The Horror of…Wallpaper

It’s time to redecorate Kindertrauma Kastle and I’m thinking what this dump needs is some wallpaper. It shouldn’t surprise you that I plan to turn to horror films for inspiration. Here’s a list of some of the wallpapered flicks that popped into my head. (Image above courtesy of Disney’s Haunted Mansion)


First and foremost, let’s get this wacky masterpiece out of the way. It’s practically a wallpaper catalog and any wall not papered has some kind of painted mural on it. I love how ARGENTO uses this knotty black and white, migraine inducing background to convey that Suzy Bannion (JESSICA HARPER) is about to become entangled in a web of madness. Suzy’s pitch-dark locks begin to intertwine with the design and just as you’re thinking she might disappear, she turns a corner into another room and actually vanishes for a moment before resurfacing.


There are at least two cases of off-putting wallpaper in this DAVID CRONENBERG adaptation of the novel by STEPHEN KING. The first occurs as Johnny Smith (CHRISTOPHER WALKEN) has a psychic vision of his nurse’s daughter trapped by a fire in her cheerily decorated room. The juxtaposition of lulling imagery with the terrifying fire is positively kindertraumatic. Later, Johnny helps Castle Rock’s sheriff (TOM SKERRITT) solve a string of murders and eventually they are lead to the psychotic killer’s childhood room, which is papered in galloping cowboy heroes.

THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (s) (1979, 2005, 2012)

Everybody had horrifying wallpaper in the seventies. I know my parents thought paper plagued with puke-green bicentennial liberty bells was a good idea. The drab designs spied in the original 1979 AMITYVILLE flick may appear especially sickly today but they were pretty much garden variety at the time. 2005’s remake musters up a faux-tacky tribute that’s easy on the eyes but too over stylized to be convincing as a real home. Not surprisingly, one must turn to reality to witness true atrociousness. The Amityville house’s actual wallpaper as seen in 2012’s MY AMITYVILLE HORROR is far more maddening than anything ever attempted on the big screen.


I get dizzy whenever I think about this movie. Some sort of effort must have went into making Cathy’s doll (that damned dirty rag!) look fetid and yet I’m sure nobody needed to alter the house’s existing wallpaper to insure it properly conveyed an overpowering presence of mold and mildew.


It’s probably best that only those who dig enduring craptastic nonsense check this one out. Truth is, I almost wrote a NTT for this title about a year after I saw it because I couldn’t, for the life of me, remember its name. Just about the only thing I did remember from this backyard flick was the opening scene’s alarmingly garish orange wallpaper. It tastes like my eyes are eating chalky Bayer’s chewable aspirin.


For all the relentless talk of ROB ZOMBIE’s white trash esthetic, he sure has some classy taste in muted wallpaper.


Let’s hear it for DERANGED’s dainty granny print.

PHANTASM & PHANTASM !! (1979, 1988)

I’ve always been envious of Mike’s outer space wall mural but a recent viewing of Part 2 reminded me that flick has some groovy looking walls as well.


Anytime is the right time to visit Garth Manor. How appropriate that this paper sports some golden mustard tones as the residents of Garth Manor are not unlike insects trapped in an amber past. I’m naming this pattern “Gilded Gork.”


I brought this one up in an old post entitled “Seven From The Seventies.” I don’t know what it is about this bizarre Belgian/Italian co production but it never fails to give me the creeps. Maybe I should place part of the blame on the fact that the flick takes the viewer to a castle in which the upholstery on the furniture fiendishly matches the disconcerting wallpaper. It’s no wonder that an evil succubus and Satan himself hang out in such a joint.


Yay! Delicious, lick-able wallpaper! BTW, JOHNNY DEPP can eat a bag of Snozberries. GENE WILDER will always be Wonka to me.

THE OTHERS “Luciferous” (2000)

If time heals all wounds, when am I going to get over the cancelation of THE OTHERS? If there is an alternate universe where this excellent supernatural series lasted more than thirteen episodes that is where I should rightfully live! This dimension is for the birds! In my favorite episode (which was originally aired out of order because this show can’t get a break) reluctant psychic Marian Kitt (JULIANNE NICHOLSON) moves into an apartment with elaborate green wallpaper that just happens to house a tiny nefarious demon that means to entrap her.


If MIMSY FARMER is losing her mind she’s certainly chosen the right environment to do so. Are you familiar with the art of Louis Wain? Wain painted cats and some believe that as he grew more and more mentally ill, his paintings became more and more colorful, intricate and psychedelic. On the other hand, it is also possible that his work simply became more experimental. Anyway, I bring him up because I think the colorfully intricate and progressive beauty found in TPOTLIB goes a long way to convey a mental state becoming less and less anchored in reality.


