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Mama (2013)

November 26th, 2013 · 12 Comments

Is it too late to write a review of MAMA? That movie is ancient. I missed it in the theater because who knows why, waited for it to appear on Netflix streaming, which it never did and then watched its price as a used DVD go from 15 dollars to 10 to 6 to 4. I finally had to buy the decrepit thing before it turned into a fossil! When I opened the DVD case the disc inside had a long grey beard growing on it! This movie is positively geriatric! Oh wait, IMDb says it was released less than a year ago. Hey don’t blame me, blame our disposable culture! This is BLOCKBUSTER’s fault even though they are dead! If it was up to me, you’d all be waiting three years for movies to come out on VHS and when they did, they’d cost a hundred clams to purchase and you’d rent them for 5 bucks a pop and if you were late returning them, you’d be fined up the wazoo! That is the natural order of things!

MAMA! Back to MAMA! Love that title! Why didn’t I like this movie so much? The premise is fantastic not to mention kindertrauma-riffic. Two poor, pitiful little girls are left in an abandoned cabin in the woods by their insane, gone postal father. Instead of starving and freezing to death, they are cared for by a motherly spook who, like Charo, goes by one name only “Mama” (okay, “cared for” might be a bit of a stretch.) We come to learn that Mama is a ghost that can physically engage in the world and move objects about with ease, so I’m wondering why the hell she didn’t pick up the cabin a bit, do some laundry and maybe comb the poor kid’s hair! Get it together Mama! You so lazy!

Five years later (really? It took five years for someone to look in the cabin next to the crashed car?), the now feral kids are discovered and taken in by their not insane uncle and his borderline sociopathic “rocker” girl friend Annabel (JESSICA CHASTAIN in a Cousin April wig). I say she’s borderline sociopathic because the card that informs us that Annabel is struggling with her maternal instincts is so overplayed that it appears as if she has never encountered a child before and has the patience of a spider monkey. To be fair, there are several later scenes of her connecting with the kids that are less ham-fisted and do really work. In fact, there are many elements in this movie that hint at a much better film just begging to happen. The kids are fantastic and the Mama entity, when not shoved down our throats, can be pretty spooky. Unfortunately every thing from a meddling Aunt to Mama’s backstory is painted in such broad strokes that it feels like a fairy tale performed on a Colorforms set. I have two major gripes…

Now, you know I love a “research” scene, they crack me up for being so cliché but I also love them as mid-film markers that declare that the mystery portion of our story is over and things are about to come to a head. MAMA’s “research” scene happens super early and it goes on and on and on. It’s like a big gelatinous mound of nothing in the center of the picture, a cinder block tied to a kite. We get the library, the wise oldster, a RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK storage unit, maps upon maps, news clippings, psychic dreams with characters pointing towards things, street signs, BIG close ups of news clippings, more maps, more sign posts and it all just amounts to redundant filler. Really all the information could just be stuffed inside one of the psychic dreams but instead we have to laboriously follow a boring psychiatrist around when we should be at home with the kids. The kid’s story is interesting! It’s heartbreaking when the older sister is ready to move away from Mama and the younger one is not. The story is in the house between these characters but we keep getting pushed past the good stuff! Nothing to see here folks! Let’s catch up with our throwaway character’s attempts to learn what we all already know! (On the other hand, Dr. Boring’s cabin encounter with Mama might be the strongest scare in the film. )

Then there’s the whole look of Mama. Sometimes Mama looks cool and I dig her underwater hair-do and sometimes Mama looks terrible as in, “Did they model her facial expression from Beaker from the Muppet Show?” At this point, I don’t care if the effect is CGI or practical or stop-motion marionette, what matters is what’s on the screen and what’s on the screen is a problem for me. I think it was a fine idea to put Mama front and center at the climax. I’m not saying less is more and they showed too much and the audience needs to use its imagination because what’s in your head is scarier than anything they could show you and all that junk. It’s just that, as WHAM once said, “If you’re going to do it, do it right.” If you want to display Mama in all her glory make sure I’m in awe instead of catching myself wondering if DARKNESS FALLS is underrated. I don’t think MAMA is terrible, it’s just one of those movies that frustrates because you know it could have been way better. It’s not a good sign when your “Sorry I adopted you only to make you feel unwelcome in my home.” redemptive resolution was better handled in POLTERGEIST 3.

Like I said, I think it’s a great premise and I’ll even add that when MAMA is good, it feels like something from Disney’s early eighties dark fantasy period like WATCHER IN THE WOODS or SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES (I wouldn’t be surprised to receive traumafessions on it in the future either). It’s also clear that the filmmakers at least tried to do something of substance even though they got sidetracked along the way. Ultimately for me though, it comes off kind of shrill and cloying and I think the material deserved a more subtle approach and more of a focus on the characters, particularly the relationship of the little sisters. MAMA is based on a short film and that makes perfect sense. If you edited out all of the subterfuge, stalling and brownnosing jump scares, you probably would have one very good short film. There are some priceless heirlooms in this dumpster (a tug of war with a blanket and an unseen Mama comes to mind) but boy do you have to dig! Now I’m sad. I wanted to like this more because it reminded me of my adopted cats. On the bright side, it was totally worth the four dollars for the snow scenes.

