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| | Panel of Experts First Fright Horror Fear

Question: What was the first movie or book or television show that scared you?

We are a motley bunch with both some pretty disparate and even shocking influences and some very real commonalities. Some of the answers here are eye-openingly unique and some are horror classics.

Given that the question is about the first media which scared us, it is no surprise that some children’s fare made the list of our Panel of Experts. Probably to be expected that the Wizard of Oz was a popular chill. Some more surprising kid frighteners included Howdy Doody, Sesame Street, Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein, Pinnochio, The Muppet Show, Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and a very disturbing and well-considered deconstruction of Harold and the Purple Crayon.

Stephen King, Alfred Hitchcock, and Rod Serling all cast dark palls on many of our youths. The Shining, Pet Sematary, and Salem’s Lot caused some fear. Psycho and The Birds were really scary. Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, Night Gallery, and random UHF all fed us regular kiddie doses of horror. Quite a bit of Edgar Allen Poe as well, although we each seem to find different Poe stories the scariest.

The slam dunk winners of the childhood nightmares olympics, however, were Jaws and The Exorcist. And an honorable vampire mention goes to Nosferatu and Dracula, in all his incarnations.

I recall the first movie that really scared me was the original Fly. I was quite young at the time when I saw it on the television, and I recall going to bed after and there was a fly trapped behind a picture on the wall, and the sound of it buzzing was made louder by the drum-like effect of the frame. Scared me to death, but a quick squirt of fly spray put paid to it.

Shaun Jeffrey, writer

Horror is that thing I grew up on, that friend mom says is a bad influence. Some of my earliest memories connected to the genre, include me, curled up on the living room couch, watching Jaws while my mother and father discussed whether or not I was old enough to be seeing such a thing. I remember being absolutely captivated by ‘Salem’s Lot late one evening, alone in my brother’s bedroom, the feeling of terror consuming me as Ben Mears and Mark Petrie made their into the basement of the Marsten house, weapons in hand, danger all around them. I could hear my family in the room below me––safe, secure, acting as if everything was normal in the world. For me, it wasn’t. I had a pillow covering half my face, my knees were curled up to my chest, and my heart pounding clean out of my body as the goosebumps on my arms tried to crawl from my skin and hide in the corner; I couldn’t believe the images on television could be so intolerably wrong. And I loved it. Oh boy, did I ever. Strange, huh?

James Roy Daly, writer

I have a very specific memory of being horrified by the scene in the original Day of the Triffids, when the escaped convicts take over the women’s school for the blind, and then the Triffids attack them all. It was the fact that the scariest things in that part of the movie were the humans, not the monsters (something that has become a mainstay of my personal philosophy). Having said that, it was Romero’s Day of the Dead that really, truly screwed me up for a week – the sheer nihilism of that movie was something my 17-year-old Southern Baptist upbringing had simply not prepared me for.

Chad Savage, dark artist

I saw Barnabas Collins climbing out of his coffin on TV at a neighbor’s house when I was four, so Dark Shadows pretty much scarred me for life.

Loren Rhoads, writer

My parents tell me I fled the room during ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, but I was three and have no memory of that.

Lisa Morton, writer

That is a particularly specific memory that is cemented in my mind like the footprints of dead folks outside of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Back in middle school (this would have been in the late 70s) I participated in a charity at school called The March of Dimes. All the students that participated were treated to a movie in the cafeteria as a reward. The first year we all watched Superman. Very tame. Everyone had a good time. The next year we were being treated to film none of us had heard of, about some big animal. I have no doubt that the PTA or March of Dime ladies that were involved in the decision to let a bunch of sheltered middle class suburban twelve year-olds see the film, JAWS, not only had no idea what the film was about, but had no concept of the amount of blood, gore and violence it contained. Now I know what you’re thinking, JAWS? Really? Cheesy, no big whoop. And by today’s standard, I would have to agree. But this was the 1970s. Movie cable networks like HBO and Showtime were just breaking into the market, VCRs and the movie rental industries was just budding, and violent video games – decades away. As kids we were not exposed to a whole lot of movies that were not produced by Walt Disney. The most violent images the average American kid had ever seen (sans the nightly news from Vietnam) was a Looney Tones cartoon. To go from Bugs Bunny smacking Daffy Duck, to a nude woman being torn to pieces while screaming her head off by a thirty foot great white was not only horrifying, I still some, thirty plus years later, am not comfortable in the ocean. There was so much screaming inside the first 30 minutes, echoing relentlessly in the cafeteria, that the film was turned off, and those that didn’t want to stay were allowed to go back to their classroom. After much discussion (I’m guessing it was at this point the adults realized the gravity of their error) the film continued. I was horrified, terrified, traumatized, and at the same time, immovably fascinated.

