Posted by: kshayes513 | October 29, 2012

The Skeleton of a Nightmare

Here’s how deep childhood terrors can go – even if they’re just imaginary:

This monster is the scariest creature in my imagination, scarier than giant spiders, serial rapist murderers, and all the demons ever imagined.

This terror from my childhood now lives in the Dinosaur Museum, Blanding, Utah.
Photo: Brian Switek

Does he look familiar? Some steampunk robosaurus, perhaps?

In fact, this is the decayed skeleton of a giant of the Silver Screen, the brontosaurus from the original King Kong. He is on display at the Dinosaur Museum in Blanding, Utah, and was photographed earlier this year for the Smithsonian blog, Dinosaur Tracking.

When I was little, perhaps 8 years old, I saw King Kong on television.  Most of it was just another old movie with monsters moving jerkily across the small screen, but this brontosaurus haunted my nightmares long afterwards. I was terrified by the sight of him plucking a hapless sailor from a palm tree and eating him alive, and worst of all, the sight of the sailor’s legs sticking out of the bronto’s massive jaws, still kicking.

At least that’s what I thought had scared me the most, until I watched King Kong with a group of friends, for the first time since childhood. 

The brontosaurus in its prime, stalking its prey. King Kong, 1933

My friends knew I had been terrified by the bronto as a child, but I told them it wouldn’t be a problem now. I wanted to see the rest of the movie, which I could barely remember. As for the man-eating brontosaurus, I could remember the whole sequence perfectly clearly, and I knew that grown-up Karen could handle even the kicking legs. I know plenty about stop-motion monsters now, so what could possibly scare me?

Off we went, enjoying the pulpy adventure, and the impossible monsters. Giant bronto appeared, sailors ran, and that one sailor scampered up the tree. And we all laughed at the idea of a carnivorous brontosaurus, and at the stupidity of trying to escape by climbing a tree that puts you right at predator eye level. Somewhere inside me was a nervous 8 year old waiting for those kicking legs, but she was fine with grown-up me holding her hand. Until this shot:

Grown-up me and 8-year-old me almost leaped right out of the sofa and out of the room. The bronto’s massive head and snarling jaws filling the screen, coming right at the camera – where did that come from? It was no part of my supposedly clear recollection of the bronto sequence.

I had completely blocked it from my memory for almost 40 years.  And it still scared the crap out of me that night.

Even now, no matter how much my rational adult mind says, “It’s only a model,” my 8-year-old mind knows, with absolute conviction, that when this creature is alive and animated on screen, it is the most terrifying monster in the universe.

What scares you this much, and how can you use it in your worldbuilding?



  1. I guess you found out that your eight year old self is alive and well inside of you! It’s my five year old self I think of, watching Bambi, my great terror being the loss of my mother and there it happened on screen. There are children who cannot distinguish between what is real and what is in a movie, and I was one of them. It got right inside my head and I had screaming nightmares for years and years. Then I built a world where eight year old Clare loses her mother (and her mother loses her); later loses her two year old daughter, thereby structuring three whole characters and plot lines on my biggest childhood terror.

  2. Oh man, for me it’s ET. Even now I’ve never been able to watch it all the way through. I even wrote a whole post about it:

  3. Christina, have you been able to use that fear in your writing, as Annis did? I don’t think I have a specific “fear of monsters” space to use my memory (the monsters in my stories tend to be human, not reptilian), but I think I can use my memory of the child’s fear quite nicely in other contexts.

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