I might be cheating a tad here. I don’t believe the notorious visage encountered in THE HAUNTING actually appears in wallpaper but rather some kind of textured tile relief. Still, I’d me remiss not to mention it, as it is the king of decorative menaces. Director ROBERT WISE brilliantly utilizes the phenomena of pareidolia to lead the viewer towards perceiving a terrifying presence and perfectly captures that moment in fear when one looses trust of their senses.


No discussion of scary wallpaper can be complete without mentioning this classic short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Gilman who suffered from depression wrote this tale to illustrate to her doctor that productivity was more beneficial to her than the stifling rest he prescribed. In doing so she created something that operates not unlike the wallpaper the story centers upon, a seemingly infinite tangled miasma for readers to project their own psyches upon. There have been a few cinematic adaptations of this haunting work but I’m going to thrust upon you the 1948 radio version performed by AGNES MOOREHEAD because AGNES MOOREHEAD is the coolest.

TWILIGHT ZONE “Something in the Walls”

If you’re not a fan of ambiguity, this episode from the Twilight Zone reboot should do the trick. DEBORAH RAFFIN (GOD TOLD ME TO, THE SENTINEL) stars as a mental patient who will not tolerate patterns of any kind. That’s because once upon a time she saw a face in one and she’s rightfully fearful of the entity’s return.

THE PACT & DREAMHOUSE (2012, 2011)

Wallpaper figures prominently in the poster art for both a brilliant independent film (THE PACT) and a totally forgettable pile of Hollywood muck (DREAMHOUSE)!


Remember how this South Korean psychological horror flick had the most beautiful wallpaper based opening credits ever? As the print’s flowers dislodge and float about, we’re given an early warning of the fluidity of perception.


Hey, this isn’t wallpaper! It’s a frickin’ carpet! Oh well, I don’t care. The pattern is used to reflect a disoriented, ‘lost in a maze’ state of mind and so I’m including it. But now having flipped the subject onto the floor it’s surely the time to stop. Some of the patterns we looked at were featured in films by random chance and some were surely painstakingly thought out choices by a filmmaker who wanted to express something specific. The important thing is that while we were discussing all of this Kindertrauma Kastle has been freshly papered! We have chosen to plaster the walls with images of great Philadelphians! There’s nothing more relaxing than sensing a hundred or so dead eyes following you!

The Horror of…The Spiral Staircase (1946)

THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE has always seemed much older than it actually is to me. I think that’s because my first viewing of it was on a particularly blanched-out VHS tape and because although it was made in the mid-forties it takes place about thirty years earlier. The irony is that this seasoned flick resembles and predicts, in various ways, many a beloved blood-soaked horror movie that hadn’t been born yet. Please grab a candle and follow me. Let’s investigate some of this groovy granny’s many instances of cinematic precognition!

Our movie opens with a bunch of folks watching another movie. This is clever because it creates a subconscious pecking order that insinuates that what we’re watching is more real than what they are watching. It’s almost meta, I’d say, and reminds me of other films that springboard from movies like HE KNOWS YOU’RE ALONE, ANGUISH and SCREAM 2.

Hey, the killer is hiding in the closet and it’s all BLACK CHRISTMAS-like! And here comes an intimate POV shot of the victim preparing for bed a’ la HALLOWEEN! We’re also privy to a patch of voyeuristic eyeball images that predate PEEPING TOM and PSYCHO. Shortly we’ll find out that our murderer only kills a specific type (those who have an “affliction” of some sort) and that’s kinda SILENCE OF THE LAMBS-ish and ahead of its time too.

Our sweet heroine is Helen (DOROTHY McGUIRE) and like so many future horror protagonists, she has not quite discovered her own power and (literally in this case) voice yet. She’s a humble outsider and she’s got a traumatic past that made her that way. We the audience know that there is more to Helen than she realizes and only the most wretched would not route for her. Helen is a nice name especially when you imagine it whispered by TONY TODD.

Here’s a rainy wooded stalking scene! Yay for rainy woods and let me cite FRIDAY THE 13th for frequently understanding the primordial power of them. The lurker is a giallo shadow puppet. He disappears into a tree like Freddy Krueger and all his slicker is missing is a hook to complete the I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER look that’s all the rage this fall.