CORRECTIONS: The above review incorrectly claims that CHARO has only one name. That is not the case as is revealed in the clip below…

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Tags: General Horror · Trauma-Mommas · Traumatots · Tykes in Trouble

The Conjuring (2013)

July 22nd, 2013 · 17 Comments

ALAN MOORE once said “ Art is, like magic, the science of manipulating symbols, words or images to achieve changes in consciousness.” I couldn’t agree more and have I got a spell for you. THE CONJURING is a scary, endearingly romanticized, elaboration of a some-say ‘true” haunting. I’ m not going to get wrapped up in the authenticity of the story because any tale, true or not, that inspires a movie as swell as this is all right by me. If things are grandly exaggerated, that’s fine. That’s what urban legends are fueled by, that’s what tall tales stand up on and that’s what fills every history book in every elementary school in America. Hyperbole is what storytelling is all about and we’re all guilty of tweaking the truth to make it shine a little brighter. If we can force ourselves to believe that Thanksgiving isn’t a shameful travesty then surely we can humor a harmless ghost story every once in a while too. Wow. Even in the heart of summer I hate on Thanksgiving!

JAMES WAN is a wonderful director. There I said it! I said the director of SAW is wonderful! He beat me down folks! I tried to resist but it’s over. INSIDIOUS was a left hook and THE CONJURING is a right hook and then some. I give up already! It’s not a fair fight when he has PATRICK WILSON on his side and I just have bitter, misplaced feelings of exclusion on mine. Anyway, our tale is about a nice family (The Perrons) who moves into a haunted-looking house and discover that it is indeed infested with invisible forces that yank them out of bed and according to at least one source, smell like farts. Who ya gonna call? Why notorious married supernatural specialists ED & LORRAINE WARREN (WILSON & VERA FARMIGA) of course! Now, I know there are some people who are not fans of the real life Warrens (Ed has passed away) and think of them as cons. I never met them so I can’t say. I just know they were really nice to the Smurl family in that excellent TV movie that scared the crap out me called THE HAUNTED (1991) so I’m going by that. Plus if WAN was of the mind to aggrandize the couple ,he sure casted well. On a side note, JAMES WAN, can you cover the Smurl haunting in the sequel pretty please? And can you release the movie on the same day as SMURFS 3 so that Box office Mojo is forced to write the headline SMURLS SMASH SMURFS!? Do it!

THE CONJURING is getting enthusiastic reviews, which is nice as most horror movies are pummeled for simply existing. I notice though that many critics feel the need to temper their kudos by saying it’s well done but a “typical” haunted house tale. Personally, I think it has a lot of merit outside of just being a well-oiled scare dispenser. The frights aren’t random jolts, they’re tethered to something solid and concrete. They’re not simply about being in dangerous situations with the unknowable they uniformly concern the worst fear of all, that harm might come to someone you care about and worse still, it may be your fault. Ed fears that Lorraine looses part of herself each time they involve themselves in such things, Lorraine frets that their daughter Judy is swinging between being neglected and endangered. The Father of the haunted family (RON LIVINGSTON) is anguished over putting his family in peril and the mother (LILI TAYLOR at her best) ends up personifying everybody’s worst fears by melding with a spirit who has killed her own offspring and has supernaturally strong-armed others to unthinkingly do the same.

I can totally relate. Let me tell you, for full horror pleasure it’s all about the empathy. People who don’t have it are missing a world of flavor! Sorry, I’m going to talk about myself again. But isn’t that the nice thing about blogs? You get that personal touch. Do you know what you get from magazines? Paper cuts! So as I was saying, we too recently moved into a haunted-looking house. When we got here I realized that the previous owners took all the screens from the windows. This freaked me out because we have five cats and I didn’t want them running away. They were all scared out of their minds and oh, God, what have I done to them? I started imaging the worst. The cats slipping between doors, getting hit by cars, freezing in the streets, lost. It got worse, I’d be hammering a nail and think, what if I dropped the hammer and it landed on a cat’s head? It got ridiculous. What if one crawled into the dryer? It got nuts. What if the cat choked on a discarded pistachio shell? My dreams were filled with drowning cats; cats on fire, cats crushed under poorly installed air conditioners. It was exhausting and I could not make it stop. The resolution of THE CONJURING that involves something as simple as recalling a moment of pure connection with those you care about resonated with me. Maybe focusing on that thought alone IS enough to expel the witch in my head.

Oh, I get it! I’m mentally ill! You know how folks with screws loose think the T.V. is talking to them? They see signs and coincidences everywhere and they get messages, lots and lots of messages? Well, that’s how I interact with movies. It’s been that way ever since I was a kid, the movies, especially the good ones, they tell me things! This one really went out of its way to whisper in my ear. The new house, the five kids, my favorite episode of THE BRADY BUNCH playing on the T.V., a ghost with the same name as my cat, a clown music box (mine plays “Send in the Clowns”), a porcelain lamb, a rooster painting, an embroidered owl, landscape T.V. trays folded against the wall- how is this not my home?

