Five Favorite Things:: Martin (1977) By Ghastly1

George Romero, or as I like to call him: “the people’s horror auteur” -insert clip of Rick from The Young Ones here- you’re a very cool, switched on, hepcat if you get that reference, daddy-o- great guy, right? we all love him, don’t we? Well, I am going to commit horror heresy here and state plainly that I don’t care for him nor do I like many of the films considered cornerstones in horror made by the man. I like some of his films purely as entertainment. Overall, I don’t think his oeuvre is deserving of the high regard and widespread lauding it receives; I believe that is a function of ideology, not merit. Gasp, shock and horror. 

I feel he is vastly overrated, and I give the examples of unwatchable crap like There’s Always Vanilla and Season of the Witch, and nearly unwatchable crap like The Crazies, Bruiser and the later Dead films as evidence. Maybe you agree with me, maybe you don’t; maybe you just need someone to say it for you. All that being said, there is one Romero film which does hold a great deal of interest for me and that film is, you guessed it, Martin.

Martin is a masterpiece of horror, not because it superficially treats of supernatural concepts like vampires or because it has murder sequences or what have you; all of that is incidental. It is a masterpiece because it is rooted in the fount from which springs horror, the true core of all horror, the horror of horrors; to put it in somewhat Lovecraftian terms, “the madness at the core of existence.”

1. Martin is an example of something pretty rare; a horror character study.

Character studies I feel are something largely missing from film in general and horror in particular. I like slower paced films which focus on one character whom we get to know and care about, despite their actions.

Martin tells the story of a boy named Martin that has presumably been reared in an environment of utter insanity, to believe he is an 84-year-old vampire. Having been raised this way has not unsurprisingly resulted in pretty severe derangement on the part of Martin, who lacking fangs drugs women and slits their wrists in order to satisfy his sanguine addiction (pronounced in an exaggeratedly theatrical Peter Steele way- again if you know what I’m talking about, you’re pretty cool, let’s hang out).

2. Martin, ain’t we all. There but for the grace of God, go I.

Now comes the Sturm und Drang. My fondness for Martin stems primarily from recognizing in the character of Martin, states I have experienced personally and I suspect others have as well; namely extremely intense feelings of fear, loneliness, isolation, alienation, hopelessness, despair and dread, as well as suffering familial abandonment, abuse, and interpersonal social rejection.

In my weaker moments, I feel exactly like him, hopelessly confused and introverted; barely able to function. John Amplas gives one of the most authentic portrayals of a uniquely modern human type that I have come across and I have to wonder how much of it was actually acting.

3. Hit me in the feels. Much sad. J’ai une ame solitaire.

The film is relentlessly bleak and sad to me, even cruelly so. Cruelty gets to me and as such the hints of past cruelty in Martin’s life in little scenes and moments throughout, such as when Christina gets Martin the phone, are among the saddest and most effective that I have ever seen. The hopeful slightly confused and yet grateful look on his face at what is probably the first and only kindness ever shown to him on the part of another bring up things in me too terrible and wrenching to recall.

Christina leaving Martin alone in the house with Cuda is another because at that moment, Martin’s fate is sealed, things can only turn out one way. They leave a desolate, sinking feeling in my stomach which I have never been able to shake. It is the crushing knowledge that despite any hopeful outlook one may adopt toward a reformation of one’s life, however briefly, it is futile in the face of fate.

Martin is decidedly not a “happy film”, to my mind it is an example of what is sometimes termed “depressive realism” and perhaps only depressives will appreciate, understand and connect with it fully. In that regard it is a big middle finger to the Hollywood happy ending cliché. I believe a key to understanding the movie is, when he said “There’s no real magic…ever” he was talking more about happy endings than he was even supernatural powers.

4. Imagine a brotherhood of man… or some such happy horse shit.

It-rather unintentionally I feel- showcases the pernicious effects of the post-Vietnam, post-Great Society, Marxist “human love-in experiment” of the 1960’s. The film shows the fallout of a total breakdown of what were once considered normal human interactions and connections. Through a gradual but steady erosion and retrogression, interpersonal, familial, societal and kulchur bonds are shown to become utterly deranged.

