Off With Her Head

This post has absolutely nothing to do with pilgrims or turkey or Indian corn or any other traditional Thanksgiving topics. In fact, this is probably a completely inappropriate subject for this time of year. I do apologize.

It all started right before Halloween, when a friend asked a question on Facebook: “What’s the first scary movie you ever saw?”

I automatically replied. “Some movie I saw in church when I was ten years old. ‘A Thief in the Night’ or something.” And then I thought for a minute. And then BAM! Just like that, my internal Rubik’s Cube clicked into place.

I finally realized the origins of my worst phobia, one that has plagued me for as far back as I can remember. Or, as it happens, since the age of ten.

I have a freakin’ enormous phobia about beheading – and, to just a slightly smaller extent, dismemberment of any kind. Not as in, “Oh, ha ha, I’d rather not be beheaded…that’s really gross.” I mean, I cannot read a book, even by an author I love, if someone’s hand gets chopped off in the first chapter (Wally Lamb, I’m looking at you.)

I mean, I won’t look at abstract paintings that depict “floating heads.”

I mean, if I’m watching a movie and it even looks like some part of someone’s body is going to be removed, I close my eyes, jam my fingers in my ears, tell my hubby to nudge me when it’s over, and start humming.

I mean, I literally (literally, mind you) cannot lie back in the passenger seat of a car, because I cannot shake the feeling that a sharp object is going to come hurtling through the front windshield and chop my head off.

That’s what I mean. And now, finally, I’ve made sense of my extreme aversion.

Back in the 70’s, the evangelical church world went nuts for a series of Rapture movies whose sole purpose, as best I remember, was to terrify people into asking Jesus into their hearts.

Churches brought in huge screens and projectors, and showed these movies in sanctuaries (at night, of course) – and for reasons that I cannot possibly begin to fathom, parents thought it would be a great idea to bring their small children in for the viewings.

I don’t remember anything about the first two movies (PTSD, perhaps?), but then came the third one, titled “Image of the Beast.” (With a name like that, why wouldn’t you bring your elementary school age children along?)

The movie opened with a woman strapped down to a guillotine – she was going to be executed for not inscribing the “mark of the beast” (the number 666) on her forehead. Just then, an earthquake started up. Everybody freaked out and ran away, and as the woman watched the guillotine blade shaking above her, she started yelling, “I’ll take the mark! I’ll take the mark!” But she couldn’t move to free herself.

Then the blade fell.

At this point in the movie I stood up, crept over to my parents, and said I needed to leave. My parents, realizing things had gone too far, let me go. But the damage had been done.

I had frequent nightmares for years, after that night.

Here’s what I got from those movies:

  • Any day now, Satan was going to take over the earth and force people to take the Mark of the Beast.
  • I couldn’t take the mark or I would go to Hell.
  • Anyone who didn’t take the mark was going to be beheaded.
  • Ergo, I was going to be beheaded. Any day now.

I believed this for years.

After my friend posted the Facebook question that got me thinking, I went on-line and did a little research on the movies…and discovered an entire community of former small children of the 1970’s and 80’s who were forced to watch these movies, and who then had night terrors for years. Just like me.

What the crap were people thinking?

Anyway, in preparing for this post, despite my phobia, I did a little research on guillotines. I imagined that they hadn’t been used since, say, the 18th century – mostly because I really, really needed there to be at least a 150-year gap between the existence of the guillotine and the existence of myself. But it was not to be.

The last public guillotining (where people could gather ‘round and pop some corn and watch the whole thing, like they did in the old days – which, don’t even get me started) was in 1939. The same century I was born in.

Oh, it gets worse. Because the last time the guillotine was used to execute someone in France was in (are you sitting down?) 1977.

1977, people.

In fact, the guillotine was the official, legal method of execution in France until 1981 – the same year that last gory rapture movie came out, which explains a few things. (And the French call us uncivilized!)

How can I make this clear (fingers drumming.) YOU DON’T REMOVE PEOPLE’S HEADS FROM THEIR BODIES, PEOPLE. For the love of all that is holy, heads stay where the good Lord put them.

