Thursday, April 14, 2011

Feels Like the First Time

By Chris Dimick
At 8-years-old, I was too young to die by most standards.
But try telling that to machete-wielding Jason Voorhees, who was undoubtedly hiding inside my parent’s broken down 1974 GMC maxi-van.

Stored in our dark cave of a garage, the van’s one-inch shag carpet interior and mythic Pegasus side panel details made it an attractive spot for Jason to plot cold murder.
There he crouched, knife in hand, just waiting for me to walk a few more feet into the darkened space before he impaled my head with a freshly sharpened blade. Just like he’d done a few minutes before in that movie I had watched – my first experience with a horror film – Friday the 13th Part 2.

My heart raced, my brow beaded sweat. I was terrified… and it was the most exciting thing I’d ever experienced. Though I had crawled into this world eight years prior, that day, a horror fan was born.

First Impressions Last Forever
One’s life passions usually come to them in distinguished ways. To really love something, or even someone, a part of it has to get buried deep within one’s consciousness from the very start. So deep, that even the waves of time and experience can’t wash it clear.
This first seed of fun, interest, success, or just admiration for an activity is planted and then stoked by attention, soon blossoming outward into a full on life interest, hobby or obsession (depending on your view).

Like an addict binging on a substance in order to feel that first marvelous, though now lost, high, this horror junky continues to watch movie after movie trying to recreate that feeling I had with Friday the 13th Part 2. While time and age have hardened my imagination and dulled my senses, there are still moments during great horror movies that I can return to that garage: feel that addictive emotional cocktail of thrilled, terrified, excited, and contently entertained.

It is the same feeling a hobby chef felt when they pulled their first golden pie out of the oven. Or when a musician struck their first cord in front of a live audience. A sense of contentment is the ultimate feeling people seek, and it can be found through many avenues in this world.

But one of the most fun is through hobbies, something becomes especially fulfilling when such practice is a true passion. Though it is possible to be turned off by something at first only to slowly learn to love such a thing (case in point, drinking coffee or whiskey) usually a lifelong passion starts with one extraordinary experience.

For me, one of those passions is horror movies. And the bloody seed was planted on that fateful day in a comfortable Marysville, Michigan home on October 11, 1987.

Time for Misbehavin'
I’ve always hated Sunday afternoons, but no more so than as an 8-year-old. First came achingly boring church service complete with itchy church socks, followed by lazy 3 pm’s spent contemplating how the weekend was over and another lifetime of boring school awaited.

When 8-year-old Christopher wasn’t playing “guns” with neighborhood kids or convincing his then two younger brothers to break things, he’d like to plop down in front of the TV for a few cartoons or random Nick at Nite 1950s comedies, like The Patty Duke Show or My Three Sons (two of the select approved TV shows us kids could watch). TV was more of a treat in our house.
Mom and Dad didn’t like you wasting time in front of the boob tube. Playing outside was mandatory during the day, as was an early 8 pm bed time.

But on this Sunday afternoon, Oct. 11, 1987, the unseasonably cool outdoors didn’t offer much fun. My brothers age 5 and 2 had engaged in some sort of activity with my Mom and Dad they considered fun, but I considered for "babies" (exactly what that was, I can’t remember, but could have been a board game or random craft project, both of which were enjoyed in our house from time to time).

My parent’s bedroom had an early 1980s black and white 16 inch TV placed in view of their bed. We weren’t often allowed to just hang out and watch TV in their bedroom, but on Oct. 11 I had managed to negotiate my way into the room to watch TV undisturbed (I’m guessing countless hours of wining I was bored and complaining about Halloweens slow approach prompted the authorization to shut myself away for a few hours).

Speaking of Halloween, I knew going into Oct. 11, 1987 that I enjoyed spookiness. Mountains of candy aside, Halloween was by far my favorite holiday for the fact that you could dress up as the most gruesome, scary creature an imagination could create, and parents would be all for it! I loved how the world embraced a side of life rarely shown to children – the dark world of fear and death.

As the product of a normal and happy childhood, these dark dabbling were enthralling. But as mentioned, our media growing up was very tightly controlled and things like horror movies were always filtered out by the parental controls. Spooky cartoons and Halloween episodes of Family Ties or Growing Pains was the closest I had come to a scary movie. They were always my favorite episodes of the series.

So there I was, alone in my parents room with their 16 inch TV. Free rein of what I could watch.
We didn’t have cable, or even a remote control, so the selection was limited. I knew I had to make this count, and watch something that would definitely not be approved by Mom and Dad.

