I was thinking about the motion picture rating system the other day, wondering why bare breasts are an R but a garden hose of blood directed at the cameraman seems to be a PG13. I may be wrong here – there’s been precedent set, after all – but that got me thinking about my childhood, about drive-ins, and the movies that made me the gullible and anxious person I am today.
“Jaws” of course is the reason I cannot bear the thought of swimming in open water. Luckily, living in Minnesota, this does not come up often. Unfortunately, and because of my brother, who chased me with a muskellunge corpse not long after the movie and subsequently screamed “shark” at me whether we were in a lake, a pool, or running through a sprinkler, I still cannot swim in water over my head without imagining the behemoth that will rise from the depths to rip off my legs.
I owe my brother so much.
But the movie that really stuck with me, the one that influenced my sleep patterns and has kept me out of Texas is, of course, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”.
It came out in 1974. I was 12. Aunt Judy and Uncle Ken took me to it. We went to the drive-in, and I babysat their oldest son, my cousin Chad, during the movie. I don’t recall how old Chad was, but he was old enough to be distracted from the four-story drive-in screen by repeated trips to the swing sets, to the concession stand, and by walking up and down the dirt-road aisles, staring into cars, hassling the teenagers sneaking beers out of the trunks of their cars and making out in backseats.
But eventually, Chad wore out; and I put him to bed on the floor of the backseat.
And that’s when my hell began.
While Chad slept, I alternately lay face down on the seat, sat upright with my hands plastered across my face, or sat with my eyes squeezed shut, my fingers in my ears.
A lot of the movie, however, seeped through the various holes in my head; and what followed that night has stayed with me to this day.
The drive-in let out about 1:00. I stayed at their house, of course; and my aunt and uncle went straight to bed when we got home. I laid on a sleeping bag on the floor. Very dark. Very quiet. Every sound amplified by their hardwood floors – was that a footstep? – every gust of wind through the window of the room seemed to precipitate an attack – was someone at the screen? Heart pounding, I lay on the floor, willing myself to sleep; and by the time the sun was coming up, I had stopped thinking about the man in the leather mask, had stopped thinking about the disheveled, screaming blond woman running down the highway, the man with the bloody chain saw following her… I was safe, the sun was almost up, I knew where I was and everything was fine…
And that was when the garbage truck showed up in the alley.
The hydraulic lift on the garbage truck – sounding uncannily like a chainsaw – hoisted the metal garbage can, slamming it against the back end of the truck. I sat bolt upright, heart pushing against my ribs.
I think I actually lost a year of my life that morning through sheer terror.
I’m better now. Or so I’d have you think.
The drive-ins are gone from around here. Part of me misses them. I’m sure that today’s kids have their thing, but they’ll never know the joy of shoving five of your friends in the trunk to avoid paying for them, nor will they know the joy of the four-story screen of blood.
Yeah. I’m better now.
A Family Saga
1 hour ago