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.


Name That Trauma:: Unk on a Pig-Faced Litterbug

I wasn’t exactly a child when I saw this commercial but I’m going to write about it anyway. I’m hoping that maybe there’s someone out there who has seen it as well and needs confirmation that they didn’t imagine it. From what I recall this environmental PSA played frequently because that is exactly how it got permanently lodged in my head. I’m guessing it’s from around 1990 because for some reason my memories of the year the eighties ended are especially vivid.

In the commercial you see a man looking up at the camera and I think he’s sitting in some kind of black void to make things even more creepy and surreal. A woman’s accusing voice bellows at him, “You’re the one who throws trash out of your car window” (or something like that) and the guy’s face changes a little and becomes slightly more pig-like. Then the woman accuses him of something else regarding pollution (maybe dumping garbage into the ocean) and his face becomes a little more pig-like. This happens several more times until the man has a total pig face. It’s possible he turns into an actual pig at the very end.

In general, I find it absurd and ignorant when folks describe bad (and particularly human) behavior by comparing people to innocent animals. I’ve never met a pig but quit sure they are charming animals in real life. Having said that, the Dr. Moreau-style hybrid presented in this short ad was truly hideous and disturbing. I’ll never forget how the woman’s voice quivered with such exaggerated contempt as she barked at the guilty-looking monstrosity. After many years, I’ve never seen this spot pop up on YouTube and it may very well be an only East Coast-thing. Hopefully, someday I’ll meet another human who has experienced this. It was so very weird that I’m surprised that I can’t find a reference to it anywhere.

And that reminds me: When I was small and living in California my across the street neighbor had a poster hanging in his garage that said, “Hell yes, I male chauvinist Pig” and it was an image of a scary man on a motorcycle with an actual pig face so maybe my aversion to pig faces has a long history. I also remember being especially taken aback by the issue of Fangoria with MOTEL HELL on the cover.

Traumafession:: Richie C. on a Curse of Frankenstein Mask

Hi there, My big bro takes me to see Curse of Frankenstein with the immortal Christopher Lee in 57, maybe–I’m 6—and as a give-away they had masks of the monster with eye holes and an elastic band–I remember my brother wearing it after the movie and scaring the bajesus out of me, as up to that point it was the scariest image ever, followed shortly after by Mr Sardonicus, etc—anyway, my older brother doesn’t remember the mask and I’m sure I’m not misremembering –do you or any of your fans remember such a mask?–thanks, love your site—ghoulishly yours, Richie

Traumafession:: Dan C. on a Junkie Ballarina PSA

As long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated and often terrified by the PSA as a format. An early memory of mine involves me laying in bed, holding aloft my Cookie Monster stuffed animal and miming what it would look like if Cookie was the talking head in a PSA; not saying any words, just trying to approximate the subtle movements. I ended this with a mock freeze frame. I scared myself with this enough to throw the covers over my head and try and will myself not to think about Cookie Monster freeze-frame, lest I would never get to sleep from the terror of a freeze-frame in an imaginary PSA.

Yeah, it’s pretty weird. So time marches on and various PSAs come and go, and I’m scared of them in degrees from 0 to 99. The mid to late 80s anti-drug obsession starts to take hold and it instills a general sense of paranoia in us suburban preteen kids, but it all still seems like the “other.” In our little sheltered burg, we thought some stranger in a van (perhaps a clown) was going to come and offer us “druggggggggs” and maybe kidnap us. It was all a vague (but real, it sure as hell seemed!) threat. Welp, the vagueness showed it’s power when I was maybe a couple years too old for a genuine kinder trauma, but I can’t under estimate the terrifying grip that one fucking Partnership for a Drug Free America spot had/has on me. I was like fucking 11 or 12 and I don’t remember the first time I saw this thing.

The sound of an orchestra tuning. A low angle shot with cold, cold, diffuse light. A ballet studio. Slow-motion dancer is spinning, spinning out of control. Onlookers with crossed arms of disapproval in the background. Voiceover of little girl: “I wanna be a ballerina when I grow up.” Cue fake Psycho violin stabs, then adult male voiceover: “Nobody says they wanna be a junkie when they grow up. Don’t let drugs get in the way of your dreams.” This fades into the standard Partnership for a Drug Free America text and black screen. This spot started showing up in weird places immediately…Siskel and Ebert (yeah, i was a kid watching S&E on Sunday mornings), Wonder Years and Doogie Houser MD were prime spots. It showed up in an airing of the Rankin Bass Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer in 90 or 91. I think I closed my eyes for that one. See, cuz I took different tactics to get over this fear; I’d close my eyes and just listen, I’d pay strict attention to every detail, I’d count the times the dancer spun (it’s not even one full spin). Nothing worked. I even had a wake up paralyzed screaming nightmare about it once.

