Nightmare (1981)

I enjoyed looking back at how my perception of MANIAC changed over the years so here I am doing the same thing with the like-minded NIGHTMARE

ONCE (1981-ish)

One of my favorite things as a young teen was trying to keep my eyes open long enough to watch SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE which, way back then, was followed by a show I enjoyed even more, SECOND CITY TV. SNL’s East Coast start time of 11:30 might as well have been 5 in the morning to me and I typically failed to remain awake. Luckily a mad scientist invented the VCR, which allowed me to tape both shows overnight and catch them the next morning over Apple Jacks. This is how I first came across the movie NIGHTMARE, one of my late night videotape fishing trips had hauled in a short TV spot for it. I remember the commercial being brief and simply showing a masked madman bashing down a door but it impacted me greatly. I rewound the ad a multitude of times, finding it more and more unsettling upon each view. The movie that I began to imagine in my head was brilliant and epic and what an injustice it was that I was too young to see it. I’d have to wait for video and so I did.

I almost didn’t recognize NIGHTMARE when I bumped into it at the video kiosk at the mall. The poster image of a screaming face I had become familiar with thanks to a newspaper clipping was abandoned in exchange for a mundane film still. Not that there was any debate about whether I should proceed with my rental, the videobox was of the over-sized variety and presented by a company called Continental, a seal of approval of sorts that I did not take lightly. When had Continental let me down before? Well, lots of times but whatever. My first viewing of NIGHTMARE ended up being, for the most part, disappointing. The movie was successful in both grossing and weirding me out but it was sloppy and crass and completely devoid of the magical element that existing only in my head. The door-smash scene from the TV spot was still scary but by the time it showed up in the film, I had already been alienated by scenes of rampant sexual dysfunction. Well, it wasn’t HALLOWEEN that was for sure; around this time in the early ‘80s I was finding out that sad fact about a lot of movies.

THEN (1994-ish)

Instead of disappearing into oblivion, NIGHTMARE kept coming back. Its reputation was kept afloat by the fact that it was banned in the UK and the surrounding controversy about whether or not TOM SAVINI had any hand in the special effects. All I knew was that it was one of the more f-ed up movies I could recall from my youth and all of the sudden, I couldn’t find it anywhere. Even though it had let me down before NIGHTMARE began to expand once more in my brain. I had to see it again! I had to show it to my friends! A bootleg was the only answer! Well hey, this was before the Internet and to me, a VHS copy of a copy of a copy of a copy was about as criminally malicious as a mix tape. I can’t say my fuzz-blur pirate edition of NIGHTMARE (labeled “NIGHTMARE IN A DAMAGED BRAIN”) revealed any new insight or level of quality to me. It was all just as shabby and crude as I recalled but now it had an heir of the forbidden and the tactless, trashy counter-bourgeois beat it bounced to had a value all its own. This is when the unintentional humor began to bleed in and I began to agree with just how disagreeable it was.

NOW (2012)

I knew I had to get the DVD of NIGHTMARE as soon as it was (finally) available. Honestly I would have purchased it for the cover alone since it features the original poster art that so intrigued me long ago. The picture looks fine but happily not too fine, its worn weathered texture adding salty flavor to the tone. These days there is no question that I am fond of NIGHTMARE. It somehow ended up teaching me how to view a certain type of movie in a different way. It also turns out that I sometimes require more than mere technical finesse in a film. Just as certain bands proved being a virtuoso musician was not essential to make vibrant music, NIGHTMARE makes me realize that in the case of some movies, it’s the untamed energy that trumps all. The plot may be threadbare and the characters may be methodically intolerable but NIGHTMARE’s unstable and unruly attitude has bite and there’s a steadfast grim and hopeless element present that’s daunting. Somewhere along the line NIGHTMARE and I fused together. Watching it now, I feel like I’m seeing foggy old scratched up home movies of my own childhood. Like MANIAC, NIGHTMARE opened a door that allowed me to see past the easy to deride surface of a low budget film. It expanded the range of my taste and allowed me access to other films that I might have passed by. I guess it could have been done in a better, more sophisticated way but its raggedness is a large part of its messed up appeal. Yep, it disappointed me at first but looking back, that’s because I was trying to will it to be what I wanted it to be rather than being receptive to what it actually was. I’ll let more discriminating minds than my own decree whether it’s “good” or not. I’m happy simply knowing this scrappy nihilistic exploitation flick ended up mattering much more to me than I initially thought it would.