I found this movie frightening enough (WAN is gifted at sneaky distraction and leaving enough blank canvas for the viewer to paint themselves) but that really wasn’t the most important thing for me. For as much as THE CONJURING embellishes the dark it is depicting, it puts forth equal effort accentuating the light. Maybe that won’t please those who follow horror as an endurance sport but who cares about tourists? As corny as it may be, I love that this movie has a strong conscience. Remarkably it doesn’t stop at giving you distinct characters; it makes a point of concerning itself with the relationships between those characters. (Seriously, the sparkage between WILSON and FARMIGA is so dynamic somebody oughta shove them in a THE THIN MAN remake.) In real life, things did not end on such happy, tied in a bow terms. The Warrens were asked to leave the case and the house remained (and is said to still be) haunted. That’s the “true” story and who the hell needs it? I like this much better! Reality, take a lesson from fiction, ya lazy bore! I’ve never been one for happy endings in horror flicks but this one suited me just fine. I say sequel time! Send in the Smurls! Don’t bother…they’re here!

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Tags: General Horror · Trauma-Mommas · Tykes in Trouble

American Gothic (1988)

May 23rd, 2013 · 7 Comments

If anyone ever asks me to name an underrated horror heroine, remind me that I want to say Cynthia (SARAH TORGOV) from AMERICAN GOTHIC (1988). It’s not hard to guess why she’s never gained much traction with the horror crowd; she’s not butch, bookish or boob-centric. In fact, she starts out as kind of a drip. It’s not where you begin but where you are going that matters though and glum Cynthia is going to the best place of all…crazy town!

When we first meet her, she is being released from a mental hospital! Is there a better time to meet a person? It’s no wonder she’s a mess and a half, it turns out she’s committed the ultimate blunder! One day she was giving her baby a bath when the phone rang and she just left for a second and then…zoinks! That’s some pretty heavy baggage and that’s why I don’t give my cats baths. In the interest of taking it easy and getting her mind off the fact that she killed her baby so that she could answer a stupid telephone call, Cynthia jumps in a plane with a bunch of people she has no business being friends with and takes a trip! Only God must truly hate Cynthia because he places her plane down onto an island whose inhabitants are super counterproductive to her recovery.

Talk about your island of misfit toys. There’s fair weather religious nut Pa (a fire breathing ROD STEIGER), prudent Charleston fan Ma (a hard not to love YVONNE DeCARLO) and their three less than adorable moppets: Fanny, Woody and Teddy (JANET WRIGHT, the legendary MICHAEL J.POLLARD and WILLIAM HOOTKINS, respectively). The kids are pushing fifty but act like they are twelve and please remember this was released in 1988 way before Facebook made such behavior the norm. Cynthia’s pals make the deadly mistake of scoffing the backwards ways on display while I only wish I could book a weekend stay. No cars, no lights, no motorcars… not a single luxury, unless you consider having a giant swing next to a cliff so that can you push people to their doom a luxury, which I do. If Cynthia would open her eyes maybe she could learn something here. As somebody who is having trouble letting go of the past she might take note of how that same approach to life has hardly benefited her demented hosts. Are these frozen-in-time, perpetually stunted human defects her future if she doesn’t get a grip? Yes. In the meantime her snotty friends must die one by one in increasingly gratifying ways.

(Kinda spoiler-y) Perhaps the only reason that Cynthia survives longer than her buddies is that darling Fanny takes a liking to her. Cynthia’s emotional state so closely mirrors the family’s folie a cinq that she glides smoothly into ponytail-enhanced Stockholm syndrome. This is a great turn of events…for me! What nobody has bargained for is that Cynthia’s secret power is insanity and Fanny owns the exact key to click her switch to berserker mode…oh you know, you might have one around the house too… a dried up baby corpse! Cynthia’s resulting transformation is better than your average slasher-chick metamorphosis from dishrag to ShamWow. It’s as if a crazed understudy has pirated the part. It’s not the first or last time a horror character has switched sides mid-game but it’s one of the few times where it’s handled in a way where it makes absolute sense. Ultimately Cynthia is not playing on any team. What’s she’s raging against is the same thing Pa renounces when he’s presented with the death of his own offspring, the absence of a higher power who cares enough to stop such horrible things from happening.

Fittingly JOHN (INCUBUS) HOUGH’s AMERICAN GOTHIC borrows freely from the classic horrors that walked before it while indulging in whatever eighties excesses it cares to. Although it’s a kissing cousin to many films from PSYCHO to THE BABY to MOTEL HELL to maybe even JOHN WATER’S PINK FLAMINGOS, it probably shares its strongest kinship to WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? In both cases we’re dealing with eccentric outsider characters that are somewhat comical on the surface and downright tragic at their core. As amusing as AMERICAN GOTHIC’s billowing black comedy antics often are, it’s only one hopscotch jump away from hitting upon something deeper. When it’s not dealing with infant death and the questioning of God, it puts forth a generational clash between old and new ways that exaggerated though it may be, is recognizable as a true American constant. This movie has more than its share of mentally ill oddballs bouncing around yet in the end, it seems the big baddie looming in the shadows might be cruel, heartless time itself and the ambivalent way it tends to make mincemeat out of those who lag behind. It’s not the scariest movie in the world but this is one baby you should not throw out with the bathwater! I’m sorry; I just had to do that.

