The Lords of Salem (2012) By Michael Campochiaro of Starfire Lounge

It’s October, the autumn air is turning cool and crisp, and I’m itching to watch as many horror movies as I can this month. Every year I make room in the Halloween watchlist for old favorites, but also for relatively new classics. One of those more recent classics is The Lords of Salem (2012). Written and directed by Rob Zombie, The Lords of Salem explores what happens when a Salem, Massachusetts disc jockey becomes dangerously entangled with an ancient coven of Satan-worshipping witches. Zombie’s wife and frequent collaborator Sheri Moon Zombie plays the hard rock DJ Heidi, while horror and cult movie veterans Dee Wallace, Judy Geeson, Meg Foster, and Ken Foree, among others, round out the cast.

In the decade since its release, The Lords of Salem has become a bit of a cult classic, at least among discerning horror fans who love a good, scary witch story. In my opinion, Zombie has never made a better film. His movies are often hit or miss for me, with House of 1,000 Corpses(2003) and Devil’s Rejects (2005) being major hits, while his two Halloween remakes and 31 (2016) were less impressive. As much as I love House of 1,000 Corpses and Devil’s Rejects though, The Lords of Salem exists on a different level. It’s a haunting and impactful work of art, the sort of movie that sticks with you forever, giving you instant shivers any time you recall it’s finest, most disturbing moments.

Zombie establishes a thick, suffocating sense of dread from the start that never lets up. The film is drenched in chilling, autumnal atmospherics. Between cinematography, editing, score, and performances, all elements work in perfect harmony to create something altogether unsettling. There are several disturbing shots in the film that linger in the mind’s eye long after the end credits. Zombie was at his creative peak with The Lords of Salem, no doubt about it. It sure doesn’t hurt that he has legends like Meg Foster and Bruce Davison turning in stellar performances, or that the Salem, Massachusetts locations are obviously perfect for a horror story about witches.

Let’s take a minute to praise Sheri Moon Zombie’s lead performance. Whatever you may think of Mrs. Zombie’s talents, she has earned her stripes in several of her husband’s flicks, during which she’s delivered what the roles demand. In House of 1,000 Corpses, she’s a demented loose cannon, cackling and strutting around the Firefly clan’s house of horrors. With The Lords of Salem, she’s called on to play it much more low key, even solemn at times, and she succeeds at matching the film’s excessively gloomy tone. In her hands, Heidi’s harrowing descent into the ancient coven’s grasp is sad to watch.

Once we realize why the witches want Heidi, it begins to feel like she’s practically helpless to defend herself. That’s a bold move by Zombie: as the movie progresses, any hopes for a happy ending feel increasingly unlikely. If this all sounds like a bummer, it is, but that’s why I love it so much! It commits to relentless tension building and doesn’t give us any easy outs. For me, that’s why The Lords of Salem is Rob Zombie’s masterwork, and the film of his that sits most comfortably alongside other excellent, slow-burn horror classics like Messiah of Evil (1973) and Next of Kin (1982). It’s a remarkable display of restraint from Zombie, a filmmaker more associated with frenzied chaos than with this film’s stark, autumnal horror. If you’re looking for a perfect Halloween season movie to watch on a chilly October evening this year, then turn the lights down low, fire up The Lords of Salem, and prepare to have trouble sleeping that night.

UNK SEZ: Make sure to visit our pal Mike at his home base HERE!

No One Will Save You (2023)

Your standard home invasion is frightening enough but what if you learned the “invasion” in question went far beyond your own home to include say, the entire planet? That’s basically the plight of poor Brynn (Kaitlyn Dever) who, when she’s not wrestling with progressively intimidating alien life forms, builds a scale model of the town that scorns her while mourning the loss of a childhood friend she accidentally killed.

