The Bel-Air Theater Horror
When I was 19 I went through a weird transitional stage in my life, although I suppose most people are experiencing many changes during that period of their lives. In my case, I was living in an old house that my grandparents owned, with a revolving cast of my male friends that were staying there for one reason or another. I was also working at a movie theater in Houston and it was a very strange place.
It had been built sometime in the 1940’s, and retained a lot of the architectural charm that theaters from that era often had. It was independently owned by a man that lived in the surrounding neighborhood, an affluent city called Bellaire, which was completely surrounded by Houston. You had to be careful when crossing into Bellaire, because they had their own over-enthusiastic police department. Despite that fact, the Bel-Air theater was a blast to work at.
There were five screens in the place – several large rooms, and a couple of smaller screens, too. The ground floor had a bar, and the theater hosted a strange mix of mainstream movies, as well as foreign and independent films. With the exception of the owner, who never seemed to be around, everyone that worked there was pretty young – most of us were still in our teens or early twenties. As one can imagine, this combined with late hours (the theater played midnight movies on some nights) led to all sorts of fun times at the place.
It was an ideal environment for a weird person perched between being a teen and an adult to work, but there was a catch – the place was haunted.
After a couple of shifts, I noticed that I often felt like I was being watched, and that feeling increased in certain specific parts of the theater after my first week. Our manager noticed that I looked a little creeped out one evening, and said “Oh, you noticed this place is haunted.” He then explained that everyone noticed the creepy atmosphere the theater had after being there a while.
What was really strange was that everyone seemed to have very similar experiences. Even trying to explain some of the stories away by reasoning that people will project stuff after they’re told a place is haunted didn’t explain the similarity in what people seemed to experience, and it didn’t explain why patrons with no prior knowledge of the haunting would occasionally report seeing the same things that the employees did. More than once I listened to a late night report from a moviegoer that a teenager wearing grey had followed them into or out of an otherwise abandoned part of the theater.
And that’s what most people experienced – Seeing a teenaged blonde boy wearing grey, often seeing his image reflected in glass behind them, or seeing him walk by alone in an interior window. Items often went missing, or were found in another part of the building right after one of us had used it. The screen upstairs, number five, was particularly creepy. Some employees wouldn’t go up there alone. Another reported a large shadowy figure grabbing him when the house lights were abruptly turned on while he was in there. Number five was the only part of the theater that I felt uncomfortable in. I didn’t like it up there.
As for the origin of the kid in grey, there was no smoking gun. No verifiable story about who that kid had been, or what had happened to him. The most convincing thing I heard was that he had been killed in the parking lot back in the 1970’s. Certainly possible, but never fully confirmed.
My friend Joe spent a lot of time working and hanging out at the theater, and he has a really good personal account of the kind of phenomena that we all experienced at one time or another. I’ll include that, in his own words:
“You feel like getting something to eat?”
“Sure,” Vince replied, “This place is dead, so I’ll just close up a little early and we can hit Bibas or something. Just let me tell
Dox we’re closing up.”
“Dox” was the nickname of Greg Dokzakis, an irrepressibly witty and charming young Greek guy who was one of our regulars.
He was at the bar with a date this night and the two of them were the only people left, even though it was only 12:30.
The Bel-Air Bar was a unique place. It was a split-level floor plan inset into the lobby of a 1940s era movie theater. The lower
level contained the bar; the upper level had a kitchen and food bar. The food bar came off of the kitchen and was backed by a
long row of mirrors that extended off into the kitchen itself, ending about six feet in, with a set of double swinging porthole
kitchen doors at its base. From the right angle, the mirrors would reflect the entirety of the kitchen’s interior. At this time of
night it was dark and closed, so all that was reflected were silhouettes of kitchen equipment.
In the main bar, the décor was all uniform. A curving wall of glass brick served as a boundary with the theater lobby. Along the
entire base of the wall, built-in black booth-style benches followed the flow of the curve as it meandered along. Tables of
various sizes were placed neatly along the benches, as well as in the open space of the bar. Lush dark green low-pile carpeting
covered the floor. Giant pink and green pillars rose at two points within the main seating area: one in the center and one by the
three steps that led up to the kitchen area that was on the lobby level. The glow of pink neon was everywhere. Three strips of
neon hung above the glass brick, and even more came in from the entrance to the theater lobby which was situated by the
grand old marquee.
