Sunday Streaming:: My Amityville Horror (2012)

If you wanted to trap me and keep me prisoner it would be easy. All you’d have to do is a put a T.V. in the room you desire to detain me in and have that T.V. playing CELEBRITY GHOST STORIES, PARANORMAL WITNESS, A HAUNTING or anything else of that ilk. I will be trapped. I will be incapable of escape as long as a supernatural eyewitness show is playing. I love ghost stories. I love hearing people recount frightening things that happened to them (hence this site). I am your best audience if you have a scary story to tell. I will believe you! All you need do is be sincere! MY AMITYVILLE HORROR is fascinating but only because I will behave like a jolly raccoon toward any Amityville crumb that is flung at me. Beyond that, it’s undeniably unsatisfying. “High Hopes” indeed.

On paper the thing can’t loose. Who wouldn’t want to have a conversation with the eldest son of the infamous Lutz family who spent roughly a month being terrorized in the world’s most haunted abode? The only trouble is Daniel Lutz is the type of guy that if you bumped into him on the street and he said, “Hey, buddy can I talk to you?” the first thought that would pop into your head would be, “Oh geez, here comes a spiel!” He does not instill confidence; rather, one just hopes they can squirm away from him without having bought a used car. I can’t blame Daniel for this documentary feeling weak though; he’s obviously been around the block and has learned to fill his pockets with as many meatballs as he can until someone flags him. It’s not his fault director ERIC WALTER seems too intimidated to cut through the subterfuge. I guess a documentary is supposed to just present the facts and not push any agenda but does that mean it has to be completely directionless? I don’t need to be shown that Dan can play guitar. I assumed as much at soon as I saw him.

I don’t know enough about his experience to call Daniel Lutz a liar. I do know enough to say that he exhibits every cliché giveaway that a seasoned con man would. He’s defensive, he jumps to add extra detail when he senses he’s flailing and he’s quick to imply that there’s something inadequate about the listener if they fail to believe him. There is at least one moment where he comes off as genuine, Dan is recounting an incident at the house where the garage door was opening and slamming shut on its own accord. The family dog tries to jump a fence to escape the insanity only to end up nearly hanging itself on its own leash. This is the incident that has left Dan with the most emotional damage, his personal ground zero. He has been tellingly haunted by nightmares of it for decades. Sometimes he dreams he is the dog. This is beautiful to me! What a perfect representation of Dan’s ordeal! He, like the dog, tried to escape the house only to find himself on a short leash choking. There’s the heart of the movie! But no, let’s not talk about that. Let’s take Dan to the world’s most transparent psychologist who blunders through lame, “I’ll just repeat what you said with affirmation” therapy. Dan: I’m angry. Psychologist: It sounds like you’re angry. Dan: It was really frustrating. Therapist: Wow, it sounds like you were really frustrated! There is no reason for this (his first!) session to be in the movie. It can only go nowhere and so it does.

So why the heck am I making this a Sunday Streaming pick if Dan is as shady as a willow tree, the director is a too- passive bystander and even the appearance of Lorraine Warren fails to make things seem anything less than a grasping at straws (in this case, magic splinters from Jesus’ cross) pitch for semi-relevance? I dunno. If you have Netflix Streaming it’s already sorta paid for and is kinda free-ish and I say that’s the right price! I hate to sound so negative but I would have loved to believe Dan’s story if only the cost wasn’t being left feeling like a strong-armed chump.

In the absence of anything mind blowing I suppose I was supposed to walk away happy with the newfound knowledge that George Lutz was a crappy step dad and the house was a breeding ground for garden-variety dysfunction. Take a number with the, “My old man was a bastard” story buddy- I’m here for the demon pig! (That reminds me, Dan does mention our pal Jodie and describes the porcine superstar as “a cartoon pig.” How trippy is that? And how maddening that he’s not pressed to elaborate!) Oh, heck, I’m cursed! I’ll always be interested in anything AMITYVILLE! I can’t help it! It’s such a big part of my childhood. If you want something fulfilling though this ain’t it! I suggest THE HAUNTING OF RODDY PIPER instead.

