Sci-fi now competition: 'The film that scared me the most'
It was The Thing.
That wasn’t the scariest part. The Thing was scary, very scary, but the scariest part was that it was my first experience of watching a scary movie with my mates.
I say mates; looking back, I’d be hard pressed to think of a definite example in which any of them acted selflessly on my behalf. It never seemed to be like ‘Stand by Me’ in which the youngsters band together and face down fears and dangers because they love their friends. It was more like a prelude to The Road. They’re friendly and want your company but you realise that if they get hungry enough, it won’t be ‘you go! I’ll stay and fight them off!’, it’ll be ‘what’s the big deal? We only want your left leg.’
It was in that atmosphere of utter trust and respect that the four of us sat down to watch John Carpenter’s The Thing. The video started playing, the credits rolled and the film began. It was a low key start. Like all great scary movies, you’re being toyed with at the beginning. You’re given just enough to know that things are going to be bad but that’s it. You’ve got to fill in the gaps. The empty corridors of the starship ‘Nostromo’ in Alien is such an example. In this case, you get the heartbeat sound and Carpenter’s pared down electronic music, used to such great effect in ‘Assault on Precinct 13’.
The blackness switches to the bright white of Antarctica. A dog is on the run. He looks back intelligently at a helicopter chasing him and runs on. What gives? What’s going on? It’s a dog, isn’t he lovely? No, wait, this is a scary movie. Lovely = awful. Lovely will either be destroyed horribly by evil or will become evil (unless Lovely is a major star), thus increasing the level of evilness because it’s further to fall, or something.
The dog makes it to the Americans camp. The film ratches up the tension from there. It was when the Americans found the twisted, burnt, flesh thing at the Norwegian base that my terrible situation became clear. I couldn’t leave the room! I couldn’t switch it off! There would be no discussion about the film being too scary or maybe we could watch it in bits with the lights on. This was an adolescent trial by fear that no one could back out of. I was trapped. Either I watched it all or I was called a chicken for the next year.
I had to stay and watch the scene in the kennel. I couldn’t even hold a cushion protectively before me. I had to pretend laugh at the scene on the operating table. When it came to the scene on the sofa, I was in full empathy mode; I was tied to a sofa too! (metaphorically) I was with guys who might have something horrible in their blood! (I admit that was unlikely, but I’d seen what they’d done to a spider). I was there with them, in that bitterly cold place, all the way to the end.
Afterwards, no one said out loud that it had been scary. There was the usual macho unconcern but the faces gave it away. We drank our two-litre bottle of coke without saying a single word.