One Halloween – many, many, many years ago (probably when I was about 14 or 15-years-old), my Mormon church youth group leaders decided it would be fun to organize a holiday activity. One that would keep all of the teens in one place, out of trouble, and off the streets – because everybody knows there is nothing more dangerous or destructive than a Mormon youth at loose ends. They might really go off the deep end and do something crazy, like toilet paper a neighbor’s house or gather in packs and play tag in the dark!
Instead of organizing a party or dance in the church gymnasium, it was decided that it would be fun to have a nighttime screening of a scary movie in the local cemetery. Because what could go wrong when you take sixty to seventy-five hormonal teenage boys and girls and put them in a cold, dark, cemetery – huddled together and under blankets for warmth and safety as get the bejeezus scared out of them?
It started off great – really, it did! There was popcorn, candy and soda, along with several grills cooking up hotdogs. We had started at twilight, so there still was enough light to chow down and find a prime spot for the movie – preferably with a tall headstone behind you to act as a comfy backrest. A movie projector and screen had been brought from the church and they were set up in a relatively clear area. When darkness fell…the movie started.
Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte.
If you haven’t ever seen this flick, let me give you a quick synopsis. Southern belle Charlotte (Bette Davis) is having an affair with John (Bruce Dern) and they plan to elope during a party at Charlotte’s house. However, unbeknownst to Charlotte, John is already married. Her dad finds out and intimidates John into ending the relationship with his daughter – so he does. But later that night Charlotte finds John brutally murdered…and I do mean brutally!
The murder scene was disjointed and traumatic – there was screaming and the flashing of a meat cleaver. John’s hand is severed from his wrist and blood sprays everywhere – and soon his head is also parted from his body.
We never see the murderer, but it is obviously someone John knows. Charlotte later finds her beloved’s body – and walks back to the party in a daze, her white dress covered with blood. Naturally, everyone thinks Charlotte was the murderer – and Charlotte thinks her father did the deed.
I was freaked out! I had never seen such a violent depiction of murder in my short life. Even though the scene was in black and white, the whole meat clever, severed body parts, and dark blood thing was seared into my brain – never to be unseen.
Then the suspense started.
It’s now 37 years later and Charlotte is now an aging, but rich, spinster – still living in the, now dilapidated, family mansion. The state wants to build a road right through the middle of the place, so Charlotte runs the workers off with a shotgun – and then calls her demure cousin Miriam (Olivia de Havilland) to come to the plantation and help her fight the state to keep her home. Miriam does – but then Charlotte begins to descend into madness – hearing mysterious music in the night, seeing her old lover’s disembodied head and hand, and generally becoming groggy and weak. Is she really going crazy? Is she being drugged? Is someone trying to kill her? If so, why – and who?
I don’t want to ruin the ending for you – but let me just say it was incredibly suspenseful and stressful to watch. I, the viewer, was privy to information that Charlotte did not have and I had to consciously restrain myself from shouting at the screen to tell her what to do, where to go, and who to trust. I think you already know I’m incredibly bossy – it started at a young age.
So, there I was – young, cold, scared, with a bit of a stomach ache from all of the crap I had eaten. I was still relatively innocent at age 14, so I didn’t have a strong, young man to cuddle and soothe me. I didn’t really get along with the girls who were my age – so while I could sit near them, sharing a blanket or holding hands was out of the question. To make matters worse, some of the older, more rebellious youth had disappeared into the darkness of the cemetery to canoodle or cause havoc – so I would occasionally see shadows in the gloom, darting from headstone to bush and hear yips, screams, or other, more insidious sounds coming from the blackness. I was terrified to leave the relative safety of the group and the light from the screen to set out across the murky expanse to the porta potty.
It was easily the most frightening Halloween I ever experienced. None of the Halloween parties or the haunted houses I went to as I got older even compared. I still get chills thinking about that damn murder scene…and cemeteries still creep me out as well. Maybe that’s why being made into a glass ball and being displayed on my kid’s knick-knack shelves when I die has such appeal!
What was the scariest movie you ever saw? How about the scariest experience you ever had as a youth? Do you want to be buried or cremated when you die?