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!

Five favorite Things:: Love and Monsters (2020)

THE DOG. Aw. Don’t tell my cats but I’m legit in love with the doggie that is featured in this movie. It’s really one of the greatest depictions of a canine’s heart and personality that has ever been captured on film. Please never inform me that he was portrayed by more than one pooch. I don’t want to know that. I need to believe he was ONE good boy. By the way, that’s his name, “Boy” and he reminds me of every four-legged friend I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. Oh damn, I got something in my eye. It’s like Holly Hunter in RAISING ARIZONA, “I love him so much!!!” I need more of this doggie. I want to see his future adventures.

(Update: I just found out on IMDb that Boy was played by two dogs named Hero and Dodge and it turns out I’m totally OK with that).

THE SCREENPLAY.  I’m kind of absolutely astonished that this wonderful movie was written by Brian Duffield, the same talented dude who wrote the awesome UNDERWATER and also scripted and directed (!) the excellent (and strangely inspiring) SPONTANEOUS.  I mean, I can’t think of (m)any scriptwriters who have written three of my favorite movies in their entire career much less a guy who wrote three of my favorite flicks in one single year! I’m so impressed that now I have to anxiously wait for the inevitable moment my hero disappoints me and reveals himself to be a rotten person of some sort.

THE WONDER. What an endlessly fascinating world that is created here! The whole planet is basically destroyed (yay) or at least ninety five percent of the population and all the animal and insect life has been transformed into monstrous and often disgusting (yay) mutants. It’s truly terrifying and exciting and basically all of my insane dreams come true. I know it’s supposed to be more like a nightmare but I can’t help myself. I would gladly take living in peril every day over having to endure modern life’s stinky conveyor belt of annoying nonsense.

THE HUMOR. This movie really hits my funny bone squarely, directly and consistently. From the self-deprecating lead, Joel (an extremely likable Dylan O’Brien) to the gruff snark of partial companions Clyde (the legendary Michael Rooker) and pint-sized side-kick Minnow (adorable Ariana Greenblatt), these are folks I really dig hanging out with. When Minnow reveals that some of the most gnarliest looking monsters are actually amiable and that their eyes give them away, it’s like a potent dose of humanity injected right into my veins.

THE CRAB. As a kid who grew up watching Ray Harryhausen flavored monster flicks on weekend afternoons, I absolutely adore an impossible creature or two, especially the kind that hangs out on the beach. Giant mutated creatures bring me great joy and my itch to behold them is satiated far too infrequently. Without ruining a very charming and important plot point, let me just say this particular decapod crustacean has a personality trait that warms my cold, tired heart.

EXTRA: THE SCORE. Oooooh the counterintuitive musical score by Marco Beltrami (the SCREAM flicks among many others) and frequent collaborator Marcus Trumpp is all kinds of awesome and even includes banjos (!?!) plucking away. I love the sound of a banjo. Anyway, see this movie at all costs; it rules. I forgot to even mention the lovable robot! Mav1s!

Name That Trauma:: Beth From Georgia on a Sickly Escapee

Greetings! I’ve enjoyed the site for many years, but I believe this is my first request for help identifying an old trauma of mine.

It’s my hope that someone can help point me to a movie/show that deeply disturbed me as a young child in the early ’90s. I know it had to have been made prior to 1995 because of the house I was living in when I saw it, but I have no idea if it’s a movie or TV show. Someone in my family was watching something on TV on one of the broadcast stations in northern Virginia (I don’t remember if we had cable in that particular house at the time) circa 1992, and I saw a portion of it while going through the room a few times while doing other things. Pretty sure it was on a channel with commercials. The snippets I saw made a big impression.

