The Suspense Is Terrible - I Hope It Lasts
The original Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was released in 1971. It started a kind family tradition that I don't know that I've ever fully from. Specifically, it started a tradition of my mother showing me films and shows that freaked me out.
I was about four when she took me to the movie and I had an absolute meltdown during the infamous psychedelic boat scene. I was already on edge from watching Augustus Gloop meeting his fate in the chocolate tubes. When the boat started really started picking up steam, I screamed and wailed in inconsolable horror and ran out of the theatre. It was probably the first time I'd ever fled anywhere without my mother.
According to family legend, she followed me out to console me, but I don't recall this. I know I returned to the theatre because I had several more huge freak outs as Gene Wilder reveled in one child death after another. You may recall that in the book and in the Burton version of the story, we see that the other children lived. In the classic film, we're never really shown if the other kids survive. I figured they were all goners and had nightmares about the film for the rest of my single-digit years.
My fear of Willie Wonka, however, paled in comparison to the abject horror of The Wizard of Oz. My mom tried to get me to watch that shortly after the Wonka affair. If I recall correctly, one of the major networks showed Wizard annually around a holiday - perhaps Thanksgiving or maybe Easter. This was, of course, before VHS, much less DVDs or DVR or just linking stuff at YouTube.
Get out of my yard.
This picture shows I watched scary TV shows as a child:
Yes, I wore a hard hat. Yes, I put a blanket under the hard hat so I could close it like a curtain when scary things happened. Yes, this was what I needed to wear before Wizard of Oz even started and it still wasn't enough to keep me calm.
Now, 1985's Return to Oz got a lot of flack for being too scary for kids. Ha! I think the only reason parents ignore the horror of Wizard of Oz (or Willie Wonka) is because the film is a musical. You can do some pretty grim things in musicals and adults will be cool with their kids experiencing it.
This is also true of classical theatre. If you stage a filthy scene straight from Chaucer, its amusingly ribald literature. Try to stage the exact same scene in modern language and its smut. Bake people into pies in Titus Andronicus or Sweeny Todd and everyone squeals with delight. Put that same action in a modern piece with no music and its too dark and thus unsuitable for kids. There are whole sections of the Bible that are considered suitable for church but would be considered unsuitable (and disturbing) if they came from a modern source. Ask me in the comments if you're interested and I'll give you my theories on why this is.
I was nine before I watched Wizard of Oz the whole way through. The scene that always sent me from the living room crying is the one where the Flying Monkeys attacked Dorothy and her friends in the Forest. Huge ugly tears. Big terrified screams. Hours hugging my favorite stuffed animal while hidden under the covers.
During one holiday, a ping-pong table collapsed on my foot and I ended up being immobile for a few nights. The movie came on and my mom figured I'd enjoy watching it - or perhaps figured this was the only way she'd be able to get me to watch the whole thing. I whimpered with fear for my friends on the screen and was much relieved when they were OK in the end. Indeed, I was very proud that I'd watched the whole thing and looked forward to an annual viewing of the film from that point on.
I've always been drawn emotionally into stories, especially when I like the characters. I think this is why I got so upset during these movies - it wasn't just that terrible things were happening, it was that I empathized with the characters and didn't want them getting hurt. Horror movies based on shock and gore merely illicit a “I wonder how they did that amazing special effect” response from me. On the other hand, if you put some characters I like in danger in any movie - including broad comedies - I get really worked up.
For example, my mom was always making me watch the old Little Rascals shorts on TV. As soon as the kids starting doing something that was going to result in their getting in trouble, I'd cover my face with my blanket and try not to listen. I suspect she assumed I was enjoying the show because of my strong reaction, but the truth is I felt awful for the kids.
As an adult, I still have a hard time watching certain shows the whole way through. I have a particularly difficult time getting through episodes of Arrested Development. It may be the funniest TV show I've ever seen, but it takes me hours to watch a single episode because I need to take long breaks whenever a character is about to do something that will lead to social humiliation.
My mom's penchant for trying to scare the living daylights out of me reached its apotheosis in 1982. Stephen Spielberg put out a pair of movies that year - one as director and one as producer. The one he put out as a director was E.T. (which I still haven't seen). My mom decided to take my brother and I to the other movie he'd put out that year.
Now, the window to my bedroom was on the second floor (in a loft) and featured a view of an enormous old tree. You may recall, if you've seen Poltergeist, that one of the most terrifying scenes is when the brother is attacked by a giant tree just outside his bedroom. So, yeah, I pretty much gave up sleeping for most of my 14th year. Constant vigilance was the only way to be safe from angry trees. Fortunately, the following summer a lightning bolt struck the trees and it had to be chopped down.
God is real and he will protect you from essentially harmless trees if you beg Him every day for a year.
I genuinely don't think my mom was trying to freak me out. I suspect that she knew she had a weird kid and was just trying to pick suitably weird things for me to experience. I think I mentioned that when I had my wisdom teeth removed and was high on all sorts of painkillers that she rented the film of Pink Floyd's The Wall. I think she wanted me to be able to watch it high like it was intended to be experienced and she knew I wasn't the kind of kids who did drugs.
That was also major nightmare fuel - I've never even tried to watch it since. Even listening to the album makes me break out in a sweat.
In theory, the four naughty little children in Willie Wonka learn valuable lessons about their bad habits ("don't chew gum!") from the (completely out of proportion) punishments they receive in the titular chocolatier's nightmare factory. I don't know that I'd say I learned a lesson, but its become one of my absolute favorite books and movies. Indeed, the first film my wife and I saw together when we started dating was the Depp version (which we both loved unreservedly, perhaps for its musical numbers, perhaps just because we saw it together).
In fact, all of the shows and films I've mentioned here are among my favorites. Maybe my mom knew I was going to grow up to be the sort of kid who likes having nightmares. Or maybe she raised me to be that kind of kid. She denies everything.
What movies, shows or books make you want to hide under your blanket?