Some of my biggest T.V.-trauma moments from childhood were brought about by the 1985 version of THE TWILIGHT ZONE. I was seven when it started, old enough to know that I wanted to watch scary things, but too young to really handle more than Disney-fied frights (the SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES movie springs to mind as a safe favorite at that age) without nightmares.
Three stories from the series were particularly traumatic. I remember one scene from the episode called “Monsters!” making me run from the room while watching it with my parents and brother. Most of the episode was kind of sweet, about a kid (POLTERGEIST‘s OLIVER ROBINS) befriending a lonely old man in his neighborhood. It turns out that the old man is a vampire, and if he lives too long in one area, the humans around him turn into monsters that are out to kill him. The humans’ transformations start out very mild with seemingly normal flu-like symptoms, so everyone just thinks there’s a bug going around. Then one night the kid and his parents are all sick, coughing and sneezing, resting together in their living room…His dad has a really big sneeze that bloodies his nose and sends him collapsing to the ground where he, and then the mother also, suddenly start groaning and convulsing, finally changing all the way into monsters. That was all I could handle…I sprinted out of the room. The only other time in my life that I did that was a couple of years later when watching the chestburster scene in ALIEN.
Another was “Need to Know”…It’s about WILLIAM PETERSEN and FRANCES McDORMAND trying to figure out why people in a small town are suddenly going crazy one by one. We find out that the source of it is one local man’s discovery of the ultimate, true meaning of all life, and when you find out what it is, the implications of it instantly make you lose your mind. Of course the meaning of life is never shared with the audience, but several times we see someone who knows the secret whisper it into a sane person’s ear for only a few seconds, and then sane person will start laughing or screaming maniacally, having been sent around the bend by the info. That was unforgettable and deeply chilling to me that something that only took a few seconds to say could be so monumentally important to everything that exists in the universe that the human mind couldn’t handle knowing it. There were no “run from the room” moments in that one, but it’s always stuck with me as psychologically terrifying.
But the biggest ‘80s TWILIGHT ZONE trauma for me was the STEPHEN KING adaptation “Gramma,” starring the kid from THE NEVERENDING STORY (a.k.a. BARRETT OLIVER) as a kid named Georgie who is left at home one afternoon to look after his overweight, bedridden grandmother. He’s already scared of her because she’s old and gross, but gradually we learn that she practices Cthulhu witchcraft, and she’s wants to take over Georgie’s body since hers is dying. What really got to me was that you never see Gramma (maybe some at the end, I don’t remember), you just get a sense of this hulking mass in the bed and you hear her deep, breathy voice calling for Georgie: “Georgie! Tea!” She eventually gets Georgie to come close enough to the bed that she can grab him, and as he’s screaming it dissolves to later on. Georgie is sitting at the kitchen table and his mom comes home. He tells her that Gramma died while she was out, and the mom walks over and hugs him. She can’t see it, but Georgie looks at the camera and he’s got freaky cat eyes! I saw this one with my family while on my first ski trip, and “Georgie! Tea!” and the cat eyes are my two most vivid memories of the whole vacation.