Trauma-Scene :: THE BEST LITTLE GIRL IN THE WORLD Gets a Check-Up

the best little girl in the world

In the hazy, gimlet-soaked recesses of your Aunt John’s mind, the year 1983 holds two distinct memories:

  1. ‘70s pop superstar KAREN CARPENTER succumbed to anorexia nervosa
  2. My middle school health class teacher, in an attempt to educate her students about the death of Ms. CARPENTER, traumatized a room of sixth graders by making us watch her taped-from-the-T.V. VHS copy of the 1981 telepicture THE BEST LITTLE GIRL IN THE WORLD

The movie, despite its stellar cast of JENNIFER JASON LEIGH, CHARLES DURNING, and JASON MILLER, did little to hold the attention of our rambunctious class. Collectively, we groaned at the JONI MITCHELL title track (“Songs to Aging Children Come”) and I remember we were more interested in watching the commercial breaks than the movie itself.

Fearing a mutiny, our teacher stopped the film and struck a deal with us along the lines of if we still hated it after the doctor’s office scene, she would gladly put the film away and we could go back to reading about hygiene, acne, or whatever the usual lesson plan entailed. Foolishly, we called her bluff, agreed to keep watching and this is what we saw:

With the simple drop of a medical gown, a pre-teen chorus of thirty or so horrified gasps reverberated around the room. Needless to say, we watched the rest of the movie in disturbed silence waiting for another peek at JENNIFER JASON LEIGH’s emaciated ribcage. Instead we only got the death of a spunky, pre-THIRTYSOMETHING MELANIE MAYRON.

the best little girl in the world

Long out of print, THE BEST LITTLE GIRL IN THE WORLD is currently available on YouTube starting HERE. Did anyone else have to watch this in junior high health class?

Trauma-Scene :: Teresa’s Fateful Excursion in THE LEOPARD MAN

The three collaborations of producer VAL LEWTON and director JACQUES TURNER are glorious testimonies to the power of restraint. I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE and CAT PEOPLE are undeniable horror classics and THE LEOPARD MAN from 1943 contains a segment which I think may be the duo’s most successful stab at cinematic tension. In my opinion, it’s downright kindertraumatic…

As the scene begins the audience is well aware that a black panther has escaped captivity and is roaming around the outskirts of a small New Mexico village. Inside a humble abode a young girl named Teresa is goaded by her mother to go out into the night and fetch some corn meal to make tortillas. Teresa pleads with her mother to allow her to skip the chore until morning or until such time as when a leopard is not stalking their village. The battle axe mother insists and soon Teresa is out in the velvet black night on a completely unnecessary (it’s not like ma ran out of smokes) corn meal run.

When Teresa finally gets to the store she finds that it is closed and that the shopkeeper has a similar temperament as her won’t-budge-an-inch mother. The shopkeeper tells Teresa it is too much of a hassle for her to open her door and hand over some corn meal. This means poor Teresa has got to go to the late night joint farther away and also has to cross under a super creepy bridge. After a tense paranoid trek she does make it to the larger store with the more reasonable operating hours. Inside she gets her goods, tells the shopkeeper to stick it on her tab and then whiles away a couple of moments staring at some mechanical birds in a cage that once fascinated her in her youth. Whatever future plans that Teresa imagines while glancing at these birds will never come to fruition. Dare I say that if she had not stopped to daydream she may have made it home alive? Seconds really do count in situations like these!

Now with bag of corn meal in hand, it’s back on the road for our gal and yet another psychologically strenuous confrontation with that creepy bridge in order to return safe. Thanks to the magic of you-tube you can watch what happens to poor Teresa next….

Can you believe that went down? Besides this scene being seriously suspenseful, I think I also love it because it reminds me of the fantasies I would have in my twisted youth. You know the ones, your parents or a teacher forces you to do some menial crap or punishes you for something and then you start thinking about what if this or that happened and then they’d be sorry! You imagine them all crying at your funeral! Boy, that would show them! Sorta like in A CHRISTMAS STORY when poor little Ralphie daydreams about going blind from all that soap his mouth got washed out with! Oh how his parents would wail in regret!

Besides that personal revenge fantasy element I’m sure Teresa’s journey resonates with anyone who has had to walk home late at night by themselves. THE LEOPARD MAN has several other scenes that utilize this universal fear almost as well. (Worse still, one hapless victim finds herself locked in a graveyard!) As it turns out, that kitty you saw in the clip (feline movie star “Dynamite” who also starred in CAT PEOPLE) is really just a scapegoat for a far more sinister threat. The title may have you expecting a B monster movie but as is the case with most LEWTON flicks, it’s merely a lure. THE LEOPARD MAN certainly has its fair share of horrific moments but expect thriller, noir, mystery and quirkily written romance elements as well. In other words kiddies, my advice to you is, never judge a LEWTON film by its title, never wash your kid’s mouth out with soap and never ever get conned into going out on a late night corn meal run!

