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October 03, 2011

Boo! (Did that Scare You?) A pre-Halloween Contemplation


by Hank Phillippi Ryan

When I saw one dead squirrel on the highway, it was sad. Two dead squirrels, it was kind of...odd. But after seeing–and I’m not kidding—dozens and dozens of dead squirrels on the Massachusetts Turnpike, I knew there was something ver-ry weird going on. (This photo is of a plush animal.)

 I tried to take a photo, but it was too difficult. "What’re you doing?" Jonathan said.

 “Trying to take a picture of all the dead squirrels,” I said, window down, leaning out. “Can you maybe stop?”

 “We’re on the highway! Going 70 miles an hour!”  (ed. note: she means 55.)

 “I know. Just thought I’d try it.”   But it didn’t work. I just got blur.

 Anyway, it’s probably for the best that I can’t get photos. I tried to Google photos of dead squirrels, just to –illustrate. But trust me, you don’t wanna start trolling for  “dead animal” photos. I stopped after about two seconds. So, no photos of  real squirrels. (You’re welcome.)

 But I immediately started thinking of reasons why this squirrel carnage would happen.  (Why did the squrrel cross the....er, try to cross the...)

(Other than that the squirrels are daring each other to get across the highway. Boastful squirrel says—“That guy’s an idiot. I bet I can make it!” And on and on.)

 Anyway.  I thought: maybe it means  the plague is coming, or someone is doing experiments with some new psychedelic drugs and trying them out on the poor squirrels. Or a squirrel serial killer is on the loose. At Bouchercon, one author was saying that squirrels are incredibly homicidal—that if one person were killed for every murdered squirrel, the population of Cincinnati would be wiped out. In like, a month, or something.

 I stopped listening to the squirrel-murder stuff.  (Which you are probably now considering doing, too.)

 But the point is—whew, I hear you saying—it was scary. Really really scary. And I immediately started making up all the truly scary stuff that it could mean. If squirrels are throwing themselves like wacked-out lemmings across four lanes of treacherous highway, is this something that could happen to people?

 I mean, unlikely.  But why do we scare ourselves? Life is scary enough anyway, if your brain is wired that way. And I know some people’s aren’t. For instance:

 When Jonathan leaves the house to go do an errand or something, I always say: “Be careful!”

 And he’s always baffled. “Of what?” he says.

 But the world seems threatening to me. (It might be because of working in TV news, when I see every bad thing that happens.)


 I remember the first really scary thing I ever saw: a movie called The Incredible Shrinking Man. I was maybe—ten years old. And I completely freaked. Do you remember that movie? Some sort of radiation (ooh, is that what happened to the squirrels?) washed over this guy, and it started making him smaller. And smaller. At one point, he was fighting a spider with a needle as a sword. SO SCARY.

Twilight  And Twilight Zone, remember? I was riveted. The one with the zoo? Where it turned out the earthling was in a cage?  And wasn’t there one  which ended with the devil (dressed in a tuxedo) laughing evilly, and intoning  “This IS the other place!”  ? I can still hear that voice.

 Wizard of OZ.  Terrified. I assigned myself the duty of sitting in the wayback of the family station wagon (this is when I was, what, younger  than 10, probably)  and watching the sky for tornadoes. I was very very diligent about this, and  never told my parents I was the one protecting my family. I did a great job, apparently, since we did not die in a tornado. (Hey, it was Indiana. It could happen.)

  Dracula In college, we were assigned to read  Dracula by Bram Stoker. “It’s really intense!” The professor said. “ Pish tush,” I said, or something like that. It’s a BOOK. What could be so scary?

 It was college, so I couldn’t go get garlic or anything, and being Jewish, the wearing of a cross wasn't going to fly. But I admit to you. I had to do something because the book said vampires could come in through closed windows as dust motes on moonlight. Are you kidding me? I decided if I slept with my arms in the shape of a cross, that would do it. I guess it worked. (mwa ha ha.)







 In my twenties? Rosemary’s Baby. The book. YIKES! I read it on an airplane, I remember, on the way from DC to New York, and I almost got on the return flight without getting off.  Eating  “the mouse,’? And seeing where the paintings had been taken down from the wall? And the nice  doctor who turned out to be (spoiler alert) in on the  whole thing?  Then using the scrabble tiles to spell out “All Of Them Witches” from “Roman Castevet.”  Wait, that doesn’t work. What was the anagram again?  I’m too scared to remember.  

 Thinking about  this, as I’ve grown older, made up things are much less frightening  (Blair Witch? Showing me nothing..) and real life things take over.  But it’s almost Halloween, the scary season, and once again we bring out our scariest things--since it’s more fun to be scared by fictional scariness than focus on what’s truly terrifying.

