Why Episode Three of Over the Garden Wall Fucking Terrifies Me
Here we go. Back at it again with the Spooky themes. It’s All Hallows Eve-Eve, so, indulge me.
If you do, I promise to repay in kind with a “harrowing” tale that is sure to send shivers of some kind down your spine.
Let me preface this story with some insight into my personal habits and obsessive tendencies:
Every October, without fail, I re-watch the animated series Over the Garden Wall in full. Sometimes I even re-re-watch it. To say I absolutely adore this show would be a gross understatement. I think it is brilliant, beautiful, profound. Not simply a cartoon but, rather a work of animated art.
Yet, every year, somewhere around the end of episode 2, as the credits begin to roll, I become filled with dread and apprehension. I know it’s coming. I’ve seen it all before…
“Chapter 3: Schooltown Follies” is fast approaching and I just can’t handle it.
Something (or someone) deep inside of me cries out, urges me to skip it…but I never do because I know full well that this compulsion is ridiculous. As my good friend pointed out to me recently: in an already unfrightening series, episode three is arguably the least scary and most whimsical of the lot.
Ok. I understand that. I get it. But rationalization has never really been an effective weapon against irrational fear. This objectivity does nothing to deter the episode from disturbing me on a deep level. For the entire duration (all 11-minutes of it), my whole being—mind, body, and soul—exists in a total state of cringe.
Alright maybe I’m being a bit dramatic here. Fine. Suffice to say, this episode gives me the heebie-jeebies.
Whenever I experience any strong emotions towards something external, I feel the need to investigate—to suss out the internal psychological machinations that are surely lurking beneath the feelings. You know, mine the dark and dusty depths of the ol’ psyche for some answers.
Well, this year, I finally uncovered the roots of my trepidation reserved specifically for gorilla suits (which apparently extends even to drawings of them): I have a mild, unresolved, gorilla-suit-related, childhood trauma.
Now we come to the “tale” portion of this story:
As a child, I would go trick-or-treating in this quiet, densely wooded cul-de-sac with my best friend at the time. Our parents took us here because: a.) it was where our mutual babysitter and her family lived, b.) our parents and her parents were all drinking buds, and c.) the neighborhood was by all appearances safe. It just made sense. And yes, by daylight this little hamlet was serene and welcoming; however, as night fell and darkness descended, it would transform into a sinister and menacing place.
Every year, my friend and I would arrive at our babysitter’s house—costumes donned and positively brimming with that enthusiastic fervor known only to children on Halloween night. However, hidden beneath the excitement was a layer of anxiety and fear. The roads were dark and twisting—streetlamps far and few between—surrounded by towering trees which loomed over you in the darkness, our imaginations twisting shadows and sounds into anthropomorphic visions of terrors and monstrosities.
Now, listen closely, for I swear that what I am about to tell you is indeed the truth…
These fears? They were not all in our minds, they cannot be dismissed as merely a child’s flight of fancy…No, these fears were grounded in reality.
There truly was a beast who prowled those woods:
A gorilla in a golf cart, brandishing a knife, who gave chase to children as they wandered the lonesome night.
I cannot express to you how deeply horrified we were of this bizarre phantom.
Every year we would discuss it, try to solve the mystery, plan alternate routes, decide which stretches of roads we should just full on sprint down until we reached the next house—the only safe havens from this devil.
One year, an event occurred, purely by luck and circumstance, that would change everything…
We were playing hide-and-seek before we set out in search of Halloween spoils. Our babysitter was the seeker and we were both hiding in the closet of her parents’ room.
And that’s when we saw it.
The Gorilla Suit.
Suddenly, the mystery was shattered. The pieces of the puzzle fell into place, and we realized:
The monster was Mr. Mark, our babysitter’s dad, the WHOLE. FREAKING. TIME.
Every year, we would arrive at his house, he would interact with us like a normal human, dressed in civilian attire, and then he would wave to us as we embarked into the night. We had absolutely no reason to believe that he was leading a double life.
Holy shit, were we wrong.
Apparently, mere moments after we left, this seemingly normal man would don a FULL gorilla suit, grab a fake knife prop (at least I sincerely hope it was), hop into his golfcart, and proceed to stalk hapless trick-or-treaters through the surrounding woods…down the twisting pathways which seemed to stretch on forever between houses…reaching out as if to grab them before disappearing at the last second into the dark cover of the trees.
I wonder if he knew just how MORTALLY TERRIFIED we were of this alter ego of his.
We took precautions. We maintained a brisk pace on the unlit streets, ever aware of the looming threat. Only occasionally would we risk a shortcut through the woods—perhaps if we were feeling brave enough to commit such folly, or if, on a dare, we felt like we had something to prove. But no matter which paths we took, the feeling of pursuit was ever present. There was always that spine deep chill you get on the back of your neck when you KNOW someone is out there, behind you. Watching. Waiting.
Yet, the glorious revelation of the identity behind this masked terror did absolutely nothing to quell the fear, the apprehension (although it did add an element of humor, some giggles to accompany the screams). Even though we now KNEW that the scary gorilla man was just Mr. Mark, and that he would not, in fact, brutally murder us—if anything, that would seriously cut into his daughter’s babysitting business—we would still run shrieking when we heard the rumble of the golfcart’s motor in the distance, the crackling of dry leaves being crushed beneath tires in motion, or caught a glimpse of headlights through the trees.
But we never said anything to him, never once called him out.
I think because we didn’t want to ruin the possibility of the supernatural. Rip away the mystery and unveil the mundane reality beneath it. We wanted to hold on to that thrill of the unknown. There was an irrefutable part of us that wanted to be chased.
I’ve said before that dread and excitement are too closely linked.
For some reason, humans so often seem to delight in being terrified. They want to feel the rush of fear with no real peril, so they seek out some close proximity to the threat of imminent demise. I guess it makes you feel alive. Electrifies the senses. Floods your synapses with adrenaline, cortisol—your body’s natural tickets into altered states of consciousness. Fight or flight response—now that’s one hell of a drug.
People pay good money to be scared shitless. We got it free of charge.
Well here I am, 20 years later, barely able to stomach watching episode three of an adorable cartoon. At least now I know where my irrational fear of gorilla suits stems from. Just another neuroticism to add to the list; but it’s also a story. A memory. I wouldn’t change it for anything.
So, I guess I really have to say thanks, Mr. Mark, for the mild childhood trauma that would one day fuel this hilarious anecdote.