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KIndertrauma:: We Know What Scared You!
UNK SEZ: You may want to hold onto your hats because we’ve got some exciting news! KINDERTRAUMA: WE KNOW WHAT SCARED YOU is a forthcoming documentary all about the movies, TV shows and general media that scared us all as children and it’s executive produced by your old pals at Kindertrauma! You can be a part of this wonderful project by joining our Kickstarter HERE and choosing the level of kinder-contribution that best suits you! Thanks in advance for all of your much appreciated support and make sure you follow KINDERTRAUMA: WE KNOW WHAT SCARED YOU on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for exclusive clips and updates!!!
Traumafession:: M. Graves on The Brothers Lionheart (’77)
The Brothers Lionheart is a film I saw as a child that stuck with me because the two kid main characters die almost immediately and their afterlife is full of danger and struggle as well, and the film ends with them deciding to kill themselves again to get into yet another afterlife!
The film starts by introducing the main character, a terminally ill boy who lives with his older brother. He’s scared to die and his brother comforts him by telling him about the land you go to when you die, a magical valley full of adventure. An immediate gut-wrenching twist is that the older brother dies first, saving his brother from a burning building by jumping out a window and dying from the fall. Then the younger brother dies shortly afterward and the rest of the movie takes place in the afterlife.
The afterlife seems all fun and medieval at first and the brothers are re-united, but soon you find out that there are two valleys in this land, and the other has been conquered by an evil army of black-cloaked and helmeted soldiers backed by a dragon and they have to fight to make sure their valley isn’t next. The rest of the movie is about the fight to overthrow the oppressive villains. At the end of the movie, they’ve defeated the bad guys and the dragon, but the older brother has been burned by dragon fire and is going to become paralyzed. He wants to die, and so the younger brother agrees to carry him to a cliff and jump to their deaths so they can get to the next magical afterlife, which will be peaceful. And after they do that, the movie just ends with a shot of their shared tombstone.
My Kindertrauma:: Seth S. on The Shining (’80)
One’s fear of something can sometimes be about repeated occurrences. Seeing something once that sends a shiver up your spine – that’s one thing. Seeing something more than once – worse yet, coming at you in concert: that’s something altogether horrifying. A singular greeting to horror, multiplied by two, one can likely think of nothing worse. It’s a promise to horror. And it’s two-fold.
Now, I’ll admit I saw Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining earlier than I should have in my young life. Luckily, my parents at least had the foresight that I wouldn’t see it until it aired on national TV, but no amount of censorship can really transform The Shining into a family-friendly film. One wouldn’t imagine that the cannibalistic Donner party could be made prime time appropriate either, but that doesn’t stop father Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) from momentarily talking about it with his son Danny (Danny Lloyd). And that’s alright too, because Danny had already learned about it on his own by watching about it on the television. And Jack assures his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall), “It’s all right. He saw it on the TV.”
Everything is alright on the TV.
When it came to The Shining, network TV cut from the film much of the blood that came crashing through the elevator doors, washing over the Overlook Hotel’s lobby floor tile. It cut away when Mr. Hallorann (Scatman Crothers) served as a catcher’s mitt for an ax in the hands of an enraged Jack. It certainly blurred out the woman’s naked breasts in room 237, but the network couldn’t easily remove the Grady twins from the film, and they were more frightening to me than anything that had to be cut out. Seeing the film for the first time, I was as alarmed as anyone when little Danny rounded that hallway corner on his three-wheeler to discover the spectral Grady girls waiting for him, and for me – and likely for others – the two were a central source of dread.
Yet unlike the other elements of the film that needed to be censored for prime time TV, all that made the Grady twins frightening was their portent. What made them terrifying was not an ounce of blood nor the insinuation of violence. It was what the Grady girls introduced to the film, what they beckoned to Danny and the viewer, seemingly echoing to him before the Torrance family moved to the Overlook. “Well, let’s just wait and see,” she says to him. “We’re all going to have a real good time.”
And we would have a good time, over the course of the film.
We would also have an absolutely horrifying time.
From memory, I can’t write that my parents allowed me to watch the film for its full duration. But they didn’t have to let me watch more than the film’s first 30 minutes to traumatize me, in large part due to the Grady girls. They remain one of the most haunting ingredients of the production. There is something scary about the image of the girls’ dead bodies in that hallway. (Few filmmakers have captured the realistically unnerving collapse of bodies like Kubrick, outside of Coppola or Scorsese.) But more alarming than the image of the girls’ violent demise is the invitation that they first provided to me and the rest of the audience. That’s what remains so haunting about Kubrick’s production. It wasn’t about the more surreal images in the hotel that visit us (and few could discomfit us more than the man dressed in the dog outfit). It wasn’t about the circuitous garden maze that we – like Danny – ran through, trying to escape a murderous father who promised would never hurt us. It’s not even about the nature of the maze itself, an ordinarily juvenile house of seek and discovery, which was only made more terrifying because the playground was suddenly ruthlessly real, even if it was meant to be nothing more than some gravel, landscaping, and subterfuge.