This PG-rated sci-fi horror hybrid could easily crash and burn but thankfully it’s written and directed by our ever reliable buddy Brian Duffield who previously directed the outstanding SPONTANEOUS (2020) and penned such personal faves as LOVE AND MONSTERS (2020) and the highly underrated UNDERWATER (2020, I shall die on this submerged hill). Two standing ovation worthy choices were made by Duffield right from the starting gate. First of all, the aliens are blatant, upfront and in your face rather than stingily kept in the dark until the final curtain and secondly there is no dialogue (except perhaps a line at the beginning). As someone who easily tires of chin music, it’s a refreshing relief and I gotta say, it really works within the film to create an atmosphere of pure urgency. There’s not much else to do in Brynn’s unfortunate situation than shut up and run!

The title NO ONE CAN SAVE YOU works just as much as low key friendly advise as it does a gloomy observation. Brynn’s clearly battling her tragic past as much as the startlingly varied varmints that pursue her. Dever’s expressive mug and girl-next-door demeanor does much to ground the film’s more fantastic elements and make them as creepily believable as an extravagant nightmare. Few action stars endeavor as much as fast on her feet Brynn, and the I’m betting the sight of the imposing alien creatures alone would break the spirit of most. Although Brynn is of few words, while witnessing her ordeal I could not follow suit; I often muttered things like “Oh shit”, “no way” and of course a direct quote from John Carpenter’s THE THING (’82). “You gotta be fucking kidding.” My poor brain was trained to expect shy twiggy ectomorphs who sneak peaks from behind doors like in COMMUNION (’89) or those inquisitive surgery-happy abductors who are happy to ghost you post-examination like in the infamous traumafier FIRE IN THE SKY (’93). I wasn’t ready for giant spider-beings clawing over houses, parasitic throat-dwelling jellyfish and what can only be described as TIK-TOK-baiting intergalactic Vogue-ing.

As eye-popping and over the top as NOBODY IS GOING TO SAVE you is willing to go, it impressively remains a lean, clean, straight forward machine, an apocalyptic character study that expertly juggles both the personal and the infinite. Better still, unlike my own too numerous alien encounters, the events depicted here are memorable enough that I won’t have to resort to expensive hypnotherapy to tearfully recall them! What better praise is there than that? Bonus points are rewarded for the film’s ultimate conclusion that asserts that defiant denial in the face of horrific reality is the key to happiness. I couldn’t agree more.

The Nun 2 & A Haunting in Venice

Lord help me, I rather enjoyed THE NUN 2. I’ve gathered this CONJURING universe offshoot is considered to be a lesser branch on the franchise tree but I appreciate its pure simplicity and love how it generously pours on the gothic ambiance.The ever unassuming Taissa Farmiga returns as sister Irene who, after some globetrotting and Nancy Drew-ing, discovers that her nemesis, the demon nun Valak (Bonnie Aarons) rather than being relinquished to hell as assumed, has hitched a ride inside her good buddy Maurice (Jonas Bloquet) aka “Frenchie” and is hanging out in a boarding school in France. I can’t help but find myself grossly concerned with the jump-scare-happy happenings that follow because gosh darn it, I really want these two characters to live full and happy, demon nun-free lives. This is one of my favorite aspects of cinema, it allows the viewer to feel empathy for other humans while keeping them safe from any damage that fellow humans may potentially cause. I’m fine with simply being a cheerleader here. Go Irene and Frenchie! Down with Valek! Boo too all evil demon nuns!

Much like ANNABELLE CREATION and OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL, I’m thinking THE NUN 2 is a happy step up from its underachieving foundation building predecessor. The scares (or at least the chair shaking, bombastic Dolby system my local theater wields) work well. In fact, one clever bit that plays with apophenia at a newsstand startled me even after I’d witnessed it countless times in the trailer. The titular Nun herself looks especially formidable throughout the climax and as hoary as many of the visual elements are, I have to admit they pretty much match my own personal aesthetic and I’d gladly hang many of the shots in this film on my wall. Better still, there is a previously unseen monster that makes a late in the game appearance (via a stained glass window no less) that absolutely turned my pupils into giant cartoon hearts. I wish I could describe this creature further without ruining his inauguration but suffice to say, I now covet an action figure of this glorious cherry on the cake beast. Consider me a convert, THE NUN 2 delivers the gruesome goods you'd expect and several you might not see coming.


