If anyone ever asks me to name an underrated horror heroine, remind me that I want to say Cynthia (SARAH TORGOV) from AMERICAN GOTHIC (1988). It’s not hard to guess why she’s never gained much traction with the horror crowd; she’s not butch, bookish or boob-centric. In fact, she starts out as kind of a drip. It’s not where you begin but where you are going that matters though and glum Cynthia is going to the best place of all…crazy town!
When we first meet her, she is being released from a mental hospital! Is there a better time to meet a person? It’s no wonder she’s a mess and a half, it turns out she’s committed the ultimate blunder! One day she was giving her baby a bath when the phone rang and she just left for a second and then…zoinks! That’s some pretty heavy baggage and that’s why I don’t give my cats baths. In the interest of taking it easy and getting her mind off the fact that she killed her baby so that she could answer a stupid telephone call, Cynthia jumps in a plane with a bunch of people she has no business being friends with and takes a trip! Only God must truly hate Cynthia because he places her plane down onto an island whose inhabitants are super counterproductive to her recovery.
Talk about your island of misfit toys. There’s fair weather religious nut Pa (a fire breathing ROD STEIGER), prudent Charleston fan Ma (a hard not to love YVONNE DeCARLO) and their three less than adorable moppets: Fanny, Woody and Teddy (JANET WRIGHT, the legendary MICHAEL J.POLLARD and WILLIAM HOOTKINS, respectively). The kids are pushing fifty but act like they are twelve and please remember this was released in 1988 way before Facebook made such behavior the norm. Cynthia’s pals make the deadly mistake of scoffing the backwards ways on display while I only wish I could book a weekend stay. No cars, no lights, no motorcars… not a single luxury, unless you consider having a giant swing next to a cliff so that can you push people to their doom a luxury, which I do. If Cynthia would open her eyes maybe she could learn something here. As somebody who is having trouble letting go of the past she might take note of how that same approach to life has hardly benefited her demented hosts. Are these frozen-in-time, perpetually stunted human defects her future if she doesn’t get a grip? Yes. In the meantime her snotty friends must die one by one in increasingly gratifying ways.
(Kinda spoiler-y) Perhaps the only reason that Cynthia survives longer than her buddies is that darling Fanny takes a liking to her. Cynthia’s emotional state so closely mirrors the family’s folie a cinq that she glides smoothly into ponytail-enhanced Stockholm syndrome. This is a great turn of events…for me! What nobody has bargained for is that Cynthia’s secret power is insanity and Fanny owns the exact key to click her switch to berserker mode…oh you know, you might have one around the house too… a dried up baby corpse! Cynthia’s resulting transformation is better than your average slasher-chick metamorphosis from dishrag to ShamWow. It’s as if a crazed understudy has pirated the part. It’s not the first or last time a horror character has switched sides mid-game but it’s one of the few times where it’s handled in a way where it makes absolute sense. Ultimately Cynthia is not playing on any team. What’s she’s raging against is the same thing Pa renounces when he’s presented with the death of his own offspring, the absence of a higher power who cares enough to stop such horrible things from happening.
Fittingly JOHN (INCUBUS) HOUGH’s AMERICAN GOTHIC borrows freely from the classic horrors that walked before it while indulging in whatever eighties excesses it cares to. Although it’s a kissing cousin to many films from PSYCHO to THE BABY to MOTEL HELL to maybe even JOHN WATER’S PINK FLAMINGOS, it probably shares its strongest kinship to WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? In both cases we’re dealing with eccentric outsider characters that are somewhat comical on the surface and downright tragic at their core. As amusing as AMERICAN GOTHIC’s billowing black comedy antics often are, it’s only one hopscotch jump away from hitting upon something deeper. When it’s not dealing with infant death and the questioning of God, it puts forth a generational clash between old and new ways that exaggerated though it may be, is recognizable as a true American constant. This movie has more than its share of mentally ill oddballs bouncing around yet in the end, it seems the big baddie looming in the shadows might be cruel, heartless time itself and the ambivalent way it tends to make mincemeat out of those who lag behind. It’s not the scariest movie in the world but this is one baby you should not throw out with the bathwater! I’m sorry; I just had to do that.
