Traumafesssions:: Unk on The Omen (1976)

Yep, I’ve been moderating this site about media that scared us all as children for (over) thirteen years and I’ve still got a few of my own trauma tales to tell. I was somewhere less than ten years old when I first encountered Richard Donner’s 1976 demonic kid flick THE OMEN and a recent re-watch really got the memories of fear a’ flowing again.

My family was living in California at the time and my best pal was a tomboy named Karen who lived at the opposite corner of my block. Interestingly, we started out as enemies with both our families engaging in a rock throwing rumble but soon we were joined at the hip and spending entire days together discussing important matters like Welcome Back Kotter.

For unknown reasons on this particular day my mother came to pick me up from Karen’s house and walk me home. She needed to talk to Karen’s mother about grown-up business in the kitchen so we were meant to hang out in the den and watch TV while they gabbed. Karen’s family had just gotten something very new called “cable,” which meant that we could watch any movie that happened to be on (this was way before on-demand was possible). As it turned out HBO (or whatever station it was) happened to be showing THE OMEN.

We had missed the beginning of the film and jumped in mid way as a frazzled priest was informing Gregory Peck that his son was actually the spawn of Satan and the best idea would be to kill him as soon as possible. Peck didn’t buy what the priest was selling and walked away in a huff leaving the priest alone. Suddenly the weather began to change for the worse. Insane, howling winds popped out of nowhere, thunder bellowed.

It becomes pretty clear the priest knows what’s up. He has said too much. Evil forces appear to have his number! He sees a church in the distance- surely he’ll be safe there! What evil force would dare come at him there? So now it’s a race against time; will he get there before he’s struck down? The church doors are closed! He can’t get in! He looks up to the sky as if to ask God himself for help. Instead, a lightening bolt blasts a large pole from the top of the church roof that falls like a thrown sword and spears the priest right through his body in the middle of the graveyard! Wha!?!!

Where the hell was God during all of this? Was he doing his nails? It was time to go. I wasn’t to witness another scene but I’d seen enough. I was terrified by what I had viewed (and from what I’d heard; Jerry Goldsmith’s score is incredibly persuasive) but I was also profoundly betrayed by the inaction of God during a time of obvious crisis. If God didn’t protect people when they needed him then exactly what was he good for? Looking back, so many of my media based traumas from childhood, involved religion, which probably has more to do with when I was raised (the seventies) then how. But I think there was a scarier, larger truth hitting home that went beyond dubious Bible stories. On some level I understood that the forces I relied on to protect me were unreliable and that simply being a “good” person like a priest wouldn’t shield me from life’s calamities.

Watching THE OMEN once again, this unholy set piece still feels so dark and jarring to me. The ambiguous danger is inescapable and you get a dreadful sense of the enormity of mortality and the minuscule, ant-like nature of human life (an unnerving fatalistic vibe much like the FINAL DESTINATION films would later accomplish). Death is everywhere and there’s no way to switch the channel.

Traumafession:: James on Sleepaway Camp (1983)

Sleepaway Camp. No other movie has psychologically scared me as extremely as this movie has. I actually watched it for the first time while CAMPING with my Dad and Uncle in a small Evil Dead-type cabin deep in the woods of Pennsylvania!

The movie has a series of things that made me uncomfortable. These kids weren’t just mean to each other, they were emasculating and castrating. Watching the cook blister and writhe in agony over for what seemed like an eternity, the snake emerging out of the open mouth of the most visually disturbing drowned corpse I had ever seen, and the curling iron up the genitals with brute force and sizzle. It all brought me down to a very vulnerable place. Then the ending put me in the truest form of shock one can experience. I retreated inside the safety of my mind and everything went numb as the guttural growling and hissing of the very embodiment of a critical psychological breaking point manifested itself onscreen. I don’t think I talked much afterward. It took years for me to watch it again. Now it’s a favorite.

