You wouldn’t guess that a PG-rated movie that is essentially a love story between a special boy and his special bike would be such a notorious traumatizer but here we are. Of course, knowing that the film is also the directorial feature debut of Tim Burton makes it all that much more understandable.
Poor Pee-Wee (Paul Reubens) is on a cross-country adventure to reclaim his bicycle which he believes resides in the basement of the Alamo in Texas thanks to some shady information from a dubious psychic. At one point in his journey, he is picked up from the side of the road by a gruff, older female truck driver (character actress Alice Nunn) with wild hair and a crazed, unblinking look on her face. She tells Pee-Wee of a horrible accident she witnessed as he stares at her in shock and awe. At one point, as she describes the gruesome appearance of the accident victim, her entire face transforms (with the aid of stop-motion, Claymation trickery) into a bug-eyed howling freak with frazzled hair. As she shrieks so does Pee-Wee and rightfully so.
Later, as she drops a bewildered and still stunned Pee-Wee off at a roadside dinner she says, “Tell them Large Marge sent you.” Dutifully our hero repeats the trucker’s words to the diner patrons who gasp in amazement and point to a nearby shrine/memorial; it turns out Large Marge has been dead for ten years and tonight is the anniversary of her demise!
Large Marge is as humorous as she is freaky and her monstrous appearance is as cartoonish and over the top as the rest of this classic eighties comedy. Still, it’s not surprising that younger viewers might be taken completely off guard with this lightning strike of surreal imagery, especially with the hushed ghost story build-up that is delivered beforehand. Large Marge is the perfect dosage of horror and hilarity and nobody who has seen the film would ever disagree.
Special Bonus Trauma: Pee–Wee’s Nightmares. Pee-Wee experiences very relatable anxiety when he is separated from the love of his life, his cherished bicycle. His emotional turmoil is expressed with Hitchcock-level paranoia and chronic bad dreams. His first nightmare involving a dinosaur chomping on his bike is basically adorable but his second, which centers on a group of hideous clowns preparing his beloved for surgery, is anything but. For a moment there seems to be one doctor who may be reliable and competent but then he takes off his surgical mask to reveal he’s a terrifying clown with a twisted traumatizing grimace as well. All eventually ends happily with Pee-Wee becoming a celebrated hero with a movie made from his many tribulations but you’d never guess it from this horrifying clown-strewn nightmare.