Behind the bar were windows that looked out into the hallway running behind the main theater. Opposite the bar windows, the
projection booth was backed in glass so guests could see how the projector worked. Another smaller theater had been added at
the end of the hall, beginning about where the upper level of the bar began.
It was a magnificent place.
And it was haunted.
Most of us who worked there knew about “The Kid”. The Kid was a teenager with longish blond hair and a gray t-shirt. From
time to time this kid would run down the windowed hallway into the empty small theater. Many of us had looked for him when
it happened, thinking it was a real person. Despite hours of searching, nothing was ever found. The Kid’s nighttime runs weren’t
the only thing that happened in the theater. Around ninety percent of the people that worked there had some sort of strange
experience at one time or another, ranging from the mundane to the downright terrifying.
Oddly, our descriptions of the strange goings-on had little effect on some of our regulars, and two in particular. They were
professional stage hands and spent a good deal of time in local theaters building sets or erecting stages. They told us that every
night before they left, they set a “ghost light” out on the stage. According to them, the ghost light was put out at night so the
ghosts in the theater could “find their way around and not mess things up.” They told us stories of the few nights the ghost light
hadn’t been put on the stage, and said the day after each of these instances sets were falling and lights were popping. So it
came as little surprise to them that a movie house could have a ghost as well.
Despite the absence of our own ghost light, most nights The Kid wasn’t a problem. However, this wasn’t going to be most nights.
Dox and his date got their last drinks and closed out their tab. Vince started to do his paperwork on the liquor and count the
beer. I sat at the bar smoking and listening to the music being played. Things were tranquil and I looked forward to my usual
late-night meal at Bibas’ One’s a Meal, a small chain of coffee shops that had been in Houston for over sixty years.
As Dox finished his drink, he got up and headed towards the restroom, which was situated near the bar just up the stairs to the
kitchen level. He was gone for a few minutes, but when he came out he headed towards the bar instead of his date.
“Quit fucking with me,” he said to Vince.
“I know you must have a switch back there that turns the lights on and off in the bathroom. Flashing the lights and banging on
the walls… c’mon, man. Quit fucking with me.”
“Dude, I don’t know what you are talking about. I don’t have a switch back here.”
“Actually he doesn’t,” I added, “I’ve worked here for three years and I know every switch in this place. There isn’t one back
“OK, whatever. I’ll see you guys tomorrow,” he said as he walked away to collect his date.
As they walked out, Vince gave me a worried look. The banging and flashing lights were new, but we had a pretty good idea
where it had come from.
He picked up speed as he started doing his closing duties. As he was cleaning his speed gun, he looked over my shoulder and
froze. With a flick of his head, he directed me towards the glass bricks. I turned and saw an unpleasant but familiar sight: there
was the shadow of a person pacing back and forth along the length of the wall. The shadow appeared to be coming from
someone on the other side. However, when it would reach a gap in the glass brick nothing would emerge and the shadow would
reappear in the next section.
The walking shadow was usually one of the first things to happen on nights when the ghost activity was unusually bad. I quickly
scanned the bar to look for the other usual signs. The windows behind the bar were gently moving in and out as if they were
breathing lightly. The double doors of the kitchen were swinging back and forth about a half an inch.
“I’ll do your cleaning; you get your paperwork done, and let’s get the Hell out of here,” I said.
Vince nodded in agreement, and we nearly ran into each other as I headed behind the bar and he came out to sit down and do
I washed dishes furiously, splashing soapy water and sanitizing bath all around the three basined sink. When that was done, I
plunged a bar mop into the soap and began wiping everything down.
I did another scan of the bar. The shadow was still walking. The windows were breathing more heavily. The doors were swinging
a little faster and harder.
“Hurry up…” I said
“Going as fast as I can…” he replied.
I turned around to wipe the area by the liquor bottles. I looked up just in time to see The Kid run by the windows and into the
Goosebumps rose up on my arms. I turned to Vince and he was shaking his head.
“What?” I asked.
“I have to pee.”
“Just hold it and let’s get out of here.”
“I’ve been trying, but I can’t… I just gotta go.”
He got up from his chair and headed towards the restroom. When he got to the second of the three steps, he stopped suddenly.
