My Kindertrauma:: Poltergeist (’82) By Justin H.Q.

Think of the locations that haunted your worst nightmares growing up, and they were likely the things of shadowy forests, Gothic castles, and European villages haunted by one creature or ghoul or another. But as E.T.: THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982) seemed so close to home by recreating the neighborhoods that so closely resemble the ones we were growing up in, POLTERGEIST (also 1982, with a complex production backstory that forever links one film to the other and vice versa) appeared to take that same visual familiarity and imbue it with terrifying images that rapidly reappropriated the look and feel of Spielberg’s family sci-fi film setting and created in it one of the most effective horror films of the 1980s.

And to what glorious effect – be reminded that POLTERGEIST is rated PG. Watching it as a child, I found that the film was peppered with so many elements of my own young life: action figures scattered around the bedroom wherever their last space battle left them; overturned Hot Wheels cars on the floor, capable of wounding you if you step on them with a bare foot; the anonymous baby dolls, teddy bears, and more, each one abandoned like an orphan because of the sheer number of them. And it was these nostalgic details of the film that seemed to openly invite the terror into my home – because the film fooled me like it likely fooled many – because Poltergeist teaches you that if it can happen in that home, then it can happen in your home. It could even happen in my home. That’s the effect of horror. And watching the film even today, one wouldn’t know that the film dodged the bullet of an R rating.

The film operates through a deceit that lulls the audience into a false sense of security by asking moviegoers to walk the same living rooms, kitchens, and bedrooms as the Freeling family – but quite suddenly, those warm, safe spaces of the home are occupied with suspicion and then dread and then finally unadulterated horror. By the time this film concludes, there’s been no respite for the hauntings that threatened to destroy the Freeling family from the inside out. The only escape comes in the form of a retreat to a local motel – the most impersonal home imaginable (and yet still thematically in keeping with the carbon copy approach to the home already established by the cookie cutter neighborhood in the film). The only way, then, to protect yourself from a fate similar to that of the Freelings is to truly separate yourself from the one ingredient that appears to bind most families. It certainly bound my family together on more than one memorable occasion: the television set. Film at 11.

My Kindertrauma:: The Fly (1958) By Unk

The weather is so incredibly perfect today that it reminds me of the days in my youth when I’d hide away in a wood-paneled TV room with the air conditioner blasting, watching classic horror movies like THE FLY (‘58). I can never thank local Philly stations like 17, 29, and 48 enough for providing such perfect escape from the sun and my fellow humans. I’ve got a soft spot for many a classic monster movie but I have to admit there’s something special about THE FLY because it truly horrified me in ways that many could not. It’s just such a grotesque and tragic concept and the ending is just plain freaky.

Ironically I don’t believe anyone is even in any real physical danger throughout the course of most of the film.  It’s really about the horror of making a humongous mistake that try as you might you just can’t fix, and then eventually begging someone you love to help you commit suicide so you can escape your hideous error. Somehow the relatable humanity of it all makes it more uncomfortable for me to watch than its peers. It stresses me out way down deep like a record scratch or a creased book cover or a stain on a favorite shirt.

Incomparable Vincent Price stars as Francois Delambre who learns his sister-in-law Helene (Patricia Owens) likely crushed his brother Andre (David Hedison) in a hydraulic press. It seems like a pretty indefensible act until you learn that poor Andre was sporting the head of a housefly thanks to colossally botching an experiment with a molecular transporter. To be fair, his intentions were swell, if it worked the transporter would have made all transit obsolete, but by some bad luck (or karma for previously testing the device on a cat) a house fly flew into the machine and their molecules got all kinds of mixed up. The only way to possibly fix things is to find the housefly that now has a miniature human/Andre head and reverse the process. This is when I start getting agitated and my neurosis kicks in. How the hell are you supposed to find a fly? They are so hard to wrangle! Worse still, in my mind, is that Andre’s son actually catches the fly but is told to let it go by his mother who is ignorant of the dilemma at the time! When Helene finally does understand the gravity of the situation she has several opportunities to capture the fly and louses every single one of them up. It’s very frustrating to behold and if I were her, I’d probably never stop kicking myself. If you are a person cursed with both morbid self-criticism and chronic empathy you don’t want to witness any of this. It’s as exasperating as watching a bank heist gone wrong movie.

But it’s the ending of the film that delivers my kindertrauma. After everyone involved has failed spectacularly in every possible way, the fly with Andre’s head is spotted in a spider web in the garden (too late to save Andre from his crushed skull but not too late to verify that Helene isn’t an insane murderer). Consistent with everyone’s luck in this movie, tiny Andre is wrapped in webbing, about to be eaten by a huge (compared to him) spider and is screeching in a high-pitched wail “Heeeelp Meeee!” I acknowledge that this scene is so bizarre that it reflects many shades of unintentional humor as well, but the look of abject fear and pitiful helpless misery on Andre’s face is profoundly disturbing. His expression kind of reminds me of the stretched-out distorted ghoulish faces that scream in the opening credits of NIGHT GALLERY; visages that also cause me anxiety. He’s just so minuscule and powerless in the face of a heartless devouring universe (and perhaps they all are). Mercifully he is crushed by a rock.

Somehow all ends (momentarily at least) well in THE FLY. Helene’s good name is cleared and Uncle Delambre and his nephew basically skip off to the circus. I, on the other hand, remain tormented by what I’ve seen and can still hear that horrid pleading voice buzzing in my head, “Heeelp Meee”!

