Name That Trauma:: Arletta on Pilgrims & Possession

Please help me if you can! This trauma has been skirting the edges of my memory for the longest time. I have searched and searched and keep coming up with nothing. I believe it is a movie, probably made-for-tv, but it could very well be an episode of an anthology show. When you’re a kid everything seems to be movie length if it’s longer than the Brady Bunch. 

I am presuming that I saw this in the mid-1970s. Even though we only had three stations back then, I can’t remember what network it is. I do know that it was about possession. It featured three characters. One was an older man, then there was a younger man and a younger woman. I think she may have been the older man’s daughter. I am pretty sure that this was set in New England. 

Now this part is very vague, of course, everything else has been vague so far as well. They were renovating a property and I think they were going to turn it into a restaurant or bar. The basement had a dirt floor. After they started digging up the floor is when this possession started. Flashbacks showed these three people in historical clothing. The child me would have probably thought they were Pilgrim clothes, but I’m pretty sure we’re looking at the 18th century, maybe 19th. The ghostly trio were involved in some sort of love triangle, I believe, which resulted in the death of at least one of them. As they became possessed they began acting or re-enacting the arguments of the past. 

This is not the movie in Japan with Doug McClure, the Samurais, and the demon crabs. This is definitely set in the United States. For the longest time if you would have asked me who was in this I would have said Ernest Borgnine and Martin Milner. But I have searched their works and found nothing that sounds remotely like this. I even checked out Doug McClure. For some reason I was thinking Sally Struthers might have been the woman. But again, I found nothing on her. 

This is really bugging me. Any help you could give would be so much appreciated. I would love to see if I could see this again just to see if I remembering any part of it correctly. Thanks for your help. Arletta in Pennsylvania

UNK SEZ: Arletta! I’m hoping I have your answer! This sounds like it has to be the 1970 TV movie CROWHAVEN FARM starring Hope Lange, Paul Burke and Cindy Eilbacher. It’s got pilgrims, flashbacks and the couple with daughter you describe. I also know that it played a lot on TV back in the day and has a reputation for causing kindertrauma! Check it out on YouTube HERE! I’ve got my fingers crossed. I’ve been wrong before but this seems like a match!

Five Favorite Things:: James of LARPing Real Life on The Dark Half (1993)

The Dark Half (George A. Romero, 1993)

George A. Romero and Stephen King: two great tastes that taste great together. Sadly, Romero’s chocolate and King’s peanut butter didn’t get together as often as they could or should have. The number of projects the two men were to produce together that failed to come to fruition is pretty ludicrous.

I say that we should celebrate what we have instead of what we don’t. While Creepshow is the most famous Romero/King lovechild, I am here today to sing the praises of a film that doesn’t get enough respect: Romero’s 1993 adaptation of The Dark Half.

  1. Romeroland

If the small towns of New England make up Stephen King Country, then Western Pennsylvania is Romeroland. There is a certain look that all of Romero’s Pittsburgh-produced pictures have: their events seem to unfold in a perpetual autumn, and the way the Rust Belt surroundings are shot will have you wanting to get a tetanus shot booster after leaving the theater.

In The Dark Half, King Country and Romeroland perfectly overlay one another. Romero uses Edgewood Borough and Washington, PA, to stand in for Ludlow and Castle Rock, ME, to great effect. The bare trees filled with birds (both real and fake), the rolling hills with roads winding through them, and the great stone buildings on the campus of Washington & Jefferson College give the picture a Norman Rockwell meets Charles Addams vibe.

When we talk Romeroland, we don’t just mean places, we mean the people, too. The Dark Half was Romero’s last film made in Pittsburgh, and there are familiar folks in front of the camera as well as behind it. Romero’s second wife, Christine, was an executive producer as well as an actor in the film. David Early, who had taken part in Dawn of the Dead, Knightriders, Creepshow, and Monkey Shines, gets a cameo as an NYC cop. Cletus and Barbara Anderson returned to work their production design and costuming magic. The biggest Romeroland contributor, in my opinion, is editor Pasquale “Pat” Buba. Buba had a long relationship with Romero, going back to Romero’s foray into TV sports documentary with The Winners in the late-1970s. Buba understood Romero’s shooting style and editing needs, delivering a picture that feels the man himself cut it together.

As a former Pittsburgher (a “yinzer” to yinz in the know), all the above gives me the warm and fuzzies at the same time as sending chills up my spine.

  1. First Things First (which is 2nd on this list…go figure!)

A good horror movie needs a freaky set piece at its start to let the audience know what they are getting into. The Dark Half has got a doozy that never ceases to creep me out.

Poor, pre-teen Thad Beaumont just wants to be a writer. Unfortunately for him, he’s got more than stories about Miss Bird saying things brightly in his head. After suffering from headaches and then collapsing on his way to the school bus, the doctors crack open Thad’s skull like a nut and find the remnants of a twin peeking up at them.

When that eyeball in the middle of Thad’s brain opens up and takes a look around through the milky film of its cornea, I don’t blame that nurse from screaming and hightailing it out the operating room. Yuck!

  1. “It takes two to make a thing go right…”

Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock were right: it really does take two to make it outta sight.