 What’s the scariest thing you’ve even seen or read? Fictional, of course, I mean.

I'm sure we'll be talking about  Halloween costumes later. But word to the wise--maybe don't dress as a squirrel this year. You never know.




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Hi Hank,

I am so sad about the squirrels! I m glad Jonathan wouldn't stop on the pike. You must do an investigative report! We love our Massachusetts squirrels!

I learned how to call squirrels to me in the yard, and when I had nothing better to do would entertain the yardlings with my squirrel-calling skills. One day I didn't have any acorns so I pretended. I made the little noise they make for "food over here," and they came running. I realized I was in trouble when the lead squirrel guy (Squiggy) ran up the tree and threw a rock down on my head. Turned out not to be a rock at all, but an owl "pellet!" So . . . just another fun day at school with nothing better to do.

Almost forgot - scariest book. The scariest book I ever read, I couldn't read beyond the first page. It was that scary. It was a murder mystery novel that started with a rape, and it was written in the first person. Honest . . . I was so scared I totally blocked out the title and author's name. I am sure it is a really, really good book, but way too scary for me!

The final scene in the cheesy 1980's drive-in horror flick, "Phantasm" scares me, for some reason.

PS: The rape portion of the book opening is written in the first person -- in the present tense. Maybe that's what made it too scarey to read.

Stephen King's "Rose Madder". All the parts before it became 'supernatural'. I had lived parts of it but never been able to put it into words myself. Biggest surprise was not that the words were right but that they were written by a man.

It's the book that got my son to understand what his father had done to me. He got understanding, I got nightmares.

Aaaah . . . ummm . . . call squirrels to myself???

As Josh mentioned, the final scene in PHANTASM, when the closet door closes and we see what's in the mirror, scared the #%!& out of me at the time. Worse, I had a closet in my apartment with a full length mirror on the door (which was taken off less than three days later). One of the silliest, cheesiest horror movies ever made, incomprehensible plot, bad acting, goofy special effects.... and it kept me awake for weeks afterward. Nothing before or since has ever hit me like that.

Dead squirrels? Not sure about Mass, but down here, it's easy to explain:

"See them cars?"
"What would it take for you to run across the road?"
"'Bout two more beers."
"Okay y'all... watch this!"

The Birds! Those scenes at the school, when all those crows land on the playground equipment and the children have to walk home....eek!

When I was in 8th grade, I found a couple of "Dark Shadows" books. They were based on the tv soap and much more descriptive & intense than the show. I would lay in bed reading and my hands would go numb from holding the book over my face. Scared the crap out of me. Those paperbacks now go for about $70 on some used book sites.

Dear Hubby had gone hunting. I was alone (and enjoying it immensely) and decided to watch "Salem's Lot" miniseries. This was the first one with Lance Kerwin, David Soul and James Mason. The last scene had me calling my mommy at 10pm. She and my sister were watching it and were freaked out, too.

Helter Skelter. Charles Manson and his gang crawling around people's bedrooms while they slept--!

Around here, Hank, we have dead deer all over the highways. Politely, people say the deer are "in rut." I think those squirrels are looking for sex in all the wrong places.

As a young child, the scariest thing I ever saw was when the Wicked Witch shows up in the apple orchard, right after Dorothy and Scarecrow rescue the Tin Man. Sent me right into my mama's lap.
The next time I was actually frightened/made uneasy/creeped out, I was reading "The Shining" in broad daylight, in a room full of people. The scene with the topiary animals that moved. I think I was shouting at the book! "Get in the house, kid!" I still don't trust topiary pieces!

I've never seen Phantasm. Hmm..now you have me curious. Do you think it would be as scary now?

Stephen King confession: I still haven't seen Misery because I just think it would be So creepy! What do you all vote?

And wasn't there--Children of the Corn? I can't remember anything about it, at all, except the remnants of being terrified.

Oh--Now I remember the SCARIEST thing.But I have to go to work (that's not it :-)) so I'll tell you in a bit..)It's a movie I really wish I had not seen.

Oh, Hank, you are hilarious! You know, of course, that teenage squirrels play, uh, chicken with cars? Poor dumb babies.

The novel, The Exorcist, scared me so bad that I got halfway through it and then ran and put it in the trash--outside. Too scared to keep it inside with me! I don't know how I got through the movie.

I scare very, very easily. Overactive imagination. Not long ago I mentioned being frightened by a book - Ellery Queen's "A Fine and Private Place." Here's my other shameful fright admission: Jurassic Park scared the bejeebers out of me. I saw it in the movie theater when I was 25! (Side note: Can you believe that movie came out 18 years ago?) I literally sat on the edge of my seat, gripping the arms, heart pounding, talking myself out of leaving the theater. I stayed for two reasons - the 10 year old boy two seats down, and the good looking Navy guys behind me. I didn't want them to know how chicken I was. When the movie was over and I walked out to the parking lot, the cars spooked me. Driving home, I saw a tree that looked exactly like the head of a T Rex. It was a good hour before I stopped jumping at noises.