My Kindertrauma:: Satan’s Triangle (1975) By Unk

Over the years I’ve brought up the 1975 made-for-TV movie SATAN’S TRIANGLE numerous times on these pages. For some reason though, I’ve never truly dived into my own personal experience with the film, which is bizarre when you consider it is my ground zero Kindertrauma and the main catalyst for this space even existing. SATAN’S TRIANGLE destroyed my fragile psyche for a good long while. It haunted my mind like no other and there was a time when I never thought I’d escape its grasp. Of course, like many a Kindertrauma, it’s likely a major factor in my becoming a horror fan too, as it hard wired me into forever searching for another film that I could be so deeply mortified by, gnaw upon, and eventually find some kind of gratifying truce with. I was eight years old, and I begged my mother to allow me to watch it. It was the seventies; nothing was more intriguing than the Bermuda Triangle or Satan. I thought it would be exciting and fun (it was for a bit). I didn’t know that the simple act of sleeping was going to become an impossible obstacle; I didn’t know my little brain could torture me so.

SATAN’S TRIANGLE concerns a boat discovered by the coast guard that is occupied by three dead bodies and a terrified female survivor. Doug McClure portrays Lt. J. Haig who is unable to safely remove Eva (Kim Novak) from the vessel thanks to helicopter issues and must then spend the night on the boat as she recounts the events that lead to the tragedy. She explains that the ship came across a strange priest drifting in the ocean and brought him on board only for supernatural happenings to occur resulting in the deaths of all aboard, most notably a man seemingly floating in the air in one of the cabins. Haig is easily able to explain the natural causes for all the events including the floating man who is actually pierced on a mounted swordfish. All is well and the gist of the tale seems to be about proving that every so-called supernatural happening has a perfectly logical explanation behind it. What a relief, except the next day when the two are picked up by the helicopter it is discovered that the corpse hanging from the mast was actually a woman and not the priest (Alejandro Rey) as previously believed (and seen). As this news is relayed aboard the helicopter, Eva begins to smile in a horrifically sinister way and suddenly transforms into the priest who throws Haig out of the helicopter and ominously demands for the soul of the terrified pilot who opts to crash into the water instead. Shortly after, Haig is seen floating in the ocean flagging down rescuers now sporting the most creepy, evil grin on his face! He’s not Haig, he’s the shape-shifting Devil!

It was over and I proudly survived. Sure the movie sorta sneakily lead me down one path only to slam me with a psychological lead pipe from behind when I was ill-prepared but I was still standing (for now). I took my victory lap up our carpeted Brady Bunch-style open staircase and then I came to my bedroom door. But it wasn’t my door anymore. It was a black, rectangular void leading into an infinite abyss. I could not go into that room. I cried and I begged and my mother, in her infinite apathy, delivered threats and eventually pushed me inside. What was I afraid of? There was nothing there. Only darkness….and the devil… the devil could find me anywhere.

All I’d have to do is think of him and he’d see me like a glowing lighthouse and find me. He’d possess me and take my soul and nobody would know I didn’t exist anymore. I’d be replaced and nobody would miss me. Hiding under the covers I devised a plan- all I’d have to do is NOT think of Satan and then I’d be safe! Ever tried not thinking of something? It’s hard. Try not to think of a blue elephant and guess what? He’s right there in the center of your mind; maybe he’s even tap-dancing or riding on a unicycle or…devouring your soul and taking over your body.

My mind was not my own and it would not shut up. I want to say this went on for months but maybe it was just weeks in kid-time. Every night, as I tried to sleep, I’d fear Satan would come and get me, alerted to my existence by my betraying loudmouth brain. I remembered the illustration of him in my Bible book and I knew he was real because that book only dealt in cold hard facts like the story of Noah’s Ark. My lone comfort was a red transistor radio that would distract me but sometimes the song “Someone’s Knocking on the Door” by Wings would come on and I’d become so terrified that the “someone” knocking on my door was Satan that I’d have turn it off. I was sure if I ever saw the movie again I’d lose my mind. I’d even check the TV Guide to make sure it wasn’t airing. The only thing that saved me was pure exhaustion. One night my brain tried to pull me toward the hell-zone but I was simply too tired to torture myself anymore. And that was it. I got older and it kindly became a fuzzy memory.

When I was an adult and the Internet came around, this TV movie was the first thing I searched for. I wasn’t even sure if it was real or just a dream at that point. I had even forgotten the title. But I found it! It was real! I ordered a bootleg VHS of it (which I’m sure I still have). Did I dare watch it? Would I go insane if I did? I watched it again as an adult and I loved every creepy minute of it. Certainly, other people had similar bugaboo films that caused havoc on their peace of mind as kids. I wanted to hear their stories and feel less alone. That’s pretty much how Kindertrauma came to be. I’m not a very social person but I found if I ever asked a person “What movie traumatized you as a child?” I was always fascinated and strangely comforted by the answer (and I always will be).

SATAN”S TRIANGLE ultimately became a big part of my life but what was once a negative experience transformed itself, thanks to some kind of alchemy, into a positive one. I’ve gotten over my childhood fear (and I now love that Wings song) but I have to admit that every now and then I’ll witness a certain type of insincere duplicitous smile and I can’t help feeling something churn deep down in the pit of my soul.