The Postscript: Watching the scary stories
It’s the season for all things scary and I found myself wondering how many people are actually looking for more things to frighten them this year.
There is a new horror movie about Zoom that is supposed to be terrific… and I won’t be watching it. I’ve never been a fan of horror movies. On the very few occasions I’ve tried to watch a scary movie, I end up both covering my eyes and plugging my ears (the ominous music is the worst part of it) and I end up with a pretty limited experience of the film.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a column about my husband, Peter’s war with the rodents, and a friend sent the lyrics to “Ben,” a song recorded in the early 1970s by a young Michael Jackson. It was the theme song for the movie, “Ben,” which was a sequel to “Willard,” which Peter then decided he had to see. The movie is only recently available on DVD and so, when it arrived in the mail, we sat down together to watch it.
“This isn’t a horror movie, is it?” I asked Peter for the second or third time.
“No! It’s about rats!”
That didn’t really answer the question, but I agreed to watch until it got too scary and so I sat with him through the opening credits. The movie starred Ernest Borgnine as the mean boss and Elsa Lanchester (who played the bride of Frankenstein a few decades earlier) as Willard’s mom, and a 19-year-old Bruce Davison as Willard. But the real stars of the movie were a lot of rats playing themselves.
And Peter was right, there was nothing remotely scary about the movie until the last fifteen minutes when Willard turns homicidal and enlists the rats to help him. Then the rat named Ben reads the word “pesticide” on the box that Willard is pouring into the rat’s dinner bowl (or possibly recognizes the skull and crossbones?) That’s when Willard is killed by his little rat friends.
Afterward, I watched a few interviews about the making of the movie. This was before the days of computer-generated imagery and to get the last scene, Bruce Davison was covered with peanut butter and had 600 rats poured on top of him. They said they shot this scene last because they weren’t quite sure how it all would all work out.
I didn’t learn how much the young Mr. Davison was paid for his role, but I’m guessing it was not enough.
The movie was a huge and unexpected success when it was released, and a slew of killer animal movies followed. There were movies about snakes and killer ants and, of course, “Jaws,” a bit later on. The movie also apparently prompted an uptick in pet rat adoptions.
The idea of horror fascinates me. There are movies and books about dolls and babies and clowns and all sorts of things that wouldn’t, under normal circumstances, be scary. I can read horror novels only because I can put the book down and reassure myself that I am still in my home, no monsters in sight.
And maybe that’s why we need scary stories right now more than ever.
It’s good to leave a scary world and realize that everything is not as terrible as the book or movie. Real life might be less certain than usual, but I can take comfort in the fact that I’m not covered in peanut butter with 600 rats swarming all over me.
Sometimes, you have to take what comfort you can get.
Till next time,
Carrie Classon’s memoir is called, “Blue Yarn.” Learn more at CarrieClasson.com.