Judging from EW staffers’ recollections, watching your first scary movie is an unforgettable experience. We culled some horrible (and some delightful!) horror film memories by posing the question. Now answer for yourself below!
I grew up avoiding all scary movies, until I went to a middle school sleepover where someone had rented Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever. As you can imagine, it was a pretty harrowing introduction to the genre. I had also just started to shave my legs, so the scene where a girl shaves her own skin off (gah!) was especially traumatic.
About a year after it came out in theaters, Pet Sematary on VHS was the feature presentation at a sleepover. I was too young for it. I may have blacked out around the Achilles heel scene.
I was around 10 years old attending a slumber party when the birthday girl’s mom popped Carrie into the VCR. Though I hated anything remotely scary, I pretended like I was excited to watch the movie so I could impress my friends. I covered my eyes and braced myself for the worst, but in the end I realized that Carrie was actually more sad than scary.
Dads Are Weird
When I was around 6 years old, my dad encouraged me to sit with him and watch the 1990 It movie (featuring the OG nightmare clown, Tim Curry). I didn’t know what to make of it: Why is that clown in the sewer? Something is definitely NOT RIGHT with this clown… And then, at the exact moment that Pennywise rips off Georgie’s arm, my dad yanked hard on my shoulder. Still not a huge fan of clowns.
I must have been around 10 when my father took me to see the 1977 version of HG Welles’ classic horror tale The Island of Dr. Moreau at Midsomer Norton Palladium in the UK. It was on a double bill with the sci-fi movie Forbidden Planet, which I sat through fine, but Moreau terrified me. I vividly remember asking to leave the auditorium as Michael York realized he was surrounded by half-man half-animal monstrosities created by Burt Lancaster’s mad scientist. My father said we could leave but that he had no intention of hanging around in the foyer, and that if we departed, we would not be coming back. I somehow stuck it out and have been chasing the thrill of having the crap scared out of me ever since.
My dad showed us Carrie when we were kids. He thought it would be a fun scary movie to watch as a family. He forgot it begins with a soft-core shower scene. Watching that with my family traumatized me more than any scares.
Arachnophobia. It was billed as a comedy so my dad decided to rent it for us to watch together. I was in kindergarten. My mom wanted to kill him when he dropped me back off at home and for a week I couldn’t close my eyes at night without seeing spiders crawling all over the room.
I still have PTSD from seeing Jaws as a wee young thing and living on the water, thinking sharks would simply swim into my house and eat me in bed. My uncle caught a mako shark on a fishing trip and chased me around the boat with it, jaws still moving. Monsters are real.
Jaws came out on my sixth birthday. My parents, who were never big believers in the ratings system and often took me and my older brother to wildly inappropriate movies, brought us along to see it. Again, I was six! I don’t think I had the courage to get in a bath or even a shower that whole summer. I even thought a Great White could come up through the toilet. Despite all of that, or maybe because of it, Jaws is my favorite movie.
…And Other Watery Graves
Ghost Story. I was 10 years old — too young to know who Fred Astaire, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Patricia Neal, and John Houseman were, but old enough to forever be haunted by a woman transform into a living corpse as well as group of men putting a woman who they thought was dead into a car and pushing it into a lake, only to watch her suddenly wake up and pound on the windows before the car sank and she drowned. Slightly scarier than another movie I saw around that time: On Golden Pond.
Sleeping over at my best buddy George’s house when I was eight meant watching whatever sordid flicks we wanted until the wee hours (probably 11 p.m.). We took it too far, though, with Massacre at Central High, a teen exploitation slasher mess about a new-in-town high schooler who takes out his bully tormenters in increasingly absurd ways. The scene where the school’s star athlete breaks into the darkened gym for a late-night swim and dives into a pool with no water in it had a particularly traumatizing effect on me. To this day, when I break into a gym in the middle of the night to go diving by myself, I always dip my toe in the water first.
The Ring, when I was in elementary school!
When I was in second grade my divorced dad took me and my sister to see The Poseidon Adventure. Technically this is a “disaster movie” where a cruise ship capsizes after it is hit by a tsunami. Not only does Shelly Winters drown, but Gene Hackman also drops off a steam valve and sinks forever into a pool of flaming gasoline. I left the theater saying bon voyage to a carefree childhood as ‘70s film culture permeated my daily life.