The Last House on Dead End Street (1977)

I had seen about half of THE LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET (1977) before; it was about ten years ago and, here in Philly, somebody was showing a double feature of it along with FRIDAY THE 13th PART 3 in actual 3-D (a big deal at the time)! Back then, I only cared about seeing FRIDAY, but now I’m kind of amazed that somebody had access to a 35 mm print of TLHODES. From what I saw of TLHODES that night, I had no regrets for showing up late and not sitting through its entirety. I love horror but there are certain movies that fall into the sadistic zone that I stay away from just because I’m not into the whole “Now I feel like soaking in a tub of Clorox” thing. I get why other people enjoy pushing their limits but I’ve done my time in the trenches and I don’t need to try every 31 Baskin & Robbins flavors to have a general idea of what appeals to me. Forget the rampant torture and sadism for a minute, DEAD END STREET shows a cow being slaughtered! Morrissey wouldn’t approve, but my delicate condition demands that I stay willfully ignorant of the ungodly bloodcurdling origins of my beloved Whopper Jr.! I pretend magic makes them.

So there I was living the life perfectly content never seeing DEAD END STREET again. Let others put it on a pedestal based solely on its obscurity, I was done with that horror-ipster stuff. But then one day I saw the mesmerizing mess-terpiece SHADOWS OF THE MIND (1980) by the same director (the late ROGER WATKINS) and I became curiouser and curiouser. As much as I didn’t have a taste for DEAD END before, I suddenly found myself needing to see something else from the director of SHADOWS OF THE MIND and, sans his porn output, it was my only option.

But could I take it? Yep, it turns out I could. I only wanted to turn it off once and that wasn’t even because of the sadism… it was because of the eerie as damnation score freaking me out. (Oh wait, I must have caught something from Chuckles because that is a lie. There is a shot of a woman in a clear mask and the way her features fluctuate beneath the translucent, plastic shell shoved my finger toward the pause button for a millisecond too.) I can see now that this movie really is something. Let me unpack my sack of non-criticisms! The acting is insane, it’s poorly dubbed, it choppily skips all over the place and it looks like hell and hell on a budget, dragged through the mud. As you know, I no longer give any of those types of slights the time of day. None of those crutches can stop the film from being unforgettably disorienting and disturbing. In fact, I’m sure they help.

There’s absolutely nothing supernatural going on in TLHODES but still, the whole shebang stinks of bad mojo. It’s like being a witness to a savage ritual and its grim unyielding take on dog-eat-dog inhumanity has a bite that may require a tetanus shot. WATKINS admitted that most of the film’s budget went to his drug addiction, which could explain the movie’s blistering nightmare feel and palpable raging desperation. Somehow, amidst all this trash-tastic rubble though, there are clear glimmering flashes of aberrant artistry that should appeal to anyone who has a jones for gritty seventies-era exploitation.

Geez, it really is incredible how powerful a simple mask can be on film… and hey, snuff! You can’t help but make a statement about society’s disgusting nature when you have snuff as a topic in your film! Oh, I’m sorry I forgot to tell you the plot! A guy (writer/director WATKINS) gets out of jail and needs to make money, so he decides to make snuff films. Worse still, he somehow gets a group of equally down on their luck people to help. Worser still, there’s Manson-esque henchladies! Worstest still, they wear hideous masks! I recommend this flick to folks looking for something extreme or maybe annoying too-happy people who need to be made less so. In any case, all humans must watch the trailer! It alone could scratch itself a permanent hole in your psyche…

Name That Trauma:: Erin T. on an Overnight Library Lock Up

I stumbled upon your website the other night and legit read it for hours! I was a “surprise” baby for my 40-something year old parents in 1981 and my sister was 15 when I was born. I grew up on VHS horror movies and my house was officially the little girl’s house the other kids were traumatized by. But anyways, for some reason this little movie I cannot remember frightened me more than Freddy and Michael Myers (probably because both of my parents were teachers and my house was overflowing with books). It was about a girl who was locked in a library overnight, could not escape and all sorts of weirdo sh*t happened to her. For some reason I wanna say it was JENNIFER CONNELLY but I may be wrong. I am guessing like 1985 or 86? It may have been a T.V. movie.

Thanks,
Erin

UNK SEZ: Hmmm. Maybe I’m taking your mention of CONNELLY too much to heart but could you possibly be looking for CREEPERS AKA PHENOMENA (1985)? I suppose the boarding school it takes place in could be mistaken for a library. My other guess might be THE OUTING (1987) in which a girl and her friends stay over night in a museum. Or how about I, MADMAN? There are a lot of books in that one! …FROM THE MIXED UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER? Now I’m grasping at straws. Does anybody out there think this trapped in a library scenario sounds familiar? Let us know in the comments! Help!

AUNT JOHN SEZ: Sounds to me like you might have checked out THE INCREDIBLE BOOK ESCAPE (1981) starring a pig-tailed QUINN CUMMINGS. It was part of the anthology series CBS LIBRARY.