Poor squirrels. Maybe there's some kind of virus or disease killing them, Hank. I was scared of the "Blair Witch Hunt." And nothing happened.

Sandi, that's hilarious! Wonder why that one hit you so hard? (objects in the mirror are closer than they appear...)

NancyP--yeah, I also keep imaging squirrel-dialogue scenarios, like William's. "That guy didn't know how to do it--watch ME, brother. You gotta TIME the metal things. Meetcha on the other side.)

Sandi, remind me what Fine and Private Place is?

The Shining was pretty scary. The Exorcist too. Oh course, the first time I saw the Exorcist was when I was in high school. It was Halloween Night and it was showing at Webster College (now University). Webster has a huge theater department. It was showing in a converted chapel and theater majors were working as ushers and had "dressed for the occasion."

The scariest book was "Concentration Camps in America." Manzanar wasn't in Nazi Germany but California.

Scariest things in real life:

Someone trying to commit suicide by jumping off of the tour boat into San Fransisco Bay (he survived).
Someone doing CPR on someone else on the side of the road after a traffic accident (he did not).
Hearing the almost breathing sound out of Princess Two with Croup.

Um, Hank, don't you kill people for a living?

Jurassic Park, yes! Terrifying. Remember "Jaws"? The scene where the dead guy falls out of the hole in the boat caused me to scream like a little kid. When we went out to the parking lot afterwards I fully expected a giant shark to be waiting out there for us.

I hate scary movies! Luckily, my husband doesn't care for them either.

Mass squirrel suicide, what an intriguing concept. The closest I've seen to such a phenomenon was when I drove south from Minneapolis to Kansas City, the first or second week of November, 2006. The interstate was utterly littered with hundreds of dead deer. No lie, every 100 yards there was another one, it was so creepy. And a few years earlier when I drove from Tulsa to Topeka, and saw the same thing with armadillo. Nothing like a smashed armadillo to start your day. Ugh.

Well, Alan, in a kind of a way, yes. I prefer to describe what I do for a (sort of)living as figuring out who actually did kill the person, you know?

(Oh, and now I get it:what scares me is choosing a blog topic that as it turns out, someone else did a month ago. Sigh. So, so much for me going outta town.)

But still, so it goes. So shall we talking about something else? Or do you want to stay with scary? Did anyone see the movie "The Vanishing?" I wish I hadn't--it was just SO FRIGHTENING and haunting.

Alfred Hitchcock, every time! My sister hates flocks of birds because of The Birds...me? Psycho had me taking baths instead of showers from 8th grade into sophomore year. However, there are two programs from the Hitchcock Hour on TV that scare me just to think about them...one involved a lifeboat of survivors from a sinking schooner. They landed on this dark island where everything seemed to be covered in moss...as they soon were as well. It wasn't pretty, even for early television! The other had something to do with a door that couldn't be locked. Then there was the Twilight Zone episode in which a man was stranded in a supposedly empty town, even though there were other cars, stores with goods for sale, etc. However, every so often, something would streak past...like something you see out of the corner of your eye but nothing is there. Horror and I stay away from each other these days, although I must say the thought of me shooting a gun no longer terrifies me...I just need to work on my aim :o) (Thanks to the Writers Police Academy for that...it was a blast!)

Maryann, you're killing me with suspense! What happened in that Twilight Zone?

And anyone see the door that couldn't be locked episode? I don't remember that one... (I still remember loving when Hitchcock's profile turned into the drawing..)

Hey,Karen..eesh. That's weird. Dead Armadillos..so Nancy Martin, is that the same explanation?

It does seem like after it happened once, the gang of deer or squirrels or armadillos would get together and discuss...and try to avoid the carnage in the next season, you know?

I used to love to read Stephen King until I got to Cujo -- I was reading it while home alone, my new husband was on a camping trip with the Boy Scouts (which included my dad and two younger brothers). I was in my first floor apartment and enjoying the book until Cujo started to turn on the baby -- I threw the book across the room and haven't picked up a King novel since then.

This was about 30 years ago and I still get the willies just thinking about it.

So funny how even SEEING the book is scary.

I love Stephen King, though..especially The Stand. Is that scary? Or just--suspenseful? Or is that what's scary about it?

Psycho. I saw it at a military base when it was first released. Big strong marines and soldiers all around me. But at one of the tensest point, one of those 6' marines stood up and shouted, "That's it! I'm outta here." I really wanted to follow him.

