Haunted by horror films: KTVU staff share scary movie memories

American actress Linda Blair on the set of The Exorcist, based on the novel by William Peter Blatty and directed by William Friedkin. (Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

You can call it pumpkin spice season all you want, but for film buffs, this time of year is really for watching scary movies.

That's right. Halloween is basically here and horror films are all the rage for the month of October. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.  

We wanted to throw it out there to KTVU staffers to find out which scary movies truly sent chills up their spines. 

While some admitted their attempts to try and repress traumatic memories, a number of people were unable to exorcise William Friedkin's 1973 classic, The Exorcist from their nightmares. This film is best known for a young Linda Blair enduring demonic possession. There are plenty of iconic scenes, like the literal head-spin where she twists her neck a full 360 degrees while Catholic priests have her strapped down to the bed. 


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For this writer, as a child of the ‘80s, I remember being very young when the music video for Michael Jackson’s Thriller came out. Technically, this was not a full-length feature, but the cinematic intent was clear. After all John Landis, who made An American Werewolf in London, was the director. When the music from the video hit, that was my trigger to make a beeline for the door. MJ or not, his zombie face and those dancing ghouls were the stuff of nightmares.

Later as a teen, the film that creeped me out the most was Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre from 1974. Considered a classic, this film has withstood the test of time. It was marketed as being loosely based on real-life events and the name Ed Gein, who was an infamous American serial killer, often gets thrown around as one of the film's main sources of inspiration. The screenplay, however, was largely fictional. 

For me, this was scary because it felt real. Not a lot of horror films have so many daytime scenes, but this had plenty. The classic horror trope of a dark and stormy night didn't exactly apply here. It seemed like degenerate families living along hot, dusty country roads, who may or may not put you on a meat hook for later consumption or taxidermy purposes, was something you should really be on the lookout for. 

Not to mention, Leatherface. This main character's imposing figure is disturbing to say the least. Also of note, there is a claim that KTVU was the first channel to air The Texas Chainsaw Massacre as part of a Creature Features special in the 1980s. 

And now without further ado, here's what others had to say when asked for their scariest movie memory.

Anchor/reporter Frank Malicoat

"My first scary movie had to be the movie Carrie! To this day when I go to a cemetery, I still have nightmares of a hand coming up from the grave grabbing me. I was in a theater in Walnut Creek when it came out with a date, and I can still feel the chills from that. And it was at the very end of the movie!! I would say the other movie that scared the hell out of me was Jeepers Creepers. It’s kind of a teenybopper movie of some kids that get involved with a monster who basically turns teenagers into experiments. It’s one of those movies that when it’s on I get sucked in and I still feel the chills." 

Film poster for Carrie. 

Anchor/reporter Claudine Wong

"The Exorcist is still terrifying. I'm not sure [if] I've ever watched it all the way through.

Poltergeist has infused deep fears in me, fears of clowns and static-filled televisions. Every time it was on I spent the movie hiding behind pillows and waiting for clowns to come to life.

Red rum, red rum... need I say anymore? (Editor's note: Redrum, or murder spelled backwards, was from Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, a film full of nightmarish scenes.) 

All movies where people are being chased get me, I will jump at every jump scare even in the most mild movie.

Jaws is the worst. I can hear the theme song of that movie every time I am in the water, which is why I'm more aquatic than nautical. It has for years fed what my head understands is a very irrational fear of sharks. And by the way, I hate scary movies."

Poltergeist movie poster

Reporter James Torrez 

"I absolutely love horror films, but Stephen King's original It messed me up as a kid. Made me skeptical of clowns and I even hesitated to watch the new version. Finally did and loved it, but it took me a minute to get there! Also, a scary movie I watched recently: Smile. Highly recommend. It had great marketing all throughout its premiere and it's so good." 

Meteorologist Roberta Gonzales

"Hands down, The Exorcist. I saw it at a ‘Drive In’ in the Mojave Desert (Barstow). 