Kevin David Anderson, writer

My mother read me Brothers Grimm and my first reading was all in surreal and horrific fantasy, so I was primed to love the dark stuff. My favorite TV shows even at ages 3 and 4 were those like TWILIGHT ZONE, OUTER LIMITS, ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, CHILLER, and so on. My mother would be alarmed by the shows I was enjoying, and I would explain to her that those shows, rather than falsely reassuring us, told us how things really are, behind the masks and appearances. So even as a toddler I understood horror and terror and suspense as a revealing underlying truths and possibilities that could prove useful in surviving what even then I saw as an indifferent, if not hostile, world.

Gene Stewart, writer

Possibly the original version of The Stepford Wives (movie). It made me a feminist at a very young age. Night Gallery was the most frightening television show of my childhood — I think it still might be!

Ann Schwader, writer

My Mother used to read me creepy stories like Watership Down when I was seven or eight. I’ve honestly never really been into the scary slasher monster movies like Friday the 13th, but I did sneak into Apocalypse Now when I was nine and that had some scary bits. As far as Horror genre, I would have to say The Shining might have been the first chiller that got to me. Growing up, we much preferred drive in variety schlock like Empire of the Ants. They were a more fun variety of scary. Young Frankenstein is still one of my favorites.

Forrest Black, dark artist

I don’t know what it was, but it was a movie broadcast on network television. I wasn’t really allowed to watch TV much as a kid, so I was pretty unaware of what shows were what or TV Guide or any of that. This group of teen or college age kids was exploring this house and they came upon some scary mutilated corpse thing. You couldn’t even really see what it was, but the music for the discovery was really alarming and the teenagers in the house seemed really terrified. I tend to respond to how people feel about their situation. Like, if I see someone hanging from meathooks and they are into it, I enjoy it, but, if they seem really stressed and in pain, then it upsets me. I was going to say Bram Stoker’s Dracula at first, but then I figured that wasn’t really a fear response exactly, so it didn’t count.

Amelia G, writer

The first movie that I remember really scaring me was a made for TV production from Dan Curtis called The Norliss Tapes. It was the pilot for a series that never got made. It revolved around an occult investigator named Peter Norliss (Roy Thinnes) investigating the case of a recent widow (Angie Dickinson) involved in a case of voodoo and devil worship. The villain was an artist who had made a pact with Pazuzu (the same demon as The Exorcist, which I had not seen yet), and the artist, who was himself a reanimated corpse, was sculpting an icon to the demon with blood reinforced clay. I remember thinking that this was real demonology at work, and as a strictly raised Catholic Boy born in Salem, MA, this connected with me significantly on a deeply religious scale. I should also stress that I saw this as a rerun on a rainy Saturday afternoon when I was probably 6 or 7 years old. Possibly earlier or about the same time, the TV commercials for Leonard Nimoy’s speculative documentary series In Search Of… would sometimes run very early in the morning. These 60 second spots prominently featured footage of the Screaming Skull, which used to send me running into my parents’ bedroom at 6:30 in the morning –something that did not make them very happy on Sunday mornings. Thinking of it now still gives me the chills.

Matt Kennedy, writer

I don’t recall the first, but I watched so many scary movies when I was younger that I had nightmares almost every night. However the film that still haunts me today is ‘The Exorcist’

Eric Swartz, dark artist

I think that would be “Harold and the Purple Crayon” by Crockett Johnson. This is a classic, and generally much-loved book for your children along the lines of “Goodnight Moon.” I’ve never met anyone else who found it frightened. But my goodness, here is a story about a toddler who finds himself transported during the night into a world where there is nothing — truly *nothing* — except himself and the purple crayon he finds in his hand. The book outlines his efforts to draw his way out of this solipsist hell using the crayon. He draws a moon to light his way; he draws a policeman, a king, a dragon, but none of these things responds to him at all. It’s as if he doesn’t exist. He’s hungry, so he draws some food, but he’s still hungry after he eats it. The book goes on and on this way. Nightmare city.