Me and my few loser friends in middle school would talk about this spot, and the few others in the series (none of which bothered me a quarter as much) and talk about how “freaky” they were. It was a good word to avoid seeming weak in that junior high shark pool. But I was obsessed with it as it left rotation and went into PSA retirement. So, as I got into collection weird VHS years later, of course that would be a thing I was on the hunt for. As I picked up home recordings of broadcast tv I’d be always hoping it would lead me to this terror. I found tons of fascinating, and at times terrifying PSAs but I never found the ballerina. I even found collections of Partnership for a Drug-Free America tapes and it seemed they were erasing that spot from there history for some reason. Even as youtube emerged as, I found almost everything I wanted to see from days past…couldn’t find the particular spot.

Eventually, it did show up on youtube, and get taken down immediately. Was this secretly a controversial ad? I did give in and watch it on youtube sadly right before I found it was on a tape I had of an ABC primetime broadcast I never bothered to look at cuz it was Young Indiana Jones or some garbage like that. Anyhow, I’m still fascinated by this, because I think I’ve been truly terrified by this thing entirely because of the power of film language. Whatever who these anonymous creatives were going for, they found it purely through scary creepiness. Frankly, I think the anonymity in these spots are partially what make them so elusively unnerving. Who made this? Who is the ballerina? Did they believe in what they were doing? Cuz the implementation of creepy style certainly indicates a certain dedication. Did they know they’d be haunting the minds of kids as they became functional adults? I still can’t quite put my finger on what this particular thing gives me such intense unease. But it’s still there.

Traumafession:: Dr Future on The Andy Griffith Show Episode “Opie the Birdman”

I’ll never forget, nor those of my generation, how Barney taught Opie how to use a weapon of violence, in the innocence of ‘target practice.” Opie took his new slingshot around outside, shooting at things, until he saw something move in the trees, as he quickly and instinctively aimed and shot, quickly seeing a bird fall from the tree.  Struck with the immediacy of his act, he ran up and in denial assured himself that the bird was merely “stunned”, and would fly away anyway. As he began to panic and tear up, he pleaded with the bird to “fly away”, even picking it up and launching it, which responded by falling lifeless to the ground.  He was completely distraught, as were the rest of us, to this simple display of senseless violence.  He ran home, and listless at dinner, overheard Andy and Aunt Bea talk about a dead songbird they wondered a cat might have gotten.  Overwhelmed by guilt, he ran to his bed, which triggered the intuitive assessment of Andy.  Going to his room Andy confiscated the weapon, and even worse, opened up the window to let Opie hear the plaintive cries of the mother’s baby birds, who not only would never see their mother but presumably starve to death in waiting.  Do I have your attention? The grieved Opie suddenly recognized his duty to adopt and raise these orphan bird babies, dutifully feeding and raising them until they were flying around in the cage (with the unsolicited advice of Barney, dispensing advice from “scientific studies” and “everybody knows”, like the 1950s living embodiment of the Internet), leading to the second “trauma” – that of heeding father Andy’s advice to let them go, and “leave the nest” and the bonds of attachment Opie had made with them.  

Traumafession:: Rob S. on a Three Dog Night-mare

Hi, guys! This is truly my favorite site. Keep it going forever, please! I have a Traumafession for you that I’d be surprised if no one else my age could relate to. When I was growing up in the 70’s, my parents had an extensive album collection that I would browse through from time to time and one of their favorite bands was Three Dog Night. There was an album of theirs called Hard Labor with a really bizarre and horrifying cover. It was a picture of a hospital operating room with some kind of weird mannequin/alien being with bird-like feet giving birth to a record album with a roomful of attending medical staff crowded around. At least that was the original album cover before the record company made them cover the lower third of the album with a huge plastic Band-Aid…..which made the image even more mysterious and frightening!

That cover with the Band-Aid was the source of many a nightmare when I was a kid….but, of course, I still had to look at it when I felt particularly daring. The image on the back of the album wasn’t much better, depicting the “mannequin/alien” thing on a carousel. Whoever thought that was a good image to slap on the band’s cover was on some pretty good drugs! That cover has always stayed with me, I included here the original cover, the back cover, and the Band-Aid cover that scarred my fragile psyche.