As a squirrel-hater, I find it hard to empathize. Hank. Right now four of those tree rats are stripping my pecan tree. I want a shotgun.

But Hank, talking about things that go bump in our own personal nights never gets old!

I enjoy getting the willies now, but I didn't used to be able to stand it. I'm trying to think of what I recently read that gave me the yummy shivers.

Anything underwater scares me.
I used to hide my face in the couch just watching Sea Hunt. Giant squids, sharks, eels ACK!
Above caves are bad enough. Underwater caves...don't go in there you idiot!!!!!
We have frog massacres on my street. There are land crab suicides down in Old Cutler. Seems they just don't understand to stay out of the road.
I thought squirrels were smarter.
And those raptors! You never actually read about them eating anyone in the book but just the thought and seeing their tails in the tall grass. I'm still sweating and they've been extinct for a long time!
Yeah...scary stuff scares me.

The squirrels around here are pretty stupid. They're getting run over or electrocuted all the time, and there are always more where they came from. The foxes have an ample supply and the crows simply cruise up and down our street, ready for lunch when a squirrel buys the farm.

I'm surprised we don't have more turkey vultures here. Just yesterday, my kids and I saw an odd procession of them flying over the highway, floating on the same up draft, one after the other. At least ten in a row. That reminded me of The Birds, which is made even more creepy by the lack of musical sound track in the background.

Maybe they heard about your squirrels and were on their way to the feast.

The scariest book I read was The Amityville Horror. The scene with the pig's eyes really creeped me out so that I imagined them glowing in every window.

A close second is IT. For a while I never looked at storm drains the same way, expecting a claw-like hand to reach out and grab my ankles.

Xena, you're so funny. Sea Hunt! There was just someone on the Today Show who admitted being terrified of octopi. Ah--Natalie Morales, I think. She was almost freaking out, just thinking about them.

Frog massacres! How do they do it? You mean--just getting skooshed under car wheels? (I guess it's not "just" if you;re the frog.)

Margaret, that's exactly how I feel when the stupid squirrels bite the buds off of my tulips. Really, I get homicidal. They just leave the buds on the ground ,you know, they don't even eat them! (We use rat blood to keep them away.I guess that's what scares squirrels.)

But Maryann was just saying she;s a good shot now--Maryann, can you get over to Margaret's house?

The scariest movie I ever saw was the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. I saw it when I was about 14 years old, alone in the house, late at night. I'm still a little freaked out by the experience.

NancyM can shoot now, too. We could form a posse. . .

The squirrel posse. It cries out for fringy outfits, doesn't it? And boots.

Night of the Living Dead, Alan....oh, yeah. Kids should NOT be allowed to see that. I think it's--traumatizing. How about the real War of the Worlds?

And holsters.

Yeah, holsters.

How about Invasion of the Body Snatchers? The real one? How old were you when you saw THAT??? I saw it..and s few weeks later had to go to Girl Scout camp. In the WOODS. I was so terrified and then Linda Katzenberger (are you out there, Linda?) insisted on retelling the whole thing in front of the campfire. Talk about traumatized..

Let me get this straight:

Horror movies/Spooky Stuff/Scary Books
Armed Tarts

Hmmmm... what could *possibly* go wrong?????

I don't do scary very well--I mean, really, writers have enough imagination for 20 people, so ordinary things can get me going.

But when I was 12, I saw the old black and white version of Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House. Couldn't sleep for weeks. And I'm still afraid of ghosts. (But--at the risk of sounding like a nut--I'm sensitive to those kinds of energies, and I don't stick around if they exist. Nope.)

The dead squirrels--that's kinda freaking me out.

I'd like to contribute the scariest book I've ever read but right now I'm too depressed after reading that the Dark Shadow books are earning $70 on ebay.

I had the entire set. What a lost opportunity. Not that I had any way of knowing 40 plus years ago that they would eventually be worth big money. Or that there would eventually be something called ebay, or the Internet.

*huge aggrieved sigh*

I'm not at all good at scary. It freaks me out too much, so I stay away from scary books and movies. Therefore, I have never read a Stephen King book or watched a movie from one of them; I've never seen The Exorcist, or Alien, or The Blair Witch thing. I've missed out on half the pop culture references out there.

I haven't seen most Hitchcock movies either. However, I did see Psycho, and it didn't bother me that much (what does that say about me?). Also, Rear Window is one of my favorite movies - but it's not really scary, in my opinion. The Wizard of Oz freaked out so many people, and never bothered me a bit. I watched "Halloween" movies when I was in high school, but usually with a group of friends, so that made it easier, somehow.

I was scared during Jurassic Park - and that's the last time I remember really being scared at a movie.