Owl Eyes and Ears
Chicago based “superstation” WGN came in crystal clear in eastern Michigan if the wind was right, and every Sunday afternoon they featured a craptastic movie they’d managed to get the rights to but few people actually wanted to see. Branded the “WGN Sunday Afternoon Movie” it was really just time filler after the Cubs game and before the prime time lineup.

Whether it was fate or coincidence is anyone’s guess, but on Oct. 11, 1987, the WGN afternoon movie playing while I watched unsupervised was the classic feature “Friday the 13th Part 2.”

Released in 1981 as a follow up to the high-body count, low-plot original, Friday Part 2 was a worn product by the time it first entered my eyes. For perspective, today it would be like watching some uninspired 2005 horror movie, like “An American Haunting” that is now out of fashion, clich├ęd, and long forgotten. But for a misbehaving 8-year-old, it was movie nirvana.

I knew I wasn’t supposed to be watching Friday the 13th Part 2. Patti Duke’s identical cousins were nowhere to be found in Camp Crystal Lake. But though I’d never seen any of the films, which by that point were up to 1986’s Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives, countless friends had given me schoolyard rants about how Jason Voorhees sliced and diced his way through teenagers more than willing to show their "boobs" on camera.
Their inattentive parents had allowed them to watch most of these films on HBO.
Chopping up teenagers and boobs!? How frightening, how unpure, how “naughty,” how interesting! Here was my chance, I had to watch!

Our one story house didn’t leave much room for privacy, or getting away with unapproved behavior. Add on the fact that my mother had owl like hearing and vision for bad behavior, and I was sure the TV would be cut off by Mom before any teenage heads were cut off by Jason.

Shutting the bedroom door and lowering the volume to “just can hear” levels, I turned off the lights for mood and hunkered down on the bed-top hoping my baby brother Aaron’s random screams would mask any hacked teenage shrieking.

The movie started out tame, someone hopping down the street in the rain. This isn’t scary, I thought, what is all the hype about. The teen walks into the house, puts away her wet things, and after some suspense building opens a kitchen cupboard to find her parent’s dismembered head staring back at her! “Ahhhh!” I screamed at the sight, quickly covering my mouth to hide shrieks.

You idiot, Mom totally heard that. Jumping up, I ran to the TV ( no remote) and changed the channel to some innocuous program like golf or anything without a dismembered head.

My mother burst into the room: “What are you doing in here?” she demanded.
“Nothing, Mom, just watching TV, see!” I said in my most innocent voice, pointing at an 18th hole putt.

She didn’t buy it, most 8-year-olds not named Tiger wouldn't watch golf. But the evidence from my crime had disappeared into the electronic ether. Even a quick survey of her parental Owl Eye couldn’t determine what misbehavior I was up to in there. Thankfully, the calls of my brothers pulled her back to previous business. “I don’t know…” she muttered as she slowly left the room.

That was close, better keep quiet if I’m going to pull this off. Grabbing a pillow to shield my eyes should any other severed heads appear, I jumped up, switched back to WGN, and let the blood flow.

An Instant Classic
Jason sure didn’t like horny teens. The movie's plot was basic, but classic slasher. Compliments of IMDB, here’s how it went: “After killing the crazy Mrs. Voorhees, who was avenging her son Jason's death, Alice can finally sigh with relief. But there is just one problem. Jason never drowned in Crystal Lake and lived in the nearby woods as a hermit all this time.
The day that Alice beheaded his mother, Jason saw everything and his heart filled with thirst for revenge. Two months later, Alice’s parents are beheaded in her home and she disappears. Is Jason behind this?
Five years later, a camp next door to Camp Crystal Lake is built and the counselors start snooping around the old, abandoned camp ruins. This makes Jason very upset, since his shack is next to the remains of Camp Crystal Lake. What is inside the shack shall be kept secret forever, even if it means killing nine people!”

Jason slices, he dices, he juliennes, all on broadcast WGN television! It was terrifying, it was frightening, it was unpure, but it was insanely interesting!

Though almost completely neutered for television with most the sex and gore Nazi-ly omitted, the cut of the film was still very raw and powerful. Each “scare” was met by a muffled scream, a hiding of my eyes, and then a return to the TV. My adrenaline pumped as councilors went to “investigate” their missing friends. “Oh, enough with these practical jokes” the teens would say, clueless that their friends' missing for eight hours might be a cause for alarm.

“Don’t go into that room dummy!” I’d think, only to watch as their missteps land them on the business end of Jason’s blade.
An hour went by without a single disruption from the family. I was getting away with it! I inward cheered! This is horrifying, but how fun.
Getting cocky, I decided to turn up the volume just a little bit. Right as I did, the famous “ch-ch-ch ha-ha-ha” Jason's-perv-lurking music blared from the tiny set. Owl Ears picked up the miscue.