The characters are all depressed, lonely and restless, conditions I dare say more people experience, than are willing to admit. Conditions which persist and have descended to an even more acute stage, today.

Shot in a gritty, quasi neo-realist style the film also puts the effects of the deindustrialization of the so-called “rustbelt” on show, the town of Braddock becomes another character in itself and is shown to be another victim, suffering death and decay complementary to its human inhabitants.   America is dead, folks…

… and

5. Oh, Tainted Love.

It inspired my favorite Soft Cell song.

Name That Trauma:: Auto on a Porcelain Doll PSA

Hi,

I’d like to let you guys know about a weird PSA from the early to mid 90s (perhaps made in the 80s, since these things often have an odd shelf life) which aired in upstate NY.

Now, I’d like to preface by saying that I’ve not seen this myself but I’m hell-bent on tracking this down based on the anecdotes I’ve heard. I was wondering if you or your readerbase might be of assistance?

Here’s a description from someone who has seen the ad, Reddit user Necrosynthetic:

“When I was about 6 or 7, there used to be a lupus PSA I’d see usually early in the morning around 6. I’d see it before jack Hannah’s animal adventures came on and it always creeped me out. It would be this very rusty wall in the background of a room in what seemed like an abandoned factory and a woman in a doll dress with an oversized babydoll head, and she was on a swing kind if half swinging in the foreground. The movements of the woman were twitchy sort of like the ghosts in the house on haunted hill remake which came out years later. Her mask was all cracked and aged like a doll left to the elements. Then her arms start flailing around and wrapping around the mask. And then she slumps over in the swing lifeless at the end. I to this day don’t know wtf this has to do with lupus at all. I don’t remember any of what was said during the PSA because I was too scared to pay attention. But I remember there being something about lupus at the end. Maybe it was about lupus and pregnancy? Now I’m in my 30s and I love horror movies and I’ve been trying to find this forever to show my wife and other people but I’ve never been able to find it anywhere. I know it wasn’t a dream either because I saw this EVERY Saturday morning for about a year and then once in a while until I was about 8 or 9. SOMEONE has to remember this besides me. If someone has a link to what I’m talking about please please please let me know”

I’m a massive fan of obscure PSAs, the creepier the better, and tracking down oddities is a hobby of mine. This one, however, seems highly elusive despite being right up my nightmare-fuelled alley. I hope this is of interest!

Thanks,
Auto

Name That Trauma:: Martin F. on a Dominatrix in a British Castle

I’d first like to say I love this website! My childhood trauma is this:
1) a British film that at least takes place in a British castle.
2) guy staying in said castle for a night.
3) he rings a bell and a dominatrix walks in accompanied by a little girl.
4). the little girl walks over to a bar and says “Would daddy like a drinky?”
5) The girl’s costume looks exactly like Rhoda from The Bad Seed, blonde pigtails etc.

Any help is much appreciated, I’ve never been able to find this film. Nobody I know knows the title. Please help!

Name That Trauma:: Update on Carol & PSA Mannequin

Hi guys!

About six years ago (HERE) I sent in a Kindertrauma about a PSA that discussed hearing loss, to find out if anyone else experienced it and also got the creeps!

I found it by accident today, in a compilation of WPIX Channel 11 promos and commercials uploaded just a year ago. I thought I should share it so the post can be updated AND for others to tell me if I was exaggerating too much!

(HERE IT IS) time stamped for your nightmares.

Sincerely,
Carol

The Amusement Park (1973) By Mickster

George Romero’s long lost educational film commissioned by the Lutheran Society in 1973 has been found and restored. Upon viewing the finished product in 1973, the Lutheran Society found it too disturbing to be seen. I guess the truth of how the elderly are treated was too much to bear. Luckily for us, the George A. Romeo Foundation restored this lost film, so it can be viewed by the public, if you dare to watch it. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a horror film per se, but it is a highly upsetting and depressing depiction of the mistreatment of the elderly. This depiction comes in the form of a surreal, dreamlike (nightmare) experience Lincoln Maazel’s unnamed character has at “The Amusement Park.” Many will remember Maazel’s performance in another Romero film, Martin (1977). He is the only “real” actor in the movie. All the other “actors” were volunteers, which makes this all the more impressive.