Trauma-Scene :: Ghost Ship’s Opening Dance Number

I am unabashedly partial to waterlogged horror, stick a bunch of idiots on a boat, preferably an abandoned one, and I’m so there. If the folks on the boat are battling a soul stealing demon then I’m so there; I’ve already left and come back again. It all stems from my original trauma experience watching SATAN’S TRIANGLE back in the olden days when I still had a soul to steal. That bad boy might as well have branded my forehead because it left me searching for a movie watching experience that can never be equaled. The only mini sub-genre that gives me a comparable amount of pleasure is the ski comedy, particularly if it concerns a lodge that is being threatened with closure by spoiled rich snobs who are begging for their comeuppance. Don’t worry folks, I’m not going to tell you that GHOST SHIP is as good as your standard ski comedy because it’s not. It has all the ingredients, a great cast, awesome looking sets and admirable cinematography. Why, it even has a cool, mid-movie music video insert where you can watch a giant hook impale a woman’s face to the sounds of a jaunty mid-nineties (GHOST SHIP is actually from 2002) sounding trip-hop tune. But alas GHOST SHIP suffers from DARK CASTLE disease, which means as far as the script goes it is just a random sewing together of brainstormed ideas with little concern for good storytelling. I’m just warning you, don’t let GHOST SHIP break your heart. You’re better off with a less flashy movie that really cares about you than GHOST SHIP, which at the end of the day is only using you and will never return your calls.

It should be admitted that even though the film as a whole is a dirty, lying, wallet-snatching scabby-faced hooker that it has one of the greatest kindertraumatic opening scenes (sans the crappy ironic title fonts) in recent memory. Have you seen it? You have to see it! The opening scene involves a tragedy that befalls a bunch of dancing fools and a very tight cable that splits them all into pieces like they’re Wile E. Coyote or something. A lone little girl is so short that the cable misses her, so she must watch as the crowd around her is spliced apart like sliced Velveeta. It is disturbing as all get out, and it makes promises that GHOST SHIP has no intent on delivering on. If the rest of the film was even half as successful as this opening bit, I would have have fallen head over heals for it. Instead this barnacle barge just sinks. (Don’t even get me started on the epilogue that had me scratching my head so hard it left permanent scars.) Oh, If only this ship could have docked at a ski lodge!

Trauma-Scene :: Garfield: His Nine Lives

Et tu Garfield? In the 1988 television special based on the popular 1984 book GARFIELD: HIS NINE LIVES, we are, for the most part, delivered what we have come to expect from the ornery orange feline: wise-cracky humor that’s about as deep as a lasagna tray. It’s important to note that before becoming a corporate tool, the bug-eyed Garfield was snarky and sarcastic way before it was considered hip. Back then it was called being “a jerk” and most kids felt a fondness for the guy for voicing (through telepathy) his unwarranted repulsion toward his loving owner and caretaker. As in the book, the television show reveals Garfield’s previous lives throughout the centuries and it actually goes so far to suggest that he was not only once a caveman, but also a jazz playing court musician.

As if this propagation of disinformation was not enough, the seventh life of Garfield seems to have been created solely to traumatize any straggler children who were smart enough to pass up seeing PLAGUE DOGS. The story opens with the cat being given experimental shots in a government science research facility.  Apparently the sight of the obnoxious Garfield as we know him being dissected is not traumatic enough, so through the magic of animation he is transformed into a Disney-esque kitten. We never do get to see his innards though because the about to be mutilated kitty smashes through a glass window and escapes (a feat that my own beloved cat Gato Malo can tell you (telepathically) is impossible after many failed attempts!) After hitching a ride on a helicopter and swimming across a stream, the plague cat suddenly suffers every cat’s worse nightmare of indignity; due to the experimental drug in his body, he morphs AMERICAN WEREWOLF-style into a dog!!! Not just any dog mind you, but a dog with glowing eyes! This would be a perfect time for the filmmakers to stage a cathartic bloody revenge scenario, but satisfying the viewer is the last thing on their minds. Hapless kiddie viewers are left with the image of a likely possessed dog, a bounty of lingering questions, and a severe case of the creeps.
Watch the horror HERE.

