Nine of the Scariest Things to Ever Happen to Me

Kim Carnes’ “Draw of the Cards” music video

In keeping with the recent "scary" theme of the List of 9, and in the wake of the American release of my film Claustrophobia, here are nine of the most frightening events in my life. While compiling this list, I realized I have been very lucky: no real brushes with death, no truly horrifying moments. Even when I was mugged in 1999, it was so mild-mannered a mugging that I can't even put that on this list. But here goes. (And by the way, if I had to add a tenth, it would be my troubled reaction to the Ohio Players' "Love Rollercoaster" in 1975 - my sisters convinced me that a woman was murdered in the middle of the song and her scream was recorded. Only years later did I learn this was a widespread urban legend.)

  1. Hitting my head at 13. The only time since I was a baby that I had to go to the hospital. I was swinging on a chin-up bar that was jammed into the doorway to my bedroom; I swung too hard and yanked the bar out of the doorway - falling six feet down, onto the back of my head. Fortunately my mom and stepdad were home and I was able to tell them what happened before I passed out, vomited, and had a seizure. Great fun. Though the only truly scary moment came as I fell, realizing I was one mere second away from cracking my head on the floor below.
  2. Almost getting crushed between two 18-wheelers. When I was 22, still living in my college apartment in Newhall, I drove the freeway up from Los Angeles and, because it was a short cut, used the "truck ramp" to hop onto the next freeway. Along with two 18-wheelers. One on either side of my little Toyota. All seemed well until I looked at the road and noticed that our three lanes were merging into two - and the truck to my left couldn't see me. Note: I do not recommend slamming on the brakes at 65 miles per hour. I was inches away from smashing into one or both of those trucks, and can only say pure luck got me out of it.
  3. Creepy music videos. We're leaving the "actual scary incident" territory and more into the psychologically freaky. I can't say that I've ever been truly disturbed by a horror movie, but when I was eleven, and MTV was new, they played some videos that bothered me so much I had to turn the brightness down on the TV as I waited for the next video to appear. The ones that really did it to me were Kim "Bette Davis Eyes" Carnes' eerie clip for her song "Draw of the Cards" (Carnes winds up being held aloft by some bizarre creature with a hideously long tongue) and David Bowie's "Look Back in Anger" (paint splattering on his face looked to me like his face was melting). Yeesh.
  4. The Lost Mine. In San Jose, where I grew up, there was a small amusement park called Frontier Village, which had a Western theme as you might guess. I went there frequently as a child. But only once did I go on the spookhouse ride called "The Lost Mine". All I can remember is being terrified by neon-like monsters in the dark as my little trolley rattled through the ersatz cave. I was six or something like that.
  5. Look at my leg! When I was about seven or so, I went to this abandoned school down the street to play. (Those were the days before paranoid parents wouldn't let their kids out of the house.) At the playground I saw two children: a boy and a girl, apparently siblings. Though now it seems like a dream, I swear to God the boy looked at me, gave his leg a shake, and his leg fell off into the tanbark. (It was a prosthetic, you see.) I ran all the way home.
  6. Meet the new pit bull. When I was 26 or so, I came home from work to my little guest house, only to see a dog in the yard. A pit bull. Did my landlord in the main house get a new pet? The dog whined and whimpered as I approached. I thought, "Oh, poor puppy." But one step further and the dog became a monster, flashing a mouthful of razor-sharp teeth and ready to pounce. I fled to my house and called my landlord, who explained that his brother left the dog there and would retrieve him shortly. While I cooked dinner, the dog actually paced back and forth in front of my windows, stalking me. I've detested pit bulls ever since.
  7. Famous movie monsters. I must have been 5 when I did this: I was given a coloring book of famous monsters like Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolfman, etc. I colored them in one Sunday afternoon and taped the drawings to the family room wall. I was proud of my work. But hours later, in my own bedroom, I couldn't get to sleep because I became suddenly frightened by those drawings, which is strange because they didn't scare me at all when I was coloring them. So I got up, walked into the family room, took them down from the wall, and threw them away.
  8. The out of control bicycle. It shames me to admit this, but I never learned how to ride a bike very well. I've always had terrible balance, and can't much ice skate, ski, Rollerblade, whatever. But when I was 12, I finally learned how to handle myself on two wheels. So I borrowed my cousin's bike in Oslo, Norway and cruised around in back of his house. On the crest of a hill. I decided to go over the hill and started heading down. That was a bad decision. It was a very slippery gravel road and I started going down very fast and lost control almost instantly. Certain that I would plunge right into traffic at the base of the hill, I swerved the bike into a tree instead. Battered and bruised, I never rode much after that.
  9. Miki on the stairs. The scares never end! Just this year, at the age of 33 or 34, I jumped out of my skin when my devious girlfriend Miki, while talking to me on her cell phone from her car, secretly sneaked into my house while I was in the middle of some lengthy monologue. She suddenly shouted into the phone and I turned around to see her right on my staircase, five feet away from me. She apologized profusely - she only meant to startle me - and I laughed about it later, but for that one split second I was a total mess.