New year, new fear. 2023 is already off on a bloody tear, thanks to the success of M3gan in theaters and new streaming hits like The Last of Us on HBO Max. With tons more genre products debuting this winter, let’s check in with the latest purveyors of cinematic fear to see what horror movies and TV shows left them Scarred for Life!
Brandon Cronenberg, writer/director (Antiviral, Possessor and Infinity Pool, screening January 21 at the Sundance Film Festival and in theaters January 27)
“The first thing I can remember being afraid of on a screen was the music video for Thriller , specifically the first shot of Michael Jackson with yellow eyes and fangs at the start of the transformation sequence. I guess I would have been around 3 years old when it came out, and I wandered into the room while my sister was watching it with some friends. My memory of the entire situation is completely deformed because of how young I was—it’s a sort of partly constructed dream memory that doesn’t entirely make sense—and it floated around in my head as a vague and nameless fear point until I learned years later what I had seen.”
Bess Wohl, writer/director (Baby Ruby, in theaters and VOD February 3)
“I saw The Believers  at a sleepover party on VHS early in my teen years and have never fully recovered from it. In the film, which stars Martin Sheen, his love interest [played by Helen Shaver] gets a pimple on her cheek that festers and grows and grows into a giant sore. Finally, she pops it, and—I can barely even write these words right now—tiny, white spiders crawl out. (I think they were white—I can’t bring myself to watch it again to check.) Throughout my adolescence, my misery at having acne outbreaks—which I did often—was exacerbated by the horrifying fear that tiny spiders might crawl out of one of my zits.”
Adrien Morot, FX designer and/or creator (The Unholy, Crawl, The Lighthouse, Pet Sematary and The Whale, and M3gan, now in theaters)
“In the late ’70s, my weekend ritual was to go to a movie theater right next to my cousin’s house where they played four movies for $1 (!!!). My dad would give me $2, and I would be buying my entrance ticket, a bag of popcorn, and a chocolate bar. As a bonus for my dad, I’d be out of the house for the entire day. Back then, I always seemed to be getting in trouble with my early makeup experiments by either trying stuff like removing the humidity out of a heavy plaster mold in the family’s electrical clothes dryer or setting my bedroom on fire while constructing a melting head out of paraffin wax.
“This theater mostly showed genre movies. Sometimes older ones like Robot Monster or Godzilla: King of the Monsters! to sometimes more recent releases like Phantasm or Halloween. If I liked the selection, I’d be attending on both Saturday and Sunday… much to my dad’s delight and relief.
“One weekend featured one of my all-time favorites, SSSSSSS , produced by the legendary duo Richard Zanuck and David Brown, who would go on to produce Jaws two years later. The movie starred Dirk Benedict of Battlestar Galactica. He plays David, the young new assistant of Dr. Stoner [Strother Martin], a scientist who does research on snakes. Under the pretext of trying to help David’s immune response to snake bites, Dr. Stoner starts injecting him with a mysterious serum. This will slowly turn David into A SNAKE!! From the initial stages of the skin on his back peeling off as if he was molting to the appearance of a scaly surface on his body to the final full transformation into a King Cobra! All brilliantly created by the makeup geniuses John Chambers and Dan Striepeke.
“The scariest and most disturbing scene was when David and his new girlfriend, Dr. Stoner’s daughter (smooth move, David!), visit a local carnival’s sideshow where they see a snake man. Pale, yellowish skin. Patchy hair. Erased facial features covered in scales. Hopelessly laying on a towel, limbless, unable to move. A complete vision of horror!
“Needless to say, I went back the following day to see the movie again. And needless to say, I spent the following week covering my face with white school glue that I’d dry and peel off, shave patches of hair off my head, and gluing cardboard scales to my neck and cheeks, much to the absolute desperation of my dad. Best of times!”
Marc Senter, actor (The Lost, Starry Eyes, Tales of Halloween, Dementia and Old Man, now streaming on AMC+)
“I was only 6 or 7 when I saw The Wizard of Oz  for the first time. I was terrified of the green Wicked Witch of the West, and she would haunt my dreams for a few years after. I remember the time my mother brought me to some department store in Colorado, and they had installed a yellow brick road. I completely freaked out.”
Patrick Rea, director (Nailbiter, Arbor Demon, I Am Lisa and They Wait in the Dark, available digitally February 7)
“If I think back to my childhood, there were several movies that had a distinct impact on me. Some of the earliest I saw were Motel Hell and The Final Terror, which were both on Commander USA’s Groovy Movies. But the one that gave me the most chills was The Hand , starring Michael Caine and directed by Oliver Stone. Whenever I stick my hand out of my car window while driving, I always think back to that film and immediately pull my hand back in. I distinctly remember being petrified by the finale, where Caine is in the psychiatric ward, and the hand kills the psychologist played by Viveca Lindfors.”