Googling this subject led to all sorts of web results that I literally could not bring myself to click on. I will tell you that decapitation as a form of capital punishment has been around for thousands of years, and the guillotine was first used in 1792, after a three-year process (by official committee!) to construct it.

I can say no more. If I told you about the experiments that doctors used to do with the heads afterward, to ascertain how long a person had cognizance after “the procedure” (reports vary), I would vomit up everything I’ve eaten in the last week.

A final note:

Dear Future Earth’s Citizen of the 23rd century who will stumble across this post while “Quarking” through history via mental telepathy-downloading (or whatever it is you kids are doing these days): Do not ever, ever let any of your species put beheading back on the capital-punishment table – because if you do I swear to you, from whatever plane I am currently existing on, I will exploit a wormhole, beam down to where you are, and beat the living quantum dust out of you and all your friends. People’s heads should stay attached to their bodies. No exceptions. Trust me on this.


40 thoughts on “Off With Her Head

  1. Oh, I’m so with you. I remember seeing The Omen (the real original one that was actually terrifying) and when that dude’s head gets cut off by the glass? I just about had to leave the room. That I was in high school and a new kid in the school was the only thing that kept me there. Terrifying.

    I’m not sure how I missed this movie. I saw a clip a few months ago on MPT’s blog and wow. That anyone thought that was appropriate for children is just appalling to me.

    • I honestly don’t get it! I wonder if the BGEA marketed it as “Important! Take the whole family!” and so parents thought it would be okay. I cannot tell you how many things I read on-line from people who were completely ticked off that they were made to watch these as children. Many younger than I was!

      I ended up not making this post nearly as gory as I could have. I just couldn’t. It makes me too nauseous.

  2. I too saw all three movies. To be honest I think watching them started a theological trajectory that ended in my rejecting the whole Hal Lindsey, 19th century construct of “end times” theory as spurious tripe. Once I “recovered” I was able to see the Revelation in an entirely different light. I did some research on Mark IV pictures and couldn’t find any connection to Billy Graham. His production company is World Wide Pictures ( which claims none of the above mentioned films. The Hiding Place is one of Billy Graham’s movies and one I still find compelling.
    Thank you for the warning to our progeny, I hope they take it to heart and leave the heads attached! Loved it!

  3. Um, wow. That’s intense.

    I remember having to watch those movies in the fundamental Baptist church I was raised in. I only saw one or two but they were sufficiently terrifying to make me NEVER want to be left behind, as it were.

    The ones that REALLY stayed with me though, are the Hells Bells. I hated/was terrified of any and ALL rock music for years. I thought anyone with a guitar worshipped Satan.

    Thank you very much, fundamental upbringing. m/

    • A fundamentalist upbringing: the gift that keeps on giving.

      I don’t know about Hell’s Bells…but I do remember all the youth functions I went to, where they exposed the dangers of backmasking, et al. Since I wasn’t allowed to listen to secular music anyway, it wasn’t much of a deterrent. But I think that whole period was responsible for a few nightmares, too.

  4. I remember those movies like they were yesterday. I was 13 in 1981 and that was not old enough to deal with the content. There are scenes from those movies etched in my brain forever. I never read the Left Behind series for fear of a repeat experience on the end times. Yes, horrifying and they should have been rated R for violence. Just because they were shown in a church doesn’t make it right.

      • I cannot speak to the acting…I was too busy with the BEHEADING.

        It is just a mystery to me. Subjecting children to horror flicks is bad enough, but when you add a religious element to it, it’s just appalling, because I think it makes it scarier.

        I read the first Left Behind book…maybe the second one, too. Eh.

  5. I had never heard of these movies…..thank you very much for the unnecessary introduction. I will make sure they don’t make my Netflix queue.
    I agree that body parts should remain intact. Still, on the whole (haha pun intended), beheading isn’t on the top of my freak out list. Perhaps only because I was never forced to watch it-live or otherwise, and it’s always been something peripheral, and unlikely. Although I do share your reaction to anything involving stabbing, hacking or grotesquely bloody in movies (I actually had to leave the room while watching ‘The Black Swan” because Natalie Portman, while having a schizophrenic episode, was peeling the skin off her fingers…. )
    My personal terror, however, is drowning. If I even THINK about the process of it, I break out in a cold sweat and I get very dizzy. Kinda feeling like right now. Thanks.

