Name That Trauma:: Reader X on a Dead Soldier’s Kept Promise

You were recommended to me by Sound on Sight.

First, there’s no kids in this movie I’m looking for.

I believe it was the movie of the week on ABC during the mid-70s.

It’s about this woman who’s about to be remarried. Her first husband died in Vietnam. She starts getting phone calls apparently from her first husband. All he says is, “Remember the promise.” She thinks it’s the promise she made to always be faithful to him. There are a couple attempts on her life. A buddy of the dead husband has been around during this time. And the climax is at a lake and the buddy is trying to kill her. Somehow he gets in the water. When he tries to climb out, something grabs his leg. Michael? I believe that was the dead husband’s name. The buddy gets dragged back into the water and drowned. After it’s over, there’s a flashback where the first husband is reminding the woman that he’ll always protect her.

For some reason I thought the name of the movie was, “When Michael Calls.” But, my research has shown that is another movie.

Any help would greatly be appreciated.

Name That Trauma:: Mike J. on a Camera-shy Slasher Skit

I’ve got this vague, traumatic memory of a comedy skit from the early ’80s. It must’ve been on some network or cable special. It may have even been a skit on the show “Fridays” for all I know (I just know it wasn’t SNL).

It was a pre-taped skit parodying the holiday home movie cliche. Someone with a video camera is walking around, taping family members at a gathering. It’s, like, a big, extended Italian family’s celebration (maybe a birthday, or Christmas). Parents and uncles and grandmas are all waving to the camera and mugging. But there’s this one lady — I think she’s an aunt — who isn’t into it. She keeps shielding her face whenever the video camera catches her, saying she doesn’t want to be filmed. She gets progressively more annoyed as the other family members laugh about it, tell her to relax, etc. Finally, she gets so pissed she storms out of the party. But the next scene cuts to her running down the street, with the POV of the camera chasing her. She’s still waving her hands and screaming that she doesn’t want to be filmed, but now it’s like a slasher movie.

Then gets chased to the beach and runs into the ocean to escape the home movie camera. Then it cuts to her drowned body washing up on shore.

I remember it as being really funny and absurd, but dark enough that I’m still curous about it to this day.

Name That Trauma:: Kim R. on Floating Toys That Transform

Hello! I have this bizarre memory of watching something when I was super super young, maybe 3 or 4 (1989-90?) and to this day I can’t figure out if it was real or not. I remember a small boy going to bed and then all of a sudden all the toys in his room start floating and form together to create a giant, scary robot looking chicken?? No amount of googling turns anything up. Would love to have this mystery solved if it’s real!

UNK SEZ: Thanks Kim R.! Hmmm, I guess this trauma happened way too early to have anything to do with the TV show ROBOT CHICKEN so that’s out. For some reason I keep thinking of 1985’s MAKING CONTACT even though I’m pretty sure there is no robot chicken in that movie. Oh Well, I’m going to put that bonkers flick below just in case somebody wants to watch it and I’ll also keep my chicken fingers crossed that one of our fine readers knows the answer you’re looking for!

Traumafession:: Reader Tomb on a Howl of a Haunted House Haircut

Burlingame, California has a great legacy of terror. Why, did you know that it’s where Shirley Jackson spent her formative years? Well let me tell you about my own spook house experience.

I didn’t know I was in for.

Ahh, Halloween, I’m pretty sure it was 1972. I was in the first grade and got a cheap-ass Ben Cooper Devil costume … sans pitchfork, but it’s all good! Before the high-tech boom, the (SF Bay Area) peninsula was just another region with its share of derelict homes. And what happens to a derelict home during Halloween? Back then a charity group turns it into a Haunted House!! YEEAAH!! I didn’t know all if this of course; my six year-old brain thought that this was a REAL haunted house and it was on display for the public. I’m sure my older brothers helped me reinforce this belief. Maybe I’ll see Casper, Booberry y’know.

There it was, perched on the corner of El Camino and Broadway across from the ol’ Phillips 66; some old two-story is all I remember. I could smell the candy apples and other treats wafting from the back concession area. I was hypnotized by the white rope used by the usher before entry, it was glowing under a black light! In we go. We immediately go up a narrow stairway turn, turn, 2nd floor. First thing was the face inside a crystal ball, interesting but not scary. Down the hall was some witch scene or something medieval. By this time I realized this isn’t a real haunted house, this is more like “Frontier Village.” OK turn the corner… oh it’s a barber, with his back to the crowd, cutting some unknown guys hair behind a chair. Then it happened. In unison the chair turned around and the barber showed his face and growled! He was a WEREWOLF! And his customer was a mutilated corpse! It was a jolt of pure terror! I let out this high pitch shriek!

It must have been pretty terrifying because my memory erased the rest of the attraction. My next recollection was my brother, being the obnoxious punk that he was (and still is, ahem) throwing candy at someone in the concession area. I didn’t care, I felt like a survivor. And candy always cheered me up.

