Help me identify the origins of a weird childhood nightmare
November 5, 2014 8:01 PM   Subscribe

I had a memorable nightmare when I was a child, probably around 1995. Can you identify the source in pop culture?

In the dream, I had an uncontrollable itchiness on my skin. Reaching down to the spot, I peeled back the skin and pulled out a chunk of flesh. I turned the chunk upside down, revealing little insect legs. I began to pull up other chunks of flesh, revealing more flesh-insects – my skin was made of insects.
Scary, right? That image has stuck with me for decades. I had an active imagination, but I don't believe that child-me was creative enough to come up with this on his own. Can you think of some movie or book I might have read around this time that would have inspired this dream? This would have been around the early/mid-90s.
posted by deathpanels to Society & Culture (19 answers total)
 
Probably not it, but there's this scene from The Thing where a severed head sprouts spidery legs.
posted by puritycontrol at 8:10 PM on November 5, 2014


The only thing pinging for me is the opening sequence from the movie A Scanner Darkly. But, more likely:

I had an active imagination, but I don't believe that child-me was creative enough to come up with this on his own.

If my own child-brain dream-state was creative enough to come up with a dream about whitewater rafting with the cast of Miami Vice and the band Dire Straits, or being saved from a grade school fire drill by a kalaiedoscope-eyed cat named "Bobo", I'd wager your own child-brain dream-state also was creative enough to come up with bug-skin.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:11 PM on November 5, 2014


Can you think of some movie or book I might have read around this time that would have inspired this dream?

A nature documentary about botflies?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:11 PM on November 5, 2014


Best answer: Are you sure it had origins in pop culture? I've had the bugs under my skin dream (in mine my blood vessels were full of cockroaches and I was trying to pull them out), and I've heard other people of a variety of ages and pop-culture experiences describe similar dreams. Apparently internal bugs are a fairly common stress dream (when I typed "insects under skin" into google, it suggested "insects under skin stress dream" in the little pop down autofill thingy).

I'm not saying it wasn't pop-culture, but absent any evidence otherwise, I'd believe that you could come up with it on your own.
posted by DGStieber at 8:17 PM on November 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


Best answer: Were you feverish or maybe had a bout of the chicken pox? Fever dreams are notoriously weird
posted by Jacen at 8:17 PM on November 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


Response by poster: It may have been a childhood illness fever-dream. I actually started thinking about this recently after getting the flu and having weird (but not bug-skin related) fever dreams.
posted by deathpanels at 8:23 PM on November 5, 2014


Related creepy Halloween-season comic
posted by moonmilk at 8:38 PM on November 5, 2014


This reminds me of a scene from the movie The Fly where he stands in front of a bathroom sink/mirror and pulls off his fingernails, revealing fly appendage underneath.
posted by alms at 8:49 PM on November 5, 2014


There's an entire TV Tropes entry related to this -- see if anything rings any bells? It reminds *me* a bit of that Buffy episode with the maggot guy but that was from 1997, so possibly too late for your timeline.
posted by phoenixy at 9:25 PM on November 5, 2014


And as the posters above say, the delusion that insects are on or under your skin is common, in fact so common that there's even a name for it -- formication.
posted by phoenixy at 9:30 PM on November 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


I certainly hope you weren't reading it as a child, but Philip Jose Farmer's 1968 SF novel Image of the Beast had an ostensibly human character who broke into separate pieces with little legs in circumstances I won't attempt to describe, and then the pieces would scurry around and reassemble into the character again.
posted by jamjam at 9:35 PM on November 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


This was earlier and there are no bugs, but could it have been the Poltergeist face peeling scene? I'm sure it was still airing regularly on cable at that time.
posted by peep at 9:45 PM on November 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


I can't recall ever having a specific bug-skin dream, but I've had any number that involved some sort of weird corruption of my body, or other serious injury. Teeth falling out, being surrounded by broken glass, one time a boil that -- when burst -- revealed a cavity straight through my arm... I mostly associate these with worry/stress, as other comments are indicating. Most commonly, I'll dream that I have braces again, and one of the wires has come loose and is poking around my mouth or blocking my throat. Freaky, while it's happening, but eventually I remember that it's happened hundreds of times already, and wake up.

It seems entirely possible to me that you made up your bug problem all by yourself. Our brains do positively amazing things while we sleep; stretching "time," creating very good, coherent music, springing completely surprising -- yet logical -- plot twists on us at the last minute. I once had a dream that lasted for "hours," and ended on a very punny joke... That had been set up from the first moment of the dream.

So why not bugs under the skin?
posted by credible hulk at 10:49 PM on November 5, 2014


It reminds me of this scene from the Poltergeist...
posted by patheral at 11:10 PM on November 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


If it was pop culture inspired, I nominate The Believers (1987, possibly you glimpsed a bit of a TV airing?) which has a memorable "ack spiders are coming out of my face" scene. YouTube search for "the believers spiders" should do the trick if you want to check out the scene.
posted by hilatron at 3:46 AM on November 6, 2014


Well, there's the scene from Luis Buñuel's Un Chien Andalou where ants start crawling out of the actor's hand. It's brief, but it could certainly mess with a kid's head. Might you have somehow seen at least this scene as a child?
posted by Thorzdad at 5:58 AM on November 6, 2014


Owner of A Lonely Heart (Yes) was in heavy rotation in the 80's on MTV, but if there's a possibility you could have seen it, it would have been scary. Certainly scared the crap out of me, and I was a teenager!
posted by Sophie1 at 8:50 AM on November 6, 2014


Response by poster: I was a weird kid, but even I wasn't reading Philip Jose Farmer at that age.
posted by deathpanels at 12:36 PM on November 6, 2014


Feeling like there are insects under your skin (which don't actually exist) is an actual medical thing and is also a psychogenic thing that happens.
posted by softlord at 9:25 PM on November 6, 2014


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