    Rest assured, the chances of being beheaded, accidentally or by the French, are really on a molecular level. 🙂

    • I know…but when you imprint something on a child’s mind…there it stays! I know your childhood was not rainbows and ponies…but be thankful you never experienced the wonder of these movies!

      Yeah, I pretty much can’t handle gore of any kind, onscreen. The closest I ever came to walking out of a movie was during Braveheart.

      I wonder if you have some sort of childhood drowning trauma? You should investigate. 🙂

      • If nearly being drowned by one’s brother qualifies, then yes I do. And no, I really shouldn’t investigate.

  6. I’d never heard of those movies, but I wouldn’t have wanted to watch either. The Omen with the glass that Alise mentioned? I turned it off, freaked out. The scary movie that got me as a kid (only 8 or 9 when I saw it on TV) was Hitchcock’s The Birds, which probably wasn’t all that bad by most gory standards. I’m just not a scary movie kind of guy.

    If I remember right, you’re not a big Harry Potter fan, right Cathy? Being an adult without kids when it started, that’s understandable…. If you had picked up a book (or watched the first movie), based on what you’ve described here, you probably would’ve immediately put it down when introduced to the lovable character (not being sarcastic) of Nearly Headless Nick, one of the ghosts in Hogwarts. Nick, who is played by John Cleese, is primarily comedic relief, but with your phobia, he’d gross you out.

    • Never saw the Omen. I usually stay away from horror flicks. Although I did “like” (as in appreciate) “Psycho”…and I liked “The Sixth Sense” and a few others that are more suspenseful and eerie. I can’t take the hacking away.

      I read the first HP, and I vaguely remember that character (whom I ignored.) I didn’t have a problem with HP…but I wasn’t overly impressed with the writing – I think people had built it up too much, beforehand? Also, I thought it didn’t hold a candle to the Narnia books, which I’d read over and over, as a kid.

  7. i, too, suffered from the great fear of being left behind. my memory of these movies is of my brother and i playing under the 70’s-orange cushioned church pews, being hushed by my parents who were trying to watch the movie. for two people who were extremely touchy about what i watched, i have always wondered what caused mom and dad to think those movies were ok for elementary school kids. i think they hoped this would keep my brother and i away from sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. 😉

    i vaguely remember the beheading…pretty sure i hopped down from the pew to the floor as soon as the scary music started. it hasn’t impacted me as it had you: i own all 9 seasons of x-files, keep up with fringe, and am enamored with the walking dead.

    • I’m not sure how one can “vaguely remember” a beheading. That’s kinda something that stands out.

      I have never watched any of those shows! Ha! Although I was a big Buffy fan. But there wasn’t much beheading going on, there. And the nice thing about vampires when they were staked was, they turned to dust. So you didn’t even have to look at the remains! Win/win.

  8. I actually took part by being a “guest of honor” in a tribal ceremony in the depths of the Borneo jungle where heads were a proud trophy of the event. They said headhunting was a thing of the past, but try telling that to a young, naive missionary sitting with eyeless skulls staring at her. Needless to say, I didn’t go in for being a “guest of honor” at any such event ever again. I certainly didn’t want to appear as part of the trophy display for the next event.

  9. Cathy, I have to admit, even though I am totally sympathetic to your phobia, I had to smirk a little bit. I never understood why our parents let us watched those horrific movies, but then wouldn’t let us go to the movie theater to watch a even a Disney movie. I think they scared me for life too.

    • You, too? The only possible explanation is that the film company was telling churches to make sure that all the children watched these, too (“for the sake of their souls!”)

      Nothing else makes sense. Either that or all the evangelical adults were secretly smoking crack in the 70’s.

  10. Hmmm….never heard of any of those movies. I did see a detached head on the side of the road late one night. Thought I was seeing things (I’d had a couple of beers), but by the time I turned my car around to verify what I had seen the police and ambulance had arrived. Sure enough, a guy on a motorcycle drove off the road and was beheaded by a cable that was holding up a tree. Don’t know why I share this with you, but you’re welcome.