The terror’s not over yet! The following Sunday after Halloween, my sister and I had to walk to late mass at Our Lady of Angels. And guess what’s along the way? The Haunted House! every step I took brought me closer to that sepulchral lodging! And it was already dark! Upon arriving I saw a bunch of older kids were tearing up the place since it was going to be demolished anyway. So I felt pretty safe, just as long as I didn’t go in! My sister, pulling my arm, seeing all the fun being had with the destruction, said, “Let’s go in!” There was no way, and I pulled back with all my might. At that moment some kid in the ticket booth right next to us made a big roar and shook a piece of torn-up grass. That was it, my sister got the message, she knew I wasn’t up for it!

The Horror of…The Spiral Staircase (1946)

THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE has always seemed much older than it actually is to me. I think that’s because my first viewing of it was on a particularly blanched-out VHS tape and because although it was made in the mid-forties it takes place about thirty years earlier. The irony is that this seasoned flick resembles and predicts, in various ways, many a beloved blood-soaked horror movie that hadn’t been born yet. Please grab a candle and follow me. Let’s investigate some of this groovy granny’s many instances of cinematic precognition!

Our movie opens with a bunch of folks watching another movie. This is clever because it creates a subconscious pecking order that insinuates that what we’re watching is more real than what they are watching. It’s almost meta, I’d say, and reminds me of other films that springboard from movies like HE KNOWS YOU’RE ALONE, ANGUISH and SCREAM 2.

Hey, the killer is hiding in the closet and it’s all BLACK CHRISTMAS-like! And here comes an intimate POV shot of the victim preparing for bed a’ la HALLOWEEN! We’re also privy to a patch of voyeuristic eyeball images that predate PEEPING TOM and PSYCHO. Shortly we’ll find out that our murderer only kills a specific type (those who have an “affliction” of some sort) and that’s kinda SILENCE OF THE LAMBS-ish and ahead of its time too.

Our sweet heroine is Helen (DOROTHY McGUIRE) and like so many future horror protagonists, she has not quite discovered her own power and (literally in this case) voice yet. She’s a humble outsider and she’s got a traumatic past that made her that way. We the audience know that there is more to Helen than she realizes and only the most wretched would not route for her. Helen is a nice name especially when you imagine it whispered by TONY TODD.

Here’s a rainy wooded stalking scene! Yay for rainy woods and let me cite FRIDAY THE 13th for frequently understanding the primordial power of them. The lurker is a giallo shadow puppet. He disappears into a tree like Freddy Krueger and all his slicker is missing is a hook to complete the I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER look that’s all the rage this fall.

Oh no, dropped keys! Laurie Strode can tell you how important keys are. I like that this key is a big old classic cartoon key like in HELL NIGHT.

Helen has a paranoid fantasy about her well-grounded love interest Dr. Parry (CAT PEOPLE’s KENT SMITH). In it, the two rejoice on their dreamy wedding day but when the time comes to exchange vows, Helen blows it while a critical crowd looks down their collective noses. Very CARRIE and very “They’re all going to laugh at you!” as the words “Say I do.” repeat over and over.

BLACK CHRISTMAS’s secret boozer Mrs. Mac has got nothing on SPIRAL’s Mrs. Oates who swipes hooch and drinks herself into a coma state. ELSA LANCHESTER who just ten years earlier played both Mary Shelly and the monster’s mate in “THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN” portrays Mrs. Oates.

Secretary Blanch (RHONDA FLEMING) knows when to ditch a bad scene. When she goes into the basement (!) to grab a suitcase she bumps into her final fate instead. As in the original FRIDAY THE 13th (when the series was still in the whodunit? mode) Blanch sees her attacker and we don’t. She’s scarred at first, recognizes her assailer and remarks, “Oh, it’s you! You scared the life out of me!” before she is horrifically slain. Aw, this bit also brings back fond memories of the weight-lifting kill from HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME. It’s such a relief to be on friendly terms with your murderer.

Speaking of HBTM (not to mention many a giallo), check out these fashionable tight black murder gloves! So hip it hurts.

Sneaky shoes = DRESSED TO KILL.

As in many a slasher, in the end, it all comes down to a cat and mouse showdown between our honorable heroine and the emotionally vacant killer (whose identity I’m not revealing). In this suspense-filled scene Helen is oh so very close to getting much needed aid from a visiting constable. He’s so close and yet so far and the chance for rescue is frustratingly missed! This reminds me so much of my favorite moment in THE FUNHOUSE when Amy can see her parents just outside the window but her calls for help and recognition cannot be heard. Helen of course cannot scream at all. It’s so sad and tragic, like not being able to connect to a hand-wringing Aunty Em in a crystal ball.

If you haven’t seen this movie, I can’t bare to ruin any more than I already have. If you want to find out if our pal Helen survives, you’ll just have to WATCH IT. My lips are sealed.

Sunday Viewing:: The Brady Bunch’s Fright Night

#Bradygate. The boys trick the girls into thinking a threatening force haunts the yard. The girls convince the boys that a rebellious spirit is breaking free from a trunk. Harmony can only be restored once toiler Alice has obliterated an effigy of her oppressor’s head. Don’t lament the destruction of Carol’s lone artistic achievement, having won third prize rather than first it is valued as less than garbage. This is the way we all became the Brady Bunch.