A family "Friday Night Out" found us driving to the outskirts of town parking under a sky draped in a vast deep black sky above a rugged desert mountain range. This was the eerie setting, as my parents parked and set up lounge chairs outside the car. Meanwhile, my brothers and I slid on top of the car hood and claimed the best ‘seats’ in the entire desert! 

Seared into my memory; mid-movie; my older brother rolling off the hood of the car in laughter (at the sight of green pea soup propelling from the possessed child), all the while, I was hiding under a blanket in the backseat of the car. 

When we finally arrived home, I slept with a night light on for at least a couple years! 

Obviously, my parents had a wicked sense of humor! But to this day…I do not watch horror movies. NEVER!" 

Photographer Joseph Cousins 

"A Nightmare on Elm Street is hands down my favorite as a kid. Just the first and second, before they turned into comedies. I would try and make his (Freddy Krueger's) glove with claws as a kid with old batting gloves from my baseball days.

As a pre-teen, the one that got me a little shook was Fire in the Sky. The scene where the main character is abducted by aliens and about to be probed…still to this day that scene is scary. And it’s supposedly based on a true story." 

Nightmare on Elm Street film poster 

Reporter Jesse Gary

"John Carpenter’s The Thing. There’s a scene where a man appears to have a heart attack. The medic and others are working on him and grab the defib paddles. First attempt, nothing. Still flat lining. Second attempt, and the guy's hands and arms cave into the patient’s chest. But it wasn’t the patient, it was The Thing. It bites off his arms! Blood splatters everywhere. Lots of screaming. And then The Thing grows legs from the dismembered ‘torso’, and one eye, I think, and runs off. Scared the Bah-Jesus out of me… Still does.

Yeah, I still talk about that in therapy sessions from time-to-time."

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Reporter Allie Rasmus 

"I remember watching The Blair Witch Project in theaters and all the hype surrounding it beforehand. The way it was shot was creepy because of what the camera did not show or reveal. The whole story was based on the "found footage" of students who disappeared while trying to shoot a documentary about the legend of the Blair Witch in a forest. Looking back on it, it was ahead of its time. The film was made to look like it had been shot with a hand-held camcorder; long before camera phones (or even iPhones or cell phones) were a thing! Today, we’re used to seeing shaky, grainy, amateur video capturing suspenseful moments all the time, but in 1999 it was a novelty. It didn’t give me nightmares, but it made an impression on me that I still remember 20+ years later." 

Friday the 13th film poster. 

Editor Michael Miguel

"The original Alien ruined my idea of safely traveling through space a-la Star Trek. Yes, the threat of danger was there in Star Trek. But not to the extent visualized in Ridley Scott’s savage and unstoppable xenomorph.

Event Horizon is another look at the dangers of space travel.  The idea of traveling through space via a detour through hell is enough to keep my feet on good old earth.

Speaking of being closer to home, The Hills Have Eyes made me think twice about taking road trips across the country.  Other films like the Wrong Turn series compounded those road trip fears.

The first Friday the 13th hit home because I had just come back from volunteering as a camp counselor just one week before.

But the one film that had a lasting effect during my childhood was the severed horse head in the original The Godfather."

The Hills Have Eyes movie poster. 

Anchor/reporter Cristina Rendon

"Evil Dead, the 2013 remake of the 1991 horror movie. I went to the movies with my now husband because he and a buddy wanted to see it. I should have stayed home instead of being the third wheel. The blood and gore of people getting limbs cut off and blood spraying everywhere was disgusting. I looked down at my popcorn most of the time. How can you love these kinds of movies?!

For context, I had a helicopter mom who never let us watch scary movies growing up, or R-rated movies. Even when we turned 13, we had a hard time trying to see a PG-13 movie. So it wasn’t until I was an adult that I ventured into watching scary movies and I hate them all. As for a one from my childhood…probably Beetlejuice."

Movie poster for Beetlejuice. 

Editor Vicki Bacon

"The Ghost and Mr. Chicken starring Don Knotts" (1966), is the first scary movie that always comes to mind from my childhood. 

Luther Heggs has wanted to be a reporter with every fiber of his being! He finally gets his first investigative story and must spend the night in a local haunted mansion and report on whether it's haunted or not.