Traumafession:: Megatone230 of Mama Minutia on Terror in the Aisles and More!

Hi Kindertrauma,

This is megatone230 from Minnesota. I’ve been an avid follower of your blog since 2007. I love your site and it’s always a great source of inspiration while doing my horror themed collecting and creating artwork. I’ve even submitted a few Traumafessions…hearing about ‘Carrie‘ out on the playground and ‘Siskel & Ebertslasher movie special. I also participated in the send in your own photo Halloween parade.

I would like to bring to your attention my new etsy store called Mama Minutia. I sell horror themed pop art, novelties, and gifts. Specializing in candles, buttons, wall hangings and more. I also do custom pieces by special request. Here’s the LINK if you would like to take a look around at the goodies in Mama’s attic!

I have been interested in horror since I was around 3-5 years old after seeing Bigfoot and Sea Monster documentaries on the TV show ‘In Search Of….’Then in 3rd grade I officially saw my first entire horror film ‘Piranha‘ when it showed on TV… I was hooked. In 5th grade I was completely traumatized after seeing ‘The Shining‘ for the first time when it aired on national television… I begged my family to let us watch… half way through I begged them to shut it off, but they wouldn’t… hahaha

Then in 6th grade I had the ultimate crash course in all things horror with my first ever R-rated movie theater viewing experience ‘Terror in the Aisles‘, the amazing compilation narrated by Donald Pleasence and Nancy Allen. Over the following years I would rent every horror title from the local video shops and scan the HBO and Cinemax schedules for anything horror themed.

UNK SEZ: Thanks Megatone230! We really appreciate your support! And thanks for sharing your etsy shop as well. You make really cool stuff! I especially dig that FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC piece. Folks, Megatone230 has let me know that his shop Mama Minutia is offering a special deal of 20% off for kindertrauma readers on purchases of 5 dollars or more! (Runs until Sept 3, 2013). All you have to do is use the code: kindertrauma0813! How cool is that? Just in time to get your lair looking its creepiest before Halloween!

Post Childhood Traumafession :: Chuckles on The Ring (2002)

I lied. Worse still, I lied to Kindertrauma! A while back Kindertrauma ran a series called “It’s a Horror to Know You!” wherein readers answered a series of kindertrauma-related questions and the results were posted for all to see. One of the questions asked “What is the last film that scared you?” My answer to that question was “The Blair Witch Project” (1999).

The BWP did scare me and if the question had been “What was the last film that caused you to run wildly in panic?” my answer would have been 100% accurate. That wasn’t the question though, was it?

I hereby humbly submit my amended answer and beg your forgiveness:

What is the last film that scared you?The Ring” (2002).

Yup. The Ring. The American remake of the J-horror classic. As I was filling out my “Horror to Know You” responses, I knew deep in my heart that I should have admitted that The Ring scared me but I did not. Like Beatrix Kiddo, in searching for a reason why she had failed to tell Bill that Pai-Mei had taught her the Five-Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique, the only reason that I can think of for failing to admit my fear is, “I don’t know…because I’m a bad person.”

The reason that I lied probably has something to do with the fact that one of my friends, a notorious scaredy-cat named Stacey, saw The Ring a few days after I did and thought that it was absurd and “not scary at all.” I couldn’t believe it – I was sure that she would be a crumpled mess after seeing The Ring and the fact that she was not scared by it caused me to re-imagine my own reaction to it and on some level I had convinced myself that I also found it “not scary at all”.

But it did scare me. No, strike that – it downright disturbed me. I had actually seen the original “Ringu” before The Ring, so I knew what was coming, and as I left the local Cineplex with my wife I felt entertained but that was the extent my immediate reaction.

However, over the next few days I developed this sensation of creeping doom. For those somehow not familiar with The Ring, the basic premise is that there exists a cursed videotape and anyone who views it experiences six days of strange events followed by a gruesome death on the seventh. The videotape ends with the image of an old stone well that hides a dark secret. I’m a super-rational guy but I could not help but see “dark omens” everywhere. We had a red maple in the back yard of our house that was a near-replica of the “flaming tree” in the film and it glowed with menace in the evening light. Mirrors broke. Files vanished off of my computer. Some of my photos had odd imperfections. I heard strange noises at night.

