He, along with my oldest son, had been introduced to the original Ghostbusters by my parents and both became instant fans—especially my youngest. At the time, he had no idea that Ghostbusters was the gateway movie that started my own lifelong love of horror. I suggested that we watch another favorite of mine, the 1931 Frankenstein, to see how he liked it. To my delight, and some degree of surprise, he enjoyed it quite a bit. After that, I began slowly wearing my wife down, with the utmost care and precision, into letting me show him John Carpenter’s classic Halloween. Thankfully, because it was one of the few horror films she had ever seen and contains little in the way of graphic violence or (ahem) adult situations, it didn’t take long to convince her.
I found myself carefully documenting the day we finally watched it. I took a photo of the disc in the tray and posted it on Twitter, made sure that I logged it on Letterboxd, and above all seared as many moments as possible onto my memory. I told him, with my tongue firmly planted in cheek, that if he got too scared, all he had to do was say the safe word: taco—the word used during the filming of The Blair Witch Project if things got too intense for the actors. I could see he was excited and a little nervous, though maybe not as much as I was. To be honest, I was a little worried he wouldn’t like it. Had I built it up too much? Would it not be scary to him? Would the whole experience just land with a dull thud and be forever forgotten? From the start of the movie, I found myself watching him more than the screen. And then, the first moment I knew it was working came—the killer of the opening scene was revealed to be the six-year-old Michael rather than the white-masked adult version.
“Woah! He was a kid?” he said. I started to relax a bit after that.
I knew that he was familiar with the look of Michael in the mask and coveralls, so I began pointing him out, along with the station wagon from Smith’s Grove, cropping up in the background early in the movie. He began to see the station wagon in places I hadn’t noticed before even after a lifetime of watching the film and dozens of viewings. I decided the time was ripe to test the tension when Laurie sees the Shape step behind the hedge and Annie approaches it to investigate. As she neared the hedge, I quickly turned to him and let out a loud “Ahh!” that sent him halfway to the ceiling. We laughed it off and turned our attention back to the movie, but from that moment on, I knew he was in it.
After the final shot of the empty Myers house accompanied by the sounds of Michael’s breathing cut to black and the credit roll began, I turned to him and asked, “So what did you think?”
“I think that’s my favorite movie that I’ve ever seen,” he answered. Call me sentimental, but a tear came to my eye and I gave him a huge hug.
So, what’s the big deal? Why was I pinning so much on this moment and this movie?
Well, to be honest, he was getting to an age where I was afraid I would never have that thing we could really bond over. With my oldest, we had Star Wars from very early on and he always loved having me read to him. Even now at fourteen he looks forward to me reading to him before bed, using character voices along the way as much as I can. My daughter has several similar interests to me including visual art and music. We have a special bond that reaches back to infancy when I seemed to have the magic touch to get her to sleep.
But my youngest son seemed to be interested in everything I wasn’t. He loved watching and playing sports and had no real interest in reading, art, or music. As a music teacher and musician from the age of six myself, that last one stung me a bit. I knew we would always have the bond of father and son, but I just didn’t know how to connect on a common interest.
But then, horror turned out to be our thing.
Since Halloween, watching horror films together has become a regular ritual. We have watched many, mostly franchises, over the past year or so. The A Nightmare on Elm Street, Child’s Play, and Scream series have been the biggest hits with him, some installments receiving multiple viewings. He has had some surprising insights about all these films, many that had never even crossed my mind. It’s a beautiful thing seeing a film like Friday the 13th—The Final Chapter through fresh eyes after countless viewings over the years.
He’s proven to be pretty unshakable and not at all squeamish as we’ve watched most of these. Only two seem to have really gotten to him. Ironically, one of those was a “family” movie, Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice. In fact, we watched it, along with the rest of the family, on the same day we watched Halloween together. Of those two films, the PG rated comedy was the one that gave him nightmares that night. The other one that really disturbed him was Creepshow, specifically the final story “They’re Creeping Up on You.” When those cockroaches started crawling out of E.G Marshall’s corpse, the expression of disgust on his face was priceless. I have to admit that it was met by howls of laughter from me. I finally got him.
These are special moments that have led to a deeper bond than ever with my son. He began requesting that I read to him at night, starting with R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books and branching out to novelizations, slightly modified for content (he is only ten after all), of some of our favorite movies. Next, I think some Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, and Stephen King may be in order. As was the case with me around his age when I discovered King’s books for myself, he has begun to love reading, something that didn’t interest him much before.
Our new school year is about a week and a half old as I write this. He was given an assignment to write about his hero. He picked me. His reasons for that choice? I taught him to love horror movies and love reading. I may be called an irresponsible parent by some for allowing my son to watch movies like these—my parents were for letting me. But if being an irresponsible parent means that, then I will wear the badge with honor.