I’ve loved scary stuff for as long as I can remember. Not that I was into extreme horror when I was very young, I just always loved the thrill of being scared. As a kid, I loved the monsters on Scooby Doo and I was especially fond of the Halloween episode of The Blunders. Really, any horror themed episode of a show had me completely enthralled. It didn’t hurt that I was pretty easy to scare. ALF had me nervous when he though his neighbor was killer and Punky Brewster had me damn near traumatized when she explored that cave.
My transition to more R-rated fare was an easy one due to the fact that my mother was the oldest of twelve. That meant that I had aunts that were only a few years older than me; they were more like older cousins. They were teenagers in the 80s and were willing to let me tag along most of the time. They also made great babysitters – they told scary stories and rented scary movies. Particularly memorable at that age were Hellraiser and Halloween III. It wasn’t just the movies that got to me either. The TV spots for A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 made me nervous any time I had to go in a dark room (or a school bus). Another aunt had the novelization of Friday the 13th Part 3 lying around. I listened in as they discussed how “they killed him with his own axe!”
Unfortunately, those feelings start to fade as the wonders of childhood stop being so wondrous. I never stopped loving the genre and I don’t think I ever will. What did happen though, is I started to become interested in different aspects of the genre. I liked the stories, the mythology, the make up, the music, and the style. There was so much to love, but nothing else felt quite like that nervousness I got from scary moment that really struck a nerve.
There were moments here and there that creeped me out, but nothing that sent chills right up my spine and made me a little uneasy about turning off the light before going to sleep. After a while, I just sort of conceded that this aspect of the genre was lost for me. I figured it happened to all fans. That’s why so many people grow out of horror movies as they get older, they don’t find anything else to latch on to after the thrill of being truly scared wears off.
All of this figuring that I did plays a part in why Black Sabbath is such an important movie for me. Most of my favorite scary moments have a huge nostalgia factor. They take me back to when I first saw them as a kid. I can usually remember where I was and who I was with for the more trauma-inducing cinematic experience. Black Sabbath stands out because I didn’t see this movie until I was in my early 20s.
The late 90s DVD boom saw a lot of Euro Horror was finally getting respectable releases. All I had seen from Mario Bava at this point was an old VHS of Bay of Blood. I picked up Image’s snap case of Black Sabbath and settled in. The movie is an anthology and the first two stories were visually pleasing and quite interesting but the third, one called The Drop of Water, was something else entirely.
It started off pleasantly suspenseful and had a tangible sense of dread. Then it happened. The event in the story wasn’t much of a surprise – the dead medium appeared to the nurse who had stolen her ring. This was obviously what the entire story had been building up to. What I wasn’t ready for was what she was going to look like. Her grimace was horrifying and I was instantly a little kid experiencing his first horror movie again. It was thrilling but uncomfortable enough that part of me wished the movie was over (or at least that every light in the house was on).
It got worse though. The corpse didn’t just appear, it physically came to get her. The effect was hardly convincing. The thing was obviously a mannequin and glided in a very unnatural way. This didn’t matter one bit though. Being flat out terrified isn’t a rational reaction. In fact, the unnaturalness of this whole thing is a big reason why it was so unsettling for me. This is the stuff nightmares are made of.
That whole thing happened over 15 years ago and hasn’t occurred with that intensity since. I won’t ever concede the ability of an expertly crafted visual to take me back there though. I know that there are still movies out there that will touch that primal nerve in me. They are admittedly few and far between now but it happened before and it can happen again.