When it comes to horror films, my worst fears are many and specific: creepy kids (and now that I have my own, this goes double), sharp objects near or around a person’s neck, demonic possession (I’m a recovering Catholic, so, duh), and jump scares (because I’m gullible as hell). In spite of ALL THAT, when theaters re-released The Exorcist in 2000, at the maddening age of fourteen, I gladly went along with my step-father and my two brothers (aged thirteen and twelve at the time) to see it.
Don’t ask me what possessed (har-har) my step-father to bring a trio of barely teenaged kids to an R-rated film guaranteed to scare the pants off us. Maybe he thought it would be funny. He’d only just married my mother a year before (and she subsequently popped out child number six), so the dynamic between my siblings and Raul were in the “testing” stage. We tested him, he stared at us like we’d grown a second head, and we moved on to the next experiment. To my memory, he’d never tested back; Raul was (and still is) the calm-headed type. Experience and retrospect, though, have proved that the calm-headed ones are the craftiest.
So with what I can only assume was a blessing from my mother, I, my brothers, my step-father, and his best friend, Harley, went to the movies.
It was a disaster from the beginning.
I sat on the end next to an aisle with burned-out floor illumination, and the shadows played tricks on my already rattled mind. It didn’t slip my notice that my brothers and I were the only under-eighteens in the theater, though, and it was my first clue that something was amiss.
“So this has devils and stuff?” My brother, Danny, asked.
Harley chuckled. “Yeah. Stuff.”
Raul shushed him as the lights dimmed and the movie started.
By the scene in which Regan was being “treated” by having needles plunged multiple times into her neck, I was dry-heaving in the aisle. The world spun and I dripped coke-soaked ice down the back of my neck to keep from passing out. Once the feeling passed, I figured all would be well. If I could live through that, I could handle anything.
Four words—Let Jesus fuck you—and I was so wrong.
The End couldn’t come quick enough.
My brothers and I ran from the theater and waited by the car for Harley and Raul. We didn’t look at each other. Didn’t talk to each other. But I’m sure we all shared the same thought—it’ll be dark soon.
Danny—either in a show of bravado or stubbornness—slept in his room that night as usual, while my other brother, Buddy, and I slept in the living room.
We spent the night watching Disney movies—our favorite, Hercules, played no less than three times—while battling over who would risk getting off the couch to rewind the VHS (yes, we still had those, and no, there was no remote).
“I did it last time,” Buddy said.
“And you were fine. Obviously, you’ve got some kind of luck on your side.”
“I’m telling Mom.”
“Go ahead. Hit the rewind button on your way to her room.”
I have no proof, but I firmly believe Raul sat by the bedroom door and listened to all of this, snickering like Snidely Whiplash.
By the next day, Buddy had gotten over it.
Daniel, however, had gotten worse.
My mother paced the kitchen while on the phone with my grandfather, a devout Catholic. “Can you just come over and, I don’t know, talk to him?”
See, Danny believed that since he and Regan were the same age, it was only a matter of time before HE would become possessed, too. Despite my still lingering fear over the film, I found the notion of Danny spewing pea soup all over his Power Ranger bed sheets funny.
My grandfather spent the next several days quoting scripture and comforting Danny in the fact that, yes, the Devil was real, but no he wouldn’t possess Danny because the Devil had more pressing things to deal with like plagues and the End of Times.
I did mention I am a recovering Catholic, yes?
Anyway, I dealt with my fear the only way I knew how. I made deals.
If I didn’t move all night, The Exorcist (because I had to name my fear and, though it made no sense, I went with the movie title) wouldn’t get me.
[I’m sure there’s a twisted Freudian reason that, in naming my fear, it was a name that associated more with the religion side than the horror side of the experience. I’ll jot it down for my therapist, but we won’t be discussing it here.]
Then a week passed.
If I didn’t move all night, except moving my feet out of the blanket when it got too hot, The Exorcist wouldn’t get me.
Then another week passed.
If I didn’t move all night, except moving my feet and getting up to pee, The Exorcist wouldn’t get me.
This continued for months. Years.
Now, I’m allowed to move all I want, but The Exorcist will probably get me if I go into the bathroom before turning on the hall lights, or get into bed without a running start.
I’m thirty and, if I were to watch the movie again, I’m sure I would find it enlightening, compelling, and revel in the scare-factor. But there’s something about childhood trauma that drives me. Without it, I’d have no stories to tell and you’d be stuck playing Pokemon Go for the fourth hour in a row.
There is a moral to this tale, though.
They don’t give an R rating for fun, guys. Maybe don’t plop your twelve year old in front of Pennywise and expect to get her a clown for her next birthday, yeah? Glad we had this talk.
Don’t forget to pick up a copy of our new anthology, ECHOES & BONES, which is dark, like Halloween, and sometime funny.
You can also enter to win a copy on Amazon. ‘Muricans only, because them’s the rules. Folks from other countries can go to our Facebook page for chances to win book goodies.