Once upon a time, when I was about 12 years old, I somehow ended up in the house by myself one evening and made the ill-fated decision to watch a vampire movie on television. I don't remember the name of the film or anything else about it, but what I do remember is one particular scene. One of the female characters is in an RV when she decides to pull back the curtain on a window and, BOO!, there's the vampire's face looking back at her.
I was so startled (scared, freaked out) I almost wet myself. I didn't watch the rest of the movie. I couldn't sleep that night, and I had nightmares about the face in the window for several months after. I'm not sure why. The face of the vampire wasn't particularly scary. It was just a guy with his hair combed back, wearing fake teeth. But the image haunts me to this day and I still jump if I see someone unexpectedly pop up on the other side of a window.
That irrational fear began for me, I think, as a much younger child when I watched the "family" movie The Wizard of Oz. The flying monkeys didn't bother me, nor did the tornado which lifted Dorothy's house. What I was most frightened by was the scene where Dorothy tries to call out to her Auntie Em whose face has appeared in a crystal ball, only to have the witch's face pop up and start laughing. (Excuse me while I take a moment to calm the shiver that just ran up my spine.)
The fear rekindled itself during a viewing of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Can you guess when it happened? It was during the scene when the Child Catcher slowly lowered his big-nosed face upside down to peek through, yes, a window, while chanting about all the candy that he had for little boys and girls. Again, a so-called family movie that scared the stuffing out of me.
So you can understand where I'm coming from when I disagree with my beautiful wife as we have our ongoing discussions about what movies our own children should be allowed to watch. I can only imagine that unlike me, she was never scared out of her wits by images on TV, at least not in the way that I was. If she had been, she would think twice before allowing (and even encouraging) our children to watch certain movies.
Over my albeit mild objections, my wife has let the kids watch Jurassic Park, Jaws, and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. She thought by telling the kids to close their eyes during the scary parts, they would enjoy the movie without being permanently scarred. That was before one of our children crawled into bed with us for two weeks straight because she kept seeing Gollum's face in her dreams. Oddly, the other child kept insisting that the "Frodo movie" was cool. That's the same child who is spooked by episodes of Scooby Doo.
So, as you can see, it's a bit tricky. We are all scared by different things, be it spiders or blood or monsters. Plus, I'm usually overprotective. I thought Monsters, Inc. was a bit much for the kids, although they loved it.
Their mom worries more about real-life dangers like what might happen if they ride their bikes past a pedophile house. She also refuses to park next to panel vans with no windows in the back because, you know, that's the type of van that kidnappers use. She has fewer concerns about pop culture influences.
Who's right? The safe answer is that she is right. The more complicated answer is that, to some extent, we both are. I'm probably more like our older child -- affected by scary images, but less concerned about the evil outside our door, while my wife is like the younger child -- oblivious to horrors on the screen, but keenly aware of the weirdos in the real world.
Still, if they ask us, we'll both tell the kids to never, ever watch The Exorcist. We can't sleep with them every night forever.