Nightmare on Elm Street. I was in 6th grade. I refused to use the bathroom at night for weeks.
Mine was Ghostbusters (1984), which I saw around 1988, when I was 3 years old. Aside from the haunted evil portraits, supernatural possessions, statues coming alive and that GIANT CREEPY MARSHMALLOW DUDE, the pink ghost goo coming out of the toilets meant that I refused to go to the bathroom on my own for months…. My parents were not amused.
Spoiler Alert: A Stranger Called
I saw When a Stranger Calls when I was 10 or 11, and extremely unfortunately for me, I had to babysit the next night. I was so terrified and convinced we were all getting murdered that night, those kids probably would’ve been better off fending for themselves.
One night when I was supposed to be asleep I came downstairs and my brother was watching 1979’s When a Stranger Calls on TV. It was right at the part when a panicked Carol Kane opens the front door to flee and — BAM! — there was Charles Durning’s creepy face waiting for her on the other side. Even though I didn’t start babysitting myself until years later, I always assumed there was a psychotic killer lurking somewhere upstairs. Visual aid:
EW Origin Stories
The Shining on cable TV when I was about nine years old. The film had such a core-shaking effect on me that I got a typewriter and wrote a lengthy “novelization” of the story to try and exercise it from my system (not understanding or caring that the film was based on a novel to begin with). In fact, this is the first thing I can ever remember writing: an entertainment recap.
Technically, my first scary movie experience was Neil Jordan’s Interview With the Vampire. I was five or six and my sister was watching an episode of Ricki Lake. Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt was on promoting the movie (I don’t remember which one): What I do remember is the clip Ricki screened from the film of Lestat mauling a woman and then feeding off of Louis. Since then I’ve had persistent night terrors involving vamps, which made the Twilight craze mildly traumatizing.
I was eight or nine and someone’s older sibling got Scream and Scream 2 from Blockbuster during summer vacation — it was a year or two before Scream 3 came out. After seeing Scream, I was absolutely terrified and would jump whenever the phone rang while I was home alone for months. Still, to prove my friends I wasn’t scared I convinced my mom to let me be Ghostface for Halloween. It just made it worse.
My parents let me see Sixth Sense with some friends. It was a big deal because at 13, I was finally allowed to be dropped off and left with friends. I don’t think I had any idea what it was about or that it was a scary movie before I went in, I was just so excited to go to the movies without a chaperone. Well, big mistake: After Micha Barton popped out from under the bed, I ran out of the theater and didn’t come back till the very end. I enjoyed my “snack refill” outside the theater for a good hour, but I did put on a brave face and went back in just in time to watch the famous ending.
Cat’s Eye. My parents figured a movie starring a young Drew Barrymore and a kitty must be fine for a four-year-old to watch. They were wrong. I spent the next several years being terrified that a knife-toting troll was crawling into my bed at night. I decided to try the movie again when I was 12 thinking it would just seem silly to me then. I was wrong. I had instant PTSD to the terror I felt as a child and noticed scary things I had forgotten over the years. I still associate jingle bells with the sound of the creature’s hat, so thanks for also ruining Christmas for me.
Maureen Lee Lenker
It’s not a movie but the first scary thing I watched was Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid of the Dark? After two solid weeks of nightmares and insisting our neighbor was a werewolf, my parents told me I wasn’t allowed to watch it anymore. And I never watched anything scary again until I saw Psycho in college.
Terror Close to (or in the) Home
Excluding terrifying “children’s” movies like The Last Unicorn, The Secret of NIMH, and FernGully, my first vivid scary movie experience came at nine years old when I watched Owen Wilson get decapitated by a big lion head-shaped pendulum in the 1999 remake of The Haunting. Maybe having that as a first point of reference is the reason I’ve never really gotten into the horror genre, or maybe I’m just kind of a chicken.
Little Monsters comes to mind!!
The Gate. This was my mother’s equivalent of letting me touch a hot thing and see what happens, and to this day I can’t watch horror movies after dark.