But, mysteries are my genre of choice when reading. I guess I'm just an enigma. :)

Eek, when I saw Invasion of the Body Snatchers I must have been around 10 or 11. Black & white, on TV, and it freaked me out so bad that I would try never to go down to the basement in the dark, for YEARS afterwards. Our basement had a light with a pull string, but it was at the bottom of the steps. I can remember steeling myself to pull the string, then tearing up the steps, positive that the pod people makers were after me.

The remake, I hear (but will never be able to say from personal experience) is nothing near as scary as the original.

I only had time to glance at TLC this morning before leaving for an early appointment with ................... the dentist!
Hah! There's scary for you. Actually, he's a very gentle and calm practitioner, and I like the idea of keeping my teeth. I am a bit numb, and groggy, but just fine, thank you.
I was reminded as I drove over of a driving to school one morning and not seeing a single other moving vehicle on the way, only a few miles, but still so very odd not to see anyone. It felt eerie, and I thought it would make a good beginning scene for something.
I loved the Twilight Zone, found it more thought-provoking than scary, and even Alfred Hitchcock -- but Stephen King is over the edge for me (my parameters for student papers, no explicit sex or violence, more Disney than Stephen King). One of my students did bring me "Quitters, Inc." from _Nightshift_ with the promise, "You'll like this one," and was right.
A friend pointed out that we can't erase those things once we put them in our minds, and there are some things I'd love to erase if I could.

More episodes of The Twilight Zone have scared me than I care to admit!

I've mentioned before that The Wizard of Oz was frightening to me, especially the flying monkeys, the tornado, the witch,and I could go on and on. I will NOT let on how old I was before I could sit through it without closing my eyes or leaving the room!
Psycho? No, no, I cannot watch that movie! I can't read Stephen King or watch any movies based on his books. I have a friend whose daughter reads his books and watches horror movies to RELAX! She says that after reading or watching something like that, her own life doesn't seem so bad after all!

About the squirrels: maybe they have West Nile virus? Here in CT it is affecting birds and squirrels. Maybe it slows down their response time and they can't get out of the way?

Actually Hank...it is usually a dark and stormy night.The frogs/toads have hopped out into the street for, I don't know, warmth? mosquitoes? socializing in the sauna like road? (They do do it in the road in Miami ya know?)
You and everyone else in the neighborhood has been out doing something and you turn the corner and there they are. They don't even look up. Even if they could look up, they don't hop out of the way or croak or anything. You can't avoid running over them.
The next morning it looks like death. Flat frogs everywhere. Then the sun comes out and it smells like death. Then every dog has to come and roll in it.
The crabs are even scarier. It's dark. Very dark. Indy, why is the street moving? They are skittering sideways across the mangrove lined path going down to Matheson Hammock and pop pop pop you crunch them under your car. You can't help it and the last thing you want to do is stop and get out of your car. I've heard tales of people's tires being punctured by their shells and stranded overnight. Now that's scary.

I don't see a lot of horror movies, but I remember Burnt Offerings, with Bette Davis, and The Omen, as being scary. Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte, too.

The only slasher movie I've ever seen was Texas Chainsaw Massacre at college, with a group of friends, at an outdoor amphitheater and a lot of alcohol. Every time the chainsaw revved into action, the crowd ROARED with laughter.

The original Invaders from Mars movie from the 50s terrified me as a child. In it the ground would open up under your feet and you would drop into the monstrous aliens' spaceship. For months I tried to only walk on pavement or rocks and avoid dirt.

Frogs. Thousands of Frogs. One early summer eve, my husband & I were sitting on our back patio with our friend, Joyce pretending to watch our children play in the yard, but really spying on our scandalous neighbor and his much younger second wife. One frog jumped on the patio, then another, then another. They kept on coming. The kids got on the patio and we adults were trying to stay cool, but the frogs just kept coming and coming. We opened the door to go inside and frogs starting jumping in the house. It was feeling kind of biblical. Was it a sign?

It being the start of fall, my guess is that you're seeing a lot of juvenile male squirrels dispersing away from mom and their sisters - unsuccessfully (because their bits of habitat are separated by, you know, interstate highways). I'm not sure about deer, but I know that groundhogs will come to roadsides to lick up old road salt. Why did the chicken cross the road? To show the opossum (armadillo, squirrel, groundhog) it could be done.

Scary? The Shining - I made the mistake of finishing it at night, read another 300+ page novel, and *still* couldn't sleep for fright. The movie Jaws gave me nightmares for 2 days. I spent the movie Alien all balled up in my seat - feet off the floor and everything!

Flying monkeys, oh my . . .

Why must it be the squirrels hurling themselves onto the highway? Couldn't it be rats? Ants? Termites? Something we can unanimously get behind?

