Traumafessions:: Unk on Sleestaks

Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolfman; all seemed like cool guys I could pal around with when I was little… Sleestaks, not so much.  Truth told, Sleestaks freaked me out. For those not familiar, Sleestaks are inter-dimensional, reptilian humanoids that appear in Sid and Marty Krofft’s seventies-era Saturday morning adventure series LAND OF THE LOST. They’re like eight feet tall thanks to extended lower legs, have sorta crab-claw hands, a spike/horn on their heads and gigantic glassy insectoid eyes. Did I mention they hiss(ssssss)? And if there’s a group of them (I seem to remember them preferring to travel in threes) the hissing is especially worrisome (and even vaguely insulting if you are a kid who suffers from asthma).

I don’t know what my deal is but as a child, I had a near primordial reaction to them. It was sorta like that thing when you put a cucumber behind a cat and it mistakes it for a snake and jumps three feet in the air (I beg you not to do this). Although I have to admit they never failed to liven up the show, they gave me true heebie jeebies. It didn’t help that they kind of hunch over with their arms spread out and almost ape the familiar movements of an adult trying to wrangle a child. As I recall there was a kind, helpful, more sophisticated Sleestak (possibly from the future) who did indeed attempt to aid our heroes Marshall, Will and Holly but his mellow disposition did not make up for the aggressive behavior of his more primitive brethren 

Here’s where it gets weird (and by that I mean, where I get weird). I have a very strong memory of my older brother riding a bike with a rope tied behind it and me on skates being pulled while holding on to said rope. This was in the basement so I’m sure we were not moving at any incredible speed. Anyway, I fell and smashed my head hard against the cement (not my first head injury by a long shot). I must have been out for a second because when I came to I was surrounded by Sleestaks looking over me and then they were quickly replaced by my familiar basement surroundings. What the hell was that? Normal brain damage or some unglued memory of alien abduction!?! Am I in some bed somewhere attached to tubes MATRIX-style and have no clue? I honestly DO NOT want to know. Anyway, Sleestaks; I very much prefer them on my TV rather than in my basement (or head).

Name That Trauma:: Michael from Minnesota on an Enchanted Sword & a Maternal Witch

Hello Kindertraumaniacs!

Michael from Minnesota, here for a third time. You guys have done a dynamite job helping me in the past, now I come to you for a friend who recently asked me to identify a couple of movies he remembers watching in his adolescence. The first I knew immediately (Empire’s “Eliminators”), but this one has me scratching my head. Here’s how he described it:

Lower-budget fantasy flick. The hero is a stock Conan/Deathstalker/Beastmaster type who lives in the woods with an old witch. He goes on some sort of quest, and ends up in possession of the fragments of an enchanted sword. When he reforges the sword, it reveals to him that he is heir to the throne; his memory had been wiped by a villain years ago. It also reveals that the old witch is his mother, and restores her youth and beauty. That’s all he gave me.

This sounds like it could be any number of Corman-backed fantasy flicks from the early-to-mid-80s, but I’m not much of an expert on that subgenre. He’s positive that he saw this on cable (his dad worked for the cable company and they received free service), and that it would have been in either the very late 80s or very early 90s. Thanks in advance, you beautiful people!

That’s So Craven!:: Deadly Blessing (1981)

Wes Craven’s DEADLY BLESSING (1981) will always hold a special place in my heart. It was one of the first R-rated horror films I experienced in a movie theater and naturally, it scared the crap out of me. It’s comfort horror that I revisit every couple of years and I always manage to find new angles to this diamond every time I visit. A recent re-watch accentuated for me how many themes and ideas that are present that Wes Craven would further explore or reuse in future projects. Craven is only one of three names credited for writing DEADLY BLESSING (high five to Glenn M. Benest and Matthew Barr) so I can’t be completely sure what concepts are a hundred percent the horror master’s but one thing is certain, this flick has got his paw prints all over it.

