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I was a 70s kid. That was scary enough—with trippy wallpaper, shag carpeting, avocado green appliances, oversized lapels, and polyester clothing. And it’s scary now to realize that growing up in the 70s meant everything we watched was on broadcast TV, or else at the movies. There was no Netflix, no YouTube, no DVDs, no VHS, not even Betamax. Whatever was on was on when it was on, and as a result kids spent a lot of time flopping on the couch and, well, just flipping the dial around and seeing what was on.

On a weekend afternoon that usually meant replays of vintage movies. And a lot of Creature Double Feature (which was, in my mind, a giant snooze-fest). Frequently bored, I often went back outside to find something to do.

Occasionally, though, I’d find my dad taking a break from yard work, watching an old Charles Bronson movie like the 1970 Violent City. Innocently thinking I’d get some dad bonding time, I was terribly mistaken as I watched Bronson methodically and emotionlessly set his rifle up on a rooftop, aim, and shoot Jill Ireland in the forehead as she rode in an exterior glass elevator, helpless and unable to escape.

Some things stick with you, no matter how much time has passed.

I’ve never liked scary movies where people kill or torture each other. There is enough bad stuff in the world; I’ve seen enough accidents, deaths and loss that violence and gore is just a huge turn-off. Bad stuff is coming for all of us sooner or later; why immerse yourself in it when you don’t have to? Creepiness, however, is another story; it is intellectually interesting and thrilling in a way that cheap jump scares and gore are not. The golden age of creepiness seems to be before Halloween hit the theaters in 1978, ushering in a whole new era of (yawn) slicing and dicing. I’m grateful for having been exposed to some good creep before gore saturated the market.

The pristine Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), for instance, was chilling and interesting, and not violent or gory. Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 classic The Birds, though! That movie, to me, was completely in another league. I curled up in my living room, terrified, as birds dive-bombed out of the sky to attack the main characters. I bit my nails as I watched them board up their house to keep the birds out. It was scary and exciting because there was no reason for what was happening; nature was inexplicably turning on itself. Despite the relative safety of the boarded up windows and doors (though you could hear the birds outside thumping into the wood as they tried to crash their way in), I screamed as the birds finally found an entry: down the chimney.

I never looked at a bird or a chimney the same way. Even Santa Claus seemed innocent and trite after that.

Supernatural stuff and the occult is always thrilling; The Exorcist (1973), The Omen (1976), and The Shining (1980) are fantastic movies that one could watch and rewatch. Everything seems normal until it’s not, and there is no real explanation for anything. The suspense builds slowly and respectfully, which I and my intellect appreciate. These movies don’t wrench you out of your seat for a cheap jump-scare.

The all-out scariest movie of my childhood, however, the movie that led to so very many sleepless nights with the light on, is something that now makes me laugh hysterically, that most people would never guess.

It was 1972’s Beware! The Blob, which was a remake of the original 1958 movie The Blob. (Want a good belly laugh? Watch the trailer.) Holy hell, though, this movie terrified me: just the thought of The Blob overcoming people and eating them alive. So much screaming! And the guy who went into the salon innocently looking for a haircut? As the stylist washed his hair in the sink, The Blob oozed up through the drain and all over his head, and the stylist’s hands. Aaaaahhhhhhhh!!

I took very fast baths after that, nervously eyeing the tub drain. And it took about 6 months before I could sleep with the light off again.

Heather Shaff

Heather is a book designer based in Boston who, when she’s not writing or taking care of the fam, can be found racing her bike, enjoying nature, or just daydreaming.

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