  11. Don’t know if the fear based Christian movies I saw in the 90’s are anything like the ones you’re describing, but I do remember specifically one about computers and a guillotine. Weird. They scared the crap out of me (and maybe the Jesus into me?) I have NEVER been able to watch any kind of horror type movie and have been scarred by the likes of Nightmare on Elm Street (thanks to my jr.high buddies pulling a prank), trying as a teen to read the Amityville Horror (all my friends were doing it and yes, I was a lemming), then seeing Poltergeist and an episode of the Walton’s (?!) who had an evil spirit visit them Scarred. for. life. Just thinking about it gives me a panic attack!
    Recently tried watching Fringe and was enjoying it, but alas, it took a creepier-than-normal turn and I have stopped (my husband and I both thank the Holy Spirit for his intervention) there.
    Think I’ll be spending my time praying for healing.

  12. So funny! I know, it’s not supposed to be, especially Katdish’s comment, but I’m still laughing. Maybe it’s like Mary Tyler Moore at the funeral for the clown who got stepped on by an elephant. I just can’t help it.
    I also saw “A thief in the night” at a special showing at the largest Fundamentalist crazy house in Indiana back in the 70’s. At least I think that’s what it was called. I do remember the removal of heads. I don’t remember having nightmares from it, but it was definitely a movie to scare children out of hell. Don’t think that’s the “best” method for evangelizing, but it probably turned a few kids into instant Christians––at least temporarily:)

    • I just LOL’d at “Fundamentalist crazy house.” Too. Much.

      The movie definitely would’ve turned me into a Christian if I hadn’t already been one…but was the abject terror really necessary? I’mma say…NO.

      And BTW…I love inappropriate laughter. One of my favs.

  13. The problem with the blog today is that it has resurfaced some experiences from my child hood that I have purposely pushed down to the back closet of my mind. With the hopes that they will remain undisturbed until I arrive in heaven some day. The blog today reminded me of a few things that happened during my childhood.

    One day my parents thought it would be a wonderful activity to take us to the San Diego Zoo; what was not so good is my father dangling me over the bear pit until I obtain a permanent fear of all heights exceeding 5 feet. Or when I was 18 working for Bekins Van and Storage, I got stuck/trapped in an elevator at Cal. State Fullerton for 5 hours. Resulting in a recurring wave of claustrophobia that crashes in on me if I have to occupy any enclosed space regardless of size. Requiring the need of exit signs if I am to remain in any four walled environment. The third one and last for this response, although there are dozens more: When I was 14 having just been in a serious fight with one of our neighbor boys, I was leaning over a outside water faucet to get a much needed drink. I received a blow to the back of my head that in addition to the pain that rapidly consumed my body, my knees gave way and I sunk to the wet dirt. I became aware of a large amount of warm, red liquid that was beginning to flow down the sides of my face. A 15 year old boy who was unhappy with the out come of the fight chose to split my head open with a shovel. The long term result, to this day any flow of blood from any person, and particularly me, cause a nausea,sweat, and dizziness even if the amount of blood is slight..

    So for me to watch a movie with any kind or gore,including being trapped in something or if there is a creature that would most likely devour someone, would simply be out of the question.
    p.s I love everything you write

    • Dad….I love every little thing about this. You really need to write a book. I’d be an EXCELLENT editor. Just sayin’.

      PS: You only have to use the “anonymous” when you are dumping lavish praise on my dazzling skills.

  14. I completely enjoyed how you wrote this!
    I sometimes credit the culture as being a significant reason behind my lack of desire to get saved and join the church. I never saw anything that terrible, but Jesus-people do some weird crap. I don’t like it at all… we’re still weird, unfortunately, but at least we’re hopefully taking steps in the right direction.

    • Thanks, broseph.

      We totally do such weird crap! And we have such awesomeness to share…but instead, we share weird crap! Sigh.

      I particularly think the church of my childhood was a ‘lil messed up…but I wonder if every generation thinks that! Will our kids think that? Oops…

      BTW…I LOVE the look of your blog. I am so non-techhie, it’s pathetic. 🙂

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