Maazel introduces the film and speaks again at the end. He implores viewers to have empathy and also be cognizant of the fact that they too will be old one day. What happens in between is something everyone should watch and consider. It is quite powerful, and I wish the Lutheran Society had been brave enough to use it back in the day.

Maazel starts his day in the park by encountering himself in a room of white. The beaten down version of himself warns that there is nothing out there, but the freshly dressed and hopeful version wants to see for himself. And boy, does he ever see! Each portion of The Amusement Park has vignettes illustrating how the elderly are systematically degraded. The only exception to this rule comes in the form of a wealthy older man who is treated with great respect because of his wealth. Sound like real life? Yeah, I thought so too. There is even a sequence where a young couple goes to the fortune teller’s tent to see if they will be together forever…the vision is NOT what they were expecting! Elders losing the right to drive, check! See the bummer car sequence! There is even a part with two carnival barkers that made me think of “reverse” mortgages! Romero was ahead of his time! Throughout, a masked “grim reaper” can be seen lurking in the background. For the most part, all the the elderly people in this film are ignored and at worst, pushed around by the younger people at the park, but there is one exception. This exception is the breaking point for Maazel’s character. A young girl is kind to him and wants him to read to her (she even shares a piece of fried chicken with him), but as this sweet exchange is taking place, viewers can see the cruel action that is about to befall Maazel. After this, he is utterly defeated, and as a viewer, I was too.

At 54 minutes, this educational film is a heartbreaking critique on aging in America. The Lutheran Society picked the right person to critique society, but they just didn’t have to guts to let this scathing examination see the light of day. It is sad to me that this film remained lost until Romero, who has a cameo in the bumper car sequence, was deceased. I wonder what he would think of his “lost” educational film finally seeing the light of day?

Name That Trauma:: Arletta on Pilgrims & Possession

Please help me if you can! This trauma has been skirting the edges of my memory for the longest time. I have searched and searched and keep coming up with nothing. I believe it is a movie, probably made-for-tv, but it could very well be an episode of an anthology show. When you’re a kid everything seems to be movie length if it’s longer than the Brady Bunch. 


I am presuming that I saw this in the mid-1970s. Even though we only had three stations back then, I can’t remember what network it is. I do know that it was about possession. It featured three characters. One was an older man, then there was a younger man and a younger woman. I think she may have been the older man’s daughter. I am pretty sure that this was set in New England. 


Now this part is very vague, of course, everything else has been vague so far as well. They were renovating a property and I think they were going to turn it into a restaurant or bar. The basement had a dirt floor. After they started digging up the floor is when this possession started. Flashbacks showed these three people in historical clothing. The child me would have probably thought they were Pilgrim clothes, but I’m pretty sure we’re looking at the 18th century, maybe 19th. The ghostly trio were involved in some sort of love triangle, I believe, which resulted in the death of at least one of them. As they became possessed they began acting or re-enacting the arguments of the past. 


This is not the movie in Japan with Doug McClure, the Samurais, and the demon crabs. This is definitely set in the United States. For the longest time if you would have asked me who was in this I would have said Ernest Borgnine and Martin Milner. But I have searched their works and found nothing that sounds remotely like this. I even checked out Doug McClure. For some reason I was thinking Sally Struthers might have been the woman. But again, I found nothing on her. 


This is really bugging me. Any help you could give would be so much appreciated. I would love to see if I could see this again just to see if I remembering any part of it correctly. Thanks for your help. Arletta in Pennsylvania

UNK SEZ: Arletta! I’m hoping I have your answer! This sounds like it has to be the 1970 TV movie CROWHAVEN FARM starring Hope Lange, Paul Burke and Cindy Eilbacher. It’s got pilgrims, flashbacks and the couple with daughter you describe. I also know that it played a lot on TV back in the day and has a reputation for causing kindertrauma! Check it out on YouTube HERE! I’ve got my fingers crossed. I’ve been wrong before but this seems like a match!