I often tell people that I’m lucky. I grew up in a time when children’s entertainment was at its best. These were before the days of BLUE’S CLUES and TELETUBBIES giving kids everywhere ADD (you know it’s true, people!) Back in my day (why hello, Grandpa), family entertainment was wholesome, but not completely braindead like a lot of it is now. The Disney Channel and Nickelodeon had only recently hit the airwaves and they weren’t afraid to take chances. In many ways, The Disney Channel was sort of like the TCM of its day. It was there that I’d end up seeing a good majority of all the old MGM musicals, the delicious TEEN WITCH, and the goofy ROGER CORMAN produced STEPMONSTER (yes, Disney used to show CORMAN movies.) Hell, even Nickelodeon used to air the slightly subversive and spooky ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK?
Out of all the great kid friendly things to come out of the ‘80s and ‘90s (of which there are many), the film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s 1988 novel MATILDA goes straight to the top of my list. I first saw it in theaters back in ’96. Two twins in my 1st grade class decided to have their birthday party at the movies and they picked this one to go see. Pretty much the entire class showed up, not knowing that we were about to have our minds blown.
The story centers around young Matilda Wormword. Matilda’s white trash parents hardly even know she exists and spend their days selling used cars for unfair prices, getting their hair dyed, and playing bingo. Little do they know that, even from an extremely young age, their daughter has had an abnormally large IQ. Since she’s so neglected at home, she becomes self-sufficient and even braves the big city to seek out a library so that she can quench her thirst for knowledge.
When she finally asks to go to school at age 6, her parents send her to Crunchem Hall, a school that looks more like a correctional facility than a place of higher learning. There, she comes face to face with the butch Agatha Trunchbull, the school’s stern headmistress, who has a thing for tossing disobedient children out windows, over fences by their pigtails, and into the Chokey, an iron maiden-esque contraption filled with nails and broken glass. Thankfully, Matilda ends up in the classroom of Miss Honey, a kindly teacher who appreciates the quirks of every student she teaches and starts to believe that Matilda might be exceptionally gifted. Did I also mention that Matilda has psychokinetic powers? Oopsy! The story is like PRECIOUS meets some sort of bizarre JOHN WATERS movie meets CARRIE…but for kids.
What stands out most is how the story never speaks down to children. It’s that special something that Roald Dahl had. If you look at his other works such as THE WITCHES and CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, you’ll see what I mean. His stories are never inappropriate, but they also never gloss over some of the darker themes that most children’s writers would. They’re sort of like the Grimm’s Fairy Tales of our time. As a kid, I respected that. I looked up to the storytellers who knew we were brave enough to handle the injustices that life might throw at us. Plus, Dahl always delivered his stories with a playful wink in his eye and his tongue planted firmly in his cheek.
MARA WILSON (who I loved in MRS. DOUBTFIRE, too!) plays Matilda and is super adorable. Real life couple DANNY DeVITO (who also directed the film) and RHEA PERLMAN as Matilda’s trashy, inept parents threaten to steal the show at any moment. They’re hysterical! EMBETH DAVIDTZ radiates a genuine warmth as Miss Honey. She’s the teacher we all wanted as kids. You just want to give her a hug and let her adopt you. PAM FERRIS should probably join the ranks of Kindertrauma Traumatizers for her portrayal of The Trunchbull. She commits to the role in such a way that leaves your jaw on the floor. There’s not one bit of vanity in her performance. She just looks like she’d smell really bad. I actually just recently looked up a recent picture of her and was shocked that she was such a beautiful lady in real life. This is real acting, folks!
