You don’t pick your kinks. This was a topic once on the late, lamented Penn Jillette Show, and I firmly believe this thing to be true. Just as being gay or straight isn’t a choice, some people can’t help it if they are turned on by pregnant redheads, latex, S&M, centaurs, being changed into a pair of underpants, a feminized Sonic the Hedgehog, a scrotum full of saline, or Godzilla bukake.
By the same token, I don’t believe that you don’t get to pick what creeps you out.
When I was a kid, I harbored a lot of fear with regards to my own mortality. It wasn’t so much a fear of death, but rather I fear that I wasn’t immortal. Being raised Catholic, it was a given that everyone was immortal. You have a soul, and that soul never dies. So to Little ML Kennedy, the scariest things were loopholes to that rule, killing something which should be immortal. These loopholes included things as diverse as the potential non-existence of Michael J. Fox due to his time-traveling in Back to the Future, to the killing of ‘toons in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, to draining the life out of muppets in the Dark Crystal, to those poor kids that got turned into wood in Earnest Scared Stupid.
No one realizes the deep theological questions provoked in an eleven year old by means of an evil troll who can turn kids into wood. Are their souls in heaven? Are the souls trapped in the driftwood sculptures? Are their souls (temporarily) dead? Years later, I now understand that theologians waste their time with equally inane questions from equally mediocre sources. Being a monist simplifies such things.
Even without believing in a soul and mind separate from the body, Back to the Future remains creepy. What sort of Freudian nightmare would it be to have your young and hot mom trying to female rape you? That’s the creepiest thing this side of Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka.
You can’t pick what creeps you out, though some ideas seem more widespread than others. Take the teeth for instance. If asked on the street, I don’t imagine that many people would list dental mutilation as a top fear. But a number of people are afraid of the dentist. And some of film’s most memorable gross out moments involve a certain oral fixation. I don’t remember much about American History X, but I remember the curb stomp. I remember the nightmarish chisel on the teeth in Last House on the Left, the claw hammer in , the medicine cabinet deteriorations of Jeff Goldblum’s Brundle-fly. Perhaps it is some twisted remnant of Freud’s oral stage, or maybe a hard-wired evolutionary desire to protect one’s ability to eat. In any case, nobody wants his teeth knocked out of his head.
Bodily mutilation is a common theme as well. Perhaps Cleopatra would have been better off had the Freaks merely killed her. Certainly in films, disfigurement often seems worse than death. A hundred bad guys can get mowed down by Arnold without triggering any sort of terror. But watching a guy get his feet sawed off with piano wire by a crazy Japanese bitch, well, that shit is gross.
What’s even worse is when the mutilation is internal. The body isn’t so much a flesh clockwork, as it is a nation of cells. Through the wonders of evolution, humans have an immune system to attack viruses, bacteria and protozoa. This miraculous system can detect what is the body and what is an intruder, that is, when it is working properly. Sometimes it fucks up, and you are left with rheumatism, diabetes, MS, or Graves’ disease. Perhaps even more remarkable is that these structures evolved to attack parasites allow a fetus to develop in the womb.
But I digress.
You don’t get to pick what creeps you out. I find fish tremendously creepy. It’s an irrational fear, to be sure, but I feel somewhat vindicated by Stuart Gordon’s Dagon. I suspect this aversion to sea life was spawned by the Super Mario Bros. games. I’m rubbish when it comes to swimming levels in all games, and particularly freaked out by those giant fish that swallow Mario in SMB3.
I hate those bloopers too.
We don’t get to pick that which creeps us out. I’m creeped out by people rubbing their palms on certain materials, and when somebody touches the bottom of my foot. I know folks who find grilled cheese sandwiches creepy. Others think that the lovable Buster Baxter is a creepy rabbit Furrie. There was a woman on Maury Povich who was terrified of the San Diego Chicken.
So here is your mission: I want to do an, on Halloween, Halloween Column next week. That is not, to say, a column on Halloween, but rather one on the day of Halloween (nee All Hollow’s Eve). So, I want you to g-mail me with the creepiest non-horror movie, or the creepiest moment in a non-horror film. The creepiness can be unintentional, intentional, irrational, or something which only you, the reader, would find creepy.