I’ve always considered murder mysteries as horror adjacent fare and the latest Agatha Christie adaption courtesy of Kenneth Branagh A HAUNTING IN VENICE (proceeded by MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017) & DEATH ON THE NILE (2022)) favors the fright zone even more so than usual. Based on Christie’s 1969 novel “Hallowe’en Party”, this outing (again featuring the director as detective Hercule Poirot) focuses on seances, curses, ghosts and of course, murder most foul.

On Halloween night mystery author Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey… now, I know you may be thinking, “Hey Unk, one of the many benefits of being a horror fan is that it makes it easy to avoid movies that prominently feature Tina Fey” but trust me, Branagh is well aware of the delicate situation and puts her innate snarkiness to ample use) coerces a retired and uninspired Poirot to attend a seance in a cursed orphanage inhabited by a grieving opera singer (EDEN LAKE’s Kelly Reilly) in order to expose the assumed phony psychic medium Joyce Reynolds (recent Oscar winner Michelle Yeoh). Poirot is quick to find a slew of flim-flam falsehoods throughout the session but as the night progresses and bodies pile up, it appears something supernatural may actually be afloat. It’s unlikely anyone will get too frightened of the goings-on here but there’s absolutely no denying the cozy nest of tension built or the dark foreboding beauty of the surroundings. As an epic storm rages outside, Branagh dips into the Orson Welles bag of cinematic artistry he has not deigned to plunder since DEAD AGAIN (’91) and wow, Venice has not been this visually stunning and haunting sinister since Roeg’s DON’T LOOK NOW.

The Outer Limits and Childhood Diak-Changing Compulsion Disorder By Bigwig

In our household, there are kids’ channels and picture-driven menus that corral my son and daughter to a safe haven of youth programming, and restrictions that prohibit them from most else, if they would even be so inclined to try venturing out of bounds at an early age.

For any other pentagenarians out there, the TV of my youth was navigated via a dial that you had to physically get up and turn and covered all of twelve channels (13 if you counted the “U”). The menu was the TV Guide at home next to Dad’s ashtray.  As a kid, you knew when the cartoons were on, as well as general kid-fare, and the few channels that would deliver it.  Saturday mornings, and about an hour before and after school was all there was, and even that was relegated to maybe two channels at best. The rest was a roulette wheel of “anything goes”, and the further the clock strayed from those kid times the better the odds were that you would stumble upon something best left unseen.

With that stage set, I remember vividly stumbling upon a rerun of The Outer Limits, one channel away from Philadelphia’s The Wee Willy Weber Show, which showed my favorite cartoon, Milton the Monster.  The Outer Limits, in its high contrast black and white, was a great example of a trap show for impressionable young minds of the early 70’s.  The episode (as I’ve backfilled with research) was Behold, Eck! – featuring a two-dimensional electricity monster that could only be seen with special glasses, by various forehead-sweaty scientists, and shrieking damsels.

Tame and goofy as it is by today’s standards, it was enough to nightmare me out, come bedtime. The remedy was simple enough….stay away from channel 5 during Wee Willy Weber.(approach the channel counter-clockwise, no less!)  But therein lie the problem…I knew it was there, and just one small channel change away.  I let it go a few days I suppose as my false bravado built, and debated a quick flick back and forth, for a quick peer into Pandora’s Box.  I’m sure I had a few quick back-and-forth’s without any problem as I set approached the inevitable.

But then, of course, in the spirit of William Shatner opening his airplane window shade to be met with the fuselage-ripping Gremlin,  I managed to go from this:

To this:

No Place To Hide (1981)

Argh. I’m trapped in a heat wave and I have no place to hide. Might as well cover all the windows, blast my AC and hunker down to watch the made for TV movie NO PLACE TO HIDE (’81) (on ol' reliable YouTube). I got an itch and it can only be scratched by the legendary John Llewellyn Moxey (THE NIGHT STALKER (’72), HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS (’72), I, DESIRE (’82) et al.). This flick has fascinated and creeped me out since my youth and may be ground zero for my freaky fear of movies involving women simply trying to make it to their cars at night in seemingly unpopulated parking lots or garages. I love this once ubiquitous trope-cornucopia spilling clacking heals on cement, startling car horns and menacing shadows and/or silhouettes. It’s even more satisfying if the potential victim ends up hiding under the car staring at ominous shoes. The real pay off is the inevitable hider in the back seat though. So gratifying.