Nancy Etchemendy, writer

It was probably Phantom Of The Paradise which was a really bad 70’s version of Phantom of the Opera.

As a kid I was always thinkin something/someone was living in the walls and it scared the Hell outta me. So Winslow lurking around creeped me out quite a bit. Another was even more embarrassing and that was an
episode of the Muppet Show where Gonzo’s uncle (Uncle Deadly) was skulking around the theatre. Ha…yeah, real tough guy huh?

Vaughn Belak, dark artist

There was some TV show narrated by Rod Serling, The Unexplained, I think, that freaked me the fuck out. One was a Bigfoot story with some Boy Scouts camping and then you hear RAWR and this big giant hairy paw and arm come in and rip away the Boy Scouts’ tent and one Boy Scout runs and screams, crying. Another one had some guy get buried in a well with a manhole cover or something and when they pulled him out he was just effin’ crazy and I think the screen went ‘70s optical-printer-psychedelic and he ran around with a jittery camera. Who knows what I really saw but at 5 or 6 or whatever it freaked the shit out of me. I still think about those images today.

Shade Rupe, writer

I think that was a TV matinee of The Blob my Dad was watching! So campy when you’re an adult, but the idea of some alien slime eating me alive? Terrified me as a child.

Alexandra Sokoloff, writer

Just scared me or scared the living shit out of me? It’s hard for me to remember the first scary movie I saw since I grew up in an era when the old Universal monster movies and Godzilla flicks were in regular rotation on the UHF channels. Loved ‘em. But the one that pretty much introduced me to nightmares I just couldn’t shake – the first one to scare the living shit out of me – was “Psycho.” I remember my mom instructing me not to watch it. I openly defied her, thinking “how bad could it be?” Pretty goddamned bad, actually. The fabled shower scene, the detective getting slashed across the face, Norman Bates’ mummified mother under the swinging light bulb – they all started dropping in on my dreams on a regular basis. They made me scream in the night the way Rodan and Dracula never quite could. I suppose it may seem tame by today’s standards, but that movie scarred my 10-year-old psyche.

Sanford Allen, writer

Undoubtedly Godzilla. I was convinced Godzilla was coming to eat ME and step on MY house when I was about six years old. A little later I saw a really terrifying movie on TV, too, called “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.” It was a classic old movie that involved some kind of creepy gremlins coming out of the fireplace at night, but light would kill them/scare them away. No one believes our heroine; they think she’s having a nervous breakdown and sedate her. The climax of the film has the creatures dragging the drugged heroine toward her doom while she tries to fight them off using a flash camera. How funny: I just Googled the title for information and apparently there’s a remake in the works for this year directed by Guillermo del Toro!

Cecilia Tan, writer

I can’t recall the name of the TV show—probably a series like Twilight Zone. Nor do I remember the name of the episode. But I do recall the details in this way (thought I might have them skewed): The story was about a woman who had dreams that kept coming true. Her husband and others would try to convince her that this was all coincidence and not to take it seriously. As more and more dreams came true, she grew getting more frightened. Finally, she dreamed that she was on a bridge and saw a man ahead, his back turned to her. She approached him with much terror and when she touched his shoulder, he turned around…and had no face. And then threw her off the bridge! When she awoke, she just had to go to that bridge and sure enough, there was a man, etc. etc. and then he turned–with no face–he tried to throw her off the bridge. But, a policeman and some others stopped him and it turned out the faceless man was her husband.

Nancy Kilpatrick, writer

I suspect the first thing that ever truly scared me were the early Doctor Who episodes. I remember being about four and watching them from behind my couch back in England. The Daleks still give me goosebumps. By eight I was into the vintage Universal monster films and spent hours making the glow in the dark models that were available at the time. However,the book that changed my life in so many ways was/is Suffer the Children by John Saul. It was 1977 and I was twelve years young. I read it in one sitting. Then the next day read it again. That was the book that inspired me to want to write horror.

P. S. Gifford, writer

The first movie that I remember scaring me was The Empire Strikes Back – I had never seen anything so dark, and the idea that a film could have an unhappy ending (complete with mutilations) blew my mind.

Jemiah Jefferson, writer

First book: Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe, which I picked up in a discount bin when I was about seven, along with The Jungle Book. I don’t even remember reading the latter, but Poe’s stories have been imprinted on my mind ever since. For television: there were episodes of The Outer Limits and Night Gallery (like the one with the earwig) that disturbed me greatly. I also remember being terrified by The Eyes of Laura Mars. And the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz, of course.

