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Growing Pains: Horror Directors on Their Creepy Childhood Memories

What scared today’s horror movie directors when they were kids? Here are remembrances from five with films out this year. Their comments have been edited and condensed.

Andrés Muschietti

“It” (due in theaters Sept. 8)

A print of a Modigliani painting at my house in Buenos Aires terrified me. He does these portraits of elongated people with empty eyes and a crooked head. For a child, it’s a monster. For me it was something spooky and haunting and I couldn’t shake it off. I still to this day find it very scary.


The director Craig Anderson with the ventriloquist’s doll from his childhood.

Craig Anderson

Craig Anderson

“Red Christmas”

Growing up in suburban Australia, my grandmother had a ventriloquist doll in her dark, musky lounge. She had inherited it from her mother and told me that it spoke. What scared me the most was that someone had given it a “wig,” which wasn’t a proper wig, but rather the jaggedly cut scalp off another doll. Its face was decaying and eyes had hollowed out. I was scared to go into the lounge, but it was also right next to my grandma’s lolly jar so I was faced with a horrible temptation, almost like the price of pleasure was confronting fear. It’s probably why I like horror movies so much now.

The doll was inherited by my mother, who hid it in her doll shelf. Then when I moved out, I asked her if I could take it and put it my office. She was happy for me to. Now the doll sits on the shelf watching me as I write ideas for horror movies.

David F. Sandberg

“Annabelle: Creation”

I can’t think of a toy or an object that scared me because I’d usually be the one scaring people. But there was one event that was probably the scariest. I grew up in Sweden, and one night it was very foggy in the winter, when it gets dark fast. A friend and I were like, “Let’s go out and walk in the fog.” We walked into this remote wooded area and there was this guy in a hood standing in the fog, and we were like, “That’s weird,” but we figured it was just a guy. But then he pulled out a sword. We just freaked out and ran the hell out of there. I was maybe 8.

I think it was an older teenager who wanted to scare two kids. But at that age, we didn’t have an explanation. Our parents didn’t believe us.


A hallway and door of the home in rural Pennsylvania where the director Roxanne Benjamin grew up. She was particularly frightened of the drawing at left.

Kim Benjamin

Roxanne Benjamin

“Don’t Fall,” part of the anthology “XX”

I was terrified of the end of a hallway in our house. There’s a painting that I drew when I was 7 that was hanging in the hallway. It was this landscape painting of a prairie with, like, weeping willows at the end of this road. I knew that if I looked at it that whatever it was — it was always a woman — would crawl out of the painting and get me. This was in rural Pennsylvania, in the middle-of-nowhere, no-one-will-hear-you scream Allegheny Mountains.


A doll that frightened the director Jason William Lee.

Sharon Lee

Jason William Lee

“The Evil in Us”

When I was 8, I watched this movie called “It’s Alive.” It was done in 1974 so it’s horribly cheesy. It’s about a woman with a baby who’s a mutant, and who goes on a murderous rampage. My mom, at our home in Edmonton, Alberta, used to decorate certain rooms of the house with themes — a Mickey Mouse-themed room, a dog-themed room — and she had this ancestors’ room, with really old furniture and photos of my great-grandparents. There was this doll and it was always sitting on this chair. I had to put the doll in the closet because I didn’t like it looking at me. It became a big joke to the family but I was creeped out.

I remember watching “The Blair Witch Project,” where you hear a baby crying in the woods, and I could have sworn that when I went home I heard that baby coming from the ancestors’ room.

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