Maybe it's the approach of Halloween.
Maybe I've spent too much time lately watching terrible old films.
I know I've spent too much time watching political coverage.
But it hit me this week that the country is not just closing in on the end of a two-year presidential campaign that we've all focused on with frightening intensity.
This whole thing is starting to feel a lot like the climactic death scene at the end of a 1950s monster movie.
I say this with some expertise.
My 6-year-old nephew Charlie is obsessed with science fiction movies, especially the really bad ones. Pseudo-classics like The Black Scorpion, The Giant Claw and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, inadvertently hilarious Hollywood creature features that seem to perpetually focus on an imperiled earth threatened by a massive monster that, at least for most of the movie, seems impervious to bombs, bullets, and bad acting.
Charlie is happiest when the TV room at his house sounds like the epicenter of the End Times.
You know, filled with the shrieks of screaming victims, the thunder of fleeing crowds, the roaring of the giant three-headed fiend and the constant thud of American military units helplessly firing rockets at the approaching beast that bounce off its steely chest like toothpicks.
The other day, Charlie and I were enjoying some quality time on the couch watching one of his favorites, "It Came From Beneath the Sea." As the giant octopus ravaged San Francisco, I couldn't resist getting a political fix.
So I started flipping back and forth between the movie -- the creature being electrocuted as it claws at the Golden Gate Bridge -- and cable news coverage of the campaign -- angry Republican speeches packed with Rovian talking points, peeved conservative pundits and video of name-calling mobs outside McCain-Palin campaign stops.
The movie ends with a writhing death scene of the prehistoric sea monster sinking back under the waves.
You know what?
This campaign may not end so differently.
The monster -- the Republican attack machine which has dominated and damaged American politics for so long -- is dying.
Back in the '50s, when all the really good bad monster movies were made, the country was peaceful but scared. Kids practiced how to "duck and cover" in case of atomic attack and Hollywood made movies that were transparent metaphors for our most profound fears.
Americans could barely keep track of all the things we were afraid of -- Communists and aliens, science and change, foreigners and the future, sex and personal freedom.
In other words, it was a lot like a Sarah Palin rally.
Maybe it's just a coincidence, but Palin actually resembles that old monster movie staple -- the beautiful-but-bookish brunette working as a lab assistant for the older scientist whose irresponsible experiments lead to tragedy.
The attractive assistant is perpetually the last to realize that the project she has been helping out on has gone bad. She is an innocent in a threatening environment, a cheerful young woman with a tendency to make mind-boggling errors, like deciding to tidy up her chemistry bench, always failing to look over her shoulder and see the monster approaching from behind.
She only figures this out when the music comes to a screeching crescendo.
Still, at least in the movies, the Palin character knows how to pronounce "nuclear."
Another possibly important point for the Alaska Governor's political future -- in Hollywood, this character is always lucky enough to escape the monster's grasp and survive.
The old scientist -- not so much.
Today, it appears that Senator McCain, the old scientist in this campaign, has fallen into the clutches of the monsters of American politics.
By choosing to experiment with character attacks, robo-calls, guilt by association, outright name-calling, fear-mongering and trying to divide Americans by race and religion, he has been swallowed up by the horrible creature he and his assistants have cooked up in their crude lab.
He has been eaten alive by the Karl Rove Republican noise machine.
And yet for all McCain's effort, for all his compromise, for all the cost of turning his back on what we thought was his personal value system -- it's not working.
Americans aren't responding to the old plays -- the fake fears, the faux outrage, the conservatives who yell "Communist" at the news cameras, the pompous right-wing bloggers who once held such sway.
I know all too well how scary and effective these old tactics were in 2004.
Today, they are toothless.
Nothing makes me happier than seeing once swaggering players like Powerline, Free Republic and Little Green Footballs forced onto the sidelines, left to limply watch this campaign pass by like a parade in which they play no meaningful part.
They just don't matter anymore.
This election, voters don't seem to be afraid of the bogeymen the old Republican machine has tried to wave in their faces.
This election, most of us can see that these perennial political demons are exactly like the ones dreamed up to scare Americans 50 years ago -- phony creatures made of paper mache, decorated with fake feathers and fur, attached to pulleys, and held together with glue, gaffer's tape and greed.
Make-believe monsters don't scare us when our real fears are larger than life.
We are afraid of a depression. We are fighting wars on two fronts. Some of us are losing our homes. Many of us desperately need help with health care.
I know the campaign isn't over and I know that the creatures that have bedeviled American politics may rise again - just like in the movies -- at least for one last desperate and spectacular assault within the next two weeks.
The monsters aren't dead yet, but this time -- for the first time -- I believe they are dying.
My nephew Charlie is now working to create his own monster movies. He sits for hours, carefully drawing elaborate mock storyboards, planning his special effects and thinking hard about how to give his would-be films lofty and serious titles.
He tries to choose the kind of name for his projects that would sound good if growled into a microphone by a deep-voiced announcer with that special agitation reserved for 1950s tabloid movie trailers.
Charlie's latest movie's working title is "God Sent Them Back."
I hope you're right, kiddo.
I sure hope you're right.