There are certain terrifying images you see as a child that linger ominously in your subconscious for a lifetime. You may not remember where they came from or recall every vivid detail, but the images are there, waiting to pounce.
I’ve had my fair share of those images, many of which came from movies I was way too young to watch. One of those movies is “Pet Sematary,” a tale of death and perverted resurrection.
When my father rented the film we were living in an old, creepy Tudor house on the edge of a deep creek in San Leandro. It was one of those two story houses that could have easily appeared in a scary story with all its creaking, rat and flea infestations, strange architecture, and clammy, moaning darkness. It was the kind of home you never wanted to be alone inside.
My sister was staying the night at a friend’s house that night and my mother and little brother were upstairs sleeping. I had tiptoed down the darkened, claustrophobically narrow stairs to see what my dad was watching in the living room. When I opened the door there was a thin, horrifying woman with a disfigured back cracking loudly as she moved on the TV screen. She contorted and moaned in ways I could not have imagined in my worst nightmare. My father saw me and hit pause, leaving her image on the television.
“Damn it, Kim. This is not a movie for kids,” he said as he got up and went to the door. “Now go to bed.”
I backed up towards the stairs, and watched as he closed the door just enough to leave a small light from the television illuminating the otherwise dim hallway. He turned the movie back on and I heard the woman growl-moaning and cracking again.
I looked up the stairway, but only the first five steps were visible. The rest disappeared into the obscurity of night. I stood there for a moment, not sure if I was brave enough to go into complete darkness. I imagined the contorted woman waiting for me at the sixth step, raspy breath and all, with her long, skinny hands ready to claw me to death.
I decided to wait for a minute. The minute became five. Then I decided that I should sneak into the living room so at least I could be near my dad in case the monster woman came down for me. I did it quietly, slowly pushing the door open just wide enough for me to crawl into the room. My dad didn’t notice.
I ended up watching a good 10-15 minutes of the film, up until the moment the undead little boy (who looked a lot like my younger brother) sliced the foot and bit open the throat of an old man. Then I started crying loud enough for my dad to hear.
He carried me upstairs, tucked me into bed, left a small night light on, and went back downstairs. The sounds of muted screams and muffled action from the movie carried up the stairs and floated into my bedroom.
I remember trying to stay awake, fighting the heaviness in my eyes, only to succumb to it. Then the nightmares came.
Nearly 20 years later the movie still frightens me. Sure it’s cheesy and poorly acted, but terrifying bits and pieces have imprinted on me, waiting to materialize. To this day when I hear a noise that sounds like cracking bones, or I see a movie with a contorted body writhing or crawling towards the screen, or I am standing with my feet a little too close to the bottom of my bed, I remember that night, that woman, that little boy, the old man, the blood, the rush of fear. How quickly it all comes back.