Fairy tales never scared me. It was fantasy — entertaining stories that couldn’t happen in real life. Plus, they had happy endings. Similar were movies about “monsters” — Frankenstein’s Creature, Dracula, etc. — and invaders from other planets. They were unreal enough to be fun to watch. Some of them were not great cinema, which could make them even more fun to watch, especially with others.
When I was a young adult, watching such movies with friends, one pointed out that in pretty much all these movies, the grown-ups, including police and military, make a mess of things and the young people save the day. I realized he was right. Another reason to enjoy them.
But the more reality in a scary story, the more it scared me. Prime examples were the TV shows “The Twilight Zone” (1959-64) and “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” (1955-62). In these stories, ordinary people, believable and relatable, would be drawn into extraordinary situations. I tried to watch these shows some but almost always regretted doing so. After I dropped them from my own viewing choices, I still sometimes saw them because one or more others were watching them on the TV that dominated the living area of the house.
Telling “ghost stories” was a favorite pastime when I was a kid. These could be scary if there was enough reality in them. There were some standards that got repeated, and I suspect several were widely-known, not just confined to our neighborhood. As with the TV shows mentioned above, the easier it was to identify with the protagonist, the scarier it was.
There was one, “Bloody Bones,” that got told from time to time, likely only by my sibs. The characters were the members of my family. I don’t remember all the details (I may have rarely, or never, stayed to hear the whole thing), but it involved each person, one by one, going down into our basement and hearing a spooky voice calling out, “Bloody bones!”
I assumed this one also was part of the universal catalogue. Thus, I got a great deal of satisfaction thinking our family was somewhat famous. Yet it really was scary to go down into the dark basement, and the story made it more so.
There was one exception to the general rule that monsters were not scary to me. When I was in college, a theatre group did weekly plays in Asheville one summer, and I attended regularly. One production was about Dracula. I had seen the actor who played Dracula in a variety of roles that summer and talked with him a time or two.
Yet he was so talented that he virtually became Dracula. Add to this that it was theatre in the round and I was sitting on the front row. There were times he was only three or four feet away from me — looking, talking and acting like a real, living-dead vampire. Despite telling myself over and over, “This is just so-and-so (I forget his name), portraying a fictional being,” it was difficult to sleep for a few nights.