“He’s in the Closet!” (Or, What Not to Say When the Tension Is High)

Back in the 1980s, when I was in junior high, I asked my older brother John if he could sneak me in to the old Waring Theater in Rochester, NY.  Why would I need to go to the theater on the sly?  The Waring was replaying the classic horror film Halloween that week, nearly ten years removed from the movie’s debut.  Since I was just a toddler when Halloween was originally released, I hadn’t yet seen it–and I dearly wanted to.  I enjoyed feeling scared at the movies, and who was scarier than Michael Myers?  I had to see this movie.  And John was my ticket in.

 

I was still a few years shy of seventeen at the time, and so, by law, the only way I’d be permitted into the theater to watch Halloween–and R-rated movie–would be if my parents accompanied me and stayed with me throughout the duration of the film.  I didn’t want that!  So I went to John for help.  He was friends with the guy at the ticket booth, and he assured me he could get me in.

 

He did.  It was easy.  The guy–a recent college grad, just like my brother, just shrugged when John asked for the tickets.  “Sure, why not,” he said, barely acknowledging my existence, then asked my brother what he was doing next Friday night.  Maybe they could get together.  And that was that.  I was on my way in, ready for a good scream-fest.  But it wouldn’t be just John and me.  A couple of his friends came with us, and if they felt uneasy or burdened by sitting beside a minor at an R-rated movie, they didn’t show it.  They made me feel like one of the guys.  It was a good start to what I hoped would be a memorable evening.

 

When the movie started, the audience quieted.  I figured most people in the audience had seen the movie before.  It was a replay, after all.  It was my first time, though, and I wasn’t disappointed.  I’d seen other horror movies, of course, but this one was different.  It made me fidget in my seat as no other movie ever had.  Where was Michael Myers?  You could never tell from one scene to the next.  He would jump out, unexpected, sudden, and the audience would gasp.  I realized, maybe many in the audience hadn’t seen the movie.  Or, if they had, they had forgotten just enough to be scared again.

 

A few times during the first hour of the film, my brother, seated beside me, asked me how I was doing.  I both appreciated and felt annoyed at the questions.  It was nice he cared.  But what was I–a baby?  I was fine!  Scared but fine.  On my other side, though, Mark, one of my brother’s friends who accompanied us to the theater, continually looked away during frightening scenes.

“Just thought I lost a contact,” he said when he caught me eyeing him at one juncture.  “But I didn’t.  Just had a speck in my eye.”

Mmm-hmm.  I guess he hadn’t seen the movie before either.  Who knew?

About an hour and fifteen minutes in, the tension on-screen reached a fever pitch.  The movie’s star, Jamie Lee Curtis, in the role of Laurie Strode, suspicious over the mysterious events of the evening, decides to cross the street and search her neighbor’s house, where some of her friends are staying.  Unbeknownst to her, these same friends have just been murdered by the film’s villain, Michael Myers.  And all we, in the audience of the old Waring Theater, knew was that Myers was hiding somewhere in that house.

 

“Don’t do it!” someone several rows behind us shouted.  “Don’t go in that house!”

But Laurie, on-screen, does not heed the moviegoer’s warning.  She enters the house, unaware that the killer is in there, somewhere, waiting.

She soon discovers her butchered friends, and panic rises.  She knows a maniac is at large.  She knows she is in danger, and she, and everyone in the theater, is on high alert.

 

As I watched the scene unfold on the big screen, I’m not sure I breathed.  What would happen next?  Would Laurie survive?  She was the protagonist, the hero!  She had to survive.  Right?  I wasn’t so sure.  Neither, evidently, was anyone else in the audience.  No one spoke.  The tension was thick enough to bite into and chew.

And that’s when, as the scene tested the limits of my fright-stamina, it all suddenly came crashing to a halt.

Let me back up.  Neither my brother, his friends, nor I knew that another of my brother’s friends, Ricky, was in the audience that night.  Ricky had graduated high school with my brother half a decade earlier, and he was known for his carousing, wild antics and no-holds-barred personality.  He once told me, on a visit to our house, that he spent more time in the principal’s office than the classroom.  He was the class clown, the prankster, the guy who was fun to hang around, but at a safe distance.

 

And that night, though none of us knew it, he was seated about a dozen rows in front of us.  As we watched the climactic scene play out on the screen, as the suspense rose still higher, Ricky decided that now was the time to make his presence known.

He stood up, turned around, faced the audience, cupped his hands around his mouth, and shouted, “He’s in the closet!”  Immediately, groans emanated from the throng of moviegoers.  Popcorn flew, hurled in Ricky’s direction.  He quickly sat back down as the popcorn continued to pelt him.  And sure enough, seconds later, there was Michael Myers emerging from the closet . . .

 

This memory, as with so many others, is crystal clear in places and blurry in others.  While I can see that popcorn flying through the air, striking Ricky in the face, the hair, the shoulders as if it were yesterday, while I can hear his “in the closet” shout like a firecracker in my head, even today, I cannot remember the drive to and from the theater, the trips to the concession booth, or what we did before and after the movie.  I can’t even remember seeing Ricky after the movie.  Likely he bolted as fast as he could to avoid the wrath of the crowd.  But the night lives on, the experience endures, and fragments of it swirl around like pieces of confetti through the chasm of thirty years.

 

As a writer, I sometimes think back to that night, and remind myself not to inject any “in the closet” moments into my stories.  After all, if something is meant to surprise, it should surprise.  There’s a fine line between telegraphing and foreshadowing.