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Tags: General Horror · General Insanity · Trauma-Daddies · Trauma-Mommas

Valerie Harper Blogathon:: Don’t Go To Sleep!!!

March 19th, 2013 · 8 Comments

When pal Amanda by Night (of Made For TV Mayhem) invited Kindertrauma to join in on the VALERIE HARPER BLOGATHON she was orchestrating, we could not possibly refuse. Fact is, although she is better known for many other gigs, HARPER starred in what is simply the best (and most kindertraumatic!) made-for-television horror flick of the slash-happy eighties. Yes, once again I am talking about DON’T GO TO SLEEP! If you’re not familiar with that title then I beg you to yank your horror-head out of the zombie sand and give it a look-see. You will not be sorry. Having covered this one before you may think I have nothing more to say, but you’d be wrong because I have yet to give this gem the “five favorite things” treatment. Here are my five favorite things about DON’T GO TO SLEEP

THE OPENING CREDITS! Right out the starting gate DON’T GO TO SLEEP is humming it’s own quirky tune. Black and white title cards flash and they’re so low-tech shaky you might think you’ve stumbled upon a home movie of a camping trip. Lullaby music box chirpings blast and then are cut off indiscriminately by the sound of whooshing traffic. This happens again and again throughout the prelude. I’m sure that somebody missed the effect that they were going for by a couple of miles but the resulting awkwardness of the overreach must be superior to what they were aiming for anyway. It’s slapdash, makeshift and yet still sets an appropriate mood. This movie is all about the treacly chimes of childhood being upset by jagged blasts of harsh, startling reality.

THE DIRECTION! Made for TV movies have their own set of advantages and disadvantages compared to their theatrical counterparts. Sometimes the unavoidable restraints can result in a static affair or the director not having as much leeway to express himself visually. This is not the case here. RICHARD LANK (who also steered 1978′s effectively eerie NIGHT CRIES) has a field day playing with bizarre angles, distorted perspectives and unusual POV shots. I think he may even have invented the flying lizard cam and the rolling pizza cutter cam. Prime time doesn’t allow for much gore but LANK moves ahead undaunted. Rather than show a head smashing into the driveway, he quickly cuts to a watermelon being dropped and bursting apart upon the kitchen floor. Message received loud and clear!

THE CLOSING! What better gift to leave your audience than a final image branded into their horrified brains for all eternity? DON’T GO TO SLEEP does just that in a seemingly effortless way without resorting to bells and whistles and elaborate effects. Much like SATAN’S TRIANGLE (in my mind, the greatest made for TV movie of the supernatural seventies), DON’T places its final winning card on the preternatural power of one enigmatic Cheshire smile. The maniacal faux-sweet image actually appears several times throughout the film but its final presentation is so gruesomely uncanny that it’s difficult to shake or even interpret why it’s so effective. I seriously believed for years that a skull was superimposed upon the image a’la Norman Bates in PSYCHO, but I guess that was my imagination! True cinematic alchemy!

THE STRAIGHTJACKET! I’m sorry but it’s satisfying to see anybody who was in the movie ANNIE wind up in a straight jacket!

THE CAST! Are you kidding me? DUEL’s DENNIS WEAVER, ROSEMARY’S BABY’s RUTH GORDON and POLTERGEIST’S OLIVER ROBINS! It’s a horror fan’s dream team! Both ROBIN IGNICO as Mary and KRISTIN CUMMING as Jennifer excel where most child actors would have failed. And then there’s VALARIE HARPER who we are specifically honoring today. I’m thinking DON’T GO TO SLEEP may not exactly be the highlight of her long career but yes, of course, she brings everything she’s got regardless. I love her and WEAVER together tackling screaming matches like they’re in WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? and ad-libbing under their breath whenever they damn well feel like it. I’m sure some folks have a hard time seeing past the campy surface but to me, that’s just one layer out of zillions. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore and what a shame.

DON’T GO TO SLEEP is a lively watch but it never shirks from the subject of death and grieving, topics that the horror genre is especially fit to explore. It’s easy to forget that as modern horror continues to be corralled toward action/comic book power fantasies instead. I say don’t feel bad for VALERIE HARPER; she’s not going anyplace you’re not going too. As she faces whatever is next (total recovery says me), I stand more impressed with her wisdom than her bravery. She knows its not how you die but how you live that matters. “We’re all terminal” she says and there’s nothing truer than that. I think I’ll save my sorrow for someone less vividly alive, less admirably “awake”.

Dash O’ Trivia: Guess what VAL‘s last name is in DON”T GO TO SLEEP! Answer: Hogan! Wha-wha-what? This calls for some back up from Turnidoff!

