The house I grew up in had a spare room by my family’s living room. While it most likely started out as a storage space for things like blankets, sewing equipment, and other knick-knacks, over time it was filled with children’s toys. Dolls, toy trucks, action figures, an old TV with a Nintendo in it. It became the playroom.
Me, my brother and sister would spend a lot of time after school and on the weekends in that room. While some may see the time spent there as squandered1 it wasn’t like we never played outside. On rainy days the playroom was somewhat of a childhood sanctuary, particularly during the rare event when my father would watch scary movies in the living room.
Watchers is a 1988 movie loosely based on the Dean Koontz novel of the same name, but to a child under 10 years old it was a living nightmare. A research lab burns down and two animals escape: a superbly intelligent golden retriever and a monstrous gorilla-like creature determined to kill the dog and rip out its eyes.
Like most of these kinds of flicks from the 1980s, Watchers is incredibly cheesy, but to young children it’s terrifying. We were too young to understand the story, the reason why this dog was so smart, why it was on the run, why there was a gorilla after it. What we did understand was that there could be an evil gorilla somewhere in the world that killed people and ripped out their eyeballs.
So we stayed in the playroom filled with toy soldiers, Hot Wheels, and dolls, protected from evil in the world that lasted about 90 minutes and was distributed on VHS.2
There’s something to be said about being so frightened you don’t want to move a muscle. It’s only happened a handful of times since Watchers. My oldest sister somehow convinced my brother to stay up and watch Stephen King’s It when it first premiered on ABC. I lucked out, falling asleep before it aired, but part of his childhood innocence died that night. When It reran a few summers later it got mine too. It was a hot summer night, I couldn’t sleep, and I was afraid to go to the bathroom because it would mean leaving the safety of my bed.
There was also the time we watched Tremors with her and her high school boyfriend. I didn’t like playing outside much after that. My mom assured me that I wasn’t in any danger of being eaten by a graboid. “We live in the mountains. They can’t get through the rocks.” Makes complete sense, but it wasn’t a denial of their existence.
Moments like this are inevitable in a child’s life as part of growing up. In some strange way I kind of miss being that terrified. As an adult I can’t truly be frightened the same way I was when I was eight years old. Today I get a little taste of what that was like if I’m reading a book at night and I hear a noise outside or if I forgot to close the bathroom window blinds before bed and use the bathroom in the middle of the night. Someone may be watching me from the dark. Or something. Maybe a clown…or a murderous gorilla.
In third grade I wrote one of those “What did you do this past weekend” essays for a teacher, telling him the entire plot to a movie I saw. He returned it to me with a note stating “GO OUTSIDE.” ↩
These days, over 20 years later, my dad rarely watches horror flicks. He watches some dumb movies sometimes, but nothing like Watchers. ↩