Bev Vincent, writer

Stephen King’s “The Boogeyman” in Night Shift. I checked to make sure my closet door was closed all the way for years after reading that.

Anthony Izzo, writer

When I was four, my mom and I watched a screen adaptation of Legend of Sleepy Hollow that really scared me, especially the scene where the Headless Horseman confronted Ichabod on the road.

Alice Henderson, writer

The Exorcist. I was a probably about seven or eight and the images in the movie were frightening. Years later, it still works. It’s the scariest movie ever made

Carl Alves, writer

I saw Race with the Devil at the Drive-In when I was eight or nine years old. That movie scared me so badly that to this day I’ve been able to watch it. About twelve years ago, I was sitting in my living room with the TV on but not really paying attention to it. All of a sudden I was filled with dread, and when I looked up at the TV, I realized why: Race with the Devil was coming on. Just the opening music triggered the memory of seeing it as a kid and terrified me all over again. I tried to make myself watch it that night, but got five minutes into it and had to change the channel.

Elizabeth Blue, writer

Movies – Curse of The Faceless Man & The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao

Del Howison, writer

My dad used to read me Edgar Allan Poe stories at a very young, impressionable age. I remember ‘The Black Cat’ fondly, but ‘The Cask of Amontillado’… not so much.

David Sakmyster, writer

It was The Excorcist. I was a little girl and my mother was really excited about it- her her sisters went to see it at the theatre, and then I saw it when it came on TV the first time. My mother was into the supernatural, so we’d often use the Ouija board, and of course that was frightening to me.

Corrine De Winter, writer

“Psycho,” the original Alfred Hitchcock version, which I have written about for an upcoming anthology entitled “Butcher Knives & Body Counts.” My essay is a comparison of the original film with its remake and is entitled: “Psycho Analysis: When Perfect Should Prevail.” Coming out soo from “Dark Scribe,” with Vince Liaguno editing.

Connie Corcoran Wilson, writer

“The Thing”, the original 1950’s movie with James Arness, which I saw late
one night on TV when I was young.

G. O. Clark, writer

Howdy Doody. Truly. The puppet was terrifying. I later saw the movie Nosferatu, when about ten, on late night TV, and it scared the Hell out of me. It was all about the image, the atmosphere, the sheer hunger expressed by the title vampire.

John Shirley, writer

The first movie that truly scared me was the “Wizard of Oz.” My mother took me to see it when I was about 6 or 7 years old and the witch was terrifying. The flying monkeys were terrifying.

Jill Bauman, dark artist

I’ve been reading and watching horror as long as I can remember, but movie-wise I’d have to say probably either Night of the Living Dead or The Abominable Dr. Phibes. In books, as a young boy maybe a Hardy Boys mystery, or maybe Dracula. Don’t remember which I read first.

J. G. Faherty, writer

Movie: The Tingler
Book: Stories of Edgar Allan Poe
TV Show: The Twilight Zone

Jean Graham, writer

Outer Limits and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. When I was thirteen I read a book called Night in Funland and Other Stories which I couldn’t put down. It was a collection of stories and it included “Flowers for Algernon,” a short story that later became the movie Charly.

Jameson Currier, writer

I’m old enough to remember watching the original Twilight Zone episodes as they came on the air. I loved them and got chills at the twist endings. I also adored the Alfred Hitchcock Presents series, with the twist endings that were so in vogue in the 1950’s and early 1960’s.

Harry Shannon, writer

I read an anthology of supernatural stories called Thin Air when I was eight or nine which frightened the life out of me – it also hooked me on horror.

Marie O’Regan, writer

The first movie that scared me was Disney’s PINOCCHIO, with the huge image of Monstro the whale on the screen. The first story I explicitly remember being frightened by was Lovecraft’s “The Thing on the Doorstep.” I loved horror from the beginning, when I read DRACULA at the age of twelve, but it usually didn’t scare me. I enjoyed the tropes and wanted to read fiction from the viewpoint of the “monsters.” Long before I began reading horror stories, however, I was terrified by the nineteenth-century poem “Little Orphant Annie,” read aloud by one of my elementary school teachers. (The goblins will get you if you don’t watch out.) What WAS she thinking? The LAST book I can remember ever being truly scared by was Stephen King’s PET SEMATARY.

