Friday, October 5, 2018

What Scares You? #OurAuthorGang

3 Things That Scared Me When I Was A Kid

Joe Bonadonna
The year was 1962. I was 10 years old. Like most 10 year-old boys, I was pretty fearless. If you dared me to do something stupid and even dangerous, I accepted the challenge. Sometimes I wonder how I ever managed to survive my childhood. Haven’t we all?

I had already begun my “journey into the unknown” watching countless horror and science fiction films and TV shows like The Twilight Zone. (The Outer Limits would not make its television debut until1963.) Magazines like Famous Monsters of Filmland and Castle of Frankenstein were piled high on the desk in my bedroom next to my collection of EC Comics’ Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror, and Haunt of Horror. On the dresser beside my bed were all Aurora plastic models of Universal Pictures’ Famous Monsters I had so lovingly assembled and painted.

None of these things frightened me, you see. Monsters and aliens, ghosts and zombies were my friends. What nightmares I had involved failing grades and facing the wrath of the nuns in my Catholic grade school. But in 1962 three things all came together at the right time and in the same week to put a scare into me that lasted for several weeks, as I recall, and that period in my life is a memory I have never forgotten and never will.

 First, I had already started collecting the Topps’ bubblegum card series, Mars Attacks! Comic book drawings though they were, they were pretty gruesome and graphic for those days, and made quite an impression on me. (It really saddened me that Tim Burton’s film was turned into a comedy that spoofed several older movies, including Earth vs the Flying Saucers. But the Martians were pretty cool.) 

Anyway, I loved this grisly set of cards, although they gave me a few nightmares. Not only were there full-color “scenes” on one side of each card, but the flip sides of every card told the continuing story of an invasion from Mars.

Which brings me to the second thing that happened in 1962: the first time I saw the original, 1953 film Invaders from Mars on television. 
As hokey as this film may seem today, it’s considered a classic of the genre. Its effect on me and other kids I knew was almost profound, to say the least. It scared the living daylights out of me. The film is told from the point of view of David, a kid about my own age, who witnesses the landing of a flying saucer that buries itself in a field behind his house. No one believes him, of course, which is something a lot of kids go through: when adults just won’t listen to us! It takes on a darker tone when David’s father is captured by the Martians and implanted in the back of the neck with a device that allows the aliens to control him. The father becomes a cold, cruel man who in one scene gives David a fairly sound back-hand across the face.

Invaders From Mars Film Trailer

Later, David’s mother is subjected to the Martian’s control device, and she, too, turns into a cold, uncaring automaton. This device, by the way, can be triggered by the Martians to explode inside the heads of their slaves, which is exactly what happens to a neighbor’s little daughter. Now for me, this was frightening — especially to see loving parents much like my own turned into heartless, unloving folks. The bulk of the film is about David’s attempts to convince other adults and the authorities that he is not “the boy who cried wolf.” Haven’t we all been in that situation at least once in our childhoods, where grown-ups just brush us aside don’t pay any attention to what we have to say. Lucky for David, he finds some adults who do listen to him. This film gave me several bad nightmares, and for weeks I was afraid of my parents, even though they hadn’t changed. I was always checking the backs of their necks for the red X that marked the spot where the Martians had implanted their control devices.

This brings me to the final part of my personal little trilogy of terror from 1962: the story of Betty and Barney Hill. The Hills claimed they had been abducted by aliens from the “Zeta Reticulli system” between September 19 and September 20, 1961.

I read about this in an extensive article featured in Look Magazine one night while my folks were watching The Jackie Gleason Show. The article fascinated and disturbed me. It was the first time I had heard about “alien abductions” and people undergoing all sorts of tests, procedures and invasive probing by said aliens. From what I understand, the Hills’ case was one of the first, if not the first close encounter of the third kind to be well documented and investigated, and made public. The Hills drew a star map, talked about missing time, were hypnotized, and given the old third-degree. Betty had a series of dreams about the incident, and from what I remember Barney began having health issues, too. Their story has been well and thoroughly documented, and for all that it’s often been discredited over the years as nothing more than a “psychological aberration,” it’s a story I’ll never forget, and a story I’m convinced really happened. (Just call me Fox Mulder because I, too, “want to believe.”)

Though the Hills have long since passed away, you can read all about their alien encounter in the 1966 book by John G. Fuller, The Interrupted Journey. In 1975 there was a very good and creepy television film called The UFO Incident, starring James Earl Jones and Estelle Parsons as Betty and Barney Hill.  
So at the age of 10, in the space of 6 or 7 days and nights, I experienced being really scared for the first time in my life as these three things came together and tied into each other so well. It was like this all had been prepared and planned and executed by some alien force, to grab my attention, hold me in thrall and become one of those things affected my childhood, one of those things I’ll never forget.

What scared you when you were a little kid?

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All photo images courtesy of Wikipedia.

Film trailer for 1953's Invaders From Mars courtesy of YouTube.