Doe-eyed art student Amy Manning (frequently terrorized Kathleen Beller of ARE YOU IN THE HOUSE ALONE? (’78) and DEADLY MESSAGES (’85) fame) would just like to get to her car without being attacked by a masked creep, thank you very much.
Make it to the car she does, but only to discover she’s fallen for the oldest trick in the book and is ubber-ing an assailant who sneakily hid in the back seat and waited for the most stressful moment to reveal himself (such things kindertraumas are made of). The uninvited masked threat, rather than kill poor Amy while he has a chance, instead utters the cryptic threat, “Soon, Amy, soon” and bolts out of the car as her head is turned. Turns out Amy has been stalked by this lanky lunatic for a while now, so much so that all of her friends and family are beginning to suspect she’s imaging the whole thing and the ever helpful police have thrown up their hands in exhaustion. Is Amy a nutcase or is somebody trying to make her look like a nutcase? When she receives a sinister funeral wreath in the mail it seems tangible evidence has finally been secured. That is until Amy questions the florist about who ordered the delivery and he informs her that she herself did! What the hell?

Luckily there is a tragedy in the past just waiting to be explored. Amy by all accounts was doing swell until that fateful day a year ago when her beloved (and rich) father, while visiting their lakeside cabin, died in a mysterious boating accident! Amy was meant to join her father on the trip but stayed behind (likely to concentrate on the sculptured bust of herself she’s been working diligently on) and now is looney with guilt. I don’t want to give too much away but I’m sure you’ll have a general idea of which direction this cart is heading when I tell you Amy’s super concerned and unsuspicious stepmother Adele (Kodak spokeswoman Marietta Hartley who incidentally, I assisted as a retail worker when she was doing a play in town in the mid-nineties) and beady-eyed psychiatrist Cliff Letterman (the totally non-creepy Keir Dullea) conclude the best way for Amy to face her mental problems is by visiting said secluded cabin far from any possible aid if trouble should arise. Sure, it’s probably the most unsafe place anyone could possibly think of going to but psychiatrists and stepmothers know best!

Just when you think you’ve got this particular DEATHTRAP (’82) all figured out, the game board is spun yet again and something akin to DIABOLIQUE (’55) emerges sweetly injected with some choice modern slasher set pieces. Horror mainstay and Hammer alumni Jimmy Sangster (HORROR OF DRACULA/FRANKENSTEIN etc., plus many a clever psychological puzzler like SCREAM OF FEAR (’61), PARANOIAC (’63) NIGHTMARE (’64) etc.) truly knows how to twist the knife, old pro Moxey keeps the cat & mouse stalking at an impressive pace and Beller is basically built for the material. Heck, the time period it was made in alone delivers nearly everything on my own personal goggle-box couch party shopping list. Outdated yet sincerely missed corniness abounds and it's possible NO PLACE TO HIDE might leave a few horror-heads craving more bloodshed, but all in all, this is one fun under-seen TV gem that shouldn’t stay hidden.

Name That Trauma:: Found!

Unk Sez: Hey, check this awesomeness out! Many moons ago (I’m talking eleven years) we received a duel NTT (HERE) from the great & powerful Senski, one of which concerned a PSA on the danger of swimming pools…

“The second PSA I only saw once, but it left an indelible impression. This would be late '70s-early '80s, and it aired on CBS right before the 10pm news. It was all of ten or 15 seconds in length. Sunny day, camera in the trees, beginning a slow pan down and to the right. A radio announcer is carrying on about what a gorgeous day it is, ending with something along the lines of, "…so get outside and take a dip in that pool!" By then the camera has descended upon a swimming pool, with a long shot of a body lying face down in the water, motionless, presumably dead. The Voice of Doom then warns the audience about swimming alone or unattended. It was chilling to see a PSA with an actual body. I often wonder if it aired so infrequently because of viewer calls. It was as late as late could be and still fall within prime time.”