Name That Trauma :: Reader Josh K. on a Hacked-Off Hand or Fingernail

Hello there. It’s Josh K. here again. First off I wanted to thank Kindertrauma for posting my Freddy’s Nightmares trauma a while back. It was great to hear what all of you had to say!

However, this time I am going to FINALLY put this “Name that Trauma” out there. I have debated doing this for a very long time now, thinking that no one out there would possibly get it if I couldn’t through the Internet, but I’m really hoping you guys can help me figure this one out, so here goes:

This time I was at my other Grandparents’ house (what is it with Grandparents and traumas? Lol). It was either the very late ’80s or early ’90s. My Dad and my Grandpa were watching some movie. As far as I can remember, there was this Japanese or Chinese emperor looking guy who apparently was evil. My mind wants to say that this took place during some grand ceremony like a wedding. Anyway, the good guy comes in with some sort of weapon and either hacks off the evil guy’s finger or one of his huge nails ( I can’t remember which). However, then the good guy does it a couple more times and the emperor keeps looking at his fingers/nails each time and screams. My Dad and Grandpa thought this was hysterical, and I do remember it being more funny than traumatic now that I think about it.. But the mysteriousness of it has haunted me throughout the years and I would love to finally put the mystery to rest.

I am REALLY hoping someone can help me shed some light on this for me.


Josh K.

Traumafession:: Maren M. on The Hobbit (1977)

Hi, I absolutely ADORE your blog….so many memories (and so much terror!) I don’t know if this has been covered but I would like to make a traumafession about the 1977 cartoon version of THE HOBBIT. When I was a kid this cartoon (along with many others) sent me into a spiral of panic. The whole mood of the production is eerie, the music is melancholy, the characters drawn in a grotesque, baroque style. Not to mention there is a hellish scene involving goblins, and another with trolls. Oh my gosh! Even Gandalf, the lovably wise and good, was creepy in it! My parents were still together when I was first exposed to this life altering cartoon, so I had to be around the three to five age bracket. I still remember crying and hiding during the goblin battle. However, I’m happy to report that this trauma did not deter me from loving adventures, or the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Thanks! Maren

Horror at The Oscars!

Exactly twenty years ago (give or take a month- March 30, 1992) a horror film called SILENCE OF THE LAMBS made mincemeat of the Academy Awards. It devoured all of the major categories, a feat achieved only twice before (by IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT and ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST.) Some folks are a little hesitant about slapping the horror label on SILENCE, so let me do it for them and without pause. It seems the more accomplished a movie is, the more likely some are to address it as a “psychological thriller” and nothing gets my non-silent goat more. JONATHAN DEMME’s film is certainly rich and expansive enough to elude simple stagnant classification but, at the end of the day, without the element of horror, it has no bones to stand. Let me ask you, if somebody showed up to your Oscar party wearing clothes made of human skin and a mask constructed of another person’s torn off face would you think their outfit was horrifying or thrilling? Exactly. SILENCE OF THE LAMBS is horror.

Crikey, if SILENCE isn’t horror then what is? Besides the already mentioned body mutilation, violence and death, SILENCE straps on a diving helmet and plunges into the less easily defined depths of the pit. Yeah, there’s some nifty crime & mystery stuff going on and Clarice’s ascension past those who underestimate her is immensely gratifying, but her anguish and regret over not being able to save an animal she meant to protect from slaughter is the real spirit crushing agent of darkness here. We come to find out Clarice is haunted by past events and I think that emotional/spiritual horror is a sharper more persistent blade. For instance, I have a Facebook page and many of my pals are horror fans, so I’m pretty much besieged with images of “horror” everyday: zombies, vamps, decapitations, the usual snore parade. Every once in a while somebody will post a picture of an animal being harmed under a title like “Stop this!” and I know they are trying to do the right thing but it’s like throwing battery acid in my eyes and it makes my soul barf for humanity. Meaning, I’m not convinced the lambs of the title will ever be silenced. That’s horror.