Oh, sorry. Hank. I'm quite sure rats would be equally scary for you and still appear blurry in the photos.

Mary Stella, I hear you. My mom threw away all my Beatle magazines. Sigh.

Laura in PA--probably wise. Although again, is it suspense that's scarier? Or a monster? Ramona's friends laughing at the chainsaw guy--as well they should, huh?--proves gore is not always scary. Just--yucky.

Which brings us back to the dead squirrels. Kerry--"dispersing from their mom and sisters"? You mean--it's a male squirrel rite of passage? Or--non-passage? Like a test/quest? I still wonder--do they KNOW?

Also Ran--that is completely Biblical!! Was it Passover? It's definitely one of the plagues.

And it gives the scandalous neighbors another sort of--aura, doesn't it? They do whatever they were doing--and the frogs come out? Now THAT would be a good movie.

Xena, I'm sorry. You are completely scaring me. The crab thing--the SOUNDS!--is horrible.

When I was--gosh, maybe five years old?We lived in Chicago, and my father took me to Lake Michigan, to the beach. There was an alewife beaching. MILLIONS of dead fish on the beach. MILLIONS. I completely freaked, I viscerally remember it. And my father made me walk through them. Because they were dad, after all.

A year or so ago, we're talking 50 years afterwards! My father brought up the incident--and apologized! Apparently he'd been agonizing over it all this time.


When I was younger, 'SALEM'S LOT totally freaked me out. Both the miniseries and the book.

As someone who rides horses and lives along a road with heavy truck traffic, the opening scenes from THE HORSE WHISPERER (the book) scared me into the fetal position. For a long time, I refused to see the movie, in spite of being a rabid Robert Redford fan. (Say THAT five times fast!) But I finally realized they could NOT put anything on film to match what I'd imagined from the words on the page, so I rented it. Scary, but not as bad as the book. I now own a copy of the DVD, but I start watching the movie about half way through to avoid the trauma. Plus Redford doesn't appear until then anyway. ;-)

The Horse Whisperer is SCARY??? Why? ( I didn't see or read it, so I have no idea...)

The Wizard of Oz did it for me when I was little. The witch whose feet curled up, the monkeys, and Margaret Hamilton cackling. Is anybody old enough to remember the fire in Bambi? I was so frightened. Outer limits on TV made me too upset to sleep. As I age, I will react to books that are particularly disturbing, and I sometimes read cozies just to lighten up. Movies don't scare me so much any more. The animals on the road are disturbing-some kind of mob mentality?

See, I heard that story and assumed it was some corporation poisoning them for their own purposes. Maybe a drug company experiment where the subjects got loose.
THEM was the scariest movie I ever saw, the giant ants in the LA sewers going "squeeweeweewee" and eating small children. My sister (10) and I (13) saw that in a movie theater in Plainfield, New Jersey, and then we had to walk home in the dark.

The wizard of Oz did it for me. The witch whose feet curled up, the monkeys, and Margaret Hamilton cackling. Also the fire in Bambi-does anyone remember that. Also the TV program, Outer Limits, made me lose sleep, very scary. As I age, I find books that are disturbing, and need to be leavened with cozies. They make me happy. The squirrels crossing the road? Some kind of mass migration? I feel badly about this.

Sorry about the dual posting-I was done in by Mr. Typepad-computers-now that's scary :)

Kate, you heard the squirrels story? You mean--it's not just not the MAss Turnpike?

And hey, Lil..Mr. Typepad is indeed VERY scary!And from time to time, he has to prove it.

Poor squirrels ... It's a little early for their mating season, though, that's mid-winter. Possibly the pressures of local overpopulation, forcing them to seek pastures new.

I agree with William in re: the scariest movie or book -- The Haunting / The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson. About as close to perfection in ghost stories as it gets. Scariest movie preview -- The Skull, with that skull floating down the hall towards you, at about the level of your throat. (In the actual film, which I didn't see until a good twenty years later or more, you can -- if you look carefully -- see the wire on which the skull is suspended, but it's still pretty effective all the same.) Scariest tv episode: "The Voice in the Night", on the series Suspicion, back in 1958. (My parents weren't aware I was hiding behind the sofa, watching.) It's based on the William Hope Hodgson short story by the same name; the story was also used for the Japanese horror film Mandango. (The end is creepier in the tv version than the original, which you can find online.) And scariest radio drama would probably be "Three Skeleton Key", which shows up from time to time on old-time radio broadcasts; that's the one with the three men trapped in a lighthouse with thousands and thousands of rats making their way up the stairs ...

