practical effects. The combination of a fun exploitation feel mixed with a real sense of danger remains a total influence on my writing.”

Jeff Allen Geare, co-writer (The Retaliators, now in theaters)

“No other movie has scarred me more than Child’s Play 2 [1990]. Growing up, my grandma had a Swedish doll in her room, seated on a little rocking chair. I loved that damn doll. And then I saw Child’s Play 2… Overnight, that doll went from lovable friend to evil demon, and I haven’t been the same since. I can’t help but feel like the butt of a cosmic joke when, decades later, me and my brother’s first movie, The Retaliators, landed Randy Bricker to edit the film—the same Randy Bricker who worked as an editor on Bride of Chucky, Cult of Chucky and the Chucky TV series.”

Hannah Barlow, actress/writer/director (Sissy, streaming on Shudder September 29):

“It’s 1997, I’m 5 years old and it’s Friday night—that sacred, unsupervised sliver of time in the weekly calendar reserved for me and the remote. I land on Robert Zemeckis’ Death Becomes Her [1992], and I’m scared and thrilled and I feel so… understood. What do I (sans pre-frontal cortex) know about the horror of self-hatred? I’m probably simply delighted by the cinematic magic, the epic sparring of Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep, and all of the wonderful practical effects: the hole in Hawn’s stomach, the twist of Streep’s neck… But I am feeling a first flash of existential dread at the credit roll, right after Madeline and Helen tumble down Dr. Ernest Menville’s never-ending funeral steps, torn apart but unable to die—stuck in the doom of their vanity, forever. I’m so disturbed by the idea of wasting my life loathing myself. To me, that is horror. Monsters and ghouls don’t impress me much. The dark internal loops that keep us from loving ourselves—that’s what’s waking me up at night.”

Carlota Pereda, writer/director (Piggy, in Alamo Drafthouse theaters October 7; additional theaters and VOD October 14)

“I spent most afternoons with my older cousins, so I’d watch whatever they watched, no matter how gruesome.Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s Who Can Kill a Child? [1976] was the first movie where the monster was not ‘the other.’ Here the monsters were kids like us, showing us there could be evil in everyone, even ourselves.”

Duncan Birmingham, writer/director (Who Invited Them, now streaming on Shudder)

“I was raised very Catholic and with a lot of restrictions about TV-watching, so I was being very transgressive one night channel-surfing and caught a few moments of The Exorcist [1973]. I think I was around 9 years old and just a minute or two of Linda Blair’s Regan, her face mint green and sore-covered, baiting Jason Miller’s Father Damien in that terrifying devil growl, and I couldn’t change the channel fast enough. I was still thinking about it when my parents got home from dinner. I confessed I’d watched a little of The Exorcist, and now I was afraid to go to sleep.

“‘But it’s all made-up, right?’ I asked leadingly, expecting reassurance. My dad went on to tell me it was all based on a true story. In fact, he continued, ‘If you believe in God, it’s just logical that you have to believe in the devil as well.’ Then it was bedtime and, as you may have guessed, I did not sleep well that night.”

David DeCoteau, director (Creepozoids, Wolves of Wall Street, Leeches!, The Brotherhood, and Killer Design, now streaming on Tubi)

Night of the Living Dead [1968] aired on late-night TV—uncut—in the early ’70s and horrified a nation. Local stations were not aware of the graphic nature of a relatively new movie before they aired it. My 11-year-old eyes were shocked! Around the same time, I saw Hammer’s Dracula: Prince of Darkness and Plague of the Zombies at the Lombard Theater in Portland, Oregon. I was mortified by the FULL-COLOR blood! I was at the very first screening of Halloween in Portland at the Eastgate Theater. My friends and I all thought our 16-year-old eyes had seen it all. Nothing could scare us! Halloween, however, scared the shit out of everybody in that packed theater. I’ve never heard audience screams as loud as that night! Don’t get me started on the premiere of Dawn of the Dead! Oy! But because I was so young and the whole experience seemed like a news broadcast, Night of the Living Dead scared and scarred me the most.”

Christopher Hatton, writer/director (Battle of the Damned, Robotropolis and Raven’s Hollow, streaming on Shudder September 22)

“The film that messed me up was Straw Dogs [1971] by Sam Peckinpah. Not a horror, but psychologically horrific. I was coming off a traumatic breakup when I rented the old movie for a bit of escape. I didn’t know I was getting into a study of masculine violence, psychological manipulation, and slow-burning dread. Because of my state of mind, it landed in all the wrong/right ways and was so upsetting that in subsequent years, I actively avoided the shelves in rental stores where I might lay eyes on the box! A few years later, I got to work with David Warner who was in the film, and I told him how it had scarred me, which only delighted him and prompted some great stories about Peckinpah.”

Virginia Vincent, actress (Kolchak: The Night Stalker, The Return of Dracula, and The Hills Have Eyes, now streaming on AMC+)

“When I was very small, my brother took me to see Lon Chaney in The Phantom of the Opera [1925]. It was very scary! When the point came when the girl was going to take off the Phantom’s mask, I was so frightened I had to turn away and put my hand over my eyes. I didn’t watch that part—I couldn’t. I was too little for that movie, it was too scary.” (Special thanks to Tom Weaver for this entry.)

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

Dave Dreher
Co-Founder / Lead News Reporter at Gruesome Magazine
Dave is co-founder and lead news reporter for Gruesome. Dave has built his resume working for Diabolique Magazine, The Horror Channel, Horrornews.net, House of Horrors and Creature Corner. He has worked with Tom Savini on his official site since 1997 and is also co-host of the popular podcast Horror News Radio.