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Tags: Amanda By Night · Kids Who Kill · Special Guest Stars · Trauma-Mommas · Traumatizers · Tykes in Trouble

Matilda (1996) by Chris Moore

April 11th, 2012 · 3 Comments

I often tell people that I’m lucky. I grew up in a time when children’s entertainment was at its best. These were before the days of BLUE’S CLUES and TELETUBBIES giving kids everywhere ADD (you know it’s true, people!) Back in my day (why hello, Grandpa), family entertainment was wholesome, but not completely braindead like a lot of it is now. The Disney Channel and Nickelodeon had only recently hit the airwaves and they weren’t afraid to take chances. In many ways, The Disney Channel was sort of like the TCM of its day. It was there that I’d end up seeing a good majority of all the old MGM musicals, the delicious TEEN WITCH, and the goofy ROGER CORMAN produced STEPMONSTER (yes, Disney used to show CORMAN movies.) Hell, even Nickelodeon used to air the slightly subversive and spooky ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK?

Out of all the great kid friendly things to come out of the ‘80s and ‘90s (of which there are many), the film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s 1988 novel MATILDA goes straight to the top of my list. I first saw it in theaters back in ’96. Two twins in my 1st grade class decided to have their birthday party at the movies and they picked this one to go see. Pretty much the entire class showed up, not knowing that we were about to have our minds blown.

The story centers around young Matilda Wormword. Matilda’s white trash parents hardly even know she exists and spend their days selling used cars for unfair prices, getting their hair dyed, and playing bingo. Little do they know that, even from an extremely young age, their daughter has had an abnormally large IQ. Since she’s so neglected at home, she becomes self-sufficient and even braves the big city to seek out a library so that she can quench her thirst for knowledge.

When she finally asks to go to school at age 6, her parents send her to Crunchem Hall, a school that looks more like a correctional facility than a place of higher learning. There, she comes face to face with the butch Agatha Trunchbull, the school’s stern headmistress, who has a thing for tossing disobedient children out windows, over fences by their pigtails, and into the Chokey, an iron maiden-esque contraption filled with nails and broken glass. Thankfully, Matilda ends up in the classroom of Miss Honey, a kindly teacher who appreciates the quirks of every student she teaches and starts to believe that Matilda might be exceptionally gifted. Did I also mention that Matilda has psychokinetic powers? Oopsy! The story is like PRECIOUS meets some sort of bizarre JOHN WATERS movie meets CARRIE…but for kids.

What stands out most is how the story never speaks down to children. It’s that special something that Roald Dahl had. If you look at his other works such as THE WITCHES and CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, you’ll see what I mean. His stories are never inappropriate, but they also never gloss over some of the darker themes that most children’s writers would. They’re sort of like the Grimm’s Fairy Tales of our time. As a kid, I respected that. I looked up to the storytellers who knew we were brave enough to handle the injustices that life might throw at us. Plus, Dahl always delivered his stories with a playful wink in his eye and his tongue planted firmly in his cheek.

MARA WILSON (who I loved in MRS. DOUBTFIRE, too!) plays Matilda and is super adorable. Real life couple DANNY DeVITO (who also directed the film) and RHEA PERLMAN as Matilda’s trashy, inept parents threaten to steal the show at any moment. They’re hysterical! EMBETH DAVIDTZ radiates a genuine warmth as Miss Honey. She’s the teacher we all wanted as kids. You just want to give her a hug and let her adopt you. PAM FERRIS should probably join the ranks of Kindertrauma Traumatizers for her portrayal of The Trunchbull. She commits to the role in such a way that leaves your jaw on the floor. There’s not one bit of vanity in her performance. She just looks like she’d smell really bad. I actually just recently looked up a recent picture of her and was shocked that she was such a beautiful lady in real life. This is real acting, folks!

A few traumatizing moments include:

  • The sequence where Bruce Bogtrotter is put on stage in front of the entire school by the Trunchbull and made to eat an entire chocolate cake as punishment for stealing the Trunchbull’s. It’s made even more disturbing when the cook, old and sweaty, emerges from the wings carrying the cake. The Trunchbll admits that her “sweat and blood went into this cake” as the cook starts wiping her runny nose on her apron.
  • Matilda uses her powers to convince the Trunchbull that her house is haunted by the spirit of the brother she possibly murdered.
  • The extended suspense sequence when Miss Honey and Matilda break into the Trunchbull’s house only to have her return abruptly. It’s a nail biting scene that puts a lot of similar scenes in legit horror films to shame.
  • Matilda still holds up as a surprisingly fun and refreshing viewing experience. I’ve probably seen it over a hundred times since its first release and I still never tire of it. It’s just as warm, touching, funny, and poignant as the first time. In fact, Dahl has gotten surprisingly lucky in terms of film adaptations. Both THE WITCHES and CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (I’m talking about the one with Gene Wilder, not Johnny Depp!) were also adapted into stellar films worthy of coverage on Kindertrauma. God knows I have my own horror stories about watching those two. As a matter of fact, those films still make me a little uneasy when I watch them. There’s something about them that gets under my skin.

    Special kudos go out to the film’s composer, DAVID NEWMAN, who also composed HEATHERS, which is another one of my favorite film scores. His music is at times quirky, scary, suspenseful, and often heartbreaking. Take a listen to this suite (HERE). Also, what kid of the ‘90s doesn’t immediately think of this song when this movie is brought up?

    UNK SEZ:: Thanks for covering this fondly remembered movie Chris! I’m a fan myself. Folks, don’t forget Chris’movie PERVERSION is available HERE!