The supernatural/horror stuff doesn't really bother me too much. Stephen King I LOVE, but I don't get too scared because of the mostly supernatural aspect to most of his stuff. I get more frightened by the real stuff...Hannibal Lechter, Ted Bundy, Adam Walsh, Charles Manson. Stuff that is just true enough.

While I loved the books The Exorcist and The Shining, I found the movies to be really stupid. Nothing scary at all for me. I saw the Exorcist at the drive-in and they were trying to get as many shows in as possible in a 24 hour period. I think (at least I hope) they chopped it up too much and it just didn't make sense. I was really disappointed, too. My problem with The Shining was the casting. I had envisioned the Torrence family as being a middle to uppermiddle class family down on their luck. But with Nicholson & Shelly Duval, they came across as white trash who were stupid. I was so disgusted with that movie, lol.

Mary Stella, I had all of the Dark Shadows books, too. It kills me that I sent them to the library book fair 30 years ago, lol.

First movie that ever scared the crap out of me was the Andromeda Strain. I would have been about 10 and they showed movies to the kids in town for 10 cents on Saturdays and Mr. Copeland would run the projector. Whatever he could get for cheap 2nd run movies he would show . . . My friend Dawne & I ran home after the movie and were freaked for days.

In 1971 while visiting my great-grandmother, my parents gave my older brother money to take us to a kids matinee, being a sensible older brother he took us to some horror film where there were dead bodies in the walls and a scene where there was a dog walking around with a human arm in its mouth! I couldn't sleep that night and actually got wound up enough to end up barfing.

The book The Shining scared me, the movie was too pathetic to be scary, although it did stop me from ever being a fan of Nicholson. Helter Skelter is still the scariest book I ever read.

See, now, I dislike squirrels. (My mother says it's impolite to use the word "hate," but maybe with squirrels it's okay? Squirrels ARE rats, but with fuzzy tails. I definitley see them as Charles Manson tails.) So I could get into a posse situation as long as we don't wear cammo pants. I don't even want to imagine what my behind would look like in cammo pants. But "hippo in tutu" comes to mind, except with a touch of testosterone. I might even break my personal rule about automatic hand guns in the case of a squirrel posse, especially if NancyP wants in.

Armadillos carry leprosy, I think. Or whatever leprosy is called these days. So if you see them dead along the highway, don't stop. Just proceed to the nearest Dairy Queen for a calming Blizzard.

I was about four or five and I had to watch this movie on tv with my grandfather. It was a story about some campers and a monster who killed people and ate moss off the trees. Let me tell you I still am afraid to spend the night in the woods.
Do you remember the old black and white movie The Fly?
I must have been seven or eight at the time. We saw it at the drive in. I had nightmares for months. I am always worried I kill a fly it could be you know who.

On a plane ride to Florida in the late '70s I read the book Alien, a couple days later I saw the movie. Having just read the book you would think the movie wouldn't scare me, not so, scared the crap out of me. Also completely changed the way I look at pregnancy, maybe thats why I didn't have kids . . .

The squirrels must be smarter up here in Canada, I have lived in Vancouver for 25 years and have seen hundreds of squirrels, all alive and annoying.

Juanita, I just burst out laughing. THE FLY! Yes, it was terrifying!! Remember the end, when the fly said "Help Me!" in that tiny little voice? So creepy.

Gaylin, a dog with an arm in its mouth. AH.I'm with ya sister. Under the bed. Oh, wait, is it safe there?

Oh, yeah: The Birds. I forgot about that. (Thanks a lot, folks, for reminding me!! And don't you dare think that I'm grateful to you!)

Many of you have also reminded me of the old-fashioned science fiction movies that frightened me. I tend to forget movie titles but the descriptions that many of you have given definitely describe the ones that frightened me terribly. (Again, thanksalot!!)

I've even had trouble watching some Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes. I have had LOTS of Buffy nightmares - I keep trying to help her "save" people, the world, etc. (She does a heck of a better job than I do.)

As for scary books, I will stop reading anything that has graphic violence. My dreams are too easily influenced by that sort of thing.

NancyM, I'm all for medicating myself/calming myself with anything that Dairy Queen sells. (Has anyone noticed that people who own or work at ice cream parlors/shops, candy stores, etc, are all the nicest people you'd ever want to know? Or is it that they're nice to ME because I spend so much time at that kind of place?)

I haven't seen _The Exorcist_ (I knew it would be too much for me to face*), but I used to read and watch "The Lottery" with my students, and discuss the draft lottery in the '70's and the idea of questioning instead of just following traditions and/or orders. *Good friends have helped me avoid things beyond my ability to cope, including sending a student to snatch away a copy of _Angels and Demons_, though sometimes bad ones slip through . . . one called Perfume, I think, and another about scarecrows and corn fields . . .

