My Kindertrauma:: The Fly (1958) By Unk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traumafession:: Cosmo M. on The X-Files episode “Badlaa”

Oh, my goodness! The first time I experienced kindertrauma happened in 2001 when I was 7 years old and THE X-FILES was a popular tv show. Deep Roy played a character called the “Badlaa” which is also the title of the episode. In this episode, the little monster crawled inside you, and ate you from the inside out! His character seriously scared the crap out of me for years after I first witnessed him. I vaguely remember seeing him on a cart without any legs, starring into the camera after someone jumped into the pool, and exploding out of a dead person’s stomach at the coroner’s office.

The way he was depicted sitting on the dolly gave me the creeps. I had never seen anything that didn’t have any legs before. Those shiny brown stubs, that I now know were just his knee caps, just made my imagination run wild. The fact that he didn’t have legs was disturbing to me and the implications for how his character lost his legs made me lose sleep for years when I would imagine what the experience was like losing your shins.   

The pool scene was horrific as well. I remember there was a teenager that fell victim to the Badlaa in a pool, whom I could empathize with. My family would frequent the local pool in the neighborhood as well as the pool at my dad’s local gym. Some folks have the unreasonable fear of a shark in the swimming pool, but not me. All I could imagine was Deep Roy swimming after me. It probably made me a better swimmer because if the thought of his character ever popped into my head, I would ace it to the edge of the pool and hop out.

Lastly, there was that scene when he pops out of a dead person’s stomach when agent Scully was performing an autopsy, jeez! I can remember that hand popping out of that person’s guts covered in blood sending shivers down my spine. There were blood streaks across the floor from where he scooted across after exiting the dead man’s belly. Oh man, truly disturbing for a young child.

However, these experiences have led me to have an affinity to the horror genre. There’s nothing quite like a good controlled scare; it helps us feel alive. Gets an emotion out of us that’s also fun to experience. The gory scenes from the TV show set fourth my appreciation for the artform as well. Some of my peers don’t quite understand why I like gory films. Obviously, they are fake but the effort people put in to make our stomachs churn is real and I’m thankful for all the hard work that goes into them. At the time when I was a kid, it seriously freaked me out but in my adulthood I’m thankful I have an appreciation for the artform of horror. 

Traumafession:: Director Chris Moore on Night of the Living Dead (1968)

I wasn’t usually allowed to watch horror films as a kid unless they were rated PG (or possibly PG-13 if my folks were feeling liberal) or if they were on TV where all the gore, sex, nudity, and language would be cut out. The general rule was that, if it was made before 1970 or so, it was probably okay for me to see. With this rule in place, I tried my hardest to find whatever appropriate horror films I could get my hands on. 

One night, while browsing the aisles of my favorite mom and pop video store, Video Library, I saw it. It was staring back at me, taunting me with its bright pink border surrounding a garish and gory piece of art in the middle. It reminded me of the outside of those cheap haunted house rides I’d see at the state fair every October. People were chewing on human flesh, a car was on fire, and a bloody woman was screaming at the bottom. I had to know what horrors were contained inside this tape!

I brought the tape to my father who inspected it, looked at the back of it, and nodded with approval. It was black and white and not rated. How bad could it be? He even said he’d watch it with me in case I got too scared. “Night of the Living Dead!”, he said. “I remember this one. You’ll be fine.”

We got back home, popped the tape in the VCR, and the film started with a static shot of an old country road like many of the ones we had on the outskirts of town. The music was foreboding, but I had my dad there. What could go wrong?

While the first scene did make me uncomfortable, I didn’t get the first true jolt until Barbara got to the farm house, went upstairs, and saw the decomposing head on the staircase. I shrieked when she did and covered my eyes. Maybe I wasn’t ready for this. 

I got my wits together and powered through the rest of the movie, still uncomfortable and terrified I’d have to see that terrifying head again. This movie wasn’t like the Vincent Price horror movies I’d seen. This was stark, brutal, and took no prisoners. No one was safe, including the audience. 

It wasn’t until young Karen came towards her mother in the basement that I started feeling like I couldn’t breathe and I might not be able to handle the rest of this movie. As she approached her hapless mother and grabbed a garden tool off the wall, I could feel my palms getting sweaty. Surely, they weren’t going to show this, were they? As Karen backed her mother into a corner and started stabbing her to death, I ran out of the room, screaming. 

I didn’t see the rest of the film for at least another decade and, if you want to know the truth, every time I see that scene, I still want to run out of the room. Thank you, George Romero, for giving me one of my first true horror film experiences. 