Steve Balderson, co-writer/director (Firecracker and Alchemy of the Spirit, now available on Amazon Prime Video and VOD)
“There are two. I was changed for life when I watched the Moldavian wedding massacre unfold in real-time on the TV show Dynasty . I was way too young to be watching, but my mom had it on the TV, and I was just watching to fall asleep. What started off as some overly art-directed formal wedding turned violent as this rogue militia crashes through the church’s stained-glass windows firing machine guns at everyone. It turned into a total bloodbath—everyone on screen was screaming and being shot. Bullets and blood were flying everywhere. Once everyone in the entire cast had been shot repeatedly and lay unconscious, the camera did a slow pan of close-ups to all the wounded stars. Then, suddenly, a freeze-frame and the show was over. One of the most classic cliffhangers of all time. I was obsessed. When they did reruns that summer, I recorded the episode on VHS and rewatched that scene over and over and over. It is now seared into part of my DNA.
“As for being Scarred for Life, it was that scene in Poltergeist  when some guy eats something with maggots in it, and then goes to puke in the bathroom and precedes to tear off all the flesh on his face down to the bone. It was something I couldn’t bear to watch, but for some reason, I just couldn’t turn away.”
Fabián Forte, writer/director (Dead Man Tells His Own Tale and Legions, now on VOD)
“I remember a movie I saw in my teens. I wasn’t that young, and this betrays the fact that I get scared quite easily. But I always encourage myself to take on horror movies despite my frequent fears. The movie I’ll talk about is Demons , by Lamberto Bava. The night I saw it, I was accompanied by my aunt, who accompanied me to see many movies, but this was a different experience. We went to a neighborhood cinema. They projected the movie continuously, and we were late. So, we entered to see it already started, with the woman putting on the mask and transforming in the bathroom of the cinema. My aunt tried to cover my eyes. I remember the movie being full of gore and violent deaths. Demons is a waterfall of aggressive images, and my aunt tried not to vomit because she was disgusted. It was great and shocking. A beautiful experience!
“I bravely finished watching the movie, hoping the next showing would begin so we could see the initial 30 minutes that we had missed. Demons left a mark on me. Even my last film, Legions, includes a small and modest tribute to the movie.”
Cornelio Sunny, actor/co-writer/director(Death Knot, now on digital and disc)
“This one’s easy to answer: The horror film that scarred me was Juon: The Grudge , a Japanese film by Takashi Shimizu. I saw it when I was 17. It was particularly disturbing as that was the first time I saw a film with a very disturbing sound design. Also, since I’m a horror fan, I hate films with jump scares. And Juon did the opposite: It didn’t use any jump scares, but it actually built the horror slowly before showing the ghost, building an uncomfortable anticipation for the sighting. Also, what scared me was the concept of the horror following you around in day-to-day life moments; in the bathroom, bedroom, not a cliche like a haunted house of some sort. Plus, that film introduced me to other Asian horror cinema, and I wasn’t disappointed finding films like The Ring (Japan) and Shutter (Thailand).”
Robert Gajic, director (The Fearway, on digital and VOD February 7)
“I was too young to know the names of Rod Serling, Richard Matheson, and Richard Donner when I first watched The Twilight Zone’s ‘Nightmare at 20,000 Feet’ , but that episode of television terrified me and made a lasting impression. A horrifying gremlin on the wing of a plane, a panic-stricken William Shatner, and brilliant direction by Donner, the episode masterfully plays with your mind and opens your imagination with a terrific build-up of suspense. With the unique and claustrophobic atmosphere, it has stuck with me most of my life.”
Eileen Dietz, actress (The Exorcist, The Clonus Horror, Neighborhood Watch, Halloween II, and The Fearway, on digital and VOD February 7)
“One of the films I remember growing up that led to my love of horror was an obscure film called Scream of Fear . It starred Susan Strasberg as a wheelchair-bound young woman who returns to her father’s home after 10 years. Although she is told he is away, she keeps seeing his dead body. It was in B&W, which I love. I vividly remember her being pushed down this huge hill, in her wheelchair. As a kid, it so frightened me.
“The other film I saw as a kid when it first came out was Psycho , starring Tony Perkins, who I had the joy of doing a play with a decade later. The last scene when he is in his mother’s clothing and wig scares the hell out of me to this day. As does the famous shower scene with Janet Leigh!
“My mother took me to see all the Ingmar Bergman films when I was a kid, most starring Max von Sydow, who I had the extreme pleasure of working with on The Exorcist. The images of Bergman’s thrillers haunt me to this day. I just realized on two projects I had the utmost pleasure of working with two of my horror heroes!”
(See here http://gruesomemagazine.com/author/tonytimpone/ for a link to past Scarred for Life columns. Follow me on Twitter: @tonytimpone1 and Instagram: timponetony)