I didn’t revisit Sleepaway Camp until watching Unhappy Campers. Renting the sequel was very therapeutic for me. Its lighter comedic tone eased me out of the trauma. It’s not without its own sort of brutality. I think the outhouse murder and the incredible monologue Angela delivers as she commits the act is very powerful and has become one of my favorite movie scenes. I’ve read that it was taken straight from Robert Hiltzik’s original script for the sequel, before changes were made and infused with comedy. I can only imagine watching that scene played out with the grim, dead serious tone it was intended to have, more like the original, and having no comedy before or after to alleviate its morbidness. Imagine that.

-James of The Esoteric Interpreter

Traumafession:: PopcornMonster on Laffun Heads

When I was a kid I remember these super creepy novelty heads that when the tie was pulled down would spit water, blink their eyes, and laugh while their tongues moved in and out. My aunt had the clown variety and it spooked me out but pretty much every version was high on the uncanny valley scale. To this day I often think about them again and have considered picking up a vintage head from eBay but as of yet I haven’t pulled the trigger due to the prices and the fact that even if I did buy one I doubt I would even display the thing anywhere and for fear of mentally scaring my daughter in the same way I was.

Traumafessions:: Andrew H. of In Search of Darkness Part II on Witchtrap (1989)

Witchtrap is one of those kindertrauma movies that I saw one scene from, and it haunted me for years. I tried for about two decades to hunt it down after watching part of it in the early ‘90s when I was a kid, and finally after searching the internet for “neck shower death” over and over I finally found it again. I came very close to submitting a Name That Trauma article about it in the early 2010s but thanks to fans of ‘80s Horror like me, I was finally able to stumble across a video clip of the big traumatizing scene that had me thinking about a killer shower for almost my entire youth.

The bit starts with Linnea Quigley heading into the bathroom after a couple of paranormal researchers find a pentagram etched into the wall of a dark basement. Very Legend od Hellhouse, very Poltergeist. Linnea’s character Ginger is the tech head. She’s been connecting monitors to cameras that can pick up ghost activity all day, and now she’s taking a break to get cleaned up after work.

Ominous music builds as she gets in the shower and then we see another member of the team getting dressed in a bedroom. A grimacing face flashes on the screen and our character Whitney falls on the bed in a psychic fit as the soundtrack kicks into high gear. Downstairs the monitors pick up a ghostly figure and then we cut back to Whitney writhing in pain as she’s being affected by the presence while the sharp music sue re-intensifies.

Back in the shower the water stops and Linnea’s Ginger aggravated says, “I don’t fucking believe this!” as she checks the problem. She stares and shakes her head and then it happens. The shower faucet shoots straight at her neck and we hear a crunch. Closeup to Linnea’s shocked face and then it pulls back fast covered in blood as she recoils and slumps to the shower floor with her throat torn out.

Seeing this got me kicked out of the living room. My aunt had no idea this was going to happen and eight-year-old me was just sitting there watching a movie completely clueless. I thought about this death scene for years and years before finding out that it was from the movie Witchtrap that had almost entirely fallen into obscurity before being re-released recently.

It’s interesting looking back because I know now that the version I watched on HBO in the early ‘90s was cut for gore, but the scene stayed vivid in my memory. Watching the uncut version now I see that the impact of the shower head was bloodier and you see the wound up close more than the edited version. The first time I watched it was enough, and it sent me down a path of searching in video stores and online for ears before I eventually saw it again.

I’m actually glad I went on that journey of rediscovery because since I first saw it, I’ve watched a ton of other supernatural horror films that make me appreciate it even more. Witchtrap is a lot of fun and if you like ‘80s cop thrillers and ghost stories, check it out.

UNK SEZ: Thanks, Andrew! I was happy to see WITCHTRAP is currently available on TubiTV for FREE HERE! Folks, there’s still time to support IN SEARCH OF DARKNESS PART II! Find out MORE HERE!

Traumafession:: Chris Moore on The Red Shoes

It was summer and I must have been about 4 or 5 at the time. My sister and I were being watched by a babysitter named Elise whose mother was one of the teachers at our school. Like most kids, I felt like anyone older than 12 years old was impossibly mature and Elise seemed like one of the coolest, most mature people there was. She had her own car and would take us all sorts of places including her video store of choice entitled Video Library.