His overnight experience was frightening! From unexplained sounds, a portrait painting on the wall with eyes that are stare at you and follow your movement, to the organ with blood-stained keys (bloody stains from a murder many years past) that begins to play on at the stroke of midnight. As a child, I was terrified. 

I watched Halloween (1978) on the big screen in the movie theater. It was terrifying, edge of your seat, frightening to watch. The music score! The heavy low notes from the string instruments to the piano keys in the high notes tapping! Maybe made more frightening because the movie ends with "evil" still out there!"

(Editor's note: She makes some important observations here. Sometimes it's what you hear, not what you see, that builds suspense. Your brain is trained to know that something wretched is about to happen. John Carpenter, who directed Halloween is a master film score composer. He's held live concerts where he performs music from his film scores.

Her other observation is how the film ends. Evil is indeed still out there. The viewer is left unsettled. But Halloween is also one of those early slasher flicks to have multiple sequels similar to the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises. Many consider Freddy, Jason and Michael Myers to be somewhat of an un-holy trinity in the horror film genre.) 

KTVU Stage Manager James Boyce

"For me, it was Alien by Ridley Scott. When I was about six, I walked in on my parents and older brothers watching. I saw the scene when the character Brent is looking for Jonesy the cat and is attacked by the xenomorph, and it made me scream and run into my room. I didn’t even get a good look at the alien, but it was in my nightmares for years after.

A few days later, my parents helped me work up the courage to watch another scary movie with them, and they picked the sequel, Aliens by James Cameron. Again, I got scared when the characters were tracking movement on their equipment and something jumped across the screen, and again, I ran to my room. I refused to watch those or any other scary movie for years after. Eventually, as I got older, I decided to watch all of the Alien movies and get over being scared. I’m so glad I gave them a chance; the Alien franchise has become one of my all-time favorites. I love the design of the sets, creatures, costumes, and the story, mystery, and terror the aliens shadow over the characters. It was truly one of the scariest movies ever made, in my opinion."

(Editor's note: This is a case where it was what the viewer initially didn't see that scared him. His own mind's imagination ran wild. It's an effective directorial technique at play here. You don't always have to rely on gore. Just watch any of the Alfred Hitchcock films, i.e. Psycho, The Birds, Vertigo. He is, after all, the ‘Master of Suspense’.)

Paranormal Activity 

Producer Alicia Caffese  

"I was 17-years old when the Paranormal Activity movie came out. I was hesitant to watch, but fell under the influence of friends and that movie scarred me for life. The way the movie was filmed made it seem so real and I couldn’t help but think about it as I laid in bed. I was so scared I couldn’t sleep, so I crawled in my mom's bed for a week straight.  

That was the last time I slept with my mom. And I don't watch horror movies anymore." 

Producer Shannon Oliver 

"Poltergeist was the first scary movie I ever saw and it still freaks me out. To. This. Day!

I was 10 when it came out and I don't think I ever recovered. I still don't like horror movies. 

I have friends who love horror and I just can't."

Reporter Ann Rubin

"My dad made me watch The Exorcist when I was 7. I don’t think I slept for a decade."

Photographer Stephen Doerr

"The Exorcist. "Dimi why you do this to me?" Haunts me to this day."

(Editor's note: This is the scene from the film where Linda Blair asks this of the priest, but of course the devil is up to his tricks. Demonic possession is the explainer here for why the voice of the priest’s mother, Dimi, is emanating from Linda Blair’s little girl body.) 

Reporter/Digital Producer Tori Gaines

"I watched the behind the scenes footage and making of The Exorcist when I was 12, and it gave me horrific nightmares for years. Later when I suffered sleep paralysis, my grandmother told me it was because a demon was sitting on my chest, so I was convinced I was next! Terrifying."

Digital Content Producer Sara Sedillo

"It was Watcher in the Woods for me. Still freaks me out to the core, and I get an instant migraine thinking about the mirror scene. How in the world was that a Disney film?! Since I was a young girl watching, it really scared me. The mirror scene was multiple reflections of the missing girl blindfolded and I think she was trying to get out! Was just too much for my fragile young mind! I'm sure Bette Davis was phenomenal in it, but she was too scary for me too." 

