All of us have well-meaning family members or friends who didn't consider reading the synopsis before popping a movie on that would scar us for life. When I was nine years old and under the care of my eldest cousins, they put on Hollow Man, assuring me it wasn't scary. I asked them to turn it off, they said no, and by the time it got to Kevin Bacon's titular hollow man smashing a really cute dog to bits I was thoroughly ruined. That night, and for many that followed, I slept in a sleeping bag (so he couldn't get me) with the lights on. Every time I closed my eyes I was haunted by images of Kevin Bacon's body coming away in layers until he became just muscle, then a skeleton and, eventually, nothing. It remains the one film of Paul Verhoeven's that I absolutely refuse to revisit, not just because it left me scarred, but because it is shit. I hate it. I hate it with every fibre of my being, and so does Verhoeven – although maybe not for the same reasons.
My life can be split in two: a time before Hollow Man, when films were fun and people were to be trusted, and all the time after. But I'm not alone. I spoke to some people about the film that stole their innocence, some of which are more understandable than others.
Ben, 33, Poltergeist
My mum and my grandma were going to the theatre to see Dame Edna Everage and it was my grandad's turn to babysit me, which was rare for him to do solo. I think I was about seven – it was roughly 1991 – and me and grandad sat down on the sofa to watch TV. We had definitely checked the TV guide and I had seen a spooky movie was coming on, so I wanted to watch it. My grandad thought, 'Sure!' and fell asleep on the sofa, leaving me alone to watch Poltergeist.
I literally shit my pants. And that was the last time I ever shit my pants. It was very memorable. There was one scene in particular where someone went to the bathroom mirror and their face melted off or turned into maggots – I can't quite remember; I think my brain has masked the true memory to protect me from the horror – but it meant that a) for the bathroom break I needed during the movie,I was too scared to go alone, and b) that after this traumatic experience I didn't go to the bathroom alone for many, many months.
My mum came back from the theatre to find me on the sofa cowering in fear alone with shitty pants, grandad still asleep.
Amelia, 20, Black Christmas
Black Christmas ruined my life. In year seven I tried to really throw myself into the acting society at school, so I got involved with the school play. I only had one line but it meant that I had to be at rehearsals every Sunday for two months, which meant a lot of time sitting in the corridor doing nothing. One of the sixth formers brought her laptop and deigned me special enough to watch a film with her: Black Christmas.
The film has all the classic horror movie tropes, (someone living in the walls of a sorority house, eye gouging, alcoholism, incest), but there was one scene in particular that freaked me out for years to come. It features the son, having been repeatedly sexually abused by his mother, strangling her to death with fairy lights and then making meat cookies. Using a Christmas cookie cutter and the flesh from her back. This, combined with the fact that an eye-gouging child of incest lives in their walls, made me convinced that someone was going to kill me around Christmas time.
I had nightmares for months, and recently decided to conquer my fears by watching it again, as an adult. For reference, it has a 14 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and I would really recommend it if you want to watch actual Gretchen Wieners of Mean Girls get her eyes stabbed out.
Chloe, 24, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
There are no words to describe how vile E.T. is, but it will probably do me good to vent about it. My earliest and most traumatic memory of the film is from when I was really young and I watched the scene where ET has his first encounter with Elliott. I remember he had the world's most vile screech and his neck just grew disgustingly, unnaturally long. I hate him.
The funny thing is I thought I was over it until my friend in Australia showed me a clip from the film and I kept heaving. I used to have so many nightmares. I remember in one dream his neck just kept growing and growing and it didn't stop and his ugly head flopped on the floor but his neck kept just spiralling out of control. I hope his fucking ship crashed on the way home.
Owain, 24, Edward Scissorhands
My lifelong fear of Edward Scissorhands began long before I even saw the film itself, when I was reading a magazine at primary school and came across a section about robots. That was when I was first presented, without context, the horrifying image of Edward himself. In hindsight I am well aware that he is a sympathetic character with a heart of gold, but with no explanation about his character I was freaked out.
A couple of years later I caught the latter half of the film on TV. I thought I was feeling better about my fear when I realised he was just a nice fella, but when I saw that scene where he saves that kid from being run over and slashes his face up, that was it for me. It dawned on me that it didn't matter if I was his friend or foe; I could be on the receiving end of a slashing regardless. From then on I spent my nights worrying that he would come into my room and try to tuck me in or something. I never considered why he would do anything like that – all I could think about was those fucking scissors in my face.
Stephanie, 27, Psycho
When I was about ten, my aunt and uncle wanted to educate me on horror movies, once they found out I hadn't really seen any. They showed me Halloween, The Shining and Psycho. For whatever reason the first two didn't bother me, and are still two of my favourite films. But Psycho destroyed me. I was particularly traumatised by the shower scene.
I realise as an adult that it's a significant film, and that this scene was groundbreaking and blah, blah, blah. But at 10 years old, I didn't want to take a shower ever again, and I was pretty sure that any and every dude who talked about his mother was destined to become a killer. To this day I still have a great fear that my death is going to come while I shower. I have to open the shower and look inside it any time I go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, and I still lock the bathroom door every time I take a shower – even when I'm home alone.
Rebecca, 25, Candyman
Candyman was the first horror movie I ever saw. I was 12 years old and at my friend's house. We watched it while her mum was out and it scared the absolute bejesus out of me. Safe to say I wasn't allowed to that friend's house again for a while, and even when I was my parents ridiculed me with Candyman jokes. The first night after watching the mirror scene I truly believed that if I went upstairs the Candy Man would stick his hook all up in my torso. It was months before I looked in the bathroom mirror again. I thought I'd never like horror films after that and I didn't watch them at all until my late teens. Up until recently I still felt weird about looking in a bathroom mirror – that was until I re-watched the film and almost died laughing at what a wimp I had been.
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