Night Terrors: ‘Skinamarink’ and the Enduring Fears of Childhood

Manor Vellum
7 min readApr 14


By Brian Keiper

Art: Tom Ralston

Seeing Skinamarink for the first, and likely only, time was an unusual experience. It was a 7pm showing in a relatively crowded theater for such a small film. It unfolded before us all at its intentionally glacial pace, which is not a criticism — it is part of the film’s effectiveness; the long stretches of quiet, punctuated by blaring, piercing tones caused me and many other patrons to jump. After the enigmatic final shot, which is not followed by a credit roll, the lights came up and one audience member rewarded the viewing with a few half-hearted claps which were greeted by a smattering of laughter throughout the auditorium.

But then the discussions started. To my surprise they went far beyond the “what the hell was that?” and “well that sucked” that I expected. Granted, those present for this particular screening had to be horror fans to come to this film on this day and time. They had likely caught the buzz surrounding the film and wanted to see what all the fuss was about. The film may or may not be the depiction of a childhood nightmare or the space between sleeping and wakefulness where our most fearful demons seem to dwell. They discussed the reasons for the long stretches of darkness, commented on the ways their eyes and ears played tricks on them, and the feelings that were brought about. After one such comment, a patron did add to his companion, “but it was pretty boring.” But here’s the thing — that’s part of the point.

Skinamarink and The Outwaters are two recent films that have been labeled with film Twitter’s latest buzzword “liminal,” but this exploration of the space between consensus reality and dreams, death, or some other alternate form of reality is nothing new to cinema and certainly not to horror. Examples go as far back as Georges Méliès, Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Vampyr (1932), the films of Luis Buñuel, Ingmar Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf (1968), and certainly the works of Wes Craven, David Cronenberg, and David Lynch. I would also suggest that several Stanley Kubrick films, particularly 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), The Shining (1980), and Eyes Wide Shut (1999) all play in this space. This current version takes on a highly experimental and extremely low-budget form that hearkens back to some of these earlier films while simultaneously challenging and certainly dividing audiences in the process.

After watching the film myself, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. I understood its experimental nature and found myself fascinated by it. At the same time, I can’t say I particularly enjoyed it, nor did it exactly scare me, but one thing is for sure: since viewing Skinamarink, it has scarcely left my mind. Few movies have ever gotten under my skin and crawled into my psyche the way this film has. It even stirred up a few childhood memories that I did not expect to face so many years later. In the film, we sometimes see faces in the darkness and hear barely audible voices demanding that we do various things. One of my earliest memories involves something like this.

When I was perhaps three or four, I had recurring nightmares of a kind of ghostly presence that lived in my closet. It was a “classic” ghost that looked like a sheet covering a human form with two eyeholes cut near the top. What was strange is that it appeared like a photographic negative — the eyes white, the sheet mostly black with folds, and shadows appearing gray and white. I remember it summoning me and asking me to do things for it, but I refused. I don’t remember any specifics of its demands, but I remember feeling a dread that I have rarely felt since. The vague moments at the end of Skinamarink and the unknown presence telling young Kevin that his sister Kaylee “did not do as she was told” brought this flooding back. Honestly, “flooding back” might be something of a misstatement because the image of this ghostly presence has remained with me from my first memories of it all those years ago until now, more than forty years later. This was really the beginning of a lifelong discomfort with dark spaces, even those that are familiar and safe during the day.

Even in later years, when the stresses of life invade my dreams and the liminal (sorry, I tried to avoid it) space just before waking, they revert to fears from childhood. In my mid-twenties, I regularly experienced sleep paralysis, the bizarre sensation of the mind being fully awake but the body unable to move. In my case, I didn’t see any presence, such as the “hat man” as many do in this state, but I would be overcome with panic and a feeling of complete helplessness. Also during this time, I would have dreams of being chased by Leatherface from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, an image I first saw as a child on the cover of the Media edition VHS tape, still one of the most disturbing images related to that film for me. Anyway, in this recurring nightmare, if I was under a particularly acute amount of strain, he would catch me and thrust the blade of his saw toward my back. Just as its teeth began to ravage my flesh, I would wake up, still feeling the pain of the moment.

From when I was very young and then into my high school and even college years, I would often watch movies alone late at night. The walk from the couch in the living room to the safety of my bed was the longest and darkest I have ever known. I can still remember the feeling that I was being followed down that hallway by something, an unseen presence of some sort that wanted to do me harm. Sure this may well have been planted in my mind by the movie I just watched which likely involved Freddy, Michael Myers, Jason, Leatherface, Pinhead, or some kind of zombie horde, but I was more afraid of whatever lurked in the darkness of my hallway than any of those familiar icons. Even at the time, I was aware that these were actors playing a part and skilled filmmakers creating a mood, but I had no idea what could possibly be in the shadows. Was it a ghost or a demon? Something that actually had the ability to cause physical harm? Or more frightening to my young, highly religious self, something that could devour my soul?

More than anything else, this was the feeling that Skinamarink captured for me. As children, we are dependent upon others for nearly everything. We learn that we will be safe in our own home, with our parents just down the hall, and our cartoons and toys bringing us comfort and security. But in the space between dreams and wakefulness, where the demons dwell, is where the safe places become dangerous. Our parents can’t come to help us, and the things of comfort become the things of fear. Even now, my childhood left far in the past, I find myself in the early morning hours wondering what is lurking in the dark. I wake with the Sharon, Lois, and Bram song I heard numerous times as a child, which is not heard in the film, playing over and over in my head…

skinnamarkink-a-dink-a-dink, skinnamarink-a-do, Iiiiii loooove yoou

And all the feelings I had of seeing that ghost in my closet, the panic of sleep paralysis, being touched by that saw blade, and walking down the dark hallway become as fresh as the first moments I experienced them. It is not horror, as in the sense of revulsion. In a way, it is much worse. It is not about gore or monsters, but something far more personal, more within the grasp of everyday experience. It is the inexplicable cold that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, your skin crawl, and your heart race. No word in the English language quite captures it but there is one that comes closest — terror. More sinister than shock, more subtle than horror, more menacing than dread, terror comes for us all, and sometimes…it never lets go. 🩸


Brian Keiper is a featured writer for Manor Vellum. Brian’s also written for Bloody Disgusting, Dread Central, F This Movie!, Ghastly Grinning, and others. Follow him on Twitter @Brianwaves42.

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A membrane of texts about the human condition and the horror genre. A MANOR feature. New 🩸 every Friday.