What is the scariest movie you have ever seen? It’s a question horror fans are all too familiar with being asked. The question is often used to gauge a person’s tolerance level to horror or to find a new gem they haven’t heard of yet. When asked the question, a horror fan can use it as an opportunity to show off their fanboy love, their extensive knowledge of really messed up or obscure titles, crack a joke and say a non-horror movie (The Polar Express), or to take a moment of honesty and deconstruct what terrified them and why it stuck with them. So what is the one movie that kept me waking up at night screaming in cold sweats for a few years in my childhood? Ghost, starring Patrick Fucking Swayze.
Clearly I must be joking around when I tell people Ghost was the movie that terrified me as a child. And yes, I often have this conversation when answering the question. So let us get that part of the conversation out of the way:
“How could you be serious? Ghost?!?! The one where a Batman/poltergeist Partick Swayze and short haired Demi Moore make clay pottery together?”
“Yes, that’s the one.”
“But isn’t that just some cheesy romantic film with a supernatural premise that had an eyebrow-less Whoopi Goldberg kissing Demi Moore?”
“Wow, you remember that film very well. Also, yes.”
“How can you be scared of that movie?”
“One word: nuns.”
I was seven years old when I first watched Ghost with my parents. At this time I was enrolled in a private Catholic school that was tied to the local church. Here, in my early formative years, I learned my ABC’s, 123’s, and more importantly that I was going to burn in hell. It is the Catholic way. See my first grade teacher, Sister Monique, was a hardcore fire and brimstone lady of the cloth. Every day she would remind little troublemakers like myself what hell is and that if we didn’t stop being little monsters that’s where we would be heading; and those were the days I didn’t get caught committing any shenanigans. So by the time my parents thought it would be a good idea to watch Swayze and Moore’s endearing love story on family movie night, I had the idea that I was going to hell engraved in the back of my seven year old brain. I just didn’t have the visuals to go along with the ideas. Ghost fixed that problem.
Now I haven’t seen the film since this impressionable time in my life until today, but if there is one thing burned in my mind, it’s when a bad guy dies in the movie. Don’t remember? Let me refresh your memory then. See, when a good guy dies they get a big bright light shown on them, choirs sing, and they turn into beautiful astro balls as they go to heaven. But if you’ve been bad, shadows with no body of origin comes out from the darkness making incredible demonic screams and moans. They come out, surround and attack the bad guys, then these shadows drag them kicking and screaming into the darkness. Into hell. Suddenly little seven year old me had a visualization to something I had accepted as a reality, but hadn’t fully grasped yet.
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It didn’t take long for the nightmares to begin of these shadow demons coming out of various dark corners and dragging me into hell. Often times I would visualize them coming out of a portal in the building next door and then appearing in my room. Hearing the screams and moans as they come and surround me. Waking up screaming but not making any noise was a common occurrence. Looking back it’s kind of incredible what a young imagination can do with a little bit of motivation. This went on for a while and eventually the dreams became less occurring until one day they stopped. Somewhere in that time I discovered a love for horror movies and no matter how many horror films I watch none have matched the terror I felt from watching Ghost. Perhaps its because in most horror films you witness the monsters being defeated, whereas in this case I was experiencing an existential crisis where I was the monster and finally getting my upcomings. Or perhaps I was just a kid with an overactive imagination.
After writing most of this article I decided to watch the film for the first time in almost fifteen years. I was rather surprised how good the film is. It is an all around decent film. The plot is your basic comic book story line. Man dies, doesn’t cross over, figures out it was a premeditated murder, get trained by homeless ghost on how to use new ghost powers, acquires loud mouth sidekick, defeats evil, and says final goodbyes. The funny thing for me was that the only thing that is really dated, beside the fashion, was the shadows. Looking at them now they are very dated looking special effects and look kind of cheesy. The sound design on the other hand is still really good and effective, which helps soften the dated nature of the shadows.
So why tell all of this? Am I trying to make a critique on religion’s reliance on fear tactics? Am I critiquing my parents’ choice on movie nights? Am I using the power of writing to confront childhood fears? Or am I just trying to be funny? Honestly, I don’t know. I just thought it might have been an interesting story about influence and horror. Now that I’ve been honest: What are some non-horror movies or characters that scared you as a child?
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