The Dream Demon. Craven has stated before that many of his ideas come from dreams. In BLESSING it very much seems that future mega-star Sharon Stone has a disturbing dream about future mega-horror icon Freddy Krueger. She wakes up from a terrible nightmare saying it involved being terrorized by a man with “all gray, like ash” skin and that seems like only a stone’s throw away from a man with burnt skin which would perfectly describe Freddy. It’s almost as if she dreamt of Freddy as he was still forming in Craven’s imagination.

The Snake Bath. Well. This bit is far too on the nose to deny. At one point during the film, lovely Maren Jensen is taking a well-deserved bath only to find she is not alone. A giant snake comes for a visit and sinisterly swims between her legs much like (almost exactly) like Freddy Krueger’s glove will famously threaten Nancy Thompson in a famous scene from A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET a few years later. The beats and angles mirror each other to a tee and it’s almost like an early sketch to a future masterpiece. And of course Craven would go on to explore more snake horrors in THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW(’88).

Summer Of Fear. At one point two characters portrayed by Jeff East and Susan Buckner meet up at a local movie theater that just happens to be playing Craven’s made-for-TV movie from a few years before, SUMMER OF FEAR; which East also starred in (Luckily East misses the showing so he never has to endure the two realities colliding. On the other hand Vicki, does presumably watch the movie and is surprisingly tight-lipped about the incongruity). In other words, this blink and you’d miss it, low key self-reference can be seen as a precursor to the ultra meta-awareness that Craven would explore to extremes in future movies like SCREAM (‘96) and especially WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE (‘94)

Death in the Barn. When Sharon Stone’s anguished character is attacked by a dark-robed figure in a barn, I swear it could almost be a cut scene from a SCREAM flick (sans the mask). Even the barn setting itself Craven would later revisit in his last film, SCREAM 4.

The Last Scare. Craven apparently was forced by producers to add one last scare to DEADLY BLESSING (probably to ape the previous year’s smash FRIDAY THE 13th). He wasn’t pleased but went ahead and incorporated a reality-smashing jolter involving a demon that breaks through the floor and drags a character into (I’m assuming) hell, followed by quiet normalcy being restored as if it never happened. Crazy that just about the exact same thing happened with A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984). Producers wanted a slam-bang closer and Craven came up with a similar scenario; a reality-defying demon breaks through into our dimension (in this case through a door) and yanks a character off to who knows where. Craven wasn’t keen on either late addition tack-ons but I gotta say I love (and fell hard for) them both.

DEADLY BLESSING may not be Wes Craven’s best movie (though sometimes I wonder) but it’s always entertaining and certainly represents a fascinating moment in his career. It sports many of his familiar themes (every parent is toxic and oppressive) and stands in sort of an eye of the storm halfway spot between his earlier, more physical horror films (LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, THE HILLS HAVE EYES) and his more surreal, cerebral output (NOES, SHOCKER, etc.). It’s also beautifully shot, has a hypnotic James Horner score and is wonderfully suspenseful. There’s an of its time reveal that’s not likely to win a GLAAD award anytime soon but Jensen, Stone and Buckner truly shine as a troika of supportive old college pals and the film is ultimately a surprisingly positive testament to female friendship.

Name That Trauma:: Tracey B. on a Crying Cleaver Killer

Greetings from Chicagoland!

Circa 1980, I’m flipping through a black-and-white horror mag, title unknown, and see a bit of story involving a man with a cleaver cutting up a conscious woman. A big panel shows her arched backwards over a table or butcher’s block, her arm cut off at the elbow, while he’s holding her down with one hand, cleaver upraised in the other. A few panels later, his attack is over. Another small panel shows him mostly offscreen; he’s standing before her head, now split in half lengthwise at the front, lying on the table / block. Cleaver hanging at his side, he cries(??!?!??!!?), with dialogue saying, “Oh, Ellen…. Ellen….” (Could’ve been Helen, but I think Ellen is correct.) The last panel I recall shows him clutching a struggling bird while splitting it with the cleaver. I quit reading when he started going after other animals.

I’d like to know what the hell this made-up murderer’s problem was and to get some satisfaction in seeing him suffer. Thank you, thank you, thank you for any leads.

Thank you more for helping humanity, one Kindertrauma at a time!