P.S. The ultimate blasphemy is yet to come. By this show’s conclusion it is revealed that God himself is a feline when Garfield finally kicks the bucket! It is also outrageously suggested that our lord and savior is gullible enough to be fooled into not only giving Garfield an additional unearned nine lives but also awarding Garfield’s tag along non-cat friend Odie nine lives as well. How this got on the air, I will never know. I am lighting up a torch and forming a mob as we speak…

Trauma-Scene :: Plague Dog “Snitter” Shoots Man in Face!

plague dogs

Thanks to trauma-picture over achiever WATERSHIP DOWN many kiddies learned the hard way that not every animated movie is appropriate for all ages and psyches. But what about PLAGUE DOGS which is based on a book by the same author, RICHARD ADAMS and directed by the same director, MARTIN ROSEN? It can’t be as bad… just look at the theatrical poster that sports two adorable pooches frolicking with a happy helicopter! PLAGUE DOGS is sure to bring the fun, right? Well I hate to break it to you, but those doggies are not so much frolicking as they are running for their very lives. And that helicopter? It’s filled with evil experimenting scientists who want to squash man’s best friends as if they were bugs. Sure, the animation is gorgeous and the storytelling is intense and meaningful, but I really wouldn’t recommend it to anyone unless they were seriously prepared to crawl through the most depressing of trenches or had an extra box of Kleenex they simply had to plow through. Of all the hope shattering scenes supplied within, one stands out as being extra horrific and I mean King Kong sitting on Santa Claus horrific. In it a pleasant looking hunter calls to one of the dogs, the cute small one named Snitter. Will the hunter be a new friend? Will he take Snitter home and feed him? The dog runs to him with high hopes and expectations, but as he leaps to give the traditional doggie slobber greeting, he accidently steps on the hunter’s rifle’s trigger and oops….SHOOTS HIM IN THE FACE! I don’t know if you have ever shot someone in the face before but, take it from me, it can destroy a friendship! The poor doggie runs away confused and, I can say from experience, probably feeling a bit guilty as well. Don’t worry, there are more horrible atrocities waiting for him and his doggie pal around the corner. If you have a dog I think you should sit him down and force him to watch this movie, not only will he become extra grateful for his pampered lifestyle but he also just might learn a little thing about gun safety. Check out the devastation HERE.

Trauma-Scene :: The Brave Little Toaster’s Nightmare

On July 4th, 2008 one of my favorite authors Thomas M. Disch committed suicide. Widely known for his science fiction and poetry, Disch also wrote one of my personal favorite horror novels of all time, THE M.D. Although the subject of death came up a lot in his work, in my opinion, he was capable of being one of the most hilarious authors I have ever read. His much-anthologized short story “The Roaches” is a great example of that fact. The truth is Disch‘s creativity was so grand that there really was no lone genre that could contain it. When he took on children’s literature with THE BRAVE LITTLE TOASTER series, he not only created characters that many adults still keep in their hearts today, but he also put himself in the position to be recognized as a unintentional traumatizer as well. One scene from the animated film based on the book seemed especially created to set the jujubes flying. In it, our little toaster has an awful dream where he not only causes a fire but also is psychologically harassed by a hideous clown in firefighter gear that would give “Pennywise” pause. The dream continues with the lovable appliance hanging on for dear life above a bathtub before he awakens to understand none of it was real. THE BRAVE LITTLE TOASTER both as a movie and a book will remain a children’s classic that truly gets the wheels of the imagination spinning in a way that only Disch could achieve.  It’s sad that the author could not hang on as tight as that little toaster did, but who’s to say he’s not waking up from a bad dream himself right now. Come to think of it, that would be so very, very Disch.

Experience THE B.L.T.‘s bad dream HERE

TRAUMA-SCENE :: THE OMEN’s Party Crasher

the omen

’s classic son of Satan film THE OMEN overflows with scenes high in trauma content. Priest ka-bobs, shrieking psycho monkeys and slow-mo-spinning decapitated heads rule the day. Even attempting simple household chores like watering one’s plants sadly results in smashed fish bowels and a trip to the emergency room. But that’s how it should be; nowhere in the bible does it say that the spawn of Satan is going to be carting a wagon full of marshmallow unicorns behind him. Out of all the scenes in DONNER’s Whitman Sampler of end of days atrocities, the one that stands out as the most KINDER-traumatic takes place at little Damien’s outdoor birthday party; a celebration whose festive spirit is crushed under the devil’s hoof.
the omen

Let’s face it, some folks are really pulling for Damien’s (HARVEY STEPHEN) future reign to be a success. One of those people is not-so-super nanny Mrs. Baylock (BILLIE WHITELAW). The first order of business is to get rid of Damien’s present nanny (fruit of JACK PALANCE’s loin, and RIPLEY’S BELIEVE IT OR NOT co-hostess, HOLLY PALANCE), so that bad Mrs. B can take her place and have a hand in raising the child. Enter demonic doggy. Demonic doggy, a handsome Rottweiler with sparkling eyes, appears to have the ability to influence a person’s decision making skills ala the son of Sam’s canine pal, but without all the chin music.
the omen

