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Horror In The '70s: The Shining

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When I was a little kid, I used to get nightmares.

Sure, I started out completely convinced that monsters hid under the bed. Of course watching Creature Features was a bad idea. Yes, listening to stories in the dark, at sleepovers or on family vacations frightened me. I was a kid -- and so were you.

As I got a little older, I learned a part of me actually liked being scared. I slowly began to believe "there's no such thing as monsters" -- or at least, not under my bed. To convince myself, I'd dangle a foot over the edge, into the darkness, and bait what lay beneath for a never-ending second or two.

It was somewhere after the age of reason when the truly bad dreams arrived. The kind that on the surface had no traditional element of horror. No witches, ghosts or vampires. Dreams so intensely creepy, they made no sense to others if you dared attempt a description.

I will dare.

Before I ever heard the term for it, I had a reoccurring nightmare. In it, I would stand at the foot of a mountain, the top stretching too far to see. Two little girls, identical in every way, would dance and sing "Ring Around the Rosie" in chilling unison, as primary-colored posies rained down from above. It produced an overwhelming sense of foreboding, like giant boulders were soon to crush me, or the girls to steal my soul.

Nothing ever happened. I always awoke before tragedy; sometimes through aid of family, sometimes, cold-sweat alone. Although months could pass between occurrences, each felt like the first. This continued for years.

When I was in seventh or eighth grade, at a family party, an older cousin asked if I had heard of the author Stephen King. He seemed happy when I said no, and recommended I start with The Shining, promising it would scare me. I doubted any movie, book or story could match the fear I had generated from the depths of my own mind, so I told him I'd give it a shot.

I read the first chapter or so, and liked it, deciding to save it for a babysitting Friday. My nieces put down for the night, I resumed reading. I sped through the pages, falling deep inside, until gripped with fear. I stopped reading, hid the book, triple checked the locks, and tried to watch TV -- five separate times. At 2:30 in the morning, I was still reading, seated at the table in a brightly lit kitchen. I jumped at the sound of the garage door when Susan and Terry came home, violently banging my knee. They asked if I were OK, and after hearing my explanation, went directly to check on their children. No parent wants to come home to a babysitter with eyes full of fear and pain -- family or not.

A couple of years later, I flew out to Denver to visit family. My brother Jim picked me up at the airport, and told me he and his girlfriend Karen were taking me to see the The Shining. I was skeptical; could the movie do justice to the book, or match the visions it conjured? Jim had not read the book, but knew I had several times. He was excited the director was Stanley Kubrick, who had done 2001: A Space Odyssey, one of his favorite films.

The movie opens with an aerial shot of a car driving through the Rocky Mountains. When the main characters arrived at the hotel where the story is set, Jim tensed. He leaned over, whispering "I stayed in that hotel about a month ago, driving that exact route." His expression told me that he may never return, depending on the rest of the movie. As it progressed, I thought it did a great job of capturing the feel of the book, and I forgave parts either changed or left out.

Then I saw the two little girls, the creepy twin ghosts who haunted the hotel, and my heart nearly stopped. They bore an uncanny resemblance to the girls in my reoccurring nightmare. My terror built steadily, until a shocking twist near the end left Jim wondering where I went. He needed only to look straight up to see me clinging to the ceiling, shaking and speechless.

I loved it.

On the way home, Jim left me in the car as he walked Karen to her apartment, and went inside. He returned about 20 minutes later, explaining that he had to turn on every light, check every closet and look under the bed. No doubt -- no one would sleep easily that night.

That's exactly how I'd like to feel this Halloween -- what about you?

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