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    Tags: Great Moments In Kindertrauma History · Trauma-Daddies · Trauma-Mommas · Tykes in Trouble

    The Secret of NIMH (1982)

    March 14th, 2012 · 15 Comments

    I need to start watching more animation. Movies in general are stellar transportation out of my dilapidated noggin but it seems animated movies have the power to drop me off at a bus stop happily even farther away from my home. Was I just hanging out with a bunch of talking animals? I could get used to that. Inspired by a reader’s comment in one of our posts (Thanks Drew Bludd!), I jumped into THE SECRET OF NIMH, a film I caught back in the day on cable that I didn’t recall too much about. Now, I think anybody at any age should be able to enjoy SECRET but I don’t think I made the best audience at whatever age I encountered it the first time. Back then I was probably thinking animation suited a younger crowd while still being too immature to appreciate the incredible level of artistry present. Currently I’m flattened and floored by the accomplishment that is THE SECRET OF NIMH. What a beautiful thing. Everybody who works in animation out there who keeps the tradition alive, my grateful eyeballs salute you. (You won’t catch me disparaging computer animation though on account of HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON alone validates its existence.)

    I can’t comment on how good an adaptation SECRET is of the book it’s based on because I have not read it (yet!) but I can say that if I would drink all the colors in this movie if I could. There may be some flaws in that certain story elements are fuzzier than necessary and things are a bit too conveniently mended by magic in the end but I’m starting to believe that flaws are what keep art from becoming stagnant and dull. SECRET is perhaps dark but it’s a beautiful kind of dark and darkness here only serves to brighten the positive light that it frames.

    I’m sure some kids could easily get wigged out by the hideous monster spider that appears but without said spider, how could we fully marvel at the bravery of heroine Mrs. Brisby? Brisby is my favorite type of hero. She’s not looking for trouble and she’s in no way on an ego trip trying to prove her pluck. She simply does what must be done. The dilemma here is that there’s a tractor coming that will flatten her house but she can’t move her youngest kid because he’s sick as a dog; harrowing scene after harrowing scene ensue. I’m telling ya, watching Brisby face an assortment of intimidating obstacles to reach her goal makes for some surprisingly suspenseful fare. If it wasn’t for Jonsey, I think Brisby and ALIEN’s Lt. Ripley would make great pals.

    Another thing that makes Mrs. Brisby a special rodent is the fact that she is voiced by ELIZABETH HARTMAN and it’s the last film credit of her career. HARTMAN was nominated for an Oscar for her film debut in A PATCH OF BLUE and at the time, she was the youngest person ever to be nominated. I’m most familiar with her due to her work in that exceptional CLINT EASTWOOD flick THE BEGUILED and for the NIGHT GALLERY episode she appears in called “The Dark Boy.” Sadly, mental health issues hounded this great actress and while her popularity declined, she became a recluse and eventually took her own life by jumping out a fifth story window. How’s that for depressing? Other folks that lend their voice talents are DOM DeLUISE as a bumbling crow and JOHN CARADINE as threatening but knowledgeable owl. SECRET is also the first film credit for both SHANNEN DOHERTY and WIL WEATON. Yep, it’s true that this movie is heavier than the usual kid friendly fare but therein lies its power.

    I suppose it’s no surprise that I’m all for more challenging, less candy-coated fare for children and it’s not because of a secret self-serving plan to harvest more traumafessions in the future, I swear! Fact is, the world can be a rather horrible place and as much as it would be nice to keep children in the dark about that fact as long as possible, allowing them to safely process that idea before it becomes obvious, I believe, buffers the jolt. I’m no parent but I can readily recall what it was like to be a kid and thank God I had the darker side of cinema to let me know that what darkness was in my life was not exclusively attached to me.

    The important thing here is not the level of threat that confronts Brisby but the level of courage and determination she exudes while confronting those threats. Maybe that seems like no big deal but considering the fate of the troubled woman who voiced her, it’s important to remember that the difference between plowing forward regardless of what ugliness appears and giving up is in fact, gargantuan.

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    Tags: Caution: I break for geniuses! · Repeat Offenders · Trauma-Mommas · Tykes in Trouble

    The Woman In Black (2012)

    February 3rd, 2012 · 17 Comments

    Traveling to the movie theater this aftern0on I said to myself “Lancey” — that’s what I call myself – “if you’re going to jump ship the first time a rotten looking CGI ghost appears, then turn right around and don’t bother.” Guess what though? I didn’t have to worry, THE WOMAN IN BLACK is not as CGI-heavy as the commercials might have you believe. I’m thinking some of the TV spots have been tinkered with and exaggerated because on the big screen, everything looks mostly kosher and solid. In fact, this is a great looking film. Even if there was no story or sound, I could probably watch this thing as a slide show. It’s very Goth-centric and chilly with fog, rain and marshy mildew all over the place. In other words, this is that dusty-doily type of spook show that I love and am always in the mood for. As far as I’m concerned, the world can keep its torture and rape and I’ll take all the wind up monkeys that come to life for no reason.