A week later I went fishing at a place near Bloomington, Indiana (where I was living) called Greene’s Bluff. At a bend in the river, there are the ruins of an old grain mill from the 1880s. By that time I was pretty much back to normal and feeling a little foolish for being so creeped-out by a movie. I passed the Civil-War era graveyard next to the parking area without concern. I hiked down to the river bend and looked for a place to fish. I decided to try a spot a little ways upstream and cut across the woods to get to it. Thirty feet in, I saw some old limestone bricks and then I saw some more. There were some extra ruins that must have been associated with the mill there. At first I thought this was all very interesting…

And then I saw it: The Well. A round circle of ancient stone set into the ground. I experienced an out-of-body moment, frozen in place as my disembodied mind did the arithmetic to total the amount of time that had passed since I watched The Ring: Eight days. Wait – Eight days? Reality returned. I walked over to the well and saw that it was long ago filled in. The spell was broken.

It seems like The Ring gets a lot of flack these days. It was followed by a very mediocre sequel and kicked off a marathon of inferior American J-horror remakes. I’ll admit that the film has some flaws (some hammy acting, post-processing overkill) but in my opinion, it is still an effective and very scary film that worked its curse on me for a week in the Fall of 2002.

Sunday Streaming:: Slugs: The Movie (1988)

Do you hate Sunday? Do you think Sunday is like that bride in GHOST STORY and when you try to kiss it, it lifts its veil to reveal the hideous face of Monday? Then you need cheering up and lucky for you SLUGS: THE MOVIE is currently on Netflix Streaming. Think you’re not scared of slugs because they are so slow and small and you can just stomp all over them in two seconds and pour salt down their throats and laugh when they explode? Obviously you have never met a mutated slug that has been chomping on toxic waste before! These slugs eat meat and their slime trails paralyze! Plus they travel in millions! You are going to be so surprised when you see all the damage they can do! SLUGS: THE MOVIE is a great seventies-type “Nature Hates You” flick all dressed up in eighties gooey-gore excess! I don’t even know why I’m trying to explain any of this when all I really have to tell you is that it was directed by JUAN PIQUER SIMON the same blessed being who delighted the universe with PIECES (1982) and POD PEOPLE (1983)! I’m not saying SLUGS is as fun and crazy as those two slices of brilliance but wait a minute, yes I am! It’s even enhanced by my two favorite things in the world, awkward dubbing and an inappropriate score! Please watch it and promise you’ll think of me when you hear the line “You don’t have the authority to declare Happy Birthday…not in this town!” Happy trails!

Name That Trauma:: Tenshi H. on a Crack Monster & a Cartoon Cockroach

When I was 8, I remember a PBS short that scared the heck out of me.

There was a girl laying in bed, and she spots various animals made out of the cracks in her walls. She imagines them coming to life. They meet a big, evil crack monster! But he crumbles to the floor. Was that Sesame Street? Electric Company? 3-2-1 Contact? ZOOM even?

This was more of my cousin’s trauma then mine, but…

In the early 2000’s (this wasn’t very long ago), me and my cousin would watch a show about a pink dog. In one of the episodes, he goes to NYC, and there’s this HUGE cockroach that scared the shit outta my cousin. What channel did this show air on? What was the show called? What was the episode’s name? What was the cockroach’s name? (Yes, he had a name) And…what was the dog’s name? PLZ HELP!

Post-Childhood Traumafession:: Unk on The Haunted (1991)

Our pal Mickster’s “Post-childhood” traumafession regarding THE STRANGERS got me thinking about all the movies that rattled my own bearings as an adult. There are more than a few to choose from but my mind keeps flipping back to the 1991 T.V. movie THE HAUNTED (thanks largely to THE CONJURING dredging it up no doubt!) I realize I have already confessed to this particular trauma in our comments section but I thought it might be interesting for me to examine, in closer detail, just how and why a modest TV production got under my skin in a way that many seemingly more likely films failed.

Hopefully a big takeaway from this site is the understanding that different people are scared by different things; one person’s meat is another’s poison, there’s no accounting for taste and perhaps a zillion factors come into play (life experience, timing, mood) that are impossible to gauge. Some try to attach value judgments on scares (gore and jump shocks are lowly as slow burns and subtlety are lofty) but these after the fact assessments mean nothing when the lights go out. Which isn’t to say I don’t have a favorite type of scare…

My preferred scare is when you realize too late that you’ve popped a hole in the movie (and or book) and it’s currently leaking all over you. Holy crap, something has changed in the space you’re in and the genie is way too fat to fit back in the bottle! I’m talking about movies (and or books) acting up like Ouija boards and those dreaded intangible guests who won’t take a hint and vamoose. How could I go to sleep after watching THE HAUNTED when the swirly black mass that inhabited the movie could, at any second, materialize before me? I’m an adult and I’m rational. That means I’ve got plenty of legitimate sounding excuses for being freaked out by THE HAUNTED.

