For me, it was comic books, films, or TV shows involving transformation sequences or body horror. These scared the beejezus out of me, even if the transformation was merely implied and not shown, such as a deceased Chevy Chase going back to Earth as adorable mutt Benji in Oh Heavenly Dog (a movie which scared Roger Ebert, for other reasons). At home, I couldn't handle the transition from Bill Bixby to Lou Ferrigno in The Incredible Hulk.
Hearing the Hulk theme music was the cue to scoot elsewhere. Why this shook me up was a good question - maybe I thought it was horrifying that a poor schlep could turn into a raging beast, that he was going through something so unpleasant I didn't want it to happen to me.
Or it was something that could happen to me, sans green skin. I exploded easily whenever frustrated or teased, unleashing the beast buried under my sunny, innocent exterior. Was I afraid of becoming an angry beast like the Hulk? I gradually controlled my temper, though it resurfaces in weaker moments.
Looking back, there may have been a couple of reasons why The Incredible Hulk would have been on our TV. One: it was essentially an update of The Fugitive (man on the run helps people with their problems before hitting the road again), though the main character was looking for a cure for his unique medical condition instead of seeking a one-armed man. Two: the rest of the CBS Friday night lineup. In the pre-remote days, when channel flipping required physical exertion, it made sense to leave it on one channel all night.
I knew it was safe to return when this theme song came on...
...or this one, if I stayed elsewhere for another hour, the Dukes weren't on, etc.
Ironically, years later I owned a healthy run of Hulk comics. By then, I was able to look back with amusement at that particular childhood fear. I suspect my parents were amused the few occasions I asked them to pick up the latest issue for me at Smithbooks or Whittington's in Windsor.
Perhaps my problem would have been fixed quickly if I hadn't missed the episode of Mister Rogers where Fred and Mr. McFeely visited the Hulk set.
But there were other transformations into green monsters that were equally alarming.
Despite a phase of getting "lost" in stores possibly motivated by the thrill of hearing my name over the store PA system, my parents trusted me to be alone in my favourite sections of any retailer. Whenever we came to Toronto, my Dad knew I'd be found in the children's or film section of any bookstore. It was at the old Coles at Yonge and Charles (now Shoppers Drug Mart) that I discovered the graphic novel adaptation of George Romero and Stephen King's homage to 1950s EC Comics, Creepshow.
The thing gave me nightmares. If you know the movie, take a wild guess as to which section freaked me out the most...
In "The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill" segment of the movie, King plays a yokel who discovers a meteor. After he accidentally cracks it open, he assumes the worst that's going to happen is that no university will want to pay him for a broken meteor. Instead, he unleashes a fate worse than death--a weed-like growth spreads all over him (including his privates), his property...basically doomsday.
As drawn by 1970s horror comic whiz Berni Wrightson, the depiction of King becoming a giant weed frightened the crap out of me. That night, I heard the rustle of plants and feared they were going to absorb me. I kept it to myself, figuring Mom and Dad would think I was nuts to think creeping plant growth was going to catch up to us. Or maybe I resigned myself to the impending end of the world as I knew it. And I wasn't feeling fine.
Yet whenever I saw Creepshow in bookstores after that night, I took a quick look before putting it down after a fear-fueled adrenaline rush hit. Was there something about being scared that was a relief of sorts? Besides, I had recently survived watching Nazis-who-looked-like-Dad melt when we saw Raiders of the Lost Ark at the theatre without fleeing my seat. A sign I was growing older and wiser?
Gradually I began watching horror movies with my parents, usually with Mom when she flipped on channel 20's "Thriller Double Feature" (whose theme was the creepy middle section of "Whole Lotta Love") and enjoyed a steady diet of Hammer flicks.
For years, I resisted watching "The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill." Not from fear, but potential disappointment. Would something that scared me in another form be a droopy dud on film? Especially after reading it was played for yuks? Better to preserve a childhood memory than shred it to pieces.
I gave in and watched the segment last year. It was a hammy hoot, even if it is one of the weaker sections of the film. I still prefer Ted Danson's waterlogged zombie attacking Leslie Nielsen in the following segment, and the Tasmanian Devil taken his logical extreme in "The Crate."
In the man-turns-into-plant genre, the horrifying vision I had of "Jordy Verrill" would have been realized by watching "The Seeds of Doom," one of the most violent stories from Tom Baker's run as Doctor Who. A research team in Antarctica discovers an ancient seed pod in the permafrost. They warm it up.
The early stages of the Krynoid costume and makeup are effective in their revulsion factor, especially after another hapless scientist starts turning into one and struggles not to eat raw meat. There is no mirth here. Once the Krynoid mutates into a repainted costume from an earlier story, the creep-out factor lessens.
As men-into-plant muck monsters from 1970s comics like Swamp Thing...
|Scene from Swamp Thing #21 (February 1984) by Alan Moore, Steve Bissette and John Totleben|