Traumafession:: Unk on Halloween (1978)

Today is Halloween! Happy Halloween! To mark the occasion I thought that I’d travel back in time and share with you all my first glimmer of Michael Myers, which seriously scared the bejesus out of little me. These days the image of Michael Myers and his ghostly pale mask is so ubiquitous it’s hard to imagine there was a time when the mere sight of him was a jolting experience that cut like a knife. I suppose one could argue that the expressionless visage from EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1960) may have been a subconscious influence but for me, personally, I had never seen a figure remotely as stark and uncannily unnerving before. The truth is, when my poor peepers got a load of the guy for the first time, my feet ignored my brain being mesmerized and insisted on their own that my entire body leave the room. Yes, I was too scared to take it in. I ran like a rabbit.

When I was a kid we had a large rec room in the upstairs of our house that we called “the back room.” It had bicentennial wallpaper, a ping-pong table (more often used as a fort) and our third parent, the big box TV. We lived in that particular house for four years but they were the important years that bridged childhood and adolescence. For the first two years, the blessed TV was on the left side of the room and that’s where I watched everything from THE AMAZING CHAN AND THE CHAN GANG to ZOOM. Later, the TV moved to the right side of the room by the stairs and by that time, my interests focused more around daily half-hour music video shows (we had no MTV!) and those crazy “Aerobicise” exercise programs like the one featured in FRIDAY THE 13: Part 4: THE FINAL CHAPTER. When I first got a gander of Michael, the TV was still on the left side so that tells ya I was still a critter. In fact, I was eleven and I wasn’t a newbie to horror either, I’d seen all the classic Universal stuff, withstood countless made-for-TV traumas and may have even endured the climax to CARRIE at this point.

Probably no one did more to attempt to squash the early eighties slasher boom than those lovable jerks SISKEL and EBERT (may they rest in peace). Ironically, no two people inadvertently stoked the flames of my fascination for horror more. My little brother and I absolutely loved SISKEL and EBERT’s SNEAK PREVIEWS on Channel 12. This was before VHS exploded and by golly, it seemed like such a privilege to get to watch even short clips of movies for free. For all of the duo’s scolding of “dead teenager” flicks, the two were at least level-headed enough to thoroughly champion JOHN CARPENTER’s HALLOWEEN. It was during their review that fate made sure that “The Shape” crossed my path. I was somehow able to handle the scene where Laurie Strode hides in the closet with thrilled trepidation but it was a later scene that finally broke me. I think we’ve all seen it a million times by now but it’s when Laurie is resting after a tussle with Michael who is on the ground presumably dead. Horrifically, he then slowly raises up out of her eyesight almost like a vampire rising from a coffin. That’s when my fight or flight response said, “Feet don’t fail me now” (there’s a SISKEL and EBERT review of HALLOWEEN on YouTube that only shows the closet scene but I’m adamantly sticking with my memory of events, perhaps what I saw was an earlier review and the clip is a later confirmation since it concerns the onslaught of horror movies inspired by HALLOWEEN?)

Eventually, I would see HALLOWEEN in its (almost) entirety on TV a couple years later (1981) when I was babysitting (!) of all things. Yes, I was one of those rare boy babysitters you never hear about! What can I say? The neighbors loved me, trusted me with their kids and I loved collecting money while eating granola bars and watching THE LOVE BOAT and FANTASY ISLAND back to back. As a paranoid nerd, I had no problem identifying with Laurie and I have to say I really looked up to her too because she radiated nobility to me. As a kid who was bullied at school (and at home, the park, the mall, etc.), I found her fortitude inspiring. If she could go head to head with Michael certainly I could handle a few zit-faced knuckleheads. When we finally got a VCR (one of the first families on the block!), I was able to rent every flick that followed in HALLOWEEN’s wake, always searching for that same elusive high (no luck there but THE FUNHOUSE, HELL NIGHT and HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME came close). Recently I was asked to do a list of my favorite horror films (more on that later) and I was very surprised to see that half of the films I cited came out in 1981. Now I realize the reason for that is that I first met Laurie Strode that very year and the movie that I once found too scary to view for a few seconds had become ground zero for my horror obsession. Thank you, HALLOWEEN!

Sunday Streaming:: Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)

I’ve got many a complaint concerning the lack of progress in the world but I have to tip my hat and appreciate that DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW is so readily available to view these days (It’s free on TubiTV HERE). This is one of those flicks that made a profound impact on my youth but seemed to disappear as if it never existed for a while. Can you imagine my disappointment when I thought I had finally got my hands on it back in the eighties only to discover I had rented SCARECROWS (1988)? O.K., that makes me sound kinda dumb but there was no Internet back then and I had to rely on memory alone. (It was like the dark ages except with legwarmers and Rubik’s cubes). Point is, there’s no longer any excuse to not watch this darkly beautiful morality fable. It’s right at your fingertips and it’s so darn good. In fact, if I had kids, I’d tell them to chuck their Bibles out the window and just watch DNOTS because it teaches you everything you need to know about right and wrong and how to conduct yourself in the world. Plus it too concerns a bullied dude who dies on a cross only to miraculously return.

