Last weekend kicked off what has turned into a new series about monsters.Â This series will vary in topic and tone, with each week featuring a look at one monster or another with some sort of skeptical viewpoint.Â I started with a short post about my favorite monsters, vampires, and I’ll continue today with a bit about my most feared monsters, mummies.Â
Mummies terrorized me for 30 years. From 1969 to 1999, I was afraid of undead creatures wrapped in rotting linen and dehydrated corpses locked in museum cases.Â It all started when I was seven years old and Creature Feature played every Saturday night on WNEW, channel 5, in New York.
Each week at eight-thirty, the series opened with a poem intended to get the goose bumps rising on your arms:
Gruesome ghouls and grisly ghosts,
Wretched souls and cursed hosts
Vampires bite and villains creep,
Demons scream and shadows sleep,
Blood runs cold in every man,
Fog rolls in and coffins slam,
Mortals quake and full moon rise,
Creatures haunt and terrorize…
Right from the start, I was excited and afraid, but at the first commercial break, before the monsters appeared, my parents sent me to bed. Nine o’clock was my bedtime anyway, and I don’t remember complaining.
On the week The Mummy aired, my parents were engrossed in the 1932 film and forgot to shoo me off to bed during the commercials. By the time they realized I was still watching, Boris Karlof had risen from his crypt and was terrorizing everyone in an attempt to reunite with his reincarnated lover. They decided they’d better let me stay up ’till the end, so I could see that the good guys won and Imhotep was defeated. But it didn’t really matter. Mummies, that night, became real to me and nothing anyone could tell me would make me less afraid of their rotting hands reaching for me out of a mass of torn and shredded wrappings.
In 1972 I was introduced to another horror film, A Thief in the Night. The movie was shown in Calvary Baptist Church at 324 Jayne Boulevard on Long Island. This time the terror inflicted on me was intentional.
Â The monsters in this film were non-Christians, led by the anti-christ, who terrorized those who accept Christ after the rapture has taken place.Â One world government, the mark of the beast, famine, war, the collapse of civil society: Satan rules on earth, destroying everything.Â The DVD plot synopsis matches what I remember:
Patty [is] a young woman caught up in living for the present with little concern for the future. She meets and marries a young man and her life seems great, until one morning she awakens to find her husband gone and the radio reporting that millions of people have mysteriously disappeared. As dramatic, earth shaking events begin to unfold around her, Patty realizes she is living in the end times spoken of in biblical prophecy.
Larry Norman, a popular 1970s Christian musician often considered the “grandfather of Christian rock,” wrote and performed the haunting theme song, I Wish We’d All Been Ready:
Life was filled with guns and war,
And everyone got trampled on the floor,
I wish we’d all been ready.
Children died, the days grew cold,
A piece of bread could buy a bag of gold,
I wish we’d all been ready,
There’s no time to change your mind,
The Son has come and you’ve been left behind.
This movie didn’t just give me nightmares, it also made me shiver inside my coat when I was in the back yard in winter and I couldn’t hear any other kids playing in the neighborhood; it paralyzed me with fear every time my mother was late coming home from work; it kept me up at night listening to the wind outside my bedroom, wondering when Jesus would come to take his followers away, never sure whether or not I’d be counted as one of the elect. Whenever I found myself alone, the song would replay in my head, and I knew it was too late. I’d been left behind.
My mother told me the mummy was make believe, but she told me that the rapture would be real. When Richard Dawkins talks about religious indoctrination being psychological child abuse, I see 9 year old Donna sitting on the couch in the living room, shivering with fear, wondering if she’s been left behind and her mommy had been taken away from her in the rapture.Â
Today’s kids seem much more comfortable watching scary movies than I was, but many Christian parents are paranoid about what their kids see on the screen.Â The mental anguish inflicted on young children in Sunday school may be unintentional on the part of these parents, but if we can raise awareness about this, perhaps we can spare future children the kind of terrorization that I experienced. Parents should be at least as concerned about what their children learn at church as they are about what they see in the movies and on TV. Even more, because the children are told the Sunday school lessons are true.
I stopped being afraid of the rapture long before I stopped believing in it, because I became confident that I would not be left behind, but it was when I no longer believed in heaven and hell, God, or the devil, that the basis of the fear evaporated competely. It wasn’t until 1999, however, when I saw the half-comedy version of The MummyÂ that I stopped being afraid of these shrouded creatures. Obviously I knew they could cause me no harm long before that, but I was unable to rid myself of the irrational fear until the computer-enhanced versions of Imhotep and his minions somehow gave me the ability to laugh at myself and at the monsters.Â
Neither the mummy’s curse nor the threat of the rapture keep me up at night any more. But these fims instilled in me an enduring love for B movies and a deep respect for the power of stories.
And, damn, Daylight Atheism beat me to zombies! But I’ll be back to that topic soon, too.