Oh no, dropped keys! Laurie Strode can tell you how important keys are. I like that this key is a big old classic cartoon key like in HELL NIGHT.

Helen has a paranoid fantasy about her well-grounded love interest Dr. Parry (CAT PEOPLE’s KENT SMITH). In it, the two rejoice on their dreamy wedding day but when the time comes to exchange vows, Helen blows it while a critical crowd looks down their collective noses. Very CARRIE and very “They’re all going to laugh at you!” as the words “Say I do.” repeat over and over.

BLACK CHRISTMAS’s secret boozer Mrs. Mac has got nothing on SPIRAL’s Mrs. Oates who swipes hooch and drinks herself into a coma state. ELSA LANCHESTER who just ten years earlier played both Mary Shelly and the monster’s mate in “THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN” portrays Mrs. Oates.

Secretary Blanch (RHONDA FLEMING) knows when to ditch a bad scene. When she goes into the basement (!) to grab a suitcase she bumps into her final fate instead. As in the original FRIDAY THE 13th (when the series was still in the whodunit? mode) Blanch sees her attacker and we don’t. She’s scarred at first, recognizes her assailer and remarks, “Oh, it’s you! You scared the life out of me!” before she is horrifically slain. Aw, this bit also brings back fond memories of the weight-lifting kill from HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME. It’s such a relief to be on friendly terms with your murderer.

Speaking of HBTM (not to mention many a giallo), check out these fashionable tight black murder gloves! So hip it hurts.

Sneaky shoes = DRESSED TO KILL.

As in many a slasher, in the end, it all comes down to a cat and mouse showdown between our honorable heroine and the emotionally vacant killer (whose identity I’m not revealing). In this suspense-filled scene Helen is oh so very close to getting much needed aid from a visiting constable. He’s so close and yet so far and the chance for rescue is frustratingly missed! This reminds me so much of my favorite moment in THE FUNHOUSE when Amy can see her parents just outside the window but her calls for help and recognition cannot be heard. Helen of course cannot scream at all. It’s so sad and tragic, like not being able to connect to a hand-wringing Aunty Em in a crystal ball.

If you haven’t seen this movie, I can’t bare to ruin any more than I already have. If you want to find out if our pal Helen survives, you’ll just have to WATCH IT. My lips are sealed.

The Horror of:: WKRP in Cincinnati

We got rid of all our non-basic cable and now ironically, I seem to be finding more stuff to watch on TV. There’s a channel that shows movies all day and a channel that shows sitcoms all day and what else do you need (as long as you still have Netflix, Redbox, your local library, a collection of your own and the ever expanding universe of YouTube)? I guess I’m not going to miss all of those cipher channels stuffed with Styrofoam peanuts after all.

Anyway, the other night I was flipping through my wonderfully limited choices and I came across an old episode of WKRP IN CINCINNATI that I instantly remembered from my youth. In it, the crew of the radio station is hired to sing a jingle for a funeral home. I’m not sure if it was the first episode I ever saw but it was definitely the first one that struck me (the second one that struck me involved turkeys). Part of its ingraining power on me I’m sure is thanks to the fact that involves a jingle and jingles by design are meant to get under your skin.

More importantly though, the jingle in question mocks death and as a young person who had serious issues with the concept, I found it hilarious, as if some infallible bully of mine was being roasted. I tend to closely connect my appreciation for this type black humor to my love of horror. It’s always soothing to whistle past the graveyard and there’s something cathartic about minimalizing the second biggest thing that will ever happen to you. In any case, this ditty has been worming through my noggin all week…

Doesn’t that Henry Kane looking mo-fo mortician, the brilliantly named “Mr. Ferryman” (Don’t Pay The Ferryman!) look familiar to you? I looked him up and that guy, FRED STUTHMAN played the horrible dead ghoul dad who gets his face slashed in THE SENTINEL! What’s more, FRED started his acting career as Chicago TV horror host “Jeeper’s Creeper”!

This would not be a complete “The Horror of..” segment if I did not go through the WKRP cast’s contributions to our beloved genre so here goes…

GARY SANDY (Andy Travis) was in TROLL (1986)

GORDON JUMP (Arthur ‘Big Guy’ Carlson) was not only in the kindertraumiest episode of DIFF’RENT STROKESThe Bicycle Man,” he was also in the awesome TV-movie MIDNIGHT OFFERINGS (1981)

HOWARD HESSEMAN (Dr. Johnny Fever) was in ROB ZOMBIE’s HALLOWEEN II (2009)

FRANK BONNER (Herb Tarlek)’s acting debut was in the cult classic EQUINOX (1970)

RICHARD SANDERS (Less Nessman) was in the ANNA FARIS post-SCREAM slasher LOVER’s LANE (2000)

TIM REID (Venus Flytrap) was of course, in the TV mini-Series IT (1990)

The ladies of WKRP sadly skipped the horror trail altogether but…JAN SMITHERS (Bailey Quarters) did star alongside P.J. SOLES in OUR WINNING SEASON the same year SOLES was in HALLOWEEN (1978) and LONI ANDERSON (Jennifer Marlowe) was married to BURT REYNOLDS star of the beyond horrifying RENT-A-COP (1987)!

