Some movies are game changers. I saw Paperhouse as a teenager. Wandering through our small town video store, I was teased by the line on the cover that stated, “Paperhouse is the thinking man’s Nightmare on Elm Street.” Which is not entirely accurate, but being a horror fan and Nightmare on Elm Street fan, it got me in the door. It is an early film from the director of Candyman, his touches are all over it. To this day I am thankful I picked up that VHS tape.
Paperhouse frightened and imprinted on me. I only watched it once and it’s stayed in my memory for years, truly decades. I searched endlessly for it. I remember having a Tivo wishlist created for it as far back as 2000, hoping I would find it. Last year I was rewarded by it randomly showing up with the rest of my recordings. To be honest, I was a little afraid to watch it. Would it lose some of its power? Would I love it less? If anything, it was even more powerful to adult me. I showed the movie last Friday, and then watched it a third time with some of my closest friends. I felt like standing and spinning in the center of the the room saying, “my triggers, let me show you them.” I was obviously crying while watching it, and was asked afterward how in the world I had watched this movie when I was a teen. I let them know it scared me less then, while I was in the midst of my terrifying childhood. It’s like that Stephen King quote, “there’a a phrase, ‘the elephant in the living room,’ which purports to describe what it’s like to live with a drug addict, an alcoholic, an abuser. People outside such relationships will sometimes ask, ‘How could you let such a business go on for so many years? Didn’t you see the elephant in the living room?’ And it’s so hard for anyone living in a more normal situation to understand the answer that comes closest to the truth; ‘I’m sorry, but it was there when I moved in. I didn’t know it was an elephant; I thought it was part of the furniture.’ There comes an aha-moment for some folks – the lucky ones – when they suddenly recognize the difference.” And I think the reason why this movie affected me so much more as an adult is that I was no longer acclimated to the feelings it arose into my conscious awareness: being afraid, being afraid of a parental figure, fearing for other children, never being in control.
Paperhouse is surreal. It has touches in its dreamworld that are amazing and otherworldly. I both wish for and would dread Scream Factory getting their hands on it and giving it a full Blu Ray release. Would it make it more beautiful or would wiping away time’s fuzziness of the images make it lose something important. It’s hard to find, this movie is partially why I bought a laser disc player. But if you ever get the chance to watch it please do. It’s frightening and wonderful, it is a coming of age movie that is human and touching and truly frightening. But it’s okay, childhood sometimes comes with a side of fear, it’s getting past it that helps you grow.