My family were Blockbuster folks for most of my early childhood, so that was the only video store I was used to. Imagine my surprise when she agreed to take us to rent a movie or two at Video Library and I took in the cavernous building that seemed to house copies of every movie ever released on video up to that point. You could spend hours in there and still feel like you overlooked something. They seemed to have so many movies that Blockbuster didn’t – even in the children’s section I was relegated to for that afternoon. I settled on a large, white clamshell tape entitled Fairy Tale Classics. I saw that it had a version of Cinderella on it, so that was what really drew me in due to my obsession with transformation scenes. I always wanted to see how they’d handle those dramatic scenes where Cinderella turns her rags into a ballgown or how they’d handle the evil queen transforming into one of her disguises to kill Snow White. The rest of the stories weren’t as familiar to me – The Ugly Ducking, Ali Baba, The Bremen Town Musicians, and The Red Shoes.

I went home and put the tape in and was entertained, but unmoved by their Cinderella re-telling. All in all, it was by the numbers, but I kept watching and was enjoying the other stories until I got to The Red Shoes. For those who don’t know, The Red Shoes is a fairy tale written by Hans Christian Andersen who gave us such uplifting tales as The Little Match Girl and the original telling of The Little Mermaid where the title character kills herself when she discovers the prince isn’t interested in her.

The Red Shoes turned out to be another super happy yarn about a poor girl named Karen who’s taken in by a devoutly religious woman after her mother dies. Karen sees a pair of red shoes in the store window and obsesses about them because they remind her of some shoes she had when she was a child. Because her new mother is colorblind, she buys them for Karen, not knowing that they’re totally inappropriate for church and a creepy old soldier has told her that, if she wears these, they’ll take over her life and make her dance until she dies.

Karen starts feeling pretty snazzy in her new shoes and does a little dance in them one day, which turns out to be a really bad idea, because this triggers the shoes to have a mind of their own and she starts flying all around the town, unable to stop dancing. She even kicks her mother in the head, injuring her badly enough to make her bedridden. She’s subdued and some townspeople rip the shoes off of her and that’s that. She never wants to dance again . After all, guilty feet have got no rhythm.

This goes alright for a while, but eventually, she can’t control herself and she brings the shoes back out of the closet for a town festival and she’s back at it again. She’s flung all over town and into the woods where she encounters the scary soldier guy again who just keeps laughing at this poor girl. She gets back home and finds out that her adoptive mother has died in the time that she was out dancing around town and she prays to God to take her instead and bring her back. The angels grant her wish, but everything turns out to be a dream and she and her new mom are cool. She takes the shoes off and locks them away for real this time. The end.

Believe it or not, but this was actually toned down from the original story where Karen is so overcome with grief over her adoptive mother’s death that she asks someone to cut off her feet and she’s forced to live as an invalid until an angel finally grants her wish of death. There was something so nightmarish about this story and the way it was presented that rubbed me the wrong way as a kid and it haunted me for so long that, in my teens, I had to order a copy of the VHS from eBay just to prove to myself that I didn’t imagine the whole thing. I’m sure the strange synth score didn’t help relieve any of the creeps I felt and that scary soldier lurking in the woods was of no comfort either.

Looking at it now, I have to laugh that something like this could freak me out as much as it did, but I do have this movie to thank for introducing me to Video Library. After that fateful trip, I convinced my family to get a membership and, every Friday for the rest of my childhood, we’d stop by there on the way back from school and rent a handful of movies – movies that were to shape me in so many wonderful ways. That place became my film school and I wouldn’t trade those memories for all the money in the world.

UNK SEZ: Folks, you can watch this version of The Red Shoes right over HERE.

ALSO: You guys remember our old pal Chris Moore, director of BLESSED ARE  THE CHILDREN (available on Tubi), TRIGGERED, and now… A STRANGER AMONG THE LIVING (trailer HERE & rent it HERE). I’ve seen this fine flick and can tell you that as per usual, Chris Moore has delivered something multilayered, thought-provoking and consistently unpredictable. It’s a genuinely eerie mind-bender that strikes similar psychological nightmare cords as THE TENANT, MESSIAH of EVIL, and CARNIVAL OF SOULS; so do yourself a favor and check it out if you have the time (you do).