Some honorable mentions 

Anchor Mike Mibach 

"Children on the Corn. 1984…I was 8 and back then OMG! Still haunted!" 

Editor Danna Prosser

"The Omen hands down. All of it. And as an adult, The Witch…scene with the goat. So scary." 

Sports producer Kevin Seiter 

"The movie When A Stranger Calls. The main line being, "Have you checked the children?" Horrifying at the time."

Editor Andrew "Rudy" Limtiaco

"The Fog. The sound of tearing flesh still gets me to this day. And one of the reasons why I never really liked visiting my aunt in Pacifica."

Photographer Maximiliano Cabrera 

"The Lost Boys (those vampires flying) and Poltergeist."

Editor Mark Aronovsky 

"The Blob (1958). It swallowed some old man and I still see that visual in [my] head at times." 

Photographer Greg Grinsel 

"People Under The Stairs was always super creepy to me."

Create your own scary memories


The Pleasures of Fear: Black Horror Films & the American Dream In-person at MoAD (Museum of African Diaspora) Wednesday, Oct. 25 6:30 to 8 p.m. 

SF Oasis - Hell Hole Oct. 27, 28, & 31.  50 performers, haunted rooftop maze, midnight drag spectacular, demonic go-go dancers and a wicked photo booth.

The Rocky Horror Show! at SF Oasis: Ray of Light Theatre and Oasis present The Rocky Horror Show! A live, musical, immersive experience. Oct. 26, 27, 28 & 31. 

Scary movies at the Balboa Theatre 3630 Balboa Street, SF: The Evil Dead, Oct. 25, 7:30 p.m., Night of the Living Dead, Oct. 27, 7:30 p.m., Phantasm, Oct. 29, 7:30 p.m.   

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Oct. 27, 9:30 p.m. at Vogue Theater, 3290 Sacramento Street, SF

Naked & Unafraid: A Special Halloween Reading at Theatre Rhinoceros. A Co-production with Palace of Trash. Horror drag numbers and interludes interspersed between scantily-clad dramatic readings of horror literature. Oct. 28 6 p.m. 

Halloween Costume Contest with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence Oct. 28. Castro Theatre 8 p.m. $5 (costumes get in free). Admission includes a special 10 p.m. screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Into the Dark Productions presents Terror Vault at The San Francisco Mint, 88 5th Street. An immersive experience from this Bay Area production company spawned from the creative, twisted minds of Peaches Christ, David Flower Productions, and Non Plus Ultra. "Terror Vault invites you to attend a recruitment seminar for ‘INsight’ a spiritual cult whose sole purpose is to open your eyes to true consciousness. The cult will help you see the horrors hiding within the darkness. Warning: few survive The Initiation." Ticket prices vary. More info. here

The Blair Witch Project at New Parkway Theater, 474 24th Street, Oakland. Oct. 27, 10:30 p.m. $12. Halloween, Oct. 28, 10 p.m. $12. Dracula (1931) Spanish language version; subtitled. Oct. 30, 8:40 p.m. $12. The Exorcist, Oct. 31, 8:40 p.m. The Thing, Oct. 31, 9:10 p.m. 

Little Shop of Horrors as part of Floating Features on Red and White Fleet's hybrid electric vessel Enhydra. Departs from Pier 43 ½. Oct. 27 and 28.  

Night of the Creeps - part of ‘Queer Film Theory 101’ at Alamo Drafthouse - New Mission, 2550 Mission Street, SF. Oct. 30, 7 p.m. Also: Beetlejuice Oct. 26, 5 p.m. 

The 4-Star Theater Presents Terror House: A Night of Secretly Curated Horror Flicks. Oct. 31, 5 p.m. $10 entry at any time. 2200 Clement Street. 

ALSO: Stream 'Fright Fest' movies from Kanopy, available through the public library system.

Our picks: Dead Ringers, Suspiria, and they just added Sleepaway Camp.