Margaret L. Carter, writer

Poltergeist, hands down. My cousin locked me in the basement, turned out the lights and came back when the movie was done. Mom told me I looked like I’d seen a ghost. It was years before I ratted him out.

Marcy Italiano, writer

I remember the fascination of an old H. P. Lovecraft book cover tossed onto my grandfather’s desk. I was too young to read, but the illustration of Cthulu filled me with dread. I also remember clenching up at the 1931 version of “Frankenstein”. I think I might have seen it first late night with the Son of Svengoolie.

Michael J. Hultquist, writer

Believe it or not, “The Wasp Woman.” I was about six, and believe it o not, I was on vacation with my family in Los Angeles.

M. F. Korn, writer

It was actually, believe it or not, a rerun of Abbot and Costello meet Frankenstein and I was about five years old.

Lisa Mannetti, writer

Probably It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958), which I saw on TV’s Creature Features. The alien terrified me because It was unstoppable. The astronauts were in outer space, nowhere to run, while It smashed through the spaceship’s steel walls, coming ever closer. Where do you hide from a thing like that?

Or maybe “the hand of Count Petofi” on TV’s Dark Shadows, when it transformed Quentin’s face. A disembodied hand with its own evil mind. I’m not sure which I saw first — It or Petofi’s hand.

Thomas M. Sipos, writer

Dracula , the movie, with Christopher Lee, especialy the scenes where his victim Lucy, now a vampire, is waiting in the churchyard and where you see Dracula crawling up the wall!

Helen McCabe, writer

Without a doubt, it was the network TV premiere of SALEM’S LOT. Yup, the one with the cheesy blue faced vampire and the creepy as heck brother scratching at the window to be let in. My own brother and I were really too young to be watching it, but we’d begged our aunt to let us. I spent the next six weeks or so going to sleep with my little fingers making the sign of the cross at my throat.

Lon Prater, writer

Wizard of Oz
Fairy Tales
Beautiful Joe
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (Bumbles)

Sèphera Girón, writer

When I was very young—maybe 8-9 years old—I opened up a copy of DRACULA that my father had received through a book club. I leafed through it and ended up reading the vampire-baptism scene towards the end. Since I had no idea what was going on, the description of this guy materializing out of a mist, drinking some woman’s blood and her drinking his scared the heck out of me! But of course I was also a bit fascinated, and when I re-read the book my freshman year in college it became my all-time favorite.

E. F. Watkins, writer

I think probably Kolchak: The Night Stalker or Rod Serling’s Night Gallery.

Thomas S. Roche, writer

Horror of Dracula

Bob Johnson, writer

Sesame Street scared the shit out of me as a child. The animated bits were incredibly dark.

Will Judy, writer

The Shining was definitely the one that started it all for me. I was 7 or 8 when it came on cable. I wasn’t supposed to watch it but I snuck it anyway. Jack Nicholson blew me away. I read the book later but it started with the movie.

Adam Pepper, writer

I would say Anderson’s Fairy Tales was first. My grandmother used to read from an old edition, before they fluffed the stories up to be nicey-nicey. Then THE EXORCIST movie.

Rain Graves, writer

I think it was Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS, which my older sister took me to see in the theater when I was about 4 or 5 years old. Prior to that, my only reference was Tweety.

Rick Reed, writer

“Poltergeist” was the first horror film that terrified me. I watched it with my parents in a motel in east Texas. Still scared of clowns to this day.

Gabrielle Faust, writer

The Outer Limits was the first really scary thing I remember as a kid — The Zanti Misfits, in particular, largely because bugs have always kind of creeped me out. A lot of the old black-and-white horror and science-fiction movies from the 30s up through the 60s — partly coupled with the articles about them in Famous Monsters of Filmland — used to scare the crap out of me. They really stimulated my imagination, and I still have a great fondness for many of them.

Stephen Mark Rainey, writer

The first thing that comes to mind is the original Twilight Zone episode, “The Eye of the Beholder.” I remember watching that episode as a child with my mother, and running from the room when the “normal” people were revealed. I kept peeking around the door to look at them, and my mother found it very humorous! Their faces were just too twisted and scary for me.

Karen A. Romanko , writer

Lord of the Flies by William Golding. A reflection of life, in school when I read it and in the world when I grew up. Fortunately, it’s not the only reflection.