Traumafession:: Unk on Laserblast (1978)

Back in the earliest days of VHS (yep, I’m that old), my family used to rent from a joint called STAGE DOOR VIDEO in King of Prussia Mall. It was actually more like an expanded kiosk that would pull down a metal gate when it was closed. Anyway, the horror/sci-fi section seemed immense to me at the time though in reality, it was probably less than a hundred films. My favorite, most trusted VHS label was easily MEDIA because they offered the likes of HALLOWEEN and HELL NIGHT and so it was only a matter of time before I rented another title on their roster, LASERBLAST. I had seen much more disturbing horror films by that time, so it’s not exactly accurate to say that LASERBLAST scared or traumatized me but it did in fact, freak me out a bit. Which may be a little odd as it’s widely considered to be an inept film (it was even featured on MST3) and its poor reputation miraculously has not improved one iota over the decades. Still, a recent re-watch reminded me that once it gave me a strong feeling of nauseous unease.

For a weird kid like me, LASERBLAST had a rather irresistible power fantasy plot, It’s about a bullied, socially awkward young man named Billy (KIM MILFORD) who finds a laser gun/arm cannon left behind by a stop-motion alien; Billy then decides to exact his revenge by blowing all who wronged him into smithereens. The creepy element for me, at the time, was that the more Billy used his newfound power/weapon the sicker and more monstrous he became. The actor who played Billy just happened to bear a strong resemblance to MARK HAMILL as Luke Skywalker (surely not by accident) and so, in my post STAR WARS head, it was almost like watching Luke become a sick, deranged ghoul. Now, I was not the healthiest of kids and had spent much time dealing with doctors and hospitals due to allergies and asthma (that has mostly gone away) so the idea of getting sick, catching a disease, really got to me (and is probably why this memory is resurfacing now during a pandemic). My viewing also took place during the early eighties when many a nightly newscast and weekly news magazine were reporting on AIDS at regular intervals with horrific images and a rightfully panicked tone. Billy’s dark, sunken eyes mirrored the headlines.

So yep, this kinda dopey (yet not uncreative) movie got under my skin more than a little bit and at least deeply enough for me to remember it all these years later (and I can almost smell some pungent doctor office scent as I do). As faulty as it may be, it’s hard to hate on such a simple and pure fable about the corrosive nature of revenge and exploited power. LASERBLAST may not be remembered fondly by many (although an ethereal performance from CHERYL “RAINBEAUX” SMITH of LEMURA fame is reason enough to watch it), but it’ll always represent a particular part of my awkward youth and certain fears that lay far back in my brain, ready to resurface.

I’d still like to find a laser gun though- I promise I wouldn’t abuse it…much.

Traumafesssion: Dustin in Minnesota on Jack and Jill and Gas Masks

Greetings trauma fans!

In these days of COVID-19 and mask-wearing, I was reminded of a childhood trauma I read in Jack and Jill magazine when I was maybe 9 or 10 years old.

For those unfamiliar, Jack and Jill was a children’s literary magazine aimed at elementary school-aged children. The 1970s being what they were, some of their stories focused on ecology and the environment, including one (whose title escapes me) that was somewhat terrifying.

It took place during a time when air pollution had reached an unprecedented high and children were required to carry World War II-style gas masks with them. When the alert sounded, they had to put on their masks. One little boy forgot (and I don’t recall whether it was by accident or on purpose) his mask one day and went to play baseball after school with his friends. The alert sounded and all the kids scrambled to put on their masks and get home to safety.

The little boy rode his bike home, only to find the doors all locked. Nobody was home, and he could only look through the window in fear and despair at the gas mask he left on the kitchen table.

After that point, the story shifted gears and mentioned the importance of combatting air pollution, but the reader was left wondering in horror what happened to the little boy.

