Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Guest Blogger: Marta Acosta and her Scary Things

BS Chick: Marta Acosta is the author of Happy Hour at Casa Dracula and a long-time contributor to the comments on this blog. She is still afraid of dolls.

Scary Things by Marta Acosta

When I was five, my parents gave me a lavish gift: a life-size doll with long brown hair and glittery blue glass eyes. I was not a girly-girl, so while I was impressed with this doll, I was not enamored of it. One cold winter night, when it was propped by the fireplace, my father told me that it was a witch and would come alive at night and “get” me. My dear father based his child-rearing techniques on lessons he had learned when he joined the Merchant Marines at 15 and later became a paratrooper. Perhaps these institutions were not the best source for information on raising a daughter.

He saw that I was afraid, so he told me to walk to the doll and touch it. You know, the old face your fears, jump out of the plane, land behind enemy lines, and attack approach to life. I refused, which annoyed him. He demanded that I touch the spooky doll, whose eyes seemed to stare at me. Fear beat obedience, and I began shrieking. That’s when my mother came in and restored order. In my father’s defense, he protected me against all actual dangers, but had no tolerance for fear of imaginary dangers.

I gave away the expensive doll at the first opportunity, but I can still remember how blandly malevolent and alive she looked in the flickering light of the fireplace.

By the time I was ten, my fear of things that go bump in the night was a source of great amusement to my brothers. They were horror movie fans, and when they came back from some new gorefest, they would follow me around the house and reciting the tales of terror in excruciating detail. I tried not to listen, but the images they described are still as vivid to me as if I’d seen the movies myself.

I was able to read mildly scary books and watch mildly scary television shows. But I kept all the lights on, checked the locks on the doors, and made sure that someone was around if things became too real. And the line between real and imaginary blurred late at night.

Why do some people enjoy entertainment that makes their hearts pound? The theory is that humans get an adrenaline rush from perceived danger and find the quick hormonal jolt pleasurable. Some of us, however, don’t leave the scary story in the book or on the movie screen. We look out of our windows and see a movement in the bushes. We wake in the night, hear an unidentifiable sound, and assume that it must have a supernatural origin, even when we are the most hardened of skeptics. We toss the sheets over our heads and hope that a headless demon, animated doll monster, or angry poltergeist doesn’t attack.

Little known fact: sheets can protect you against the depredations of supernatural monsters. There is some dispute whether low thread-count sheets work as well as high-thread count sheets.

Logic, reason, high-thread count sheets cannot convince us emotionally that there is no danger when we’ve just made the mistake of reading a really spooky novel. And I wonder if maybe the wiring in our noggins is different, and that is why the imagined danger is as unpleasantly frightening as actual danger.

I wonder, too, if bad wiring might explain why some of us take so much pleasure in reading, because the “reality” of the stories is heightened for us. Or maybe I’m just trying to make myself feel better about being a pathetic scaredy cat.

Where do you draw the line between pleasurable fright and awful fear? Do you watch re-runs of “The X-Files,” but start tensing up at the first da-da, da-das of the “Jaws” theme? Do you devour Stephen King books, but refuse to go on extreme rides at the amusement park? And what happens when you take on more than you can bear? Do you have secret fears, like a terror of clowns, or rat-phobia? Inquiring minds want to know.


Michelle K said...

I absolutely hate to be scared. Can't stand it.

I refuse to watch scary movies, because they bother me for long after the movie experience is over. I once saw part of a zombie movie at a party, and was bothered for months (if not to this day) because I kept imagining zombies everywhere.

(However, I love "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and rarely found it scary. So Vampires: okay. Zombies: right out.)

As far as books, some I'm okay with, and some bother me. I stayed up all night to finish "The Silence of the Lambs" but could go to sleep afterwards. However, Joyce Carol Oates "Blonde" bothered me for days after I finished reading it. It wasn't a scary book, but it gave me a general sense of unease and made me feel slightly ill.

But I also avoid horror authors, because I don't like scary things. They might not bother me, but then again they might, and there are too many other books out there I want to read, so why take a chance?

Rollercoasters, however, I love. They aren't scary, they're thrilling. (Unless they have loops in them, in which case they're nauseating, but that's something else entirely.)

Robin Brande said...

Marta, that story of your dad is hilarious.

As for dolls, ever since I saw the movie Magic, where Anthony Hopkins plays a shy ventriloquist whose dummy is slowly becoming more human as Anthony is slowly becoming a doll, I really can't look at a ventriloquist's dummy without getting majorly freaked out.

Impressionable little girls like us would have been better off playing with things that didn't have eyes--tea cups, toy trucks, etc.

Anonymous said...

"Magic" was scary, wasn't it? I don't like clowns, ventriloquists or toys that come alive in the night. :)

Diane P said...

I totally agree with you. I will walk out of the room if my family is watching a scarey movie. I can't read Stephen King or other horror authors. By the way I am the one who jumps at the movies when something unexpected happens.
We live out in the boonies and you know how scarey things like the boonies. You forgot that lights and music scare those "things" away along with sheets being the protection.I personally favor large dogs as protection also.

Anonymous said...

I can't handle gore - not the former vice-president (fine with him), but the oozing, gushing, spurting bodily fluids are too much. Dismemberment is also bad. But I love suspense! I still prefer suspense when there is someone else around, preferably to cuddle up with at night, but I'll still watch crime TV shows or read Stephen King when I'm home alone.
My childhood scare myself stupid experience happened every Saturday during college football season. I babysat for a family that had season tickets so I babysat every weekend. After I put the kids to bed at night when I was alone out in the country without my own car - I would watch COPS and America's Most Wanted. The worst was when I saw the COPS segment on my friend's dad, which happened in the same neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

I'm a fan of a great scare, although not gore movies. Those seem more like a circus.

My cousin tried to scare me with stories from the Amityville Horror novel when I was 10. (Jodi the ghost pig, for example, for those who've read it.) Yes, she got me a bit, but then I read the whole book at 11 and was intrigued as much as frightened.

I agree that the draw is the rush. You can feel very alive when frightened, and people pull together. It can be a powerful experience.

CMonster said...

Roller coasters scare the crap out of me, so I always start my coastering day with the biggest, baddest, non-getting-sued-for-causing-neck-injury (son of beast, cough cough) coaster I can find. After that I'm golden.

On the other hand, I'm developing claustrophobia, and there's one ride that's indoors, in the dark, and I don't scream when I ride it. I sit there quietly and repeat, "it'llbeoversoonit'llbeoversoonit'llbe-" while I struggle to breathe.

Fears and phobias are different; fear is pleasurable. Phobias are only pleasurable if you get your kicks hurting yourself.

Book Nerd said...

I'm another one who watches scary movies while knowing full well that I will be literally sleepless for days or weeks afterwards (depending on how good/bad they are). The Ring kept me paranoid about evil little girls in TVs for months -- and I was housesitting for a friend with a huge TV at the foot of her bed! And last week I stayed in a Victorian B&B in New Jersey and at night the creaky stairs were either Victorian ghosts (like in the Disneyland Haunted House) or that crawling lady from The Grudge. No sleep till Brooklyn.

I've found that gory movies, or any movies with people hurting/scaring/jumping out at other people don't stay with me. It's the uncanny ones that freak me out -- things where there's something supernaturally, undefinably not right, creeping on the back of your neck. Maybe that's why the Japanese ones get me the worst -- that inhuman crawling motion they've perfected just freaks me out. Scary books rarely stay with me -- it's those uncanny images that do it.

Love zombies, though. No problem with zombies. And I did have an intense "Buffy" phase too.