For the most part, this outdoor shindig seems to be a smashing success thanks to the Thorns being rich as hell. There’s a merry-go-round and even some cool mini rollercoaster thing I never found under my Christmas tree. You really couldn’t ask for better weather either, so it’s kind of a shame about what happens next. (Actually as horrible as the following events are, you just know that none of the guests could wait to get home to call their friends and relatives to tell them about how F-d up the well-to-do Thorn’s party was. “They ran out of plastic forks and…”)
the omen

Our mousey nanny, with more than a little nudging from demonic doggie, decides a much more memorable gift than the store bought kind could be bestowed upon little Damien by hanging herself like a human piñata out of a three story window. With the words “Look at me Damien, It’s all for you,” she takes one step forward and walks out into Kindertrauma history. A hanging nanny should be horrific enough, but THE OMEN, which for the most part, is a relatively restrained affair (sans that decapitation) just can’t resist adding a few extra turns of the satanic screw. In this case it’s not enough for nanny to simply hang and choke, horrifying the on-looking partygoers, she also has to swing backwards, destroy a perfectly good window and startle an unsuspecting indoor maid, who by rights should have been able to go about her daily dusting chores without any knowledge of this, the gift you cannot return.
the omen

It’s not so much the violence of the scene that we find horrifying but the glee in which it is performed. With the batting of a doggy eyelash we watch the nanny transform from “one of us” to “one of them”, a shiny happy sleeper agent with a Moonie grin. Rather than quietly going to her room and overdosing on sleeping pills, which would open the same opportunity for Baylock, she picks a spot where she is sure to be seen by all. It’s an act of true terrorism on the part of the devil (and DONNER). A public announcement that the happy family photo montage scenes (like the one that preceded this one) are officially over.
the omen

The only thing that needs to be said about the emotional devastation that this display causes is that one of the children at the party is actually shown seeking comfort from a clown (!). Many of the other guests simply look on expressionless, probably trying to figure out how much money the Thorn’s paid the nanny to perform that trick and wondering if she is available for Bar Mitzvahs. LEE REMICK understandably takes this moment to shield her son from the unsightliness, while simultaneously posing for the film’s advertising art, with a pleading expression on her face usually reserved for stained glass saints and porn stars.
the omen

All of this trauma-drama is doused in JERRY GOLDSMITH’s life ruining musical score and some weird uncanny bizarre sound effect that sounds like a faucet leaking in an echoey flying saucer. The one person who is nonplussed by the day’s events is little Damian who, by scene’s end, is shown waving a thank you to the rotten Rottweiler for giving his boring (and obviously very impressionable) nanny the pink slip, and creating a crack just large enough for good old Mrs. Baylock to slip through….
the omen


If you have never seen AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON then there is something seriously missing from your life. It’s only one of the best werewolf movies ever made and it is amazingly equal parts truly scary and darkly funny; the ending is a little too abrupt, but let’s not split wolf hairs. One scene that deserves to be singled out takes place during a dream within a dream, a device that in 1981 had not been exploited to oblivion yet by the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series. Our hero David Kessler (DAVID NAUGHTON) dreams that his entire family is massacred before his eyes by an extremely unfriendly band of machine-gun-toting Nazi monsters too hideous to describe. To add insult to not just injury but also slaughter, David’s little brother and pajama-clad sister were in the process of watching MISS PIGGY debate the value of violence in art on THE MUPPET SHOW when the attack begins. (If you’ve never see the movie, don’t worry, I haven’t ruined anything. The scene is so abrupt that it’s impossible to prepare yourself for it anyway.) Director JOHN LANDIS had been dreaming up this werewolf tale since he was a mere 19 years old, and this dream sequence reveals a fear that we all can relate to, a home invasion that endangers our entire family. The Nazi uniforms surely carry particular meaning for LANDIS though, being Jewish and born just 5 years after the end of World War 2. It’s no accident that a menorah, one of the oldest symbols of the Jewish faith can be seen being blasted away by one of the attackers before the scene’s close. By taking his own nightmare and throwing it up on the screen, LANDIS does in less than a minute what most directors fail to do in 90, he petrifies his audience. It’s a jolt of real horror and considering that it occurs in a place many consider to be the safest imaginable, the family living room, it’s all the more shocking. There is no way to hide behind the couch from the obvious tone of slapstick black humor involved either, (especially considering it’s proximity to barking mad dominatrix MISS PIGGY!) When mom and pop are blasted they fly backwards with absurd TEX AVERY force. This nightmare fantasy of the destruction of peace in a bourgeois home may be the worst thing imaginable, but I hardly think I’m the only horror fan who has rewound it again and again. LANDIS is actually playing hooky from the narrative, the scene being a dream has no consequence at all within the story. He quite simply presents you with the worst possible scenario he can think of, and departs before he is required to take responsibility for it. It may be sadistic (and masochistic) as hell, but that’s what Traumafessions are made of.

KINDER UPDATE:MIKE FISH reviews a new book on JOHN LANDIS over at our favorite hang out HORROR YEARBOOOK!