Dustin in Minnesota

Traumafession:: Robstercraws on The Ramones’ Psycho Therapy Video

Hi, Unk!  I’ve got another Traumafession for you that, like my Three Dog Nightmare, is related to music.  Funny how many traumatic images come to mind that have to do with album covers, music videos, and music in general as opposed to what one would expect from scary movies and such.

Back when I was a young tween in the early ’80s, I used to spend summers with my dad in Fort Collins, Colorado.  After dad would go to bed on weekdays, I’d stay up late and catch this hour-long alternative video show called FM TV (later to be called Teletunes) out of Broomfield, Colorado..  FM TV would play music videos from all kinds of bands that MTV refused to play from The Art of Noise, Romeo Void, Ministry, The The, and Devo, to name just a few.  I’d look forward to this hour every night when I could see videos by all these bands I’d never heard of before.  It really broadened my musical horizons and was a great alternative to the big acts that MTV broadcast.

Anyhow, one night they broadcast the video for The Ramones’ ‘Psychotherapy’, a song (and band) I grew to love, but the video itself was CRAZY TRAUMATIC!  For such a short song, they really packed all kinds of scary images into the video including:  
-The members of the band in a lunatic asylum with all kinds of realistically crazy-looking people cavorting about!
-A therapist and hospital surgeons turning into scary-looking skeletons!
-An inmate having a “mini-me” burst out of his own face!
Being the early 80’s, I never saw this video again until the advent of YouTube, but the memory of it was seared into my brain for a good 20 years!  I was 13 or so when I saw it and past the age of most Traumatizers, but when I saw this video late at night, by myself, on an old tv, on a music video show that seemed almost underground….the experience gave me a nightmare or two!  So,
HERE is the video (now a favorite, of course!).  Thanks for reading! 


Traumafession:: G.G.G. on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Like a lot of city kids, I would get shipped out to my grandparents’ house in the suburbs for a week or two each summer, supposedly to give me an appreciation of grass, trees and fresh air. The candy was terrible, the plastic covers on the furniture annoyingly sticky in the heat, and the rules regarding “guest” towels and soap labyrinthine. The one glorious redeeming feature in all of this? The finished basement had a huge color TV, my grandfather’s state of the art VHS, and a pile of tapes that would do a Blockbuster proud.

Bored on a rainy day and rooting for something to watch, I pulled The Texas Chainsaw Massacre out of the pile, since it was obviously something scary, and even 8 year old me loved horror above all. I had a steady diet of midnight B movies, Twilight Zone reruns, and silly slashers like Chopping Mall. I could TOTALLY handle this.

All of 3 minutes later, I bolted upstairs and hung on to a very bewildered cocker spaniel mix for dear life as my whole concept of terrifying rearranged itself. I didn’t watch the rest of the film for several decades. It didn’t have quite the same power, but I had twenty plus years to learn more sophisticated ways of torturing myself.

Traumafession:: Rob M. on a Classic PSA

Probably my greatest trauma happened every day just before the ten o’clock news. I grew up in the late 70’s/80’s in the NYC suburbs. During this time, there was a lot of real life horror (Stranger Danger, Toxic Tylenol, Satanic Panic, Son of Sam, child abductions, AIDS, Drugs, Cold War etc). But I digress… imagine being in this environment and unexpectedly before every ten o’clock news intro… a still motion shot of a lone child riding a bike on a deserted side street illuminated by a street lamp. Then comes the voice over -> “It’s 10pm. Do you know where your children are?” The person who provided the voiceover was the great Lou Steele. He was known as “The Creep” btw. I’d have to run out of the room every time it came on. The reason it scared me was because of the images it conjured in my head. “Does this person know something?” “Geez, kids are getting snapped up left and right”. “Why do parents need to be reminded to check on their children?” And ultimately reminded me of the infamous “Have you checked the children?” from When a Stranger Calls. The spot, the voiceover and the current social climate all made this a fearful moment of my youth. They later added another spot at 7pm which asked the question “Have you hugged your child today?” That also felt kind of creepy too… just the idea that parents needed a reminder.

Thanks,
Rob