A few traumatizing moments include:
Matilda still holds up as a surprisingly fun and refreshing viewing experience. I’ve probably seen it over a hundred times since its first release and I still never tire of it. It’s just as warm, touching, funny, and poignant as the first time. In fact, Dahl has gotten surprisingly lucky in terms of film adaptations. Both THE WITCHES and CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (I’m talking about the one with Gene Wilder, not Johnny Depp!) were also adapted into stellar films worthy of coverage on Kindertrauma. God knows I have my own horror stories about watching those two. As a matter of fact, those films still make me a little uneasy when I watch them. There’s something about them that gets under my skin.
Special kudos go out to the film’s composer, DAVID NEWMAN, who also composed HEATHERS, which is another one of my favorite film scores. His music is at times quirky, scary, suspenseful, and often heartbreaking. Take a listen to this suite (HERE). Also, what kid of the ‘90s doesn’t immediately think of this song when this movie is brought up?
UNK SEZ:: Thanks for covering this fondly remembered movie Chris! I’m a fan myself. Folks, don’t forget Chris’movie PERVERSION is available HERE!
I wanted to pick a special Father’s Day Netflix Streaming movie and decided to go with the stompy Ozzie revenge flick THE HORSEMAN! I should warn you upfront though that this movie is extremely violent. In fact, I even caught myself closing ONE of my eyes and in retrospect, I have no idea how I thought that might help. I’m also afraid that it does some skipping through the torture zone. I’m not a fan of on-screen torture myself. It’s almost always gratuitously sadistic and I just think it’s rude to tie somebody to a chair. A lot of people are tied to a lot of chairs in this movie. I really wish that characters that find themselves in that position would just hand over the requested information and not be so ornery and antagonistic for my sake. Sassing makes everything more difficult for all involved. Spill the beans, dummy.
Christian (I know, pointed name considering the film’s title right?) played by PETER MARSHALL (not the HOLLYWOOD SQUARES guy) is a dad who learns his daughter is dead. Her drugged-up, contaminated remains were just sort of dumped like trash by an anonymous person. His grief is thrown another whammy when he receives a VHS porn tape in the mail with his daughter featured in it, clearly out of her mind on drugs and being abused by a group of men. It’s pretty gross. Christian, who fittingly works in pest control, grabs a toolbox and hits the road on a rampage, inflicting retribution to all those involved. I’m not saying his way of going about things is right but I’m not totally against it either. Karma is always sitting down on the job so sometimes you have to give it a little push…with a crowbar.
What raises THE HORSEMAN above the standard comeuppance flick is its commitment to examining a man’s emotional pain in between skull cracking sessions. First time director STEVEN KASTRISSIOS displays real talent and thankfully he nabbed a superior actor to join him. MARSHALL is great in this and even if you find his actions questionable, you’ll never doubt the intensity of his mournful rage. Along his travels Christian encounters a lonely hitchhiker not unlike his daughter named Alice (CAROLINE MAROHASY) and their relationship allows for even more of his humanity to emerge. When Alice inadvertently (and perhaps unavoidably) gets tangled in Christian’s campaign of violence, a whole new level of discomfort for poor me is reached.
THE HORSEMAN is on the harsh side (I could have lived without the several instances of penis abuse) but I have to give it props nonetheless. I enjoy my violence a smidge more cartoon-y, but I do appreciate the film’s reluctance to simplify physical anguish and give the viewer an easy out. There are no easy ways out here. The point is clearly made that it is more than Christian’s ego that has been damaged and more than his pride that has been taken away. He let his daughter down and now he faces a tsunami of guilt that can’t be bashed away. I guess the truth is, most Dads fuck up. None can completely shield their children from the dangerous world. I picked this film to celebrate the dads that are THERE anyway, the ones that show up to make the mistakes. The ones that at least TRY to give their kids a better life than they had. Christian isn’t going to win any Father of the Year awards any time soon, but hey, he cares. That deserves at least a card or maybe a monogrammed crowbar.
