Who in their right mind thought it was a good idea to take me to see Earthquake when I was 9 years old? And when did I start sounding like a grandmother who uses phrases like “who in their right mind”?
This must have been somewhere around the end of 1974 or early 1975. It’s hard to tell sometimes because my hometown had only one movie theatre, and first-run movies showed up only after they’d become second-run movies. I believe they’re just now showing Forrest Gump.
I remember this period well, however, because it seems to be when I first started seeing evening movies, as opposed to old Jerry Lewis reruns during Saturday matinees. (We had those.) I also watched Airport 1975 around the same time and The Return of the Pink Panther, the most sophisticated comedy I had ever seen – which kind of explains everything.
But it was Earthquake that truly left a lasting impression, and not in a good way, mostly having to do with one scene – a plummeting elevator. That’s terrifying in itself, but when the scene reached (or, in this case, hit) its inevitable climax, the screen FILLED WITH BLOOD! AHHHHH!
I’ve thought of that scene over and over for more than 40 years, usually while in elevators, naturally. I was 9 years old! Who in my family thought it would be a good idea to take a child to see a film about death and destruction? It’s not like the mayhem was a surprise; it was called Earthquake, not Bunnies Get Shook.
Around the same time, I remember seeing a trailer on television (I assume) for a kitschy horror-comedy called Arnold. I probably saw this ad just the one time, but I distinctly remember a scene of a couple making out in a shower stall, and then the shower walls close in on them! You don’t see anything but there’s screaming! My takeaways: a) I clearly had a fear of being smooshed; and b) you could show pretty much anything on TV in 1973.
I recently read a Twitter feed in which people were laughing at the film Jaws. “This was scary?” they scoffed. It sure was! People lost their minds over this film. And their lunches. (For the record, I was not allowed to see Jaws; I’m a bit upset about this, but also it was probably for the best because of all the smooshing.)
I wondered, though, whether young people still have the ability to be shocked and, more to the point, traumatized by film.
So I turned to some young people; I texted my kids.
“Are there shows/movies you watched as a child that either traumatized you or you think now ‘I was far too young to watch this’?”
“No,” Abby the youngest immediately typed back. Oh yes there are, I thought, thinking of her somewhat obsessive Austin Powers period – which kind of explains everything.
“Watching Jurassic Park in kindergarten with the class!” Emily the eldest replied. Yup. That would do it. I reminded her about taking her to see The Lion King when she was 3 and sitting in the near-empty theatre as she blubbered after the stampede scene, “Is he going to wake up? Why won’t he wake up…!” But that scene traumatized everyone.
Son James wrote back, “A Fish Called Wanda.” Yeah. My bad.
Then Katie chimed in: “ET, My Favorite Martian, The Dark Crystal, The Hobbit (cartoon one).” It explains why Katie used to refer to people as “humans.” Later, she revealed to us that she was convinced as a child that we were all aliens. At night, she would whisper to her sister, “Emily, if you were an alien, you’d tell me, right?”
We can laugh at these things now, and thanks to YouTube, I can revisit those scenes that scarred my childhood. The elevator crash special effect is cartoonishly absurd, and the Arnold trailer is pure cheese. But recognizing that doesn’t take away their impact. (Ha! Elevator! Impact!) You never know what will dig its way into a child’s psyche. Also: I was clearly a bit of a wuss.
Still, I wanted to get to the bottom of who took me to see Earthquake. I assumed it was my Dad. So I asked him. He couldn’t even recall the film. Besides, he had his own tremor trauma to deal with:
“I remember my mother taking me to see San Francisco and during the earthquake scenes hiding behind the seats.”
My Dad was 6 years old at the time. Way to go, Nana!