 

I’d prefer the popcorn doesn’t fly in my direction.

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

23 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. ParentingIsFunny
    Jan 24, 2020 @ 23:55:09

    There were probably a lot of movie goers who wouldn’t admit being glad to have the tension broken just then.

    Reply

  2. stormy1812
    Jan 25, 2020 @ 02:46:21

    I’m probably one of those that would’ve actually found that hilarious and needed that comic relief. I’m a bit peculiar in that I’m not a fan of what I call slasher films. I like “scary” but not bloody. Part of this is probably from growing up in the era of Freddy Krueger. The entire point of that mad man is to come to you in your dreams and maliciously and grotesquely murder you. I had, sometimes still have, dreams about that individual. While I’ve only pieced together, pardon the expression, the original film from 1984, I don’t like claiming that I’ve seen it because of the dreams that come to me. It freaks me out! That said – there is a balance to be struck for an audience that doesn’t want the spoiler. To be tantalizing but not cheesy or flat give it away…it’s not an easy task. Memories are a funny thing too…what sticks with us and what doesn’t is fascinating! I remember having a conversation with a friend about a mutual experience we had and what I could remember didn’t totally match up with what she did. It’s like our combined memories pieced together the story. Well, two-thirds of it. My other friend would probably add her part to make it complete.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jan 25, 2020 @ 11:45:18

      Hi Jen! It was hilarious for me and my brother because we knew Ricky so well. It’s something we still bring up from time to time when we reminisce. And I definitely know where you’re coming from about slasher movies. While I had a weird fascination with them as a teenager, I don’t like them anymore. Wouldn’t watch “Halloween” today! I do love atmosphere and spookiness, though. And that’s a great point about piecing memory together with others. I have experienced that many times, too!

      Reply

  3. joliesattic
    Jan 25, 2020 @ 08:26:23

    That was great. Loved your story! I agree with Stormy, not a fan of slashers. I thought Vincent Price films were scary enough but they were in b/w and not bloody. I started to watch the Chainsaw Massacre at the drive in when it came out, but realized it wasn’t for me, so didn’t finish it.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jan 25, 2020 @ 11:58:21

      And I am actually with you, now.:) I used to watch slasher movies as a teenager, but haven’t seen one in years. I love suspense, but can do without the blood. I’ll take The Twilight Zone and an old Hitchcock classic!

      Reply

  4. K E Garland
    Jan 25, 2020 @ 13:27:07

    Ha! This happens via social media now lol

    Reply

  5. The Eye-Dancers
    Jan 25, 2020 @ 13:49:12

    🙂

    Reply

  6. magarisa
    Jan 25, 2020 @ 14:23:30

    There certainly is a fine line between telegraphing and foreshadowing! The fear and tension in the theater came through loud and clear.

    Reply

  7. Anna Waldherr
    Jan 26, 2020 @ 08:02:06

    Thank you for sharing this memory from your childhood! 🙂

    Reply

  8. The Eye-Dancers
    Jan 26, 2020 @ 12:41:19

    It certainly left a mark.:) But in a good way!

    Reply

  9. Donna Gwinnell Lambo-Weidner
    Jan 26, 2020 @ 16:37:46

    I love your memories 🙂

    Reply

  10. Alexis Chateau
    Jan 27, 2020 @ 23:01:23

    I forget you’re also a fan of scary movies. My mom loves them. It’s our Friday night tradition to stay up and watch one or two. It’s the only time I watch TV.

    Now that she’s reconnecting with her dad, who’s here with us for a few weeks, we found out he likes them too.

    Happy writing!

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jan 28, 2020 @ 12:37:42

      Thanks, Alexis! Yes, I am a fan of being scared as I watch movies.:) I used to watch a ton of horror movies as a teenager. I don’t really like the slasher movies anymore, but still love a good ghost story or anything atmospheric or scary. And there is *nothing* like the ancient black-and-white horror movies from the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s. They are so dated and over the top, they are like comedies.:)

      Reply

  11. Lara/Trace
    Jan 28, 2020 @ 00:59:31

    Great story Mike!

    Reply

  12. Superduque
    Feb 11, 2020 @ 12:29:32

    Reply

  13. Mary J. McCoy-Dressel
    Feb 11, 2020 @ 17:12:44

    Wow, what a way to steal the moment. I can do suspense, but I can’t do spooky or horror. Remember the movie The Sting? As I entered the theater to see it, (NO Spoilers) a couple coming out were talking among themselves about the ENDING, in other words, giving it away! It meant nothing to me as I heard it, but at the big moment in the movie, it clicked. I remembered what they’d said. Bingo. Ruined. Oh, drats! And you, Michael, found another way to write a great post that just subconsciously moved us into a writing and foreshadowing lesson. Bravo. Do you or your brother still see Ricky?

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Feb 17, 2020 @ 01:41:22

      Hi Mary! Believe it or not, I have never seen The Sting! I have to see it.:) And no–Ricky is someone from our past. Haven’t seen him in 30 years! But he lives on in our memories.:)

      Reply

      • Mary J. McCoy-Dressel
        Feb 18, 2020 @ 21:00:15

        I hope you’ll like it, Michael. I watched it again not so many years ago, and it wasn’t the same as I remembered, or I should say, the idea of it wasn’t the same as I remembered. Or something like that. 🙂

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