I used to enjoy scary movies.
Correction: I used to tell my high school friends I enjoyed scary movies, but then I went with some of them to the opening night of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” in 1984, came home afterward and stayed awake, trembling and terrified, until about 3 a.m.
Because, remember? “Whatever you do, don’t … fall … ASLEEP!”
Now my teenage daughter enjoys scary movies (or tells her friends she does).
She begged me all summer to watch one with her, and I fought off the familiar pull of that dare until one evening when my husband was out of town and Hannah noted that “The Woman in Black” was available at Redbox.
I told her I’d agree to rent it as long as: 1) it was rated PG-13, which it is; 2) her little brother, Jack, would agree to keep himself otherwise occupied while we watched it, which he did; and 3) Hannah would sleep in my room afterward so I wouldn’t be too scared to fall asleep.
As Randy loaded his suitcase into the car, Hannah told him we’d be watching “Woman in Black” that evening but not to worry because she and I were having a fun little sleepover afterward, and no one was going to freak out.
“Why do you watch scary stuff if you know it’s going to freak you out?” Randy asked her.
“The sleepover’s not for me,” Hannah clarified. “It’s for Mom!”
I don’t do horror movies or haunted houses. I’m embarrassed to admit that the Joyland Whacky Shack, cheesy as it was, made me jump a few times. And don’t even ask about Ye Old Mill at the Kansas State Fair. (Tunnel of love? Tunnel of evil!)
I’m a wimp. Finally, at 44, I admit it.
But I agreed to watch “Woman in Black,” which included what I consider the horror-movie trifecta: children holding hands and dancing slow-motion while singing songs about murder; words written in blood on a wall; and freakish, wide-eyed monkey toys that suddenly spring to life and bang their cymbals together.
It was not enjoyable.
It didn’t help that the movie starred Daniel “Harry Potter” Radcliffe, and no matter how many times I covered my eyes and screamed, “Use your wand, Harry! Conjure a patronus!!” he just stood there like a Muggle, helpless and afraid.
Hannah liked the movie, but she enjoyed watching me even more, curled up into a fetal position in one corner of the couch. The role reversal was poetic, her patting my arm and whispering, “You can open your eyes now. The scary part’s over.”
I recalled an episode more than a decade earlier, when we happened upon a puppet show in the middle of a Kansas City shopping center. We watched and cheered, until a large marionette shaped like a smiling skeleton pranced across the puppet stage.
Hannah, just 3 at the time and scared of Santa Claus and Chuck E. Cheese, briefly recoiled in horror. I glanced at her, expecting tears and a shriek.
Instead, she lifted her chin, threw her shoulders back, looked at me and shouted, full-volume, “I’m not scared of that!”
Barely a pre-schooler, she had willed herself out of irrational fear. Even then, I remember, I was impressed.
Years later, as credits rolled on the DVD, we cleaned up popcorn crumbs and dragged Jack’s mattress onto the floor of the master bedroom, where we all lay in the dark, told jokes and marveled at how bright a half-moon could be.
Hannah made a mental list of scary movies she wants to see — “Psycho,” “The Shining,” “The Blair Witch Project,” “It.” I told her that I had seen the first three but draw the line at evil clowns.
“We could watch it together,” she said.
Maybe, I said.
Then I practiced chanting, in my bravest little voice, “I’m not scared of that …”