There’s something about us cluster-dwelling humans that makes us want to leave our cities and sprawling suburbs behind. Whether we head off for a hike in the park or an overnight camping trip, many of us seek out the woods to “get back to the basics.”
What sounds does the thought of a walk in the woods bring to mind for you? Leaves rustling in the trees and crunching under your feet? The far-off cawing of a bird in flight? The babbling of a stream? For me, it is all of the above, and because I’m a child of the 70s and 80s, another sound comes to mind too.
Che-che-che. Ah-ah-ah. Che-che-che. Ah-ah-ah.
It is hard to capture the breathy, terrifying sound in letters. But it is there, just the same, lurking in the back of my imagination. As I take in the gentle noise of nature on a hike, I can’t help but remember that sound from my TV screen. When the woods go silent, I look around and remember his ski mask and his lumbering, purposeful stride.
I spent far too many teenage nights watching him hack up rowdy teens on camping trips to not have Jason Voorhees cross my mind when I’m communing with nature.
When I catch a “Friday the 13th” movie today, they seem silly and fake. They went a little too far when they sent Jason into outer space. But back then, he was IT in terms of being scary. And it wasn’t just me who thought so.
My mom was absolutely terrified of Jason.
My strongest recollection of her Jasophobia is from a family vacation we took when I was about 13. My mother, father, aunt and uncle rented a house in Deep Creek Lake, MD for a week of walking in the woods, boating, swimming and living life off the grid. They packed up me, my sister and my two cousins and we headed west for a family vacation.
The house was huge, with a furnished basement and several bedrooms. It stood on a wooded hill overlooking the magestic beauty of Deep Creek Lake. Rocky steps led down to a private pier. Looking across the lake, we had a beautiful view of the mountains. All around us were trails, woods and endless water.
In retrospect, I can’t blame Mom for the fact that our isolated home-away-from-home made her think of Jason. After all, his scariest act was popping up out of the wooded lake where he was supposedly lying long dead. And my cousins and I had brought along enough “Friday the 13th” videos to keep him fresh in our minds.
Mom heard sounds in the woods at night and was reluctant to sit outside. Never mind that my dad was a mountain man at heart and my uncle a county sheriff, so we were pretty well-protected. What are a cop and a huntin’ hillbilly against the dude in the hockey mask?
By day, we’d go down to the pier and swim. Mom would come along with us kids and lie in the sun while we splashed and played. About midweek, we made our usual afternoon trek down the hill to the pier. For the first time, we noticed that someone had carved a name into the wood.
That name? “Jason.” Mom was certain it hadn’t been there before.
As if that wasn’t enough, one night she and Dad left us kids with my aunt and uncle and drove to the other side of the lake, where there were bars and restaurants. They went to a resort bar to have a few drinks. A tall stranger came and sat with them and talked for a while. Mom thought he seemed “off,” that his eyes were weird and his conversation odd. When they finally got around to exchanging names, he gave his readily.
Well, that was it. Mom loved vacation, but I’m pretty sure she was about done with this one. For her, our gorgeous lakefront rental was more than motorboats in the distance and summer breezes rustling in the trees.
The sound of che-che-che, ah-ah-ha was everywhere.
I don’t recall being scared myself, other than in that delicious teenage horror-movie kind of way. The “Jason” coincidences just added a slice of adventure to the trip for me. Maybe even then he was a bit over-the-top for my fearometer.
But for mom, it was a different experience. All our vacations after that were to the beach.
Jason wasn’t the only off-the-wall crazed killer of my childhood. For many, he was actually eclipsed by Nightmare on Elm Street’s hideously burned Freddy Krueger and his slashing knife-hands. After all, to get hacked by Freddy you didn’t have to be some teenager on a camping trip off having sex in the woods. You just had to go to sleep.
Jason Voorhees only came along on our vacation because he was permanently fixed in my mom’s imagination. But Freddy really did come to my home.
As a teenager, I worked in small video store. When new releases came out, we got all sorts of cool promotional items. For one of the Nightmare on Elm Streets, the marketing aid was a life-sized, incredibly real-looking cardboard Freddy Krueger. He stood in the middle of our store, inviting movie renters to take him home to their nightmares. He was taller than me.
The year Cardboard Freddy hung out with me at work, my sister had a slumber party. She told us she wanted it to be scary. Mom and Dad left that up to me. My boss let me borrow Freddy. My friends Joyce and Rocky lived across the street, and we snuck Cardboard Freddy home from the video store into their house.
The night of the party, Joyce and I set the girls up in the living room with the lights out and an “Elm Street” movie on. We watched for about an hour, Joyce and I giggling at the frightened squeals of the younger girls. Meanwhile, Rocky lugged Freddy out of their house and across the street in the cover of darkness. He set him up on our front porch, right at the doorway. Then he knocked on the door and dashed behind a big bush.
My sister and her friends ran to open the door while Joyce and I hung back. They threw it open, and Freddy stood leering at them through the screen door, his knife-hand in the air and his eyes full of malice.
Oh man, the SCREAMS! The girls sprinted away from the door and into the kitchen. One of them slammed the door shut tight. A few clutched me and Joyce. We pretended to be shocked and scared too. Then one of them, the brave gal in their group, started grabbing for a kitchen knife while another looked for the phone to call the police.
We figured the gig was up then, and let the girls in on the joke before they could bother the cops or run around with knives.
That was when all hell really broke loose. One of the girls, Alyssa, lived around the corner with her mom and grandparents, and wanted to play the same trick on them. Joyce and I had gotten such a kick out of the kids’ reaction that seeing if we could scare some grownups into peeing their pants sounded like fun.
Ok, so maybe I wasn’t the best of babysitters.
We lugged Freddy around the block and to Alyssa’s back yard. Joyce and I set him up on their back porch the same way Rocky had positioned him at our front door. All the girls ducked behind the truck in their parking pad. We knocked on the door and fled to join the girls.
We waited in the dark, watching Freddy’s hulking shadow. Then Alyssa’s mom threw open the door, and light washed over our ugly cardboard buddy. We saw her mouth form a big, frightened “O,” then the door slammed shut and Freddy was alone again.
Not for long though. Moments later, the door opened again. This time, Alyssa’s grandfather stood there. With his shotgun pointed at Freddy.
We called out to him from our huddle behind the truck. When he heard our voices, he lowered the gun. Eventually, he laughed, but only after he told us what dumbasses we were first.
The funny thing? I was terrified when he showed up with that shotgun, wondering if we’d gone too far. My buddy Cardboard Fred looked a little too real for his – and our – own good. But in spite of my very real fear that maybe my juvenile prank would get someone hurt, I distinctly remember the following thought also flitting through my head.
“Oh, shit. If Cardboard Freddy gets shot up, my boss is gonna kick my butt. Or fire me.”
They may have just been movie creatures, but Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger definitely left their marks on my childhood. What about you? What were the scary movies you grew up with? Did they frighten you or seem silly?
I never did watch my two creepy dudes come together in Freddy vs Jason . Did you? Which one comes out on top in your vote for “Creepiest Creep of the 80s?”