'Drive-In Night" started out innocently enough. My Dad would shake up some greasy popcorn on the stove, dump it into a brown paper shopping bag, pick up a few neighborhood kids and charge them a dollar each, load up a cooler full of Stop-and-Shop-brand tonic (they call soda tonic in Boston), plunk down the $5 per carload at the Neponset Circle Drive-In, and enjoy PG-rated double features like "Cannonball Run" with "Smokey and the Bandit" or "Gumball Rally" with "Vanishing Point."
But after weeks and months of innocent fare, one "Drive-In Night" in 1975 showed a double-feature that would change everything for me: "It's Alive" with "Psychic Killer" (sounds like an ad for a new energy drink: "It's 'Alive!' ... now with extra 'Psychic Killer'!" ... okay maybe not...).
Yes, at the ripe old age of 6 (?!), my Dad was initiating me into the world of disturbing horror. Sure, go ahead and call it bad parenting or lousy boundaries (my therapist, my Dad and I have already conceded this point). However, it was also the start of my lifelong fascination with horror movies. More importantly, it was the start of some very intense life lessons on how to handle the dark (or shadow) side of life.
"Psychic Killer" starred Jim Hutton (Timothy Hutton's Dad!) as a guy who can kill people by astral projecting (C'mon ... no judging ... it was the 70s!), which was quite a useful skill. Is there an evil lawyer you hate who happens to be in a construction site? Just psychically move that conveniently dangling pile of concrete over his head and bomb's away! Is the butcher not cutting your Black Peppercorn turkey breast quite as thin as you like it? Just make him force his own hand into his meat grinder and hit the switch.
To be sure it was all a lot for a 6-year-old to take. The meat-grinder scene seared my 6-year-old brain like albacore tuna. I had been plunged right into a dark underworld without any warning or welcome and without a road map on how to get out.
As I sat nervously rubbing the grease-bruised popcorn bag as if it were a magic lamp that would bring back my innocence, my brother quipped "Hamburger Helper ... when you need a helping hand!" His gallows humor was just what I needed. From this point forward, gallows humor would be my trusted tool, my psychological ally, my breadcrumb trail from the darkness back to the light.
And once back in the light, I could enjoy all the wonders of imagining that I, too, had a "Psychic Killer" brain with all its perks: (a) Revenge wish fulfillment without consequences! (b) No fingerprints, DNA, or any way to trace you to the crime! (c) Miminal physical effort expended, not even so much as lifting one’s hand to the bitch-slap position!
Sure I was only 6, but killing people you hate without suffering any of the consequences is truly an idea that can be enjoyed at any age (What do you mean we don’t get recess today? Don’t make me make you shove the business end of that protactor into your eye Miss Toomey!). We all share in common the desire every so often to just wish some arrogant, ignorant, bullying, lying, pathological motherfucker into violent oblivion (no … you don’t? … maybe it's just me... this blog might have not been such a good idea…).
Unfortunately, despite valiant efforts, life kept reminding me that you can't really just think people dead. (the high-school quarterback who mocked my Elvira pin-up pictures should be very thankful for this). Life later taught me that "psychic killing" was a subset of what is called "magical thinking" - thoughts that give you a little psychological boost, an illusion of power over your outside world, but that have no actual effect. I was tilting at windmills (if said windmills then launched a projectile sail that decapitated said high-school quarterback who mocked said Elvira pin-up … for instance).
Psychic killing turned out to be just some made up Hollywood BS. Hollywood had set me up for withering disappointment for the first time, but not the last...
So what life lesson about the dark side did "Psychic Killer" impart to me? Quite simply that it's better to try to kill people with your brain than with your actual hands. And when I grew into a skinny, pimply, introverted, girlish, awkward teen in a Cure t-shirt stumblefucking his way through the psychic meat grinder of public high school, this non-lethal power was actually quite useful. Sure it was completely ineffective, but it did help me avert mid-to-long term negative consequences like blood-stains on my Chess King parachute pants (shutup, you had them too!), incarceration, and starting a cycle of karmic violence that could haunt generations of my hypothetical children.Important lesson learned from age-inappropriate film #1, “Psychic Killer”: Kill people only in your thoughts, because when you use your hands, you get your stinking DNA all over the place.
Next posting: It's Alive! ...