When I saw the film as a child, the fright of Kubrick’s movie had much more to do with that first glimpse of two girls – not one, but two – in that wallpapered hotel hallway early in the film. It had to do with the manner in which those girls gently usher the audience into the film’s mounting terror. While unexpected, their emergence – welcoming the viewer into another two hours of horror – should have seemed harmless, especially since I saw it like so many other people did on the television.
Even when Jack Torrance tragically promised us: it’s okay as long as we saw it on the TV.
When I was little, me and my younger brother would play a game where we’d stare at each other’s faces in the dark until we transformed into hideous monsters. The darkness, combined with our imaginations, would produce horrific hallucinatory results and we’d usually end up tapping out amidst screams while scrambling toward the light switch. Writer/director Kyle Edward Ball’s experimental feature debut SKINAMARINK is just such a mind screw and viewer satisfaction with it will likely rely on whatever personal bugaboos they bring to the table. I’ve written before (HERE) about my traumatic experience of being “accidentally” abandoned at a beach house when I was a mere four years old so Ball’s film felt uncomfortably tailor-made for exhuming my core neuorosis. The nightmare tale involves two young siblings who wake up in the middle of the night only to find their familiar home has turned into a HOUSE OF LEAVES-style ambiguous maze complete with disappearing windows and doors, Lego minefields,public domain cartoons and finally, a plastic telephone with a goofy smile that suggests it’s somehow responsible.
SKINAMARINK was not playing nearby so I had to go far outside my comfort zone to see it on a rainy night in a funky theater that seemed to have closed decades ago. It was quite the memorable experience, but I would probably decline undergoing it again. This is a film that feels more like a spell than anything else; it’s esoteric as all get out and cryptic on a level that seems more at home in an art gallery than a multiplex. I’m going to assume that many viewers will find this sneaky jaunt excruciatingly boring as the lion’s share of the flick consists of vague, off-kilter shots of the ceiling and long dives into a squirmy, grainy amorphous darkness. It’s quite like being hypnotized into a trance-like state and then being periodically slapped into sobriety by cymbal crashes. Again, it’s most definitely not for everyone and even though it certainly had my number, I’m not sure it was even for me. On the other hand, there are a couple of moments that rattled my psyche in ways that a more conventional horror film could never dream of and I can’t have anything but respect for that. Ultimately, SKINAMARINK is an original, singular horror experience but whether that experience is fascinating and frightening or absolutely aggravating may depend entirely on the beholder. I personally rather dug it as a challenging and uncomfortable walk down creepy memory lane.
Ya gotta feel bad for poor little Cady (Violet McGraw) who was involved in a deadly snowplow incident that snatched the lives of both of her parents. Mourning her inconceivable loss she is sent to live with her Aunt Gemma (Allison Williams) who means well but is so preoccupied with work she is anything but maternal. Dear Aunt Gemma is not only smart enough to create incredible robotic toys, she’s also wise enough to realize she sucks at parenting. In a thinly veiled attempt to skirt her responsibilities as a guardian, Aunt Gemma introduces Cady to M3GAN, a lifelike doll that can be programmed to sing off-putting songs and appear to care for her. The bonding scenes between Cady and her new friend are actually quite touching. Unfortunately, although technology often provides a wonderful escape from the messiness of human interaction, the time inevitably comes when the mechanical piper must be paid. In other words, M3GAN goes haywire, and many a (mostly deserving) head happily rolls.
Even though she’s the fresh-faced new kid on the block slyly dispensing dance moves calculated to go viral on TikTok, there’s something warmly familiar about M3GAN. Maybe it’s because she’s assembled from pieces of flicks like CHILD’S PLAY (’88), DOLLY DEAREST (’91), and MAN’S BEST FRIEND (’93) (and of course, she owes THE TWILIGHT ZONE’s “Talky Tina” a hug) or maybe it’s because she shrugs off her innate ridiculousness like a straight-to-video nineties camp fest (think PINOCCHIO’S REVENGE (’96) or RUMPELSTILTSKIN (’95)) but the end result is that she feels like a friend we all grew up with but accidentally lost contact with over the years. There are few surprises up M3GAN’s sleeve (and even fewer if you’ve watched the loose-lipped trailer) but who cares when you’re being reminded at every turn just how fun and crowd-pleasing a horror film can be when it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Then again, as goofy as this movie unabashedly is, director Gerard Johnstone (HOUSEBOUND) provides several lovely moments of pure uncanny creepiness that can’t be denied. There’s a twinkle in M3GAN’s eye and a just-so-smirk upon her face that can impressively unnerve. M3GAN the robot doll may have some technical difficulties but M3GAN the movie was built to last.