In the movie (just gonna call it a movie for simplicity’s sake), there’s a sick young woman on the run. She’s just recently escaped from some kind of hospital where she was in quarantine for some kind of horribly contagious disease. She has been accidentally exposed and doesn’t realize she is spreading a terrible disease, but doesn’t trust the hospital staff or authority figures for reasons I don’t recall. Her state of mind is confused, and she is getting worse. The woman has shoulder length or short hair and is wearing a white hospital gown or house coat (pretty sure it opens in the back), and she keeps pausing in her flight from the authorities to vomit. Every time she gets sick, there’s an ominous music chord and stock footage of bacteria multiplying is shown. She looks sweaty and sick, and keeps desperately trying to stop people on the street to ask them for help (and getting sick on them). The music stings and bacteria clips keep happening, illustrating that she’s spreading the disease. Each time, the bacteria pile increases more and more until the single bacterium splits into hundreds and fills the entire screen with them. I think she collapsed before it cut to something else or a commercial break, and I never saw anything further or learned her fate in the end. The whole thing was absolutely horrifying to me. Even today, I think of these few scenes every time I see a clip of bacteria multiplying.

I think the movie may have also played from the point of view of the people trying to catch her and stop the spreading of the disease (maybe police or detectives?). The tone is more like a ’90s TV police procedural thriller where you’re following the characters as they track down a suspect. Like, they keep being one step behind and are trying to get to her in time before she succumbs and infects everyone. Production value may have been akin to something like an episode of In the Heat of the Night, and it may have said something about being based on a true story so it might have been a TV movie or a TV show of the era. I think an ambulance crash happens at some point, with her escaping from the back of the vehicle (possibly right before the scene of her escaping I described above). I also think the color grade of the movie leans a little more to the red shade of the spectrum when following the sick lady, to help show her deteriorating health.

Who is this lady? Did she make it? What was my family watching?! I must know, fellow trauma enthusiasts. Can anyone help identify this horror from my past? Please and thank you!

-Beth from Georgia

Name That Trauma:: Mike W. On a Magic Ball & Killer Toys

Hello from South Africa!

Long time fan, first time writer. Thanks to your site I was able to relive the memory of a movie that scared the bejesus out of me as a kid, “The Haunted” about the Smurl Haunting. I’m hoping you can -please- point me in the direction of another childhood trauma. Here are the deets, bit of a read, but I hope you will find it interesting.

In South Africa we had an early subscription based TV channel called M-Net. One of it’s regularly scheduled program slots was K-TV. (Kids television.) During the school holidays they would have “the K-TV holidays special” which meant extended broadcast hours and also movies that we would never have a chance to see otherwise. (This was the late 80s to mid 90s)

Thanks to them I saw so many weird movies that I may need to revist Kindetraumas services in the future. The titles I do remember catching were “Robotech the movie” (That weird butchered one which flopped in the cinema) the Robotech Sentinels pilot episode, The Peanut Butter Solution…that kind of stuff.

One of the films we saw was about a spoiled upper middle class kid (live action film) who had a ton of cool toys and basically could regularly pick any toy he wanted from the toy store. He offers his Euro friend the opportunity to get a toy, but his friend turns him down and shows him a ball with lights on it. The friend tells him he needs no other toys except this ball. So of course our “hero” steals this ball for himself.

That night his mom has to go out, leaving him home alone. The ball activates and his toys come to life and try to murder him. I remember a cackling skeleton and an almost Tyco looking train set that tried to shoot him, as well as others. The vacuum cleaner also tries to murder him and then he hears his friends distorted voice coming from the ball taunting him. (the movie starts to veer into wtf territory)

He heads downstairs and encounters his mom, except it’s not his mom it’s actually a freaky killer cyborg version of her. (no reason for it..just insanity.) This thing chases him out the house and his real mom arrives home and runs it over.

I know it sounds a bit like a fever dream, but I have a buddy who also saw it. We connected via our love for the film on the he-man forums. Coincidentally he is in the toy design biz himself now. Helping design action figures for Battletoads.

I have tried EVERY source, from repeated word combos on google and youtube, to keyword trawling on IMDB and am now searching archive.org. I find it worrying that there is no sign of it as I think it would be insansely popular online with the ongoing trend of adult toy collectors and retro revivals. I mean, not a single hint of it??? It was definitely not a South African production, I think possibly it was dubbed into english which means the original title might be very obscure.

It is not a holiday themed movie, it is not part of Silent Night, Deadly night…I have no idea what it was.

Sorry for the wordy mail, thanks for reading. Any help at all would be so very appreciated.

All the Best!
Mike W