I love movies about doppelgängers, evil twins, and split personalities. You know, pictures like Dead Ringers, Psycho, The Parent Trap. I especially love it when the same actor gets to play the two parts, because you just know there’s gonna be some tasty scenery-chewing.

Timothy Hutton was best known at the time for winning an Oscar for Ordinary People, but that had been nearly a dozen years in the past when The Dark Half began shooting. He was an “actor” (please do a Steven Toast impression when you say that word) who’d never done a horror movie before. He seems to relish the chance to get his Jekyll & Hyde on. As Thad Beaumont, he slowly loses his cool and his mind over the course of the picture. As George Stark, he lets it all hang out from the get-go. He’s fierce, nasty and, by the end of the movie, pretty gooey. During one scene, an apartment dweller sticks his nose out into the hallway and asks what all the hubbub’s about. Hutton as Stark turns to him and responds in a deadpan, Southern drawl, “Murder…want some?” You can tell Hutton had a good time slinging lines like that around.

  1. Creepy Oldies

One of the things I love about horror movies in the 1980s is the ironic use of those moldie, golden oldies of yesteryear. Maybe it’s the lyrics about obsessive love or the juxtaposition of voices happily singing in harmony while something horrifying happens on screen, but the songs of the 1950s and pre-Beatles 1960s are just inherently creepy to my ears. “Mr. Sandman” by The Chordettes in Halloween II is a good example. Sure, it only plays at the beginning and end of the movie, but it puts everything in between in a new, weird groove.

I know a lot of fans think heavy metal and horror are a match made in heaven (or hell, if ya know what I mean), but there’s nothing off-kilter or off-putting about an Alice Cooper or Dokken song playing over a murder scene. (It pained me to write that, because I love “Teenage Frankenstein” and “Dream Warriors” so much!) But if, as happens in The Dark Half, you play “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” by Elvis Presley while blood squirts out of a turkey and Amy Madigan’s porcelain face shatters to reveal the skull beneath…well, then you’ve got something with a little frisson to it.

There’s another reason why I think the “King” works so well in The Dark Half: Elvis was a twin. Jesse Garon Presley was delivered stillborn half an hour before Elvis Aron Presley followed his older brother into the world. The movie doesn’t make anything about that fact, but knowing it adds another layer of weirdness to ol’ Thad and George’s sibling rivalry.

  1. Miriam’s Murder

This is a George Romero film. You expect the red stuff to flow, and I don’t mean Heinz ketchup. This is the man who pounded a stake into John Amplas’s chest in Martin, chewed Adrienne Barbeau’s face off in Creepshow, and tore Joe Pilato in half in Day of the Dead. The man knows gore.

The Dark Half was a Hollywood studio picture by a man who was one of the last of the independents. He may have been pressured to bring a more commercial film to studio execs, which may account for the lack of in-your-face blood-n-guts.

There is one moment, however, where Romero’s sensibility comes through loud and clear. It is the most disturbing scene in the picture – maybe one of the more terrifying I’ve ever seen: George Stark’s killing of Thad’s book publisher, Miriam.

The bulk of the credit for the power of this scene goes to actress Rutanya Alda. The noises she makes as she’s menaced by Stark are guttural and horrifying. When Stark “helps” her keep her happy thoughts by jamming his thumb into the wound in her face, her screams sound so real. When he zips his razor across her cheek, she sounds like she is actually losing her mind. The coup de grâce is delivered off-screen, but in a single take, which makes Stark’s smile at Miriam’s sudden silence all the more effective.

The scene creeped me out the first time I saw it in the 1990s on VHS, and it creeped me out just now as I re-watched it.

Honorable mention: Julie Harris as “Reggie,” Thad’s academic compatriot and enthusiastic research assistant. (Still…c’mon, Thad, you couldn’t get a grad student to do that?) She’s the funky, pipe-smoking, clunky wooden jewelry-wearing, VW Bug-driving, literature professor that you dream of encountering in college, and she steals every scene she’s in.

UNK SEZ: Thanks for sharing this stellar FFT, James! Folks, make sure you visit James at his home base LARPing Real Life HERE!

Name That Trauma:: JLopo on Quicksand & a Burning Bed

So, I’ve never quite been able to figure this out for 37 years or so. I live in metro Detroit and back in the 1980’s they used to show 3 horror movies between 2 local channels on Saturday afternoon. This movie was on during that slot though it seemed more like a thriller.

All I can really remember is the following:

1) Someone is murdering people from a family either for revenge or inheritance
2) It had the look of an Amicus or Hammer period piece (like the Gilded Age)
3) 1st scene that has stuck in my head since: Someone is set on fire in a room with a canopy bed
4) 2nd scene that has stuck with me: The villain (i think) dies in quicksand. Quicksand that looked like oatmeal in water quite frankly, not that it didn’t freak me out as a kid.

Hopefully someone has an idea. I was able to figure out my other 2 traumatic childhood movie mysteries: Don’t Go to Sleep and Strange Behavior.