I get the drift of those that say SILENCE is not horror. I understand their logic and points and politely chuck those ideas towards the dustbin in my head. This is more than an issue of semantics for me. Can I just keep this one victorious memory intact and unmolested by those who live to rain on my parade? When SILENCE won that night twenty years ago, in my mind, the entire horror genre won and more importantly (to me) so did I. It seemed that finally something I cared about was getting some respect. (It did not hurt that just the year before KATHY BATES wrangled a best actress award for MISERY too.) I had grown up watching the movies that I dug utterly disrespected and devalued and frankly, I was sick of it. In 1992 it seemed like the world was catching up to what I already knew. I started to imagine a future where I didn’t have to add an extra star or up the letter grade to every review of a horror film I read in order to make up for the preexisting prejudice. I’m sad to tell you, I’m still waiting for that day.

Maybe I’m OK with that. Some art forms are born to walk the fringes. I don’t expect everyone to like horror films but I do believe they deserve to be judged fairly rather than automatically dismissed because some find their subject matter distasteful. Really though, how can anyone expect horror as a genre to emerge from the ghetto when those who claim to be its biggest supporters are the very ones who most vehemently rip the movies themselves to shreds? If you want to read a truly venomous take on a horror film, your best bet is a horror fan site, a place where boycotting movies that are not filmed yet, burning directors at the stake and tearing apart nearly everything that comes down the pike save for a few worn out sacred cows are a matter of course; with fans like these, who needs enemies? That’s coming from a gay guy who twenty years ago was still firmly in the closet at a gay friendly Oscar party when SILENCE OF THE LAMBS won. Nothing drags a movement down like the naysaying, doubting Thomases from within. Tonight I’ll be at another Oscar party but this time not as a self-sabotaging malcontent. Maybe the world of horror hasn’t progressed as much as I would have liked in the past two decades but I have. I’m seriously going to toast SILENCE OF THE LAMBS 20TH anniversary win tonight and I’ll do it as a loud, proud devoted fan of horror…get used to it.

Name That Trauma:: Reader Emily F. on Peeling Skin and a Bug Drain

Dear Kindertrauma,

I have been searching far and wide (meaning the Internet) for this scary movie that I watched at a sleepover a long time ago. I must have been in fourth grade so it must have been around 2005. It’s hard to explain it but I’ll do my best.

Okay, so there are these three (or four?) girls, all friends, all with different fears. I know one of the girls has a fear of bugs and another has some fear of her skin peeling or something because there is this one scene where she’s feeling her back and she turns around to look in the mirror and her skin is just peeling off. The other girl with the fear of bugs is in the bathroom and when she turns on the shower, bugs come crawling up from every drain (bathtub, sink, toilet). I feel like maybe these girls did something bitchy to have this happen to them but I’m not quite sure. I really really want to see this movie again but I can’t find it anywhere, please help!!

Have You Seen The Unseen? (1980)

Do you live in New York City? Can you find a way to get there? On March 16th, at 10:30 p.m., Kindertrauma is teaming up with 92YTribeca to bring you a special screening of the 1980 goosebumper THE UNSEEN! Have you not seen THE UNSEEN? Isn’t it time that you did? And what better way than on an actual movie screen and on real solid 35mm film!? Even better, this 92YTribecca joint has a bar downstairs and with your ticket you can get 2 dollars off a beer! Don’t chug it! You can take that very beer into the theater and nurse it in a civilized fashion while enjoying the film! What could be better? Not much.

THE UNSEEN is an old school spookfest from director DANNY STEINMANN (he of the LINDA BLAIR classic SAVAGE STREETS and good ol’ FRIDAY THE 13th PART 5: A NEW BEGINNING.) It stars the lovely BARBARA BACH as an ace reporter who gets stuck in a weird town with her sexy pals and has to spend the night in an awesome old house. Little does she know that the folks offering her a roof over her head may be offering her a lid to her casket as well! Expect an exceptionally creepy performance from SYDNEY LASSICK (who you might remember as an obnoxious teacher in CARRIE) who’s keeping a startling secret within the basement of his home. A sort of mash up of later flicks AMERICAN GOTHIC and HUMONGOUS, THE UNSEEN deserves to be seen; it’s an eighties slash-classic that offers as much campy fun as spooky chills. Find out some more about this incredible kinder-event HERE!