Bubba didn’t do it. Bubba (LARRY DRAKE) is a mentally challenged fella of 37 who looks like Dr. Giggles but is as kindly as Casper the Friendly Ghost. One day he’s hanging out with his best pal, a young girl named Marylee  (TONYA CROWE– gotta love that last name) who is savagely attacked by a dog. When he carries the girl’s unconscious body home, he is accused of mauling her himself. A bunch of ignorant locals lead by a creepy postman horrifically named Otis P. Hazelrigg (CHARLES DURNING) decide to take justice into their own hands. They find Bubba hiding in a scarecrow whimpering and then callously shoot him full of lead only to discover the little girl survived and is telling the truth about the dog attack and Bubba’s innocence. Much like today, the courts do zero to protect the victimized, which leaves Bubba’s grieving mother (JOCELYN BRANDO) to state, “You may think you’re getting off free, but there’s other justice in this world besides the law!” Turns out, the creepy mailman was just projecting his own grisly motivations upon Bubba because soon he is stalking poor Marylee at a Halloween party. But wait! Somebody is killing all those involved in the Bubba murder and that someone is looking a bunch like a scarecrow! Can said mystery entity save MaryLee in time?

Exquisitely directed by AUDREY ROSE and THE ENTITY author FRANK DE FELITTA (who I will worship forever for also gifting the world with the SHARON STONE thriller SCISSORS (1991)), DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW is worthwhile viewing any time of year but is particularly potent right about now. Check it out if you haven’t; everybody needs to know the Legend of Bubba! He didn’t do it!

Trauma Scene:: Burnt Offerings (1976)

I’ve got a new odd obsession. I was able to purchase one of those small TV sets with a VCR built inside from my local thrift store ($3!) and attached a converter to it so that it could pick up broadcast television. Not only does it get COMET TV, it gets it on two different channels! So now I’m recording movies just like in the old days complete with commercials (I know that’s a minus now but in the future, it will be a plus). It’s so darn delicious that it feels illegal but nope, this is what VCRs were made for! It’s all on the up and up! Of course, I’ve run out of blank tapes so I’m just picking up any second-hand VHS I can find that’s over two hours long and recording over them! So thanks, RON HOWARD for making such long movies! I have no problem covering up CINDERELLA MAN with GHOULIES!

Anyway, the other night I recorded the classic BURNT OFFERINGS, which was a big late-night TV favorite from my youth (as was PHANTASM which utilizes the same abode).  Even though I naturally own it on DVD, I couldn’t help desiring a VHS version that I can play as I go to sleep and will rewind and turn itself off and not leave me with a repeating DVD menu screen. BURNT OFFERINGS has a plethora of memorable trauma scenes and when I was younger, I might have said the scariest bits involved the last-blast falling chimney, KAREN BLACK’s white eyes or that skeezy, smiling chauffer that pops up from time to time. Today though, I’m leaning toward the swimming pool scene for really delivering the uncomfortable creeps.

You must remember it; OLIVER REED as Ben Rolf is swimming in the pool with his young son David (the underrated LEE MONTGOMERY of BEN, DEAD OF NIGHT, MUTANT, THE MIDNIGHT HOUR, etc.). At some point, he discovers a pair of broken glasses on the pool’s floor that triggers him into becoming a wild-eyed abusive nutcase. One moment he’s playfully tossing his kid under the water but soon he’s dunking him viciously as if he means to drown him. The dubious horseplay becomes so savage that BETTE DAVIS, of all people, is forced to be the voice of sanity in the situation. It’s at this point too that you can’t deny BURNT OFFERINGS influence on THE SHINING. I seem to recall Stephen King complimenting ROBERT MORASCO’s novel in his book DANSE MACABRE and I think that affection must have bled into the Torrance family’s drama. There’s something innately scary about losing your sense of safety around someone you love and especially so when you’re a child and that person is your parent. It doesn’t hurt that OLIVER REED is such a gifted and intense actor whose whiplash flip from kind to clobber-y is pitch-perfect in its harsh abruptness. KING famously lamented that JACK NICHOLSON’s performance in THE SHINING was too one-note for his liking and I can’t help but wonder if what he desired to see was closer to what REED delivers here. In any case, it took me off guard just how unsettling this scene remains and it reminded me how great of a movie BURNT OFFERINGS is, even all these years later.

Do you have a horror scene that sticks out in your head as particularly traumatic? Why not right it down and send it to so we can share it with others?

