The basement was where my older brother went to watch movies. When the door was closed, it meant don’t go downstairs. EVER. Now I had my fair share of entertainment upstairs, where my room was, but just knowing that my presence was forbidden made me want to go downstairs even more. After countless of days seeing my brother run pass me, locking the door behind him, I decided to beat him to the punch. One day after school, just before he got home, I hid in the dark between the couch and TV. As he popped in the VHS, I popped out into plain sight, and to my surprise, he let me stay to watch the movie. Now normally, if Mike didn’t want me around, it didn’t take much for him to get what he wanted. Being six years older and a couple of feet taller, just an evil glare would have me running up the stairs. But this time around, he just smiled. The movie was Child’s Play 2. I was under the impression, due to youthful stupidity, that it was a kid’s movie. Obviously if “child” was in the title, it had to be a kid’s movie. But my brother knew better, and he knew what he was doing. “Sure Chris. You can stay, he nonchalantly murmured.” Least to say, the visceral horror I experienced watching that movie is still etched in the back of my eyelids. I still recall how dark the basement was, how cold it felt, seeing only my reflection on the tube of the TV. In a flash, visions of a burnt Chucky doll with his eyeball being scooped from his socket fired off every neuron in my brain. DANGER, DANGER, DANGER they were alerting me. The remainder of the runtime was spent under a blanket, periodically peaking up to see either the horrid face of the possessed toy or the permanent smile on my brother’s face. Both appeared to be the same thing. Not only did it biasedly affect the way I defined horror films, but it also stopped me from having sleepovers at my best friend Danny’s house. He had a My Little Buddy life-size doll, and there was no way I was going to sleep in the same room with it. NO WAY. To this day, I have yet to revisit Chucky.
The truth of the matter, Child’s Play 2 sparked this repeated idea that horror was all about screams and jump scares. It wasn’t until many years later, when a little Swedish movie called Let The Right One In, changed my perception of horror completely. Until then, I thought Chucky, Friday the 13th, and The Leprechaun was all that horror had to offer. To me, all it meant was time looking at the inside of a blanket, waiting for the end credits to roll onto screen, which was not a pleasant movie-watching experience. For an eight year old, it was plain-old traumatizing. Literally. The fun continued when my father surprised Danny and I during another sleepover, with a screening of The Exorcist. I also came to understand later on that it was also the uncensored version. With every shrill from a bloody crucifix and cry from a close-up of demonic Linda Blair, my dad laughed his head off. Flashbacks of my brother’s devilish grin haunted me again, and I came to learn two things: (1) Sleepovers with Danny would never happen again, and (2) there was no way I was going back in that basement.
It wasn’t until after college, when I became aware that horror isn’t necessarily about being scared about becoming scared. The best horror, in my opinion, is not about the monsters, or demons, or dolls themselves for that matter. Horror is about being scared in the lack of humanity – like a house of strangers ganging up on each other in Night of Living Dead. Or a satanic cult depriving a woman from a normal motherhood in Rosemary’s Baby. Horror makes up all the things that simmer below the surface, not what jumps out on top. It took the love story between a boy and vampire girl to make me realize that not all horrors are treated equal. It taught me that Chucky’s story is far different from Eli’s story. And that horror can be enjoyed as a slow burn, and not at an alarming rush. It also taught me that family can be sick and twisted, and can’t fully being trusted. Thanks Dad. Thanks Mike.
– Christopher Clemente