Five Favorite Things:: James of LARPing Real Life on The Dark Half (1993)

The Dark Half (George A. Romero, 1993)

George A. Romero and Stephen King: two great tastes that taste great together. Sadly, Romero’s chocolate and King’s peanut butter didn’t get together as often as they could or should have. The number of projects the two men were to produce together that failed to come to fruition is pretty ludicrous.

I say that we should celebrate what we have instead of what we don’t. While Creepshow is the most famous Romero/King lovechild, I am here today to sing the praises of a film that doesn’t get enough respect: Romero’s 1993 adaptation of The Dark Half.

  1. Romeroland

If the small towns of New England make up Stephen King Country, then Western Pennsylvania is Romeroland. There is a certain look that all of Romero’s Pittsburgh-produced pictures have: their events seem to unfold in a perpetual autumn, and the way the Rust Belt surroundings are shot will have you wanting to get a tetanus shot booster after leaving the theater.

In The Dark Half, King Country and Romeroland perfectly overlay one another. Romero uses Edgewood Borough and Washington, PA, to stand in for Ludlow and Castle Rock, ME, to great effect. The bare trees filled with birds (both real and fake), the rolling hills with roads winding through them, and the great stone buildings on the campus of Washington & Jefferson College give the picture a Norman Rockwell meets Charles Addams vibe.

When we talk Romeroland, we don’t just mean places, we mean the people, too. The Dark Half was Romero’s last film made in Pittsburgh, and there are familiar folks in front of the camera as well as behind it. Romero’s second wife, Christine, was an executive producer as well as an actor in the film. David Early, who had taken part in Dawn of the Dead, Knightriders, Creepshow, and Monkey Shines, gets a cameo as an NYC cop. Cletus and Barbara Anderson returned to work their production design and costuming magic. The biggest Romeroland contributor, in my opinion, is editor Pasquale “Pat” Buba. Buba had a long relationship with Romero, going back to Romero’s foray into TV sports documentary with The Winners in the late-1970s. Buba understood Romero’s shooting style and editing needs, delivering a picture that feels the man himself cut it together.

As a former Pittsburgher (a “yinzer” to yinz in the know), all the above gives me the warm and fuzzies at the same time as sending chills up my spine.

  1. First Things First (which is 2nd on this list…go figure!)

A good horror movie needs a freaky set piece at its start to let the audience know what they are getting into. The Dark Half has got a doozy that never ceases to creep me out.

Poor, pre-teen Thad Beaumont just wants to be a writer. Unfortunately for him, he’s got more than stories about Miss Bird saying things brightly in his head. After suffering from headaches and then collapsing on his way to the school bus, the doctors crack open Thad’s skull like a nut and find the remnants of a twin peeking up at them.

When that eyeball in the middle of Thad’s brain opens up and takes a look around through the milky film of its cornea, I don’t blame that nurse from screaming and hightailing it out the operating room. Yuck!

  1. “It takes two to make a thing go right…”

Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock were right: it really does take two to make it outta sight.

I love movies about doppelgängers, evil twins, and split personalities. You know, pictures like Dead Ringers, Psycho, The Parent Trap. I especially love it when the same actor gets to play the two parts, because you just know there’s gonna be some tasty scenery-chewing.

Timothy Hutton was best known at the time for winning an Oscar for Ordinary People, but that had been nearly a dozen years in the past when The Dark Half began shooting. He was an “actor” (please do a Steven Toast impression when you say that word) who’d never done a horror movie before. He seems to relish the chance to get his Jekyll & Hyde on. As Thad Beaumont, he slowly loses his cool and his mind over the course of the picture. As George Stark, he lets it all hang out from the get-go. He’s fierce, nasty and, by the end of the movie, pretty gooey. During one scene, an apartment dweller sticks his nose out into the hallway and asks what all the hubbub’s about. Hutton as Stark turns to him and responds in a deadpan, Southern drawl, “Murder…want some?” You can tell Hutton had a good time slinging lines like that around.