Gerard Houarner, writer

Alfred Hitchcock’s film “The Birds”. I was about five years old. To this day, nothing gets to me like those accursed birds in the Walmart parking lot, and I blame Hitch for it.

Steve E. Wedel, writer

I saw Goldfinger with my parents in an Italian theater when I was about 5 or 6. The gold-painted woman gave me nightmares, for some reason. Still one of my favorite Bond films.

As a book, I found some segments of Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days to be frightening – the Indian sequences, with the Thugs and the funeral pyre rescue – but mostly because I was so young.

Later I would find The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery, and The Outer Limits to be sometimes scary, along with a slew of 70s Movies of the Week.

W. D. Gagliani, writer

I remember the trailer for the Anthony Hopkins’ movie Magic scared the hell out of me. I’m surprised I’m not disturbed by ventriloquist puppets still to this day.

Ed Mironiuk, dark artist

House on Haunted Hill, which gives you an idea of OLD I am. I remember it scared me senseless. Then, when I caught it again on some late night TV just a year or so ago, it actually made me laugh to think that that’s what I remembered as being the most frightening movie I had ever seen!

Jeanne C. Stein, writer

Actually, one of my first nightmares involved a television – a with was driving a dragster down our street, and on the front of the dragster was a telelvision tuned to static… I watched lots of horror and monster movies as a kid, and they never scared me – I think I may be more of a “chicken” now that I’m past 50 and immortality no longer seems my fate. I used to read the old Hitchcock paperbacks from Dell, and Jane Rice’s “Idol of the Flies” really creeped me out… Later, watching “Night of the Living Dead” at 1am with no one else home was a good/bad idea.

Mark Onspaugh, writer

I remember being terribly young and at my grandparents’ house. Somehow I wound up watching “Demon Seed” on their old TV while all the grownups talked. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about a computerized house that holds its creator and his nubile young wife hostage. It’s a 1977 film, so by the time it made it to TV I was probably 10-12. This was probably an early kick in the direction of body horror for me.

Greg Stolze, writer

The first movie that really scared me was Hellraiser; the first book was The Rats by James Herbert; the first TV show was The Incredible Hulk, mainly the transformation scene – I have a thing about strange eyes.

Paul Kane, writer

I’m going to dig very far back into my memory banks on this, and confess with utter veracity that the first monster I remember terrifying me was the abominable snowman in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer! In the scene where Rudy has to dive behind a snowbank while huge, furry white feet go pounding by…I hid my face! I was teased by family of course. But the whole suggestive, not-quite-seeing-the-monster thing really worked for a kid with an active imagination.

For the record, after he lost his teeth and put the star on top of the tree, I thought he was pretty snuggly-looking.

Jackie Gamber, writer

The only movie that really scared me was “Jaws.” The beginning of the movie, with the woman going for a late night swim and ending up as shark food was truly terrifying. I kept imagining what thoughts would go through a person’s mind at that time.

Owl Goingback, writer

That’s a tough one to answer because as a child I was so easily scared. I do remember having a book of children’s ghost stories as a very young boy, probably before I’d even hit double digits, that kept me awake at night. I wish I could remember the title. But really, I was easily frightened. Episodes of THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN frightened me. Episodes of SPACE 1999 would make me pull the covers over my head. Anything that was the slightest bit disturbing did me in, regardless of whether it was meant to be frightening or not. Oddly enough, though, this never stopped me from playing day in and day out with my dinosaur toys (I’m told by my mother that the scarier the dinosaur looked the more I loved it) and glow in the dark Aurora monster models. Nor did it stop me from watching scary movies on TV, like PHANTASM, which I first saw on television in 1980 or ’81 while sleeping over at a friend’s house. I didn’t get a wink of sleep after that one.

Nicholas Kaufmann, writer

I don’t know what the movie was, but I was with my parents at a drive-in. While waiting for our movie to start I watched one of the other screens which showed a movie with a woman running from something, a hand comes up out of the ground and then she falls down stairs in the house. It freaked me out.

Ryan M. Williams, writer

The first movie to scare me was the 1979 version of Dracula with Frank Langella. Especially that scene where he crawled down the side of the house then enters Mina’s bedroom. The scratching on the window, the scratching at the door handle—that gave my childhood self goose bumps. Nosferatu, the silent version, terrified me as a child. The first book to scare me was the Shining, and it also instilled a love for well told haunted house stories.