Deb, I used to work at the Dairy Queen! But maybe not long enough to get nice....

Oh, Mary, great teaching tool!

Karen, you have dead deer. And armadillos. We are seeing more and more alligator road kill here in SC, including one that left the hind legs and tail on the side of the road and the rest just a smear on the pavement.

Alan, my grandparents are buried in the cemetery that opens NOTLD (the original) and many family members made a few bucks as extras playing zombies. Type casting, I guess. That's one that, for me, is hilarious more than scary.

Oh! THE STAND . . . aaaaaaaaaaaaah . . . hellllllllp!!!

Reine--I loved that book! But I dont think it's-scary. Except, well, now, come to think about it, every time someone sneezes, I still start to worry about whether the plague is starting. So--okey dokey. Scary.

Judith, I'm sorry. That's beyond hilarious.

The TZ with the empty town? There was one that I showed my students, in which it turned out to be a hallucination by an astronaut in training, in an isolation booth to prepare for the loneliness of space. . . I also showed them "To Serve Man." No, Mr. School Administrator, we were NOT wasting time -- we had wonderful discussions of irony, foreshadowing ("we all stood around like frightened farm animals," and the fact that the Kanamits were behaving exactly like responsible ranchers, providing food and health care, preventing injuries by removing weapons, and keeping the stock calm while being transported.
The one with the dog on the road teaches loyalty . . .
The one in which Cloris Leachman fights off the little mean space invaders (NASA) -- point of view . . .

Hank, there is an accident. Two 12 year old girls were riding their horses in the snow. They tried to get up an embankment and cross this road. A tractor trailer was speeding on this ice/snow covered 2 lane road. It hit the one girl & horse killed them and injured the other girl/horse severely. The horse was traumatized and that is why they called in Redford as the Horse Whisperer. It was the first movie I noticed Scarlett Johanson. I could tell watching her tell Redford what happened she going to be an amazing actress.

About the squirrels: I remember a mass squirrel kill in Massachusetts about 25 years ago. Every road seemed to have a dead squirrel every hundred yards or so. You couldn't swing a dead squirrel without...hitting a dead squirrel. If I remember, no one could figure out why, although the best guess had to do with squirrel overpopulation. In my imagination I picture a contagion of squirrel machismo leading up to the words, "Watch this!"

Most frightening film? Has to be NOSTFERATO with Max Schreck -- that dude would give anyone nightmares.

Most frightening book? Hard to say, but Richard Matheson's HELL HOUSE is surely a contender.

Most frightening story? A toss-up between Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" and Algernon Blackwoods "Wendigo".

Oh, Pam, that's sad....thanks for warning me..

Jerry, I agree about the squirrels...Wendigo? I do'kt know it..looking it up right now.

Ever read Robert Bloch's "Pyscho?" We've all seen the movie, but the book is just a creepy....you won't think about Anthony Perkins when you read this.

Oh My God, Hank! You are just too funny! The only thing I can think of about the squirrels is "the grass is greener on the other side" or maybe "I bet they have more nuts on the other side of the road than we do." We live near a lot of deer (or do they live near us?), and Dale and I joke that they dare each other to cross the road, like it's a rite of passage for teen boy deers.

Anyhoo, the scariest movies I remember seeing are Snow White when I was little, Rosemary's Baby (absolutely eerie), that movie with Audrey Hepburn where she was blind and lived alone, and any episode of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. Actually those last two I rarely saw because I was too chicken to watch alone or even with someone else. The stories so freaked me out!

Great Blog! I can't wait for the Halloween Costume blog (or the most memorable Halloween?)...;-D

I avoid scary movies generally. I was surprised at how many movies mentioned in the comments I have seen and been terrified by.

My earliest scare at the movies was Snow White. I connected them with the crows that flew around the 2 story round brick chimney at the steam plant near the apartment my family was living in. I was deathly afraid of that chimney until we moved away when I was in kindergarten.

As far as the squirrel phenomenon, they appear to me to all be suicidal. I seem to have close encounters with them weekly.

You know, the autumnal squirrel massacre used to puzzle me too...My theory is that they're running around more than usual trying to gather and bury nuts for the winter. Also, you've got the spring-born youngsters who don't know not to be careful. (Teenagers are teenagers, whatever the species!).

Speaking of scary movies, I just saw LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH a few nights ago. Very 70s, but it was so good! On a similar vein, I also just saw GASLIGHT (1940s). I just realized that there's a theme: women who might or might not be insane. I guess I'm fascinated/scared of that...Maybe I'm too close to the edge myself? (Yikes!)

Oh Hank...Good Point. I never made the connection. #2 did look sinister. Sinister with big store bought boobs (a little gift from him while they were "dating". I bet she sent the frogs.

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