Traumafession:: Carmen P. on Ghosts of the Old West

I read a book as a child about ghost stories from the old West. I have bought a copy of the same book I remember from my school library, but there is ONE PHOTO in it that I SWEAR has been changed in the updated edition. I am wondering if anyone can confirm this. The book in question is called Ghosts of the Old West, published in 1976. I bought a newer copy. There is a story about a gal who haunts a stagecoach station. The picture accompanying it was TERRIFYING. A transparent girl in a bonnet with piercing eyes. Honestly, they may have changed it because it was so terrifying. If anyone remembers this photo- and I know if someone saw it they would never forget- can you please let me know????
Thank you!

UPDATE: It looks like Katherine G. found the image!

I have a collection of vintage books of ghost stories, among them 1976’s Ghosts of the WildWest by Bruce and Nancy Roberts. The illustrations are spooky black and white photographs, some with double exposures indicating ghosts. Included is one that matches the described illustration and it does accompany a story about a woman haunting a stagecoach. Maybe the right one?

Kinder-Gallery:: Eric Messina

It turns out that our old pal Eric Messina (of Theater of Guts) is a truly gifted artist! Just take a look at the gallery below to view his stunning horror-inspired work! Incredibly, he’ll draw commissions for a mere $40 so you’ll probably want to look him up on Instagram under his profile name Erok Hell! Here are some links to explore more of his eclectic output: Etsy=HERE, Redbubble=HERE, and Threadless= HERE. Big thanks to Eric for letting us share his fantastic artwork with our beloved readers!

Trauma Scene:: Alligator (1980)

I was watching ALLIGATOR the other night in honor of the late great Robert Forster when a particular scene popped out at me as exceptionally kindertraumatic. It’s kinda crazy it never struck me as such before and I wondered why I hadn’t noticed it the last time I watched ALLIGATOR (which strangely enough was about a month ago). First off, ALLIGATOR is a great movie. It’s written by John Sayles (PIRAHNA) and directed by Lewis Teague (CUJO) and it’s an action-packed, super sly send-up of fifties-era giant creature flicks as much as it is an inevitable cash-in on JAWS. Forster is brilliant in it and always a good sport when the subject of male pattern baldness arises. I also have to give a shout out to the charming and underrated ROBIN RIKER who we come to find out is the little girl from the film’s opening whose thoughtless parents flushed her tiny pet alligator down the toilet. There’s a very good chance that her long lost pet is the mutated monster eating so many people who actively deserve it (the creature’s attack on an upscale wedding and his subsequent chomping of the film’s various villains in the climax is so gratifying).

The vignette I feel obliged to spotlight occurs well within the movie when the alligator is in full rampage mode clobbering anyone unlucky enough to get in his path. In a suburban backyard, three little boys are playing pirates with the two older kids bullying the youngest (who is blindfolded) toward the end of a diving board (pretending it’s a pirate’s plank) and into the deep end of the pool. Unbeknownst to the trio, the titular alligator is (understandably) taking a much-needed dip in the pool! Now, where every other film known to man would utilize this scenario for suspense only to have the kids realize their blunder and escape at the last minute, this flick has the kid fall in. Not only does he fall in, shortly thereafter he is shown colliding with the scaled abomination and not long after that, the pool is turning blood red signaling that his and the alligator’s encounter didn’t work out so good for at least one of them. I guess considering ALLIGATOR’s debt to JAWS it shouldn’t be that shocking that a tyke might end up on the wrong side of an animal encounter but something about this scene feels extra vicious (and perhaps darkly humorous).

Mostly though, I can’t help feel sorry for the two older kids who have to live forever knowing they are responsible for their sibling’s death. Plus I can’t help empathizing with the blindfolded kid who became alligator dinner because the initial prank seems like something my older brothers would have done to me without pause. Anyway, I’m not sure if this macabre scene would float in this day and age but it sure has bite.

Sunday Streaming:: Hammer House of Horror Marathon

Once upon a time, your very own Unk had a “Name That Trauma” of his own. I had fallen asleep watching an episode of SATURDAY NIGHT DEAD hosted by Philly legend STELLA and woke up to a horrifying scenario on my TV. I caught only the very last moments of the program and they included a man and woman screaming from within a window somehow trapped and going stark raving mad inside a house. Miraculously a reader knew exactly what I was talking about and informed me that it was an episode of HAMMER HOUSE OF HORROR entitled “The Silent Scream.” Here in the States it seems episodes of the show were often passed off as singular movies. Of course, I had to immediately order the entire series on DVD and boy was I pissed at the time when someone screwed up my order and sent it to me on VHS! Years have passed and I’m actually glad about that mistake so I guess there’s a lesson to be learned there somewhere.

Point of all of this is that today COMET TV is having a HAMMER HOUSE OF HORROR marathon and you can watch it free on cable, the airwaves (if your TV is set up with a converter) or just watch it live off of your dearest computer HERE. It starts at 10 am (which is why I posted this so early) and it goes on until 3:30 in the AM! The aforementioned episode “The Silent Scream” is scheduled for 5:30PM but if I were you, I’d catch as many episodes as you can. It’s sure to get you in the Halloween spirit.