UNK SEZ: Our good pal Director Chris Moore (BLESSED ARE THE CHILDREN, TRIGGERED, A STRANGER AMONG THE LIVING) has an awesome new movie out called CHILDREN OF SIN and as usual, it’s as thought provoking as it is fright inducing! Check out the trailer HERE!

Traumafession:: Justin Howard Query on Michael Jackson’s Thriller

Michael Jackson is the perfect monster

No one forgets his first time, and a significant gateway into horror was the 1983 short film slash music video for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” Directed by John Landis with makeup effects by Rick Baker, this 14-minute video was the perfect introduction to horror for some: it introduced werewolf mythology, paid homage to teen horror films of the 1950s, included zombies of all shapes & sizes, and revolved around the notion that all of it was as harmless as a night at the movies.

But more than that, it showed new initiates to horror that the genre was meant to be fun, a marriage of scares and — here — a musical score, a balance of horror and humor. When critics of this long-marginalized niche of filmmaking call it nihilistic or “less than” art, it should be duly noted that some fans were brought to scary movies for the very reason that they would jump in their seats and then realize that the fright was in the fact the punchline of the joke. Yes, horror has changed with time, and yes, it can make intellectually serious commentaries through its tropes, but the most important moment in any horror film is when the credits roll. A catharsis comes with horror, and it signals that despite the heart-stopping horror, you were always going to make it out of this alive. You may even decide to dance to it as you leave the theater. There are worse ways to go, wouldn’t one suppose?

Traumafessions:: Unk on Look What’s Happened to Rosemary’s Baby (1976)

LOOK WHAT HAPPENED TO ROSEMARY’S BABY is not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination; it’s every bit as clunky as its title. That doesn’t mean that it didn’t freak me the hell out as a child though. As I recall, the first twenty minutes were horrifying to me, and then I’m pretty sure I bailed to hide under some covers somewhere. Little did I know as a kid that if I had just stuck around past the scene that caused me trauma, I would have probably found that the feeling of boredom had eclipsed any anxiety I was experiencing. Normally I’d watch a movie again before I’d dare write an opinion about it but in this case, I watched it about ten years ago and have decided that I’ve suffered enough. I’m going to practice self-care and simply watch the scene in question and hopefully, I won’t get too many of the facts wrong.

The eternally wonderful Patty Duke has replaced Mia Farrow as Rosemary Woodhouse and if there’s one thing I can’t complain about in this movie it’s the casting. I mean, when Sidney Blackmer couldn’t return to play baddie Roman Castevet (due to his death in 1973), they nabbed one of my all time favorites, Ray Milland! This is a movie that boasts Ruth Gordon, Tina Louise and a young Stephen Mchattie so let’s give credit where’s it due: the casting is impeccable! Sure, this ramshackle flick is all over the place but it’s not that much worse than the literary sequel the original author (Ira Levin) would come up with decades later. I guesss the idea of a sequel was cursed from the get-go.

Anyway, Rosemary (Duke) is traveling cross-country, always on the run trying to keep her little kid away from the Satanists who want him to be evil and destroy the world (probably). The kid gets in a fight with some bullies (as Rosemary is having one of her famous breakdowns on a payphone) and he zaps them with glowing demon eyes (must be nice). Luckily, Tina Louise who has an awesome camper helps them out and hides them away. Eventually, she gains their trust and helps them hail down a bus in the middle of nowhere in order to escape. Rosemary makes the dumb move of getting on the bus first, and the door slams behind her! The bus drives away with tricky betrayer Tina Louise clutching the kid! Rosemary runs to the back of the bus and does the frozen behind glass scream with clawed hands screaming “Nooooo” routine (again with this)! But wait, it’s worse…she goes to the front of the empty bus to plead with the driver and there is none! Nobody is driving the hell bus!

OK, this all hits me on a bunch of levels. We’ve got the Satanists, the two-faced beauty, the vehicle with no driver, the trapped behind glass, the pointless scream, and the being torn away from your parent(s). And this is a seventies made-for-TV movie so you know the insane diabolical musical score is not helping either. It’s an incredible scare (for me anyway) in a lackluster flick that mostly just rots on the vine directly following this harrowing sequence. It’s also a fantastic example of the fact that it doesn’t matter how good the movie is when you’re talking about Kindertrauma, a scare can find you anywhere.

Traumafession:: Unk on Friday The 13th Part 3 (1982)

About a month ago (April 30th), FRIDAY THE 13th PART 2 was celebrating its 40th anniversary. While singing its praises I nearly stated that Jason Voorhees, as presented in that film (with a THE ELEPHANT MAN-type sack on his head), is at his scariest (because generally he is) but something stopped me in my tracks from doing so. If I was being completely honest, the most frightening I ever found Jason Voorhees was at the end of the next film in the series FRIDAY THE 13th PART 3.

