What is the most terrifying movie you have ever seen? For me, it’s 1984’s Threads, a film about nuclear war that I watched in the same week that the United States threatened a pre-emptive attack on North Korea in 2017, thrusting humanity into a worldwide panic. But before that, there was another movie that kept me awake at night for months on end. Technically it was The Day After, but let’s creep away from atomic holocaust for now and go way back, all the way to kindergarten.
Kindergarten in this old timer’s generation was a lot different from what it is now. Classes were half days, we mostly played games and sang songs, and we were introduced to the awesomeness that was The Letter People reading series. Those songs were great, Mr. J’s (The Jumbled Junkman) was my favourite. There were no bullies, everyone got along with each other and it’s the only time in my life as a student when I can honestly say that I was happy. Nostalgia aside, there was one pivotal moment that came as a kindergartner that led to years of anxiety, and it involved Fire Prevention Week.
When I was a child, I attended a four-room schoolhouse and my mother was a teacher in the same building. The school itself was a dilapidated mess with bats in the upper floors and massive hornet nests in the windows. The bathrooms were in the mould encrusted basement and the preschool in the cellar was infested with ants, hornets or mice depending on the season. I actually attended a different preschool because of that, but that’s another story. The building itself was abandoned and the kindergarten classes moved to the elementary school in the mid-1990s. It was torn down in the early 2000s to build the town’s Parks and Rec building, but some say you can still hear the rats shrieking in the night, haunting the grounds beside Fuller Field…
Getting back on topic, all was well until October and the safety week began. We had a local firefighter visit each class, and we got to have plastic helmets to play with while we evacuated down the fire escapes in the back of the building. They were in such bad shape that only two or three people at a time could use them; the second story classes had to evacuate down the main stairs and then out the fire escapes in the ground floor as the second story escapes were rusted to oblivion and unable to bear any weight. I can understand why this place was demolished.
Each day was a new lesson on fire safety because, as I mentioned before, classes were only half days and there just wasn’t enough time. The lectures ended on Friday with the showing of a short movie. My class was one of the first to ever see this particular film, and everyone I’ve met born between 1980 and 1990 has seen it at least once. This movie is called Don’t Play Games With Fanny Flame and it was the most horrifying thing I had ever seen at the time. I first wrote about this on my now defunct comedy blog Krowness Chronicles, and quite a lot of people contacted me regarding it, thanking me for sharing my story as they had remembered the film giving them nightmares but nobody believed them that it existed.
I am not going to spend my time describing or analyzing the movie, as I was finally able to find it online after eleven years of searching, and have embedded it at the end of my story for all to see. What I will do is detail how this short completely ruined my five-year-old brain. We watched Fanny Flame with another class in the basement as it had the only television, and we were so quiet after the viewing that you could hear the invading insects scurrying beneath the rug. Our teachers then gave a short, oral quiz on the movie and proceeded to pour loads of misinformation into our heads.
We were told that if we rubbed our hands together for too long, it could start a fire and they used the warmth that such friction creates as proof that we were all little bits of walking kindling. We were told that quickly flicking a light switch or flashlight on and off could spark a fire, and that batteries could make our toys explode if we didn’t use them correctly. Over a quarter of a century later, I see that the real reason for these lies was to keep us behaved in the classroom or to not try and “fix” the class toys. But as impressionable little things, and being from a generation that was told to always obey our parents or teachers, we took this as fact for months or even years.
My dad would give me an allowance of $0.50 a week in the form of two quarters that he would place on the bookcase in my bedroom. As I slid them off to put in my orange piggy bank, I’d blow over the coins and over the shelf out of fear that their movements would spark a fire. I honestly performed this ritual until the 2nd grade. I distinctly remember my dad chuckling about it until he finally had to lecture me on the realities of fire safety to wash away the bullshit that I was still lathered in.
I only ever saw Fanny Flame again while in the 1st grade. We had a last-minute indoor recess at the elementary school due to a pop-up thunderstorm, and we were all sent to the auditorium/gym to play. That movie was put on and I remember slouching behind the girl sitting in front of me on the dirty floor to try and not see the TV. I even remember that that girl was my classmate Rebecca.
I never saw Fanny Flame again in its entirety until a couple years ago, and looking back, I can’t believe how cheesy and stupid this movie is. As a kid, I thought “how could any grownup have approved this!?” but as an adult now, the difference is quite noticeable. Sometimes, what we feared in childhood is often exaggerated by our own imaginations, and turns something ordinary into something surreal that an adult just can’t see.
So now for your viewing pleasure, here’s Don’t Play Games With Fanny Flame! The video starts at 9:10.