Masters of Horror Funhouse

UNK SEZ: Below are ten images from the anthology series MASTERS OF HORROR. Can you name the episodes and the directors behind them? Apologies in advance if anyone is not familiar with the series because that would render today’s puzzle kinda impossible for you. Don’t fret though, The good news is that both seasons of this great show are available free to watch on Tubitv and it’s never too late to check it out!

Traumafession:: Chris Moore on The Red Shoes

It was summer and I must have been about 4 or 5 at the time. My sister and I were being watched by a babysitter named Elise whose mother was one of the teachers at our school. Like most kids, I felt like anyone older than 12 years old was impossibly mature and Elise seemed like one of the coolest, most mature people there was. She had her own car and would take us all sorts of places including her video store of choice entitled Video Library.

My family were Blockbuster folks for most of my early childhood, so that was the only video store I was used to. Imagine my surprise when she agreed to take us to rent a movie or two at Video Library and I took in the cavernous building that seemed to house copies of every movie ever released on video up to that point. You could spend hours in there and still feel like you overlooked something. They seemed to have so many movies that Blockbuster didn’t – even in the children’s section I was relegated to for that afternoon. I settled on a large, white clamshell tape entitled Fairy Tale Classics. I saw that it had a version of Cinderella on it, so that was what really drew me in due to my obsession with transformation scenes. I always wanted to see how they’d handle those dramatic scenes where Cinderella turns her rags into a ballgown or how they’d handle the evil queen transforming into one of her disguises to kill Snow White. The rest of the stories weren’t as familiar to me – The Ugly Ducking, Ali Baba, The Bremen Town Musicians, and The Red Shoes.

I went home and put the tape in and was entertained, but unmoved by their Cinderella re-telling. All in all, it was by the numbers, but I kept watching and was enjoying the other stories until I got to The Red Shoes. For those who don’t know, The Red Shoes is a fairy tale written by Hans Christian Andersen who gave us such uplifting tales as The Little Match Girl and the original telling of The Little Mermaid where the title character kills herself when she discovers the prince isn’t interested in her.

The Red Shoes turned out to be another super happy yarn about a poor girl named Karen who’s taken in by a devoutly religious woman after her mother dies. Karen sees a pair of red shoes in the store window and obsesses about them because they remind her of some shoes she had when she was a child. Because her new mother is colorblind, she buys them for Karen, not knowing that they’re totally inappropriate for church and a creepy old soldier has told her that, if she wears these, they’ll take over her life and make her dance until she dies.

Karen starts feeling pretty snazzy in her new shoes and does a little dance in them one day, which turns out to be a really bad idea, because this triggers the shoes to have a mind of their own and she starts flying all around the town, unable to stop dancing. She even kicks her mother in the head, injuring her badly enough to make her bedridden. She’s subdued and some townspeople rip the shoes off of her and that’s that. She never wants to dance again . After all, guilty feet have got no rhythm.

This goes alright for a while, but eventually, she can’t control herself and she brings the shoes back out of the closet for a town festival and she’s back at it again. She’s flung all over town and into the woods where she encounters the scary soldier guy again who just keeps laughing at this poor girl. She gets back home and finds out that her adoptive mother has died in the time that she was out dancing around town and she prays to God to take her instead and bring her back. The angels grant her wish, but everything turns out to be a dream and she and her new mom are cool. She takes the shoes off and locks them away for real this time. The end.

Believe it or not, but this was actually toned down from the original story where Karen is so overcome with grief over her adoptive mother’s death that she asks someone to cut off her feet and she’s forced to live as an invalid until an angel finally grants her wish of death. There was something so nightmarish about this story and the way it was presented that rubbed me the wrong way as a kid and it haunted me for so long that, in my teens, I had to order a copy of the VHS from eBay just to prove to myself that I didn’t imagine the whole thing. I’m sure the strange synth score didn’t help relieve any of the creeps I felt and that scary soldier lurking in the woods was of no comfort either.

Looking at it now, I have to laugh that something like this could freak me out as much as it did, but I do have this movie to thank for introducing me to Video Library. After that fateful trip, I convinced my family to get a membership and, every Friday for the rest of my childhood, we’d stop by there on the way back from school and rent a handful of movies – movies that were to shape me in so many wonderful ways. That place became my film school and I wouldn’t trade those memories for all the money in the world.

UNK SEZ: Folks, you can watch this version of The Red Shoes right over HERE.

ALSO: You guys remember our old pal Chris Moore, director of BLESSED ARE  THE CHILDREN (available on Tubi), TRIGGERED, and now… A STRANGER AMONG THE LIVING (trailer HERE & rent it HERE). I’ve seen this fine flick and can tell you that as per usual, Chris Moore has delivered something multilayered, thought-provoking and consistently unpredictable. It’s a genuinely eerie mind-bender that strikes similar psychological nightmare cords as THE TENANT, MESSIAH of EVIL, and CARNIVAL OF SOULS; so do yourself a favor and check it out if you have the time (you do).

Traumafession:: Unk on Laserblast (1978)

Back in the earliest days of VHS (yep, I’m that old), my family used to rent from a joint called STAGE DOOR VIDEO in King of Prussia Mall. It was actually more like an expanded kiosk that would pull down a metal gate when it was closed. Anyway, the horror/sci-fi section seemed immense to me at the time though in reality, it was probably less than a hundred films. My favorite, most trusted VHS label was easily MEDIA because they offered the likes of HALLOWEEN and HELL NIGHT and so it was only a matter of time before I rented another title on their roster, LASERBLAST. I had seen much more disturbing horror films by that time, so it’s not exactly accurate to say that LASERBLAST scared or traumatized me but it did in fact, freak me out a bit. Which may be a little odd as it’s widely considered to be an inept film (it was even featured on MST3) and its poor reputation miraculously has not improved one iota over the decades. Still, a recent re-watch reminded me that once it gave me a strong feeling of nauseous unease.

For a weird kid like me, LASERBLAST had a rather irresistible power fantasy plot, It’s about a bullied, socially awkward young man named Billy (KIM MILFORD) who finds a laser gun/arm cannon left behind by a stop-motion alien; Billy then decides to exact his revenge by blowing all who wronged him into smithereens. The creepy element for me, at the time, was that the more Billy used his newfound power/weapon the sicker and more monstrous he became. The actor who played Billy just happened to bear a strong resemblance to MARK HAMILL as Luke Skywalker (surely not by accident) and so, in my post STAR WARS head, it was almost like watching Luke become a sick, deranged ghoul. Now, I was not the healthiest of kids and had spent much time dealing with doctors and hospitals due to allergies and asthma (that has mostly gone away) so the idea of getting sick, catching a disease, really got to me (and is probably why this memory is resurfacing now during a pandemic). My viewing also took place during the early eighties when many a nightly newscast and weekly news magazine were reporting on AIDS at regular intervals with horrific images and a rightfully panicked tone. Billy’s dark, sunken eyes mirrored the headlines.

So yep, this kinda dopey (yet not uncreative) movie got under my skin more than a little bit and at least deeply enough for me to remember it all these years later (and I can almost smell some pungent doctor office scent as I do). As faulty as it may be, it’s hard to hate on such a simple and pure fable about the corrosive nature of revenge and exploited power. LASERBLAST may not be remembered fondly by many (although an ethereal performance from CHERYL “RAINBEAUX” SMITH of LEMURA fame is reason enough to watch it), but it’ll always represent a particular part of my awkward youth and certain fears that lay far back in my brain, ready to resurface.

I’d still like to find a laser gun though- I promise I wouldn’t abuse it…much.