Maniac (1980)

The other day I came across an article in which the author was wondering if there might be anything to gain from watching a movie more than once. I would have read it but I had better things to do, like watch a movie that I had seen before. I’ve viewed MANIAC (1980) way more than three times over the years but here is a list of three significantly different experiences that I’ve had with the exact same WILLIAM LUSTIG film.

ONCE (1981-ish)

This movie is horrifying. It’s like watching a catastrophe unfold while laying helplessly in a coma. Is it X-rated? Are there brakes on this VHS player? MANIAC is basically steamrolling over me. I’m no stranger to slasher flicks but this is something different. There is a wild seedy energy and seemingly no moral code. How can things go back to normal in this MANIAC universe when they were so fucked up and feral to begin with? There is no sweet final girl to chill with. CAROLINE MUNRO’s character Anna has come to the party tardy and it’s too late- I’m already trapped within crazy Frank Zito’s twisted, unpredictable brain…I was later to see things differently but I remember being completely repulsed by JOE SPINELL when I first took in MANIAC. He was like an unhinged, quivering mass of whiney, sweaty corruption. I wasn’t such a wilting flower that I could not see that the special effects were incredibly awesome (I rewound SAVINI blowing his own brains out a few times) buy the overall undiluted sleaze on display turned my stomach. I was never going to live in the city…ever! People must be nuts to live there! I decided to hang the poster on my wall just to let people know that I walked through this perverted subway tunnel and made it out alive. Boy, did I think Zito’s living space was creepy.

THEN (1994-ish)

My best friend got a laserdisc player! He also bought a laserdisc of MANIAC! You don’t understand, the picture and sound quality is way better than VHS and it’s even in its proper aspect ratio! It’s like seeing it in the theater and for the first time! Wow, I totally recognize that porn star! “Going to a Showdown” has got to be the best song ever! Haha. This is so retro eighties. I should move to New York. I’ve always wanted to live there! At this point MANIAC is the ultimate midnight cult movie, so much decadent fun. Did I just laugh my way through a film that once pummeled me in the face? I was later to see things differently but I remember thinking JOE SPINELL was some kind of clown genius. He was so charming with his funny voices and suddenly it wasn’t so crazy to me that CAROLINE MUNRO would go on a date with him. Who wouldn’t, he’s a card! I thought I’d buy a MANIAC t-shirt so folks understood how edgy I am. This movie is a hoot! Rewind that head explosion again! Awesome moustache SAVINI! Boy did I think Zito’s living space was cool.

NOW– (2012ish)

MANIAC is so deep. How sad it all is. I should probably spring for the Blu-ray. My old DVD looks better in the PS3 than that slightly more bleached out version on Netflix Streaming. Did people really think MANIAC was misogynistic? Get a grip. This poor guy is sick. He needs help. His mother abused him and he can’t get over the feeling of abandonment spurred by her death. He wants to freeze time so things don’t change. He thinks by killing these women he can somehow keep them with him forever. There really are serial killers like that! MANIAC is smart and serious. Look at New York; I’m so glad I never moved there. I think I could marry JOE SPINELL. He may not be the best actor in the world, but he’s so committed and sincere. It’s so sad he’s dead and that he never got to do the MANIAC sequel he wanted to. I’m totally ordering THE LAST HORROR SHOW from Amazon; I have not seen that in a while and I love it. They’re going to do a remake of MANIAC? How are they going to do that? You know what? I think JOE would really like that idea. They probably would have invited him to the premiere and he would have been so proud. Man, it’s so depressing how things change and time moves on but I guess you gotta go with the flow. That’s really what MANIAC is about after all. It’s not just some gross decadent special effects showcase; it’s not some nostalgic freak show to watch while drunk. People think they can buy the poster or the T-shirt of this movie and that means that they “get it” but they don’t, not really. It’s really very poignant. Boy does Zito’s living space look like my own.