NOTE: Happy Father’s Day to my dad who is in the hospital (don’t worry he is fine and will be out soon)! As far as I know he is not in the hospital for getting in fights with hooligans on my behalf but he is a super cool guy (imagine THE GREAT SANTINI crossed with Ted Baxter) anyway. Happy Father’s Day!
Just when I was about to hit the hay on Friday I caught THE SHINING on cable and naturally I was trapped watching it until it was over. At some point I was miraculously brought back to the first time I ever saw it in the theater. I was under age at the time but my father was somehow able to get my brothers and I in. Did he slip the ticket taker a Washington or two? No, this story takes place in the good old days when nobody gave a crap. To be honest, the movie disturbs me much more now as an adult than it did when I was a kid. As a kid, it kind of disappointed me and here’s why…
Flipping through some magazine, perhaps FANGO or STARLOG, I caught a picture from DAVID CRONENBERG’s THE BROOD. The picture was of a bunch of the little brood brats coming through a doorway or something. Later, I saw the yellow poster for THE SHINING with the distorted face in it and I wrongly thought, “That’s the movie with those creepy mutant kids in it that I saw in that magazine!” The trailer for THE SHINING with the elevator piqued my interest even further. I knew that when the elevator door opened all those creepy kids would jump out and wreck havoc! So when I finally got to see THE SHINING this is exactly what I was waiting for with doe-eyed, clammy anticipation. When the elevator scene finally did occur and NOBODY came out of the elevator, I was flattened like Silly Putty on a comic strip.
Poor confused me, I had built something up so big in my head and it was never meant to be. It was all my fault, my imagination whipped up this impossible coolness that no movie could ever possibly live up to. I mean really, if THE BROOD kids came out of that elevator in THE SHINING the sheer awesomeness of that event would probably tear the universe in half.
I learned a valuable lesson that day and I’ve only made that same mistake of forging impossible expectations out of shear obliviousness a couple thousand more times over the years. By the way, THE SHINING, I should give you some credit for freaking me out with the guy in the dog costume bit, I certainly wasn’t anticipating that. Oh, and the old lady, mission accomplished with that one too. O.K. SHINING, I’ll admit it, you were really scary but you would have been even scarier with some BROOD kids thrown into the mix.
What I really wanted to say is how cool was my Dad for taking me to see THE SHINING? I’m sure some might tsk tsk such a thing but look how well adjusted I turned out! O.K., well maybe I’m not the best example but look at how well adjusted my brothers turned out. Uh, maybe that’s not such a good idea either. Well, actually screw the well adjusted! Can anyone really stand those people anyway? I just want to push them down a flight of stairs.
So thanks DAD! Thanks for taking me to see THE SHINING. That movie is not exactly the best commercial for Dads but you took me anyway. Now that I mention it, I kind of remember having a new found fear of you after seeing NICHOLSON go bonkers, so if that was the idea all along, all I have to say is, “Well played sir, well played.”
Thanks for taking me to see GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER, JAWS and PROPHECY too. Those are some of the strongest memories from my youth. It may not be traditional family fare but I also recognize that you taught me how to BEHAVE in a theater and I think that was more important than anything MARY POPPINS could teach me. Really, I think all of those horror and sci-fi movies trained me to approach the world with a bit of awe and respect and I’m glad I wasn’t force fed the, “It’s all about ME!” dreck that is considered so appropriate for kids.
Thanks for telling me ghost stories too and for not throwing away my FANGOS. I know I wasn’t the most normal kid in the world but as the saying goes, “I learned it by watching you!”