    This movie terrified me from the onset with the notion that DANIEL RADCLIFFE was old enough to be the father of a four year old. Wasn’t he a kid two days ago? Talk about chilling. I’m really getting old! I’m going to be dead soon! After drilling that horrific idea into my head, the movie shoved a funnel in the open wound and began to pour all of my favorite depressing things inside: death, loss, suicide, hangings, the idea that a person could be so destroyed by an event that they never recover or so trapped in the molasses of grief that they end up haunting themselves, etc. This is my jam and I’m doing the twist in my head and I’m doing that twist to early records by THE CURE.

    I was very lucky that a gaggle of young girls who I suspect were RADCLIFFE fans sat a couple rows behind me. The only other people in the theater were an older couple to my right. The teenagers had a blast screaming at every loud noise or appearance of the title apparition. One of them was fake crying through the heavier scares. I kept thinking, “Thank God it’s not a group of boys behind me because they would have to prove how unscarable they are to each other and ruin the whole thing.” I’m not going to tell you anymore. It’s a movie about a guy and a ghost, a ghost who has a hard time forgiving. It takes place in a small town where only one person has a newfangled car. There are beautiful houses in it covered in vines and there are a couple scenes that are pretty flipping creepy.

    If you are a fan of THE OTHERS or THE CHANGELING, you’ll probably like this. There are a couple of great moments that might remind you of THE INNOCENTS and a couple of weak spots that may remind you of hokier more modern fare like DARNESS FALLS. Those lesser moments are brief, so who cares! Sorry if this review is lame but I wanted to get it done quick so that if anyone was on the fence about seeing it, I could push him or her off and say, “Go ahead!” This review could also be lame because I am now having a beer and yes, definitely listening to THE CURE! (Not doing the twist though.)

    P.S.: This movie was directed by the same guy (JAMES WATKINS) who did EDEN LAKE which I approve of. He also wrote THE DESCENT 2 which I didn’t care for but maybe the director of that one screwed it up. The screenplay was written by JANE GOLDMAN (KICK ASS) based on the novel by SUSAN HILL. There, now I feel better.

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    Tags: General Horror · Trauma Au Courant · Trauma-Mommas · Tykes in Trouble

    Humongous (1982)

    November 22nd, 2011 · 7 Comments

    Even though I’m as poor as an unemployed church mouse with a moth in his wallet and holes in his tiny mouse socks, I decided that I deserved to purchase HUMONGOUS on DVD as my hair has literally turned gray while waiting for it to appear on said format. It may not be the best movie in the world, but it has always scratched my slasher fan itch even though its cramped and fuzzy VHS presentation always left much to be desired. SCORPION RELEASING’s new, far less dish-watery, widescreen offering doesn’t fix all of HUMONGOUS’s faults but it sure does make the movie a less frustrating and more enjoyable watch. It might even change a few people’s minds about this underrated whipping boy of a movie that’s not nearly as pointless as folks like to pretend.

    Our tale begins with a woman being raped. We don’t have to wait long for the culprit to get his comeuppance because dogs immediately maul him and his victim smashes his head in with a rock. Next, somber opening credits share snapshots of her life. The pictures are all happy until we reach one that was taken after the ugly incident where her smile is replaced by a scar. Thirty-eight years later a group of hard to like young folk jump on a boat and go for a joy ride. They save a stranded boater within some heavy fog and he tells them the story of “Dog Island.” The home of the lady who was attacked all those years ago who now lives in isolation from the world surrounded by her protective dogs. It’s implied that the woman has gone “mad” but if living in a big old house on your own island surrounded by canines is “mad” then I want to be mad too.

    After the telling of the campfire-free campfire story, one of the douchier members of the group (who has been acting up all day) gets it in his head to take over the boat but instead crashes and blows the thing up leaving everyone swimming for dreaded Dog Island. If HUMONGOUS has any bone to pick it may be with the consequences of blind male aggression. Life would be so sweet if it wasn’t for gross rapists and spazzy yacht sinking acts of machismo.

    Once our friends set foot on dry land it’s time to get murdered but not in the order that one might assume (The old adage ”killers don’t make slashes on gals who wear glasses” is wrong.) Thanks to some subtle clues like dog bones everywhere, someone falling in the lap of a corpse and a journal that conveniently explains everything, our sleuths surmise that the lady and her dogs are dust but her savage monster offspring is living large. Although somewhat sympathetic (when not crushing skulls) the malformed creature comes across as a seven-foot stand in for thoughtless male destruction. He’s almost a tape recording of the original violence he spawned from set forever on repeat. Not to ruin the ending but the last image of the film of its lone survivor staring off coldly suggests that the ripple effect from the original vicious act will continue on.

    Directed by PAUL LYNCH (The original PROM NIGHT), HUMONGOUS can get on your nerves for holding a decent hand yet often failing to play the right cards. I have a feeling LYNCH unwisely went with the false theory that showing less would somehow magically make his film more suspenseful. Less may be more when filming a haunted house tale but if you’re doing a movie about a giant mutant rape-baby, subtlety is not your friend. Even polished up on DVD, HUMONGOUS sticks to the shadows and lingers in black spaces more than it should, sometimes it works to its benefit and sometimes it shoots itself in the foot. Overall though, the coastal atmosphere, the use of real lived in locations, the Ginny Field-style psychology, the eerie score and the joyful aberrance that abounds have always been enough for me.

