Before he learned to tell stories of his own, Jordan Peele was a scared little kid, cringing from monsters in closets and other products of an imagination that would one day reshape Hollywood. As the Us and Get Out director explains in our new cover story, a key moment in his early life arrived on a school camping trip, when he sat around a fire with his classmates and freaked them out with a terrifying story he invented.
“I owned the fear in that moment,” he says – and no matter how successful his subsequent career in comedy became, he never forget that feeling. Sitting in his office in the Hollywood Hills in December, he retold the tale. Here’s how it went, in his words:
A woman is traveling with her husband and baby in their car, going through the old neighborhood where she used live. It’s a rural area. They live in the city, and they’re back home. She went to a reunion, and now they’re headed back to their hotel. And they pass a house. He’s driving, she’s in the passenger seat. They pass a house, and she’s been giving them a tour of where they are, and they’re in this remote area. And she sees, in this old, beat-down house, there’s a light on, and a silhouette of a woman rocking upstairs.
And the woman in the car goes, “Oh my goodness, you know what, Todd? That was where this little girl named Annie lived. We all used to tease her in elementary school. We’d circle around her and we’d sing, ‘Annie with the red hair, Annie with the red hair, Annie with the red hair.’ And I wonder if that’s her.'” And they pass it.
He says, “Oh you know, honey, people move away. I mean, if it is her, it’s pretty sad, huh? That she’d still be here.”
They go down the road a couple miles, and now they’re in a sort of empty, tree-lined road. The car breaks down. The kids are crying in the back. This is before cellphones, this is in the ’80s, so the husband goes, “Well, I gotta go find a phone and call a tow truck.”
She goes, “No, don’t go, don’t go.”
He says, “Stay here, honey. You’re fine. It’s too cold out there, I don’t want you to bring the baby out there. I’m gonna go. I’ll come back.”
She’s like, “I’m scared, I’m scared out here.”
He goes back, starts walking back towards the Annie house. The wife watches, she sees him go out of sight. Gets really small. Disappears. Now she’s on this road alone. The wind goes through the trees, and the moon gets covered up by the cloud. She starts to get really, really freaked out. And her son falls asleep. Eighteen minutes have gone by, 29 minutes have by, 45 minutes have gone by, and now she’s started to really freak out. He should be back, what’s going on? An hour and 15 minutes goes by. She’s considering leaving her car, taking her baby and going and running somewhere. She’s so freaked out.
She looks back. In the distance she sees a little figure, sort of bobbing in the distance. And as this figure gets closer, she sees it’s skipping towards her. Just gets closer and closer. And then she listens. She hears in the distance, “Nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah, nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah,” and it gets closer and closer and closer. And as it gets closer and closer, it seems to speed up. And she notices, down, the figure holding something. Looks like a pumpkin, a jack-o-lantern. And it gets closer and closer and closer, and she sees the glint of a blade in its hand. As it gets closer and closer she sees the red hair, flowing behind it. Long, crazy red hair. “Nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah.” And then as the woman approaches the back of the car, she sees her husband’s dead head in her hand, and the woman’s smiling twisted face, surrounded by that wild red hair, coming up to the window. The wife is terrified. She locks the door. And just as the woman is coming up to the window, she finally hears the song she’s been singing: “I’ve got the keys. I’ve got the keys.”
For more from Jordan Peele, including details on his new movie Us, out March 22nd, read our full cover story.