Trauma-daddies have their work cut out for them keeping up with the dastardly doings of the horror world’s Trauma-mommas. But let’s face it folks, not counting a couple stellar stand outs who really put their nose to the grind stone, dads in horror films are traditionally an absentee lot. Still upset that your dad missed your big baseball game? Well Jason Voorhees‘ dad could never find the time to show up for any of his son’s killing sprees. We’re talking double-digit sequels and never so much as a peep from that guy! Faced with a skeleton crew of nominees, we here at Kindertrauma decided to bag the whole countdown presentation that the Trauma-mommas received. We decided that instead of stamping the pops in broad terms like “good” and “bad” or placing them in order of popularity, we would instead focus on the behavior of some of our own personal favorite horror fathers and judge their actions, rather than the person as a whole. Any new fathers out there would do well learning from the actions of the daddies on our list, both positive and negative. Remember dads, your conduct may be the deciding factor on how ugly the next tie you receive as a Father’s Day gift is!
Covert basement rage explosions are not only fine, but also a traditional fatherly past time. Wasting a perfectly good out door barbecue stewing over how not perfect the perfect JILL SCHOELEN is? Bad idea, grab a hot dog and lighten up!
INVITATION TO HELL
It may not look so hot to the neighbor’s prying eyes but disposing of your children’s evil doppelgangers is always advisable.
BETTE DAVIS as an aunt-in-law is not something I would wish upon Hitler, but still there is no excuse for attempting to drown your son in the swimming pool.
Not beating the living daylights out of the son who inexplicably stood on the dining room table and urinated on the dinner you were about to consume? Gandhi could take lessons from this guy!
AMITYVILLE 2: THE POSSESSION
Right smack on the opposite end of the spectrum from the TROLL 2 dad is this guy. Beating the crap out of your kids and blaming them for demonic graffiti they did not have a hand in thwarts their creativity. If these kids’ brains were not blown away shortly thereafter, they would have ended up accountants!
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME
Reacting to the idea that your daughter is throwing a party whose invitees consist of all the people she just murdered with a look of disappointment rather than sheer terror and nausea is impressive. Way to hold it together dad!
Yeah, yeah, yeah… I know your entire God-fearing clan has just been slaughtered, but it’s never cool to denounce the Lord! You’ve read the Bible, so you already knew how the big guy pays back the less than devout!
HALLOWEEN 3: SEASON OF THE WITCH
It’s a good thing to call home and make sure your kid’s brains are not being chewed apart by bugs thanks to evil Halloween masks every once in a while, even if it means talking to your naggy ex!
SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT
Leaving your young son alone with your bat-shit crazy, pretending to be mute Santa-hating father? Not cool. Although I guess if you think about it, this dusty loon was right about Santa!
Kindertrauma is a critter friendly site that does not endorse the execution of animals that is, unless of course, they are demonic dogs that have turned you entire family against you.
Way to deliver the evil dads AMITYVILLE series, that’s why you rock! (Besides the already mentioned part 2, JAMES BROLIN‘s behavior in the original is less than stellar too). Now where was I? Oh yeah, coming back from the dead to throw your kid in the fireplace? No, don’t do that.
Not allowing your adult spinster daughter a monkey pet is one thing, but faking the need for a wheelchair in order to keep her waiting on you hand and foot and killing her only beau is just plain mean!
ALONE IN THE DARK
Protecting your family from JACK PALANCE invasions is honorable and super brave. Good going Capt. H.M. “Howling Mad” Murdock!
Please do not get seduced by the babysitter. Even if you are married to PATTY DUKE!
NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET PART 3: THE DREAM WARRIORS
Dying while attempting to kill the skeleton of the molester you burned alive years ago deserves mucho props!
POLTERGEIST 2 THE OTHER SIDE
Usually tequila is the answer to everything, but not when there is a giant demonic worm that will possess you at the bottom of the bottle! Let go and let God!
TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE
Keeping family traditions alive? That’s good!
Eventually the time comes when you must let your children go, hopefully it’s before you become a stark raving mad zombie in a rubber room.
Sharing your love with an adopted child is a beautiful thing. What could go wrong?
DON’T LOOK NOW
Repeat after me: “This is not my dead kid.”