OK maybe I was exaggerating for effect and poking fun at myself in that last one but you get the idea. I guess what I’m saying to the guy whose article I was too busy to read is, YES you should watch a movie more than once! You’re sure to pick up stuff you missed and perhaps larger themes will become apparent. More importantly the movie may not change but YOU sure as hell will. Truth is, young me was right, MANIAC is frickin’ scary and not so young me was right, it is oddly funny and poor now me is right too- it is tragic and melancholy too. I look forward to finding out what older me thinks. Movies can capture a certain time or place but they are never truly frozen because each time we visit them, they come alive again and take different forms. If they were mannequins, they’d be the kind that come alive and throttle you… even if only in your head.

Frank Zito: People die. But in a picture or painting, they’re yours forever.

Anna D’Antoni: There’s no way you can possess someone forever. Even in a photograph, there’s no way.

Traumafession:: Father Merren on the Wonders of Homemade Holy Water And More

Hey guys, thanks for the great website. It is part of my daily webcrawl. I have commented a few times as “Father Merren”.

Yes, I am a Catholic priest and a dyed in the wool horror fan from a young age. The older boys who lived next door to my grandparents liked to tell me ‘scary stories’ which got me hooked on vampires, werewolves, and ghost from an early age. Aside from “Scooby Do” during its first run, the first video horror I remember seeing was “Night Gallery“. “Green Fingers” with Elsa Lancaster gave me a major freak out which resulted in my viewing habits being curtailed for a few months. Lesson learned: never tell mom that something scared me. (It took me years to work up the courage to watch it again. At first because I was afraid of being scared, then I was afraid of being disappointed. It still holds up.)

Later, cable TV came to Salt Lake and I experienced Hammer Films and other movies both good and cheesy through the good offices of Bob Wilkins’ “Creature Feature” out of the bay area. It was on “Creature Feature” that I saw, on the same night, trailers for both “Star Wars” and “The Omen“. We moved and the Cable was cut off when I entered junior high, so I had to content myself with broadcast offerings (this was before home VCRs).

Good thing we had TV movies like “Devil Dog: Hound From Hell” and network broadcasts of “The Omen“, “The Legend of Hell House“, and “The Exorcist“, which was unfortunately followed the next night with “The Exorcist II“. I am still terrified by tap-dancing. The high point of it all came in second grade when I tricked my grandparents into letting me watch “The Nightstalker“, which I still think is the best vampire movie ever. When I became a priest my friends joked that it was so I could fight demons and vampires. Not true! However, the ability to make my own holy water is a plus, just in case.

Now, can you help me identify two things. The first was on network TV in 1973-74. It involved a heart donor coming back from the grave and taking the heart of the transplant surgeon in trade. The other came from a badly dubbed Euro-horror show on “Creature Freature” I think it was set in the Mediterranean. In one scene, a couple of cave divers surfaced in a cave with coffins and were attacked by vampires. Any clue on what these are?

UNK SEZ:: Thanks Father Merren! I’m sure our readers can get to the bottom of those Name That Truma’s! BTW kids, That fine KOLCHAK image up top is by artist JOE JUSKO and you can watch THE NIGHT GALLERY episode Father Merren mentioned “Green Fingers” HERE!

Name That Trauma :: Reader Marie-Pierre on a Treasure-Filled Teddy Bear or Blanket

Hi Kindertrauma!!

I’m writing you this email to ask your help. I’ve been looking for a movie for years now, and even if I can’t erase some pictures from my head, its name is still unfoundable. I’ll try to describe my memories for you. God knows.

I live in Belgium, and the movie – or feuilleton – had been broadcast when I was something like 7 or 8. (It means 20-25 years ago.) I may have seen it in a show like Disney Parade, on Sunday evening.

The story was really scary. It was about a little girl, whose mother was dead. Her uncle was very mad, maybe a wizard, and wanted something from her, but she didn’t know exactly what. She always had a sort of teddy bear or blanket with her, she couldn’t be separated from it.Once in her dreams, she saw her mother who told her what her uncle was looking for was hidden in the teddy bear. It was like a treasure.

Well, that’s everything I remember.

Do you have an idea?

Thanks a lot for having read this.

My best regards,