“That sounds like scary music in there? What are you watching, Christopher?!” Mom yelled from the other room.
“Nothing, just changing through the channels.” I said.
“You better, don’t watch those shows, you'll have nightmares. Stop.” her voice demanded through the wall.

What are you thinking? Too risky, gotta play it safe if you want this carnival ride to continue, I thought. She had to have known what was going on. But unlike the many times before when I had been caught watching something I shouldn't (by parental standards), she didn't shut it down.

Maybe she didn't know, and my lies were working. Maybe she did, but was just too busy to act. Or maybe I had finally worn her down. I'll never know the answer, but by not busting into that room and unplugging the TV, I continued toward a point of no return. The point I'd become a lifelong horror fan.

Murdering the Disabled
The movie progressed for another half hour without incident, save for my fragile innocence being stolen away with each showing of Jason Voorhees and his pillowcase wearing mutant head.
But I was coping well, and having the time of my life for the most part. Best thing was, I was getting away with it.

Then came the scene. The scene so disturbing, so bloody, and so horrific that to this day each frame is etched into my brain. Years later I would learn this scene was the most memorable and traumatizing for other young horrorites who watched as kids. In best of horror movie lists, the scene is usually included as being one of the most memorable (though watching it now just makes me laugh).

The editor at Chicago-based WGN must have been full of deep dish pizza and Old Style when he edited Friday the 13th Part 2 for television, because for some reason this murder set piece aired nearly unedited.

A wheelchair bound councilor goes to investigate his missing friends. Wheeling to the edge of a steep staircase, the teen spins around only to find Jason slicing a machete blade straight into his face. The blade is imbedded deep enough to remain across his head in diagonal fashion.
Finally, the force of the hit sends the teen, chair and all, flaying backward down the flight of stairs, tumbling and tumbling, the blade shining in the moonlight. It was too much.

“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” I screamed, raising the pillow but unable to block out the mental imagine that still burned with 1,000 lumens on my brain stem.

Like a distressed bird calling its mother, Owl Ears swooped into the room, slammed off the TV, and scolded me for disobeying.
"What did I tell you about this junk! You march right outside into the garage, get the rake, and get to work in the backyard, mister!"

What had I just seen!? I was terrified, but at the same time I couldn't help but feel enamored with it all. The movie's violence was entertaining in a cartoon way, and the spookiness and horror gave me a rush I'd never felt before. The whole thing was ridiculous, but it was still scary. Strangest of all, it was fun to be scared and grossed out! Who knew!

As I walked to the garage to face my leafy punishment, I realized I didn't regret a thing. It didn't matter that I didn't get to see the end of the movie (and actually wouldn't until I held a Friday the 13th marathon at age 21 in college.) Horror movies were fun, and I'd do everything in my power to see more of them -- punishment, and terror, or not. But the horror was just beginning.

Jason Loves Shag
Our garage had been built in the 1920s, and even in the afternoon light was very dark in the far corners. The images of the wheelchair kill still sending my stomachs into knots, I hesitantly slipped into the garage, hoping that I wouldn't be noticed.

"Maybe the rake will be right by the door" I hoped. Easy in and easy out, no blades to my face.

Nope. Barely visible from the light of the open garage door, I spotted the rake in the darkest corner of the garage... right by Jason Voorhees' broken down, 1974 shag-filled van of death.
That intense fear mixed with amusement rushed through my veins once again. I was done for: I'm going to grab that rake, and Jason is gonna grab me. I know it.

I was more terrified than while watching the movie... but every second was more thrilling than the last. So it is fun to be scared, I thought. You learn something new everyday, even on the precipice of machete filled death.

One step at a time, I neared the corner of the garage. From the left, a sliding noise filled the air. What was that? What!
Is that a ch-ch-ch ha-ha-ha I hear!


Every horror movie I watch has a part of that Friday the 13th Part 2 feeling in it. The great ones, like Let the Right One In, Session 9, and other 4.5 and above rated movies we’ve watched here at the RDHP, recapture that horror feeling to perfection and remind me of the pure fun one can have enjoying the genre.
But even if sometimes the movies aren't that good, I've never seen a horror movie that wasn't fun in some way. Horror is always trying to thrill you, give you a good time, make you feel like an 8-year-old, and put the adult horrors of reality in perspective.

In each horror movie I enjoy, I will always think back to Friday the 13th Part 2, and that lazy Sunday afternoon.
Jason has never pulled that machete out of my heart.

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