Louise Bohmer, writer

The World Book under “F”: images of fishes that are deep in the depths. When was a kid, I envisioned those stiletto teeth tearing me apart.

But I can’t leave out “The Birds” (Du Marurier) first presented on radio. That version few heard, but if was far scarier than any movies I’ve ever seen. It was much closer to the author’s version of that story. Movie: Hitchcock’s version: I was gripped by the scene at the schoolhouse, as the birds gathered on the playground and while inside, the children sang “Risseldy, Rosseldy”.

Marge Simon, writer/dark artist

The first ‘horror’ book I read was an anthology Stories To Be Read After Midnight ‘edited’ by Alfred Hitchcock and I was hooked on the dark themes. After that it was the Pan series of Horror until I discovered ghost stories by James, Benson and Wakefield and that woke a whole other side for me.

Mick Sims, writer

We didn’t have a television set until I was in the third grade so the first thing that scared me that wasn’t real life was probably a radio show. On Saturday nights my mother and I would huddle in her bed and listen to old radio programs that were rebroadcast by a local station somewhere in what is now the Silicon Valley area of California.

As a teenager I spent many Saturday afternoon watching old horror movies broadcast by the UHF stations in the various places I lived.

Alas, I don’t remember any specific “first.”

Michael Bracken, writer

Summer of Fear by Lois Duncan, followed by King’s Pet Semetary. Movies: I used to watch the old Christopher Lee and Vincent Price movies on WORTV, channel 9 on Long Island, and they typically terrified me. Dracula, I had to watch with an onion, because I didn’t know the differnce between it, and garlic.

Sarah Langan, writer

When I was a kid BBC2 used to air horror films late at night on the weekends. Frankenstein and Dracula used to terrify me.

Steve Calvert, writer

The Wizard of Oz comes to mind immediately. Although, I don’t think it was so much “scared” as it was “disturbed.” Those flying monkeys were just too freakish for me. I still carry the emotional scars from that, as it usurped my fear of clowns and to this day I can’t go within 100 yards of an organ grinder who has a monkey. Just kidding. I was never actually afraid of clowns. The monkey thing though…

Another movie would be a Hitchcock classic, The Birds. Beyond that, probably War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells. The book, then the classic “updated” movie. I think what scared me most about both of them is that I could actually imagine such things happening.

M. R. Sellars, writer

As a pre-teen it was Twilight Zone on TV with Rod Serling, and Psycho at the drive-in. Both really scared me. But as an adult I had a hard time watching The Exorcist and Jaws.

Steve Burt, writer

This is so silly I can’t believe I’m admitting to it. The earliest one I remember is a Little Golden Book I had when I was 3 or 4, called The Christmas ABC. There was a drawing of a doll in it that had me seriously freaked. I imagined her coming to life and whizzing around the outside of the house, looking in at me through the windows. Amusingly, it’s not been that many years ago that I was visiting my parents shortly after Thanksgiving, and my mother had dug this book out of storage to use for seasonal décor. I found the drawing and couldn’t believe how innocuous it was. “This is IT? This cute little thing?” I have no idea what triggered that kind of extrapolation.

Brian Hodge, writer

The Masque of the Red Death with Vincent Price. I saw it when I was very young and couldn’t stay in the room to watch the end. All those creepy capes and masks – I can still see them now. I saw it a while ago and can’t see what scared me to be honest, I suppose it was the creeping atmosphere and shadows.

Richard Dean Starr, writer

Robocop, oddly enough. And just one scene, really, where the toxic waste melts that one criminal’s flesh. He stumbles around, moaning for help, and one of his accomplices freaks out, says, “Don’t touch me—don’t touch me!” I use to be kind of a germophobe (before I had a kid), and that scene really freaked me out.

D. L. Snell, writer

Walter de la Mare’s “John Mouldy”

Catherine Mintz, writer

The Bible.

Angeline Hawkes, writer

The meaning of ‘scare’ when I think about movies, TV or books isn’t something that only frightens, but it’s that element that is strangely enticing and exciting. A good scare in a story should send electric thrills along the nerves. When I was really young British TV used to show children’s TV serials from the likes of Hungary and Poland so I remember darkly haunting fairytales of hobgoblins, and talking fish that became trapped in ice. It’s all dreamlike in my memory now but the surreal imagery was an enticing, thrilling buffet of delicious scares.

Simon Clark, writer

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