My Kindertrauma:: Seth S. on The Twilight Zone
It’s been more than a week since the ball dropped, and I think I’ve finally heard the last of the muffled marching band that’s traipsed its way through my skull since Ryan Seacrest and a skin full of liquor ushered in the new year. In lieu of Tylenol and bottled water, I medicated myself with the annual cable TV marathon of The Twilight Zone, which didn’t allow me to get the rest that I needed because I was glued to those supernatural, suspenseful, and otherwise unsettling stories. And perhaps because of the new year, I’m reflecting on the first episode I’d ever seen of the classic television series: “Probe 7, Over and Out,” thinking about how it changed my understanding of Storytelling forever.
My first journey into the Twilight Zone was through the 1983 anthology film, but that particular venture – which I took too many times to count – was frequently in broad daylight. The movie frequently screened on cable in the middle of the day, when its frights couldn’t find me watching from the family room floor. But one Saturday night at the age of 10, I stayed up later than I should have, having been assured that I didn’t have to attend Sunday school the following morning. It was a rare treat. The Bible stories seemed both limited in quantity and endless in their telling, and a reprieve would be a relief. Without Sunday school to whisk me to bed early, that night would be special. The house was dark. Everyone had gone to bed for the night. As I flipped channels, the TV suddenly flickered with tones of black and white – that door performing somersaults in the cosmos, that house window inexplicably shattering, that slowly blinking staring eye. I’d been transported to a Twilight Zone the likes of which I’d never seen before, seduced by the show’s musical introduction and the inimitable voice of Rod Serling.
In comparison to many others, this episode isn’t the perfect representation of what the weekly TV could accomplish, but this particular installment tells the story of Adam Cook (Richard Basehart), an astronaut who crash lands on a lush alien planet. While he nurses his wounds, which include a broken arm and a bruised rib, radio transmissions alert him that his home planet will soon be destroyed by its two governing bodies, long entrenched in war. Without a home to return to and with a foreign land to call home, Cook discovers only one other living creature, a woman who calls herself Eve (Antoinette Bower). After some initial suspicion of one another, the two settle upon calling this otherworldly planet “Earth” and determine to build a life there together.
The religious subtext wasn’t lost on me, even if I didn’t come from a religious family. The irony that I was watching a creation story late on a Saturday night and that I would be absent from Sunday school the next morning, however, would take time for me to understand. And what made the program itself frightening was not its dramatic action. Aside from some moody atmosphere, the possibility of nuclear annihilation, and a brief physical confrontation, “Probe 7, Over and Out” possesses little of the terror synonymous with The Twilight Zone.
What made the episode so compelling to me as a child was how it seemed to address the human condition on such a unique stage of science fiction and suspense. “He’s a frightened breed,” Cook tells himself of humanity, after the terrified Eve has fled the comfort of his company. “He’s a very frightened breed.” At that age, I understood the evil of racism and the terror of growing old and even more from the full color anthology film of the same name, but perhaps the more ancient black and white presentation of this television show made its messaging more disarming to me. Perhaps it was the absence of color on the screen and the absence of light in the family room. And it may have had everything to do with the program’s bravery in taking a story so hallowed on Sunday mornings and turning it into a contemporary narrative infused with trepidation, distrust, and fear, all of which the world felt daily in some measure. I didn’t understand at that age that stories could do something like that: so irreverent, so manipulative, so revolutionary. What would be next, I asked myself: beloved fairy tales infused with moral compasses? Famous children’s story characters entertaining dark urges? Origin stories that humanized the great villains of literature? Those questions were as invigorating to me as they were frightening, because their answers lie somewhere in the unknown.
But as a young viewer, I was a little more than intrigued by the potential future of storytelling after that night, not only because I was such a lover of storytelling but also because I suddenly saw my contribution to storytelling rather unleashed, unbridled – like Adam on a distant planet: born anew to create a story that no one’s quite heard like that before. And for a 10-year-old just then learning to understand the natural rules of narrative, The Twilight Zone represented a passport by which to bypass a number of the layovers that I would have felt obligated to make before venturing into this new world of story on my own.
And, of course, I’d see more episodes of The Twilight Zone that would be more terrifying than this one, certainly more inspirational to the young creator lurking within me.
And some of them wouldn’t let me get the rest that I needed.
And none of them were meant to.
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