The Horror of: Happy Campers (2001)

Contrary to the experiences of Judy Moody, I’ve never known a summer that wasn’t a bummer. I don’t care how many popsicles I get. They’re hardly tasty enough to warrant the mosquitos that deliver them. I only enjoy summer when it’s trapped inside my T.V. and powerless to force me to wear shorts. Take for example the satisfying onscreen summer presented in the flirting with forgotten flick, HAPPY CAMPERS (2001), a well cast ensemble piece about a bunch of young folks who spend the hotter months as well-meaning yet generally unqualified camp counselors. If I told you how many times I watched this movie you’d rightly feel pity for me and sadder still, I’m starting to like it even more now that it’s old enough to sport a crisp bouquet of early 21st century nostalgia.

HAPPY CAMPERS was written and directed by DANIEL WATERS, who penned the cult classic HEATHERS and if you’re a fan of that one you should give this a try too. I have no idea why it wasn’t considered worthy of a theatrical release back in 2001 but those were strange times and there could be any number of reasons. WATERS smushes together a sweet s’more out of bawdy MEATBALLS behavior and schmaltzy JOHN HUGHES navel gazing (Someone even blurts out, “Don’t get BREAKFAST CLUB on me bitch!”), and while not every crude water balloon hits its mark, it has some smart performances, an authentic summer camp atmosphere and ends up being a surprisingly poignant reverie on doomed love…and it’s funny. Maybe you should just approach it as a FRIDAY THE 13th flick in which nobody dies. That doesn’t sound very appealing so let me get to work trying to squeeze some more horror out of this worthwhile non-horror movie.

DOMINIQUE SWAIN “Wendy”. Aw. A big huge chunk of my love for this movie can be contributed to SWAIN. She is adorably hilarious in this and just when you think her over-enthused “Howdy pouty! Isn’t fun great?” spouting goody two-shoes Wendy is a one-note caricature; SWAIN jazzily doodles over her previous portrait. This performance lead poor unsuspecting me in the early aughts to follow SWAIN like a drunk puppy through many a direct-to-video cinematic fiasco and even though most of those flicks have blurred together in my mind (and probably SWAIN’s too) I’m here to say, I’m all the better for it. Sadly and surprisingly DOMINIQUE has had little luck in the horror genre (both DEVOUR (2005) and DEAD MARY (2007) are aggravating duds) but I spy on the horizon that she’ll be in SHARKANSAS WOMEN’S PRISON MASSACRE directed by JIM (CHOPPING MALL, HARD TO DIE) WYNORSKI and co-starring TRACI LORDS! How can I not put all my hopeful eggs into that intriguing basket? However that seemingly sure-fire venture turns out DOMINIQUE and I will always have Camp Bleeding Dove.

BRAD RENFRO “Wichita”. Who better to play a reluctantly soulful oblivious heartbreaker than RENFRO who broke countless hearts when he died of a drug overdose at the age of 25 back in 2008? RENFRO was more than just a talented actor, he had a rare genuineness on screen that could make many a more celebrated star reek of artifice in comparison. What a loss. RENFRO’s largest contribution to horror was his role as Todd Bowan in the also under-seen APT PUPIL (1998), which was based on the novella of the same name from STEPHEN KING’s DIFFERENT SEASONS. As I recall RENFRO was really exceptional in that movie but I’m not going to watch it again to verify that on account of I already have enough trouble maintaining faith in humanity without Nazis aggravating the issue. By the way, did you know our pal BRAD starred in a RESIDENT EVIL 2 commercial directed by GEORGE ROMERO? That is so cool!!! Anyway, Wichita will always be my favorite RENFRO role.