As he slowly turned back to face me, it appeared as if all the blood had drained from his face. Thick streams of tears were
pouring down his ashen cheeks. “Joe… look in the mirrors…” he whispered.
I took a look at the mirrors by the kitchen.
It was The Kid. He was standing looking at us in the mirror from inside the kitchen. His face was dull and expressionless. His
pale blue-gray eyes gave off a faint eerie glow.
“Oh Jesus Christ, man, hurry the fuck up. Piss yourself if you’ve got to. We have to get out of here.”
Vince came down the step and turned to use a trashcan instead of the restroom. He was visibly shaking.
I was shaking. I felt sick.
And I was confused.
Some people messed with The Kid. Mostly it was people who hadn’t had anything happen to them before trying to get him to
show himself, or it was an attempt to show some sort of bravado. I had never been one of these. In my mind, I should leave him
alone and he should leave me alone. Vince treated him the same way as I did.
So why was he doing this to us? It didn’t make sense.
Vince sat back down and frantically counted money. I began haphazardly tossing items he’d brought to work into his backpack.
He finished and went into the storeroom to lock up the money. I followed. I just wanted to get away from The Kid.
I glanced out and saw the kitchen doors swinging as frantically as I’d ever seen. It was generally a slight flutter, but now they
were moving about two inches back and forth. Mercifully my vantage point no longer permitted me to see into the kitchen
mirrors. I refused to look back at the bar windows. I didn’t care. I just wanted out.
We steeled our nerves to make our exit.
“Just run out as fast as you can. I’ll get the car started while you lock the door and let’s get as far away as possible,” I said.
With a nod of agreement, we ran towards the door as fast as we could. We bounded the three steps in one giant leap and ran
past the kitchen, looking at the ground the entire time.
I hit the door like I intended to take it off its hinges. I felt as if something was right on my tail.
As I ran to my car which was parked immediately alongside the exit, Vince turned to lock the door. As soon as he turned his key,
a giant roar like that of a lion or tiger came directly out of the marquee.
I lept into my car and turned the ignition. As the big V8 in the old Ford Country Squire came to life I reached over and opened
the passenger door. Vince dove in yelling “Go! Go! Go!” and I did. We were exiting the theater parking lot before Vince even got
his door closed.
We sped off into the misty Houston night. The roads were wet and reflecting the streetlights. I didn’t care about that. I just had
to get as far away from there as I could, and do it as fast as possible.
As we drove across town we sat in silence. Both of us were musicians, but neither of us reached to turn on the radio or pop in a
cassette. The silence was both blessed and ghastly. Neither of us could understand any of it.
When we pulled into Bibas about ten minutes later, Vince slammed his backpack to the floorboard.
“FUCK!!” he screamed in exasperation.
I knew exactly what he meant and I agreed.
After about two weeks passed, I was out riding around with a girl named Ellen. We were in that awkward stage of getting to
know one another where we weren’t exactly sure if we were dating or buddies, but we did enjoy each other’s company. I
suggested we swing by the Bel-Air and get a drink, so I began telling her the story of what had happened to Vince and me. She
was very skeptical of the entire thing and thought I was making it up, but when we got to the theater Vince was standing
outside under the marquee.
“Dude… I’m so glad you guys are here. It’s bad tonight and I’m the only one here.”
I gave him a sympathetic nod as we walked in. Ellen rolled her eyes thinking she was being set up. We sat down at the bar and
Vince drew three Shiner Bocks from the tap. We all took drinks. Ellen and I lit cigarettes.
Then the whole thing happened again.
She believed me after that.”
Joe’s story seems to capture the spirit (Almost literally) of the place when only a few people were still the, and the Bel-Air ghost felt frisky.
Many others had encounters with “The Kid”, and sometimes those encounters were quite frightening. Other times he seemed content to let his presence be known – Minor activity that let us all know he was still around.
I quit that job to go work at another foreign film theater. That one was an interesting place, but free of any otherworldly activity. Unfortunately the Bel-Air didn’t last very much longer. Apparently, a combo dollar theater/art house with a bar in it, with a bunch of young weirdos running the place proved to be a shaky business venture, and it closed down.
It is now some kind of entertainment center for young children. I haven’t been inside since that transition took place, and it always makes me sad when I drive by. I have to suppress the urge to go in and ask people if they’ve seen a spooky looking blonde guy wearing grey hanging around the place…