Come to think of it, I was hardly a child at the time and at that point, had watched the first two films multiple times (to say the least). At the point of the film I’m referring to, most of the film’s killing, violence and bloodshed had already occurred and I had devoured it all handily.

But his was the sort of scare that hit me on a purely visual level. It felt like one of my nightmares; I was shook as they say.

Chris Higgins (Dana Kimmell) had endured a rough night but it appeared that she had finally defeated her hockey-masked assailant and exhausted, fell asleep in a boat on a shallow portion of Crystal Lake. She is awoken by a screeching bird and is clearly (and rightfully) still in hyper-survival mode. She looks about and sees only her familiar farm. After a panicked jolt when the boat hits a floating branch (!) and a jump scare provided by an obnoxious duck loudly flying by her head (!), she comes to accept that the nightmare may indeed be over and that she is finally safe. But that’s when she sees him in the window…

A fleshy, almost pig-faced, mask-less Jason in all his deformed glory, covered in blood and somehow audibly groaning!  He begins to scratch and claw at the windows glass in a frenzied manor (I don’t know why figures behind glass get to me (SALEM’S LOT?) but they always do). He finally gives up on his nonsensical attempts to reach Chris through the window and disappears while Chris finds the boat she’s trying to row away in stuck on another damned branch.  Jason CRASHES through the door (!) and we get an even better look at his almost smiling (?) heavily breathing visage. He starts to run for Chris (and directly toward camera) but then suddenly disappears (along with the merciless, cow-prod score).

It’s OK! Chris has just lost her mind! The window is empty. The lake is at peace. Of course this is all just to distract us from what’s coming out of the water (an iffy, worm-enhanced homage to the first film). Hey, it works. I’m not sure why it worked so well on me but it did and I have to admit, it still does. Something about the brazen early morning clarity is truly jolting and even though the series was already notorious for such last minute trickery, I continue to fall for it hook line and sinker.

Traumafessions:: Unk on Sleestaks

Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolfman; all seemed like cool guys I could pal around with when I was little… Sleestaks, not so much.  Truth told, Sleestaks freaked me out. For those not familiar, Sleestaks are inter-dimensional, reptilian humanoids that appear in Sid and Marty Krofft’s seventies-era Saturday morning adventure series LAND OF THE LOST. They’re like eight feet tall thanks to extended lower legs, have sorta crab-claw hands, a spike/horn on their heads and gigantic glassy insectoid eyes. Did I mention they hiss(ssssss)? And if there’s a group of them (I seem to remember them preferring to travel in threes) the hissing is especially worrisome (and even vaguely insulting if you are a kid who suffers from asthma).

I don’t know what my deal is but as a child, I had a near primordial reaction to them. It was sorta like that thing when you put a cucumber behind a cat and it mistakes it for a snake and jumps three feet in the air (I beg you not to do this). Although I have to admit they never failed to liven up the show, they gave me true heebie jeebies. It didn’t help that they kind of hunch over with their arms spread out and almost ape the familiar movements of an adult trying to wrangle a child. As I recall there was a kind, helpful, more sophisticated Sleestak (possibly from the future) who did indeed attempt to aid our heroes Marshall, Will and Holly but his mellow disposition did not make up for the aggressive behavior of his more primitive brethren 

Here’s where it gets weird (and by that I mean, where I get weird). I have a very strong memory of my older brother riding a bike with a rope tied behind it and me on skates being pulled while holding on to said rope. This was in the basement so I’m sure we were not moving at any incredible speed. Anyway, I fell and smashed my head hard against the cement (not my first head injury by a long shot). I must have been out for a second because when I came to I was surrounded by Sleestaks looking over me and then they were quickly replaced by my familiar basement surroundings. What the hell was that? Normal brain damage or some unglued memory of alien abduction!?! Am I in some bed somewhere attached to tubes MATRIX-style and have no clue? I honestly DO NOT want to know. Anyway, Sleestaks; I very much prefer them on my TV rather than in my basement (or head).

Traumafessions:: Xminus1 on The Baby From Outer Space

I thought for years I was making this up but there was a really weird short film on nickelodeon years ago called The Baby From Outer Space. This one freaked me out and has stayed with me throughout the years. I have no idea how this got past the censors at the time. This short is really weird.
The short was uploaded to youtube and it is the only copy of it I have seen anywhere. That smiley face is just pure evil. Check this one out
(HERE).

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.