EMILY BERGL “Talia”. As much I adore the aforementioned above, something tells me this movie would collapse like a pop tent without the cynical grounding spine of BERGL’s Talia. Talia’s has come to camp to connect with unrequited love, best bud Wichita only to find herself unduly subjugated to the friend zone. Her acidic self-deprecation provides much needed shady refuge to the summery goings on. Horror fans would best know EMILY from her turn as a telekinetic half-sibling to Carrie White in THE RAGE: CARRIE 2. I gotta say, whatever innumerable problems that batty sequel had BERGL wasn’t one of them. In fact, I think she was smartly cast as she rather comes across as a tart shandy made from half parts SPACEK & half parts IRVING. Like those two, she’s distinctive yet earthy and she too might have found a comfortable corner in movies back in the seventies when folks resembled humans. To be clear, I’m not one for flying deadly CD’s or inexplicable germinating CGI vine tattoos but at least THE RAGE: CARRIE 2 wasn’t the creative graveyard the recent remake was. BERGYL also appeared in the psychological thriller CHASING SLEEP (2000) and was nominated for a Saturn Award for her performance in TAKEN, that excellent miniseries about alien abduction.

JAIME KING “Pixel”. Hey, HAPPY CAMPERS is KING’s film debut! Back then she went by JAMES but her real name is JAIME because she’s named after THE BIONIC WOMAN– that is true and the cutest thing I ever heard. Who knew ex-models could be so likable? JAIME plays ethereal pansexual hippy chick Pixel who has a penchant for skinny-dipping. Having more than three (the magic number) horror roles under her belt, I’d say KING is has earned official scream queen status. Beyond her troika of loose horror remakes (MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3-D, MOTHER’S DAY, SILENT NIGHT) she was also in THE TRIPPER and did a bang up job as a concerned mom to a kid plagued by Chinese sweat shop ghosts with a grudge in the underloved Canadian shocker THEY WAIT. As if that weren’t enough she got all goth-ed out as a distressed dead lady in a coffin for a music video directed by her husband…

JUSTIN LONG “Donald”. Fresh off of his screen debut playing a nerd in GALAXY QUEST, LONG was again cast as a nerd in HAPPY CAMPERS. Don’t cry for JUSTIN though, he won’t be typecast forever, when it comes time to cast voices for ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS he miraculously gets the part of Alvin rather than Simon! LONG also has some pretty impressive horror cred. Around the same time he did the forgotten CAMPERS he starred in JEEPERS CREEPERS, which was a huge hit and has been forgotten by few. You’ll also find him playing a bewildered boyfriend in SAM RAIMI’s DRAG ME TO HELL and CHRISTINA RICCI’s suffering fiancé in the uber morbid AFTER.LIFE. I’m granting LONG extra horror gold stars for reading the audiobook of STEPHEN KING’s EVERYTHING’s EVENTUAL.

KERAM MALICKI- SANCHEZ “Jasper”. Wow, this movie has a gay character and it isn’t presented as any big whoop! I love when that happens. Not everybody is completely comfortable with Jasper’s orientation but somehow his own self-acceptance seems to nullify that issue better than any soapbox. Let’s check out SANCHEZ’s super impressive horror hit list! Like any worthwhile Canadian actor he has appeared on FRIDAY THE 13th: THE SERIES, he also did a BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and later, TRUE BLOOD. You may recall him as far back as CHERRY FALLS or a recently as TEXAS CHAINSAW 3-D where if I’m not mistaken, he got shoved on a hook and sawed in half! KERAM also directed this horror short…

JORDAN BRIDGES “Adam”. I gotta say, BRIDGES is very convincing as a lunkhead and trust me, I know lunkheads. I’m practically a lunkhead magnet. JORDAN shamefully has not fulfilled his horror film quota in any way shape or form. I’d be forced to throw him out the airlock but his life shall be spared due to the fact that his uncle JEFF has worked with JOHN CARPENTER (STARMAN) and also buried America’s sweetheart SANDRA BULLUCK alive in the remake of THE VANISHING and that has to count for something.

PETER STORMARE “Oberone”. Swedish actor STORMARE plays the camp’s director who is hit by lightening and left catatonic allowing anarchy to reign. STORMARE has not been in every movie ever made but it’s not for lack of trying. I guarantee you’ve bumped into him somewhere between FARGO and BAD MILO. For our purposes here, allow me to point out that he was a fantastic as Lucifer in CONSTANTINE. Even if you didn’t like that movie you have to admit he sorta ruled in that.

So that’s the horror of HAPPY CAMPERS. If you like eighties movies that are not eighties movies or horror movies that are not horror movies, this could be your jam. Again I’ll warn you that there is no body count but as one character appropriately notes “Who needs a serial psycho when we have ourselves?”