Halloween is really a holiday for kids. What scares me today isn't what scared me when I was younger. Grown-ups are scared by different things like the rising cost of health care, and climate change, and the actions of a certain political party.
But here are three things that scared me – "once upon a midnight dreary."
THE WORKS OF EDGAR ALLAN POE
I went through a big Edgar Allan Poe phase when I was a kid. I'm sure I'm not the only one. In WHAT IT WAS LIKE, my main character reads "The Raven" to the kids at Camp Mooncliff, in a "fake Boris Karloff accent" (one of the intentional solecisms in the book). There are also references to "The Tell-Tale Heart" – for obvious reasons. I hope that kids are still reading and still being petrified by Poe
When I was a kid, I remember once being too scared to go to school after reading the end of "The Black Cat." Really. In sixth grade. Kids are crazy.
Here are a few choice Poes:
"The Raven" read by Christopher Walken
"The Tell Tale Heart" – read by Christopher Lee
"The Black Cat" – audio book
The 1976 TV movie "Sybil" with Sally Field is so scary that, to this day, I still haven't let the TG watch it. (Actually, I am protecting her from it. I know her well: she hates things this scary and repulsive, and doesn't want them in her brain. I know what this is like: I've had to do a lot of prison research for my books, and there are a lot of acts committed by human beings in this world that you simply don't want to know about. It's best not to have these thoughts invade your brain, because once in your memory, you can never get them out. It's like avoiding Holocaust stories and anything about the history of torture.)
I always liked Sally Field, but this is the project where she really proved that she could act. Three years later, she played "Norma Rae" and won her first Oscar. And almost thirty years later, in "Lincoln," she more than held her own in scenes with Daniel Day-Lewis, one of the world's great living actors.
It was also a boon to the project that Sybil's therapist was played by the wonderful Joanne Woodward, who had won an Oscar in 1957, playing a multiple personality disorder victim in "The Three Faces of Eve."
Of course, the whole "Sybil"/multiple personality/dissociative identity disorder thing proved to be largely a fraud, but it made for a terrific TV movie. Martine Bartlett as the schizophrenic mother who torments young Sybil is unforgettable.
Child abuse is scary, period. And, unfortunately, I am sure it's so much worse in real life, far more horrifying than any movie could or would dare portray.
Sally Field – on the impact of playing "Sybil"
The "Sybil" fraud exposed
"THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS"
"The Silence of the Lambs" is one of those movies that I have a hard time turning off. When I am changing channels on my TV remote control – and when am I not changing channels on my remote control – if I pass "The Silence of the Lambs," I have to stop on it for at least a few minutes.
I am not, by nature, a "horror" fan; real life is scary enough. But this movie is so well done and entertaining that I make an exception.
I'm not a big Jodie Foster fan. My good friend the acting coach says that she "indicates" too much. And my friend is right. But I think it works for the character of self-conscious Clarice Starling.
Anthony Hopkins' Hannibal Lechter is simply one of the great villains in screen history – right up there with Karloff's Monster and Lugosi's Dracula. The fact that he is only onscreen for twenty-eight minutes shows how compelling his peformance is.
People have criticized the movie for homophobia, transphobia, and misogyny. Critics have their points, but I don't think this movie is very nice to anybody, except the character of Clarice. It's a brilliantly made "yuck" fest.
In fact, I think the scariest part of the movie is the set decoration in the climactic scene in Buffalo Bill's multi-room basement, which is like being in Hell.
For years, whenever I would want to torment and scare the TG, I would call her "Clarice" in my best Hannibal-the-Cannibal voice, and she would tell me to stop.
I guess it's what the late critic Judith Crist used to call a "movie-movie."
A bit of "Silence of the Lambs" trivia: Who was the first actor approached to play Hannibal Lechter?
Answer: ... Sean Connery.
He turned the part down, and they offered it to Hopkins, based on his performance in "The Elephant Man."
The original trailer
The "Fava Beans" scene
The Escape scene
Hannibal meets the Senator
Don't eat too much candy!
And give good candy – like Snickers, or Kit-Kat, or Almond Joys.