    Truth is, it’s no use complaining about the film’s creaky nature because it is a major part of its charm. Better lighting, better acting, better kills and a more satisfying monster reveal would have been great but that doesn’t feel quite right for a movie called HUMONGOUS. I could complain that it’s filled with cliché’s but honestly, I chomp on tropes like Skittles, they are as comforting as street signs leading me home. I might bellyache that you don’t really get to know the characters but truthfully I don’t want to know them. I know enough characters thank you very much. Is it all right if I just want to hang with a monster on an island for a while and then leave without exchanging numbers and promises of holiday cards? HUMONGOUS the movie is really very much like its theatrical poster, cheap, primitive, goofily deviant and inexplicably awesome. It doesn’t deliver the brutality it appears to promise but there are more than a couple accomplished visuals and tons of weird moments that stick in your head. It’s no masterpiece but like a scraggily child’s drawing stuck to the fridge, I just might prefer it to one.

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    Tags: General Horror · My own personal Jesus · Trauma-Mommas

    Trauma-Mommas :: Mother of the Year 2011

    May 8th, 2011 · 1 Comment

    When it came to selecting the Trauma-Momma of the Year, there was really no competition. Let’s take a lookie-loo at this mother’s impressive resume:


    1. She’s an accomplished artist specializing in portraiture.


    2. She has an appreciation for the sweeter things in life.


    3. She gives a mean manicure.


    4. She’s not above kissing boo-boos.


    5. She’s always calling to check in.


    6. Her daughter has a face that only she can love.


    7. She has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to Ecstasy-fueled pottymouth.


    8. She knows sleep is the best cure for a hangover.


    9. The kitchen is the heart of her home.


    10. Again, her paintings are very life-like.


    11. She’s not afraid to get physical when a game of “hide the doorknob” gets heated.


    12. When it comes time for her daughter’s swan song, she is front and center.


    It is for the above reasons, your Aunt John is pleased to crown BLACK SWAN‘s Erica Sayers with the coveted Trauma-Momma of the Year Award. You earned it, you crazy bitch!


    Special thanks to my own Mommy for buying me a copy of this DVD the other day during our mother/son shopping excursion and extra thanks for never napping in my room during my teen years. Seriously.

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    Tags: Barbara Effin' Hershey · Holidays · My Sweet Little Girl · Trauma-Mommas

    Carrie (Brat Productions)

    October 11th, 2010 · 2 Comments

    Historically, theater and your dear old Aunt John have had a rocky relationship. Admittedly, I have the attention span of a gnat doing the backstroke in bongwater and the prospect of sitting in a captive position without a regulated commercial break, whereby I can catch a smoke, escalates my innate fidgetiness. I am the last person you want to watch a DVD with if you require absolute silence (UNK SEZ: for serious!) or, moreover, drag to a play. I have walked out on more theatrical productions at intermission than I can recall — ’cause that’s I how roll — and yeah, I’m looking at you TOMMY.

    That said, I had some personal reservations when I read that local theater company BRAT was mounting a production of CARRIE, a comedy by ERIK JACKSON, based on the novel by STEPHEN KING. And by personal reservations, I mean could I sit still long enough without embarrassing or otherwise raising the ire of Unkle Lancifer?

    Well dear readers, after last night’s outing, I am happy to say that I sat completely enraptured, when I wasn’t comprising my bladder control from laughing, and I did not once give your Unk pause to pretend to not know me. More importantly though, stop whatever it is that you are doing, you have got to go see this stage version of CARRIE! I don’t care where you live… now is the time to visit Philadelphia, so get your ass on the BoltBus or JetBlue, and see this chestnut before the final curtain drops on November 7th.

    Seriously, I could care less about the Tonys, but if I had the power to be kingmaker and give out such awards, this whole cast gets gold stars. LEAH WALTON steals every last scene in her PIPER LAURIE as channeled by ANDREA MARTIN interpretation of Carrie’s kooky mom Margaret White. She does meet her match head on at a poorly attended Tupperware Party (the rapid-fire ‘70s references abounding in this play are beyond awesome) when COLLEEN CORCORAN shows up as Carrie’s concerned gym teacher, Miss Gardner. CORCORAN is so on her A-Game as she puts Carrie’s bullies (Chris Hargensen, et al.) through what could best be described as a jazzercise showdown.

    The play cleverly mashes up the classic novel with the ingenious film and yet has enough of its own gumption to throw in a couple of elements all its own. The music is amazing and the timing on the “Carrie” cue in a certain KANSAS song is beyond impressive. The occasionally wonky special effects don’t stand a chance in hell… they are stomped on by the fearless and improvisation-ready cast. Expect more hilarity than horror. If you haven’t figured out what makes this archetypal tale a permanent go-to, the message is spelled out for you before the curtain closes. Individuality is a gift not a curse. Go BRAT and go CARRIE… it is a SNELL of a good time!

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    Tags: Kinder-Theater · Plug It Up! · Trauma-Mommas