Now, all these years later and our old pal Daniel has unearthed Senski’s grim, never forgotten NTT (which you can view HERE)! How amazing is that? Eleven years! Thanks, Daniel for the reminder that it’s never too late to be revisited by a Kindertrauma!

Traumafession:: The Amityville Horror (Book) By Unk

Every now and then I get a little re-obsessed with The Amityville Horror. I can’t help it. Even though I realize that the lion’s share of Jay Anson’s novel is completely fabricated, It made such a strong impression on me in my youth that I’m willing to shelve my doubts and just bask in the creepiness of the tale. There’s no denying that even if George and Kathy Lutzes’ account is hokum, young Ronald DeFeo, Jr. still murdered his entire family while they slept which is absolutely horrifying in and of itself. I have to admit too, that a part of me still holds a space for the possibility that the Lutz’s did experience something supernatural even if it wasn’t as extreme as they claim. After all, both of the Lutz sons Dan and Chris (youngest child Missy is keeping mum) who are now adults, still claim as much. Additionally, I do find it very easy to believe that if something truly awful happens in a home that some kind of bad energy lingers. Perhaps no other family who has lived in the house has experienced such things simply because they were not on the same dysfunctional demon-baiting wavelength as the DeFeos and Lutzes. On the other hand, life experience and common sense tells me that George Lutz, who (according to the book) was having financial troubles at the time, most definitely stole his brother-in law’s envelope full of wedding money. Ghosts have little use for cash.

I was probably about twelve when I first read The Amityville Horror and was born around the same time as the Lutz’s middle child Chris. Re-reading the book now brings me back to a specific time period that is so familiar and nostalgic for me. I remember absolutely believing every word because the cover of the paperback clearly said, “Based on a true story” and I readily assumed that the publishers would not be able to make such a statement if it wasn’t! I was further swayed by the fact that a great deal of the book involved a priest and everybody knows that they of all people are not allowed to lie. Plus the book had a map of the house, photos of George and Kathy and a drawing of Jodie by youngest daughter Missy. Further proof! For those who don’t know, Jodie was a giant pig who only deigned to appear or speak to the youngest child. Although there are two instances in the book (and movie) when the scamp materializes in a window and both instances are high points for me (I have to admit I’ve always been infatuated with Jodie and wish he could have his very own exhaustive franchise).

As adorable as Jodie may be there was another presence in the book that I recall terrifying me. During the Lutzes very last moments in the house (how I vibrantly recall laying on the dining room floor in our old home, on my stomach with the book in front of me speeding with great anxiety toward the book’s climax), father George looks up the staircase to see a faceless man in a hooded white robe pointing at him! The image that the book conjured in my imagination chilled me to my very core. After so much hemming and hawing on whether the pumpkin-eyed house was truly haunted, this scary dude made it a concrete, indisputable fact in my mind. Folks, you never want to see a guy in any color hooded robe ever and it’s especially not a good sign if said figure decides to point right at you! This guy solidified the book for me and so much so that when I finally was able to coax my parents to take me to the movie, I remember being very disappointed that no such scene occurs within the film. How could they leave out the best part of the book? I can't stay mad at the movies(s) though as they are responsible for two absolutely iconic Amityville scares. The priest vs. housefly confrontation and the babysitter trapped in the closet bit are pure Hollywood design and nowhere to be found in the book!

I recently re-read The Amityville Horror to see if it could scare me once again and although I’m still enamored with Jodie, much of the book doesn’t quite hold up. The robed figure still has a bit of bite left in him (could Jodie and he be one in the same?) but I’m not shaking in my shoes at the thought of green slime, levitation, and loud marching band sounds shaking the house in the middle of the night. At one point, when Kathy looks in a mirror and is repulsed to see an old version of herself looking back at her, all I could think was, “Welcome to my world.” Sadly, as an adult reading the book, the most upsetting part to me now is that in the heart of winter, as the Lutzes complain about the house being impossibly cold, they keep their poor dog Harry chained up outside (by a river no less)! I know things were different back then but this knowledge makes me think that maybe the Lutzes deserved whatever befell them! Hey, now that I think about it, I hereby curse everyone who mistreats animals to be visited by a scary hooded figure with an accusatory finger (I finally understand why he was pointing after all these years!) Huh, maybe, I can be one of these ghostly animal defenders in the afterlife! Dear Jodie, where do I sign up?