The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (2021)

I was all set to let CONJURING 3 be the first movie I went to see in an actual movie theater post-pandemic but then I saw it was on HBO. In a last minute decision, I instead decided to see A QUIET PLACE 2 in the theater and then watched CONJURING 3 on my computer with headphones on. This turned out to be the right decision for sure; AQP2 is the type of flick that works great with an audience (albeit a small one) and CONJURING 3 has an uncharacteristic television procedural vibe (even though it wisely stays clear of boring courtroom scenes). There’s much to love about this latest installment in the franchise but every bit of that love is probably thanks to the remarkable chemistry between Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as Ed and Lorraine Warren. The film, as a whole, comes off a bit meandering with what feels like almost an active aversion to scares beyond the typical.

I was very excited to learn that this series was to take on the famous “innocent by reason of possession” case that took place in Brookfield, Connecticut; a town that my family moved into a couple years after the incident (I wrote about this previously in a review for the TV movie  THE DEMON MURDER CASE (1983) which is based on the same incidents HERE). For the most part, this movie that was filmed in Georgia does an alright job of replicating the small town I know. The sad thing is that somewhere along the line, someone decided to scrape off some of the scariest parts of the tale and replace them with a rather mundane witch’s curse story. Replacing the horrific demon(s) described in the original story with a waterbed and a gaunt scolding librarian type doesn’t seem like the best of plans to me. Come to think of it though, director Michael Chaves did the same kind of careless bastardization of a legend that didn’t need fixing in his previous flick THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA (2019), another passable spook show generously lifted up by the superior acting of its central character(s).

Truth is I’d follow Wilson & Farmiga as the highly idealized, insanely romanticized and unquestionable glamorized versions of the mostly problematic ghostbusters Ed & Lorraine Warren anywhere. This outing that I wrongly assumed I’d feel particularly connected to is the least successful in the horror department but does add something worthy in the area of our understanding of these now beloved (by me at least) characters. It’s kind of hilarious to think of the real Lorraine Warren hanging off a cliff in Connecticut, Indiana Jones-style but avoiding anything resembling reality is exactly what I go to the movies for. CONJURING 3 is not on the level as the previous two films directed by James Wan but it’s still a bit better than most horror flicks that come down the pike. In this case though, instead of thanking the writer or director, you really have to thank the two impeccable leads. Sure, I was underwhelmed overall but how bad can a movie be when my first thought after seeing it is that I can’t wait to visit these characters again?

Traumafessions:: Unk on Look What’s Happened to Rosemary’s Baby (1976)

LOOK WHAT HAPPENED TO ROSEMARY’S BABY is not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination; it’s every bit as clunky as its title. That doesn’t mean that it didn’t freak me the hell out as a child though. As I recall, the first twenty minutes were horrifying to me, and then I’m pretty sure I bailed to hide under some covers somewhere. Little did I know as a kid that if I had just stuck around past the scene that caused me trauma, I would have probably found that the feeling of boredom had eclipsed any anxiety I was experiencing. Normally I’d watch a movie again before I’d dare write an opinion about it but in this case, I watched it about ten years ago and have decided that I’ve suffered enough. I’m going to practice self-care and simply watch the scene in question and hopefully, I won’t get too many of the facts wrong.

The eternally wonderful Patty Duke has replaced Mia Farrow as Rosemary Woodhouse and if there’s one thing I can’t complain about in this movie it’s the casting. I mean, when Sidney Blackmer couldn’t return to play baddie Roman Castevet (due to his death in 1973), they nabbed one of my all time favorites, Ray Milland! This is a movie that boasts Ruth Gordon, Tina Louise and a young Stephen Mchattie so let’s give credit where’s it due: the casting is impeccable! Sure, this ramshackle flick is all over the place but it’s not that much worse than the literary sequel the original author (Ira Levin) would come up with decades later. I guesss the idea of a sequel was cursed from the get-go.

Anyway, Rosemary (Duke) is traveling cross-country, always on the run trying to keep her little kid away from the Satanists who want him to be evil and destroy the world (probably). The kid gets in a fight with some bullies (as Rosemary is having one of her famous breakdowns on a payphone) and he zaps them with glowing demon eyes (must be nice). Luckily, Tina Louise who has an awesome camper helps them out and hides them away. Eventually, she gains their trust and helps them hail down a bus in the middle of nowhere in order to escape. Rosemary makes the dumb move of getting on the bus first, and the door slams behind her! The bus drives away with tricky betrayer Tina Louise clutching the kid! Rosemary runs to the back of the bus and does the frozen behind glass scream with clawed hands screaming “Nooooo” routine (again with this)! But wait, it’s worse…she goes to the front of the empty bus to plead with the driver and there is none! Nobody is driving the hell bus!

OK, this all hits me on a bunch of levels. We’ve got the Satanists, the two-faced beauty, the vehicle with no driver, the trapped behind glass, the pointless scream, and the being torn away from your parent(s). And this is a seventies made-for-TV movie so you know the insane diabolical musical score is not helping either. It’s an incredible scare (for me anyway) in a lackluster flick that mostly just rots on the vine directly following this harrowing sequence. It’s also a fantastic example of the fact that it doesn’t matter how good the movie is when you’re talking about Kindertrauma, a scare can find you anywhere.