  1. Creepy Oldies

One of the things I love about horror movies in the 1980s is the ironic use of those moldie, golden oldies of yesteryear. Maybe it’s the lyrics about obsessive love or the juxtaposition of voices happily singing in harmony while something horrifying happens on screen, but the songs of the 1950s and pre-Beatles 1960s are just inherently creepy to my ears. “Mr. Sandman” by The Chordettes in Halloween II is a good example. Sure, it only plays at the beginning and end of the movie, but it puts everything in between in a new, weird groove.

I know a lot of fans think heavy metal and horror are a match made in heaven (or hell, if ya know what I mean), but there’s nothing off-kilter or off-putting about an Alice Cooper or Dokken song playing over a murder scene. (It pained me to write that, because I love “Teenage Frankenstein” and “Dream Warriors” so much!) But if, as happens in The Dark Half, you play “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” by Elvis Presley while blood squirts out of a turkey and Amy Madigan’s porcelain face shatters to reveal the skull beneath…well, then you’ve got something with a little frisson to it.

There’s another reason why I think the “King” works so well in The Dark Half: Elvis was a twin. Jesse Garon Presley was delivered stillborn half an hour before Elvis Aron Presley followed his older brother into the world. The movie doesn’t make anything about that fact, but knowing it adds another layer of weirdness to ol’ Thad and George’s sibling rivalry.

  1. Miriam’s Murder

This is a George Romero film. You expect the red stuff to flow, and I don’t mean Heinz ketchup. This is the man who pounded a stake into John Amplas’s chest in Martin, chewed Adrienne Barbeau’s face off in Creepshow, and tore Joe Pilato in half in Day of the Dead. The man knows gore.

The Dark Half was a Hollywood studio picture by a man who was one of the last of the independents. He may have been pressured to bring a more commercial film to studio execs, which may account for the lack of in-your-face blood-n-guts.

There is one moment, however, where Romero’s sensibility comes through loud and clear. It is the most disturbing scene in the picture – maybe one of the more terrifying I’ve ever seen: George Stark’s killing of Thad’s book publisher, Miriam.

The bulk of the credit for the power of this scene goes to actress Rutanya Alda. The noises she makes as she’s menaced by Stark are guttural and horrifying. When Stark “helps” her keep her happy thoughts by jamming his thumb into the wound in her face, her screams sound so real. When he zips his razor across her cheek, she sounds like she is actually losing her mind. The coup de grâce is delivered off-screen, but in a single take, which makes Stark’s smile at Miriam’s sudden silence all the more effective.

The scene creeped me out the first time I saw it in the 1990s on VHS, and it creeped me out just now as I re-watched it.

Honorable mention: Julie Harris as “Reggie,” Thad’s academic compatriot and enthusiastic research assistant. (Still…c’mon, Thad, you couldn’t get a grad student to do that?) She’s the funky, pipe-smoking, clunky wooden jewelry-wearing, VW Bug-driving, literature professor that you dream of encountering in college, and she steals every scene she’s in.

UNK SEZ: Thanks for sharing this stellar FFT, James! Folks, make sure you visit James at his home base LARPing Real Life HERE!

Name That Trauma:: JLopo on Quicksand & a Burning Bed

So, I’ve never quite been able to figure this out for 37 years or so. I live in metro Detroit and back in the 1980’s they used to show 3 horror movies between 2 local channels on Saturday afternoon. This movie was on during that slot though it seemed more like a thriller.

All I can really remember is the following:

1) Someone is murdering people from a family either for revenge or inheritance
2) It had the look of an Amicus or Hammer period piece (like the Gilded Age)
3) 1st scene that has stuck in my head since: Someone is set on fire in a room with a canopy bed
4) 2nd scene that has stuck with me: The villain (i think) dies in quicksand. Quicksand that looked like oatmeal in water quite frankly, not that it didn’t freak me out as a kid.

Hopefully someone has an idea. I was able to figure out my other 2 traumatic childhood movie mysteries: Don’t Go to Sleep and Strange Behavior.

JLopo