Traumafession:: Natalie & Stacy on Hate Hurts You PSA

Natalie’s version:

One night in the early ‘80s, my big sister Stacy, my mother and I were watching primetime TV on KTUL, Tulsa, Oklahoma’s ABC affiliate. For those too young to remember the time before digital, affiliates like KTUL showed programming from major broadcasters, but did so with their own style. In KTUL’s case, that style was local and weird, and sometimes so desperate for something to fill air time that they would run ten-year-old PSAs to fill a few seconds. KTUL was an especially magical station, my sister and I thought. They had the nightly sign-off with the Native American guy, the locally produced kids’ show Uncle Zeb, and Don Woods, the weatherman who drew a cartoon character called Gusty to illustrate his forecasts. But that night, KTUL’s magic would become dark, and it would be lodged in my memory as the channel I could never watch again–because they showed Hate Hurts You.

Picture it: a bluish gray background fills the screen, against which a little yellow man who looks vaguely like the Reverend Horton Heat sidles toward the viewer. A window opens into his chest as he walks, revealing what looks like an inside-out recycling symbol lodged in his torso. From the inside of his neck, blood rains down onto the symbol, causing it to rotate. Industrial music accompanies this bizarre scene, but not the fun, dance-club stuff. This is grinding, scraping metal that sounds like “Hirnsäge” by Einstürzende Neubauten. As the little man gets closer to the screen, his face filling more and more of it, a narrator with a baritone voice delivers a grim warning: “Hate is a poison that corrodes, an acid that erodes.” Horton’s head begins to inflate, ++++lumpily, and turns bright red as his features, now filling the entire screen, contort into anger or pain. As the announcer barks the last words–“When you hate, who do you hurt the most? HATE HURTS YOU!”--Horton’s head explodes. In our living room, my sister and I are bawling as our mother tries to comfort us. (She even contemplated calling KTUL to complain, or maybe she actually did. I remember this one way, Stacy another.)

My memory of Hate Hurts You was off in some pretty major ways.While I recalled the visuals more or less correctly, my memory of the audio was completely off. In the real version, there’s no baritone narrator, no droning industrial noise. Instead, it’s a very ‘70s folk tune, minor chords strummed over a Rhythm Master backing track. A nasally voice sings the lyrics I remembered being ominously spoken. Even the exploding head isn’t as sudden as I remember it being. The little yellow bigot’s inflated head fills the screen for a couple of seconds before finally bursting, which probably explains why of all my memories, that enraged face was the most vivid.

It’s not news that memories frequently fail us, but I am fascinated by how my memory failed me in this case. As a very small child, Hate Hurts You was the most intense thing I had ever seen. Its climactic jump scare might not seem like much in this world of Five Nights at Freddy’s and James Wan movies, but to a naturally timid girl roughly five years old who had grown up on nothing more shocking than an airing of King Kong, it was life-altering. For years after I saw it, I avoided my beloved KTUL out of fear that they might air it again. Once I became an adult who loved confronting her childhood terrors, it was my holy grail. If I had remembered it as just a mellow folk tune and simple animation, I would have realized that it’s not nearly as horrifying to an adult as to a sheltered child. I wanted it to still shock me like it had back then. And so, I assume, my mind took over and recreated the much scarier version I remembered, all clanging and portentous, with a head explosion to rival the one from Scanners. 

Only one question remains now: what is that symbol in the man’s chest, and is that really supposed to be blood dripping down onto it? I suppose it could symbolize self-perpetuating cycles of hatred and violence, but a wheel of arrows being turned by blood is a decidedly odd way to make that point in an otherwise completely unsubtle PSA. Now that the full cut has made its way to the internet, perhaps someone can finally figure it out.

