An ode to scary movies you watched way too young

CNN  — 

I was 10 years old when my sister and I rented “The Exorcist,” intent on watching the film, famous for making squeamish moviegoers faint in the theater when it premiered, for the first time.

If that seems rather young to watch a film about demonic possession it’s because it may have been. My parents, however, were of a more non-traditional thinking.

When we were growing up, my parents often let us watch the TV shows and movies of our choice, regardless of whether the content would typically be deemed appropriate for our age.

There were rules involved with this concession. We were allowed the privilege with the understanding that we would not use the language we heard in the movies in public and we would shield our own eyes during sexually explicit scenes.

If these unofficial policies were broken, the right to watch R-rated movies would be taken away.

Asked days ago to confirm her policy, my mother said, “You all were smart. You knew when to use bad words.”

Immediately, I noted, “I love how you said we ‘knew when to use’ them and not that we didn’t use them.”

As kids, my three sisters and I tended to gravitate toward darker films, one of my favorite movies as a very young girl being “Beetlejuice.”

While rated PG officially, the movie is undeniably dark in theme and the main character – the poltergeist played by Michael Keaton – incredibly crude. My parents generally accepted that we were hard kids to scare and weren’t easily affected by darker themes.

Mom noted, “You knew movies were fake.”

“The Exorcist” was a big test of their theory that we could separate fact from movie fiction.

Unfortunately, we failed it.

The first time the demon spoke through 12-year-old Regan in that raspy voice, I ran out of the room in tears and refused to go back in.

This had only happened to me once before. I was maybe 6 years old when my family rented “Alive,” that movie about the plane crash in the Andes. I didn’t even make it to the cannibalism. When the plane crashed and a guy got a shard of glass in his thigh, I erupted into a fit of tears, terror and developed a lifelong disdain for flying.

My sister, who was older, stayed. But to this day, she says she’s only watched the movie that one time.

Oddly, “The Exorcist” did not scare me away from scary movies in general. In fact, I developed a sort of love of the genre and movies that make my heart beat a little too fast and my palms sweat.

It wasn’t that I didn’t get scared. For example, “It” and “Nightmare on Elm Street,” which I watched sometime between the ages of 7 and 9, scared me plenty. But I enjoyed the thrill and never internalized the fright to the point that it became terror.


When horror movies began trending toward the campy in the mid-to-late ’90s when I was a teen – with “Scream” and “I Know What You Did Last Summer” – it became even easier to lean into the genre because they were meant to be accessibly scary.

These days, I’d watch a horror movie over something actually scary – like a too-real documentary – any day. Give me your paranormal nuisances and keep your unsavory truths about our food supply chain. I’m down with Freddy Krueger but a story about animal poachers will haunt me for years.

I did eventually finish “The Exorcist,” but it took five years to get me back in front of the movie.

I don’t regret trying to watch it when I did, though. What’s childhood without a little mild movie trauma?

Scary dull, that’s what.

A version of this story was first told on CNN’s “Lisa, Sandra and Kristen Go to the Movies” podcast, available now wherever you get your podcasts.