1. It was late at night.

Nonexistent scientists estimate that it takes countless dozens of conscious brains to keep the walls of reality standing firm. The more sleeping brains you have in your neighborhood the more likely it is that a wily, interdimensional entity might take advantage of the weakened barriers and slide through. Moreover, watching scary movies, reading about Bigfoot on the Internet and/or dabbling in ghost hunting shows, no matter their level of ridiculousness, acts like a magnet to these creatures. You are basically making yourself a lighthouse in the fog. Through years of research I have learned that the closest you can get to supernatural entertainment after 2 am while still remaining safe is SABRINA THE TEENAGE WITCH.

2. It’s based on a true story.

Adorable as it may seem now, prior to the release of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE remake, the term “based on a true story” still held some small bit of weight with me. The family depicted in THE HAUNTED was a real family. They went on talk shows and tainted their existences delivering their tale of ghostly woe. If they were crazy, I found small comfort in that. If you are a ghost (or a demon)I don’t care if your return address is heaven, hell or my sick head, the point is you need to leave. I guess I could hope the family was lying but that would mean the grandma was lying too! Lying grandmothers are scarier than ghosts. I can’t win.

3. KIRKLAND sold it.

I’m no aficionado of thespian pursuits and I pity the horror fan that is, that’s asking for a whole lot of pain. On the other hand, if you look at truly successful works in the genre they are almost always strongly connected with at least one sterling, performance. Although they are rarely properly acknowledged, they are often the galvanizing glue that holds the entire shebang together (I started a list of examples but boy, did it go on.) I have to hand it to SALLY KIRKLAND in THE HAUNTING if for no other reason than that she made me believe her. (This cannot be said about her performance in FATAL GAMES). I’m not saying I’m going to run out and start a fan club or anything, I’m just saying that against some serious odds she convinces you of her genuine turmoil. No matter the authenticity of the actual story, within the confines of the teleplay , KIRKLAND is telling the truth.

4. It played upon my pariah complex

STEPHEN KING tagged some of THE AMITYVILLE HORROR’s angst power on relatable “economic unease” and I’m so right there with him on that. But I have to point out an infrequently sung about undercurrent that tends to hitch a ride on “true story” haunted house tales – the fear of being ostracized by one’s community and (so frequently in these stories) rejected or failed by one’s church. Families that do the right thing, care for each other and mind their P’s and Q’s suddenly find themselves outsiders unable to reach the base goal of belonging. They are for unknown reasons unwelcome to buy into the suburban dream and eventually must abandon everything they’ve worked for and move on, usually to a place where similar (but of less interest to the public) events occur. Apparently ghosts do more than turn your hair white, they have a way of making you feel homeless in your own home and shunned by your own community. Boo!

5. That weird shadow thing gets to me!

Who would guess that an amorphous, black splotch of roving something or other could upstage THE HAUNTED’s signature raped by a face-morphing hag demon under a disco strobe light scene? (Yes, I really just wrote that sentence.) But upstage the hag rape the undefined darkness does indeed do! (And that one too!) Fabrication or not, a nebulous cloud perpetually on the brink of transforming into something your mind doesn’t realize it’s horrified by yet is scary stuff. Besides forcing you to stare like a slack jawed idiot trying to attach some known shape or meaning to it, the inky entity additionally reeks of something too familiar- that blank slate of apprehension we’ve all stumbled upon in the dark, the instant before we’re able to recognize what it is before us. (Huh?)

I don’t know what it is but I know I don’t like it. It drives me crazy because it’s a traveling stain! It looks like a cross between a Rorschach test and the faceless being that rummages through my recycling bin every Tuesday night! According to the story, this merciless tear in sanity’s pants will even follow you when you go camping! Light-hearted marshmallow roasting will not dissuade it! It can walk through walls! It can appear anyplace at any time! I didn’t even mention the noise it makes! It sounds like a pig in a garbage disposal!

6. My guard was down.

I am a co-conspirator! I was happy to find something of interest on TV and I was completely open to it. I wasn’t thinking, “This better be good!” I didn’t scrutinize its every move and I didn’t look down on it. I wasn’t trying to use the movie to validate myself as an astute critic or a super fan. Forming an opinion was not my #1 priority and I was engrossed in the movie rather than myself. It’s like in THE BREAKFAST CLUB when ALLY SHEEDY is all, “Why are you being so nice to me?” and MOLLY RINGWALD is all, “Because you’re letting me.” The biggest reason this movie freaked me out is that I let it.