Stacy’s version:

When I was in art school getting my MFA, my thesis project was all about nostalgia. I made interactive pieces based on distant memories; you could examine my childhood collection of plastic monkeys from 1970s Sonic cups, or listen to a recording of the ghostly voice from the Milton-Bradley game Seance. But the most blood-chilling piece, as far as I was concerned, was the wooden box lined with flocked wallpaper on one side and velour couch fabric on the other. It was just big enough to fit your head inside, and when you did (if you did), you felt the fabric and wallpaper on your cheeks. That was what I felt the first time I ran and hid from the TV, when I first saw the Jewish Chautauqua Society’s hate PSA.

Sure, there were plenty of other creepy things on TV during my childhood – the Sylvia episode of Little House on the Prairie, the Changeling episode of The Waltons, the Wonderful World of Disney movie Child of Glass – but while those things had kept me awake at night, nothing had ever made me want to scoop out my own eyeballs and bludgeon my eardrums with chopsticks while vomiting all over the living room untilI saw the hate PSA. Reality split into the time before the hate PSA and the time after, when I learned there are horrors you can never unsee.

Unlike my little sister Natalie, I remembered it perfectly, except that I thought the final lyrics were, “HATE…THE ONE IT HURTS THE MOST…IS YOU!” I remembered the little yellow man and his horrifying turned-out feet and block-heeled shoes. I remembered the churning recycling symbol in his belly and the indigestion bubbles rising above it (which Natalie clearly remembered as drops of blood dripping down, which is significantly more horrifying than heartburn). I remembered the weird Spanish-style music, which invoked a lifelong phobia of the Spanish-style stucco house near my elementary school, with its arched doorways and wrought-iron gates. I imagined that the yellow man lived in that house, and stomped around inside it being pissed off and exploding all the time.

For as long as I’ve been a citizen of the internet, I’ve looked for this godforsaken PSA; until a few days ago, I’d never found it. But there were a couple of Reddit threads of people searching for it, hoping to exorcise their own childhood trauma. I only remember seeing it once; it obviously wasn’t on very often, probably because local TV stations received reports of children scooping out their eyeballs, bludgeoning their eardrums with chopsticks, and vomiting all over their living rooms. But the rare few of us ‘70s kids who saw it were scarred for life, looking for others on lost-media forums who shared our specific terror.

Nine years ago, a YouTube user by the name of Just Some Random Person uploaded a 10-second clip of the ending, and seeing that exploding head again made Internet People even more determined to find the full-length version. For almost a decade, there was nothing, and then, in March 2023, a Reddit user named Delchi posted in r/lostmedia, “I was able to locate a copy of what I believe is the 30-second version on a 16mm reel in a collection of television history.”

For four months, other Reddit users waited for Delchi to upload a digitized version, but Delchi went silent. In July, they finally commented on the thread again, saying there were “legal issues” with “the location that has it,” where “the media is disorganized and the index is incorrect.” It had all the makings of an urban legend, and at that point, I doubted it had really been found.

But then, on August 13, 2023, an iPhone video of the 16mm film, projected on a wall, suddenly appeared on YouTube. It was like the sky broke open and a faded warning against anti-Semitism rained down on a sea of acoustic guitar chords accented by a haunted cajon that was also, no doubt, just big enough to hold a human head. 

(Natalie, a musician, says this was actually something called a Rhythm Master, so while I defer to her, I still prefer to imagine a box with a head in it.)

Seeing the hate PSA again confirmed that there were definitely two versions, as Reddit and YouTube people had speculated – according to Delchi, one was made in 1974, and the other in 1982. In the ‘74 version, the man’s red face fills the screen and holds for a few seconds, and a roar of sound builds before it explodes. In the ‘82 version, the face explodes as soon as it fills the screen. One assumes the Jewish Chautauqua Society heard how many unsuspecting children had been traumatized by this thing and decided to make a less-scary version rather than pulling the ad altogether – an admirable dedication to the message, but dude, there was still a big, red exploding head. 

Rumor has it that there’s another, even longer, spoken-word version, but for now, that one remains in urban-legend land. Until someone finds it, the little yellow man will haunt YouTube in his 30-second incarnation, just like he haunted the Spanish house in my hometown, slowly stomping on his pointy-toed, high-heeled boots into the minds of children yet to be traumatized, becoming a kindertrauma for a new generation.