Traumafession:: James of LARPing Real Life on The Gauntlet (1977)

I have a confession to make before I even get to my Traumafession: I have never seen the Clint Eastwood movie The Gauntlet. My dad took me to see other Eastwood-Sondra Locke vehicles, namely the goofy but fun Any Which Way films, but never this 1977 crime flick.

So how does a picture I’ve never watched end up as something that traumatized me as a youngster? Look no further than the 30-second TV spot.

Put aside for the time being that someone in a position of power at Warner Bros. decided that the advertisement for a tense, edge-of-your-seat, nail-biting action film required a voiceover by radio’s American Top 40 host, Kasey Kasem. The really scary moment happens at around the 12-second mark in the ad.

It is then that the passenger-side door of a racing ambulance opens, and Sandra Locke spills out of it. She clings to the door for dear life while the freeway flashes by beneath her. She screams as she hangs scant inches above the tarmac. What makes matters worse is that she seems to be dressed in only a blue t-shirt and short-shorts. Talk about road rash!

Who is she? Who is chasing her? Why is she in an ambulance? Why is the ambulance driving so fast? Why isn’t she wearing her seatbelt? None of these questions mattered to my then 6-year-old brain. The only fact I gathered in that one-second-long clip was that car doors opened for no good goldang reason while you drove on the highway, so you better be ready at all times!

After seeing this ad for The Gauntlet, I was very wary of sitting next to the door while accompanying my parents to the grocery store, the mall, or to Grandma’s house. Remember: this was the 1970s. As a little kid, no one cared much about my safety. I didn’t have to ride in a special seat in the back of the car. Heck, my sister used to sit on the central fold-down armrest in the front seat of our Pontiac Grand Prix – sans seatbelt! The chances of being launched head first through the windshield or bouncing like a superball off the dashboard during a head-on collision were quite a few percentage points higher than the door inexplicably opening while being chased down Route 65 by evil cops who wanted to make sure I couldn’t rat them out.

Yet, as a little kid, I made darn sure that the door was shut firmly and locked tightly before we backed out of the driveway. I didn’t even like touching the door’s armrest or handle until the car was at a full stop. I assumed that when my dad took the car in for its yearly inspection, the first thing on the to-do list was “Make sure doors do not open on their own during high-speed chases.”

To this day, when I get into a vehicle, the image of Sondra Locke will flash through my mind, and I’ll keep as close a watch on the door as Woody Allen did on Christopher Walken’s hands on the steering wheel in Annie Hall.

-James Lewis of LARPing Real Life

My Kindertrauma:: Sesame Street Episode 847 (’76) By Unk

Once upon a time in 1976, Margaret Hamilton reprised her role as the Wicked Witch of the West from THE WIZARD OF OZ (’39) on Sesame Street. It didn’t go over so well; the episode freaked out many a child, there was a barrage of complaints from parents and the episode was pulled from future airings. Interestingly, the previous year, Hamilton appeared on Mister Roger’s Neighborhood where she explained to the delight of children everywhere that her role as the witch was only make-believe. For some unknown reason, the folks of Sesame Street decided to throw all that goodwill into Oscar’s trash can by suggesting that kindly Hamilton, sans green make–up, was in fact the evil witch in deceitful disguise; a witch who threatens to turn Big Bird into a feather duster! You can watch the unearthed Sesame Street episode HERE & the Mr. Rogers episode HERE and please don’t mind me if I utilize this occasion to tell you about the time when as a kid, I met a horrifying witch myself!

I’m guessing I was seven or eight when I was sent to sleep-away camp. It seemed exciting at first and I could not get my head around the fact that some of my fellow kids were crying and homesick. Were they crazy or just babies? I assumed both. I was pretty happy to be somewhere new and unfamiliar and I had recently learned a new sport that I was actually good at called “bumper surfing.” Ya see, cars drove real slow as they passed through the campgrounds so if you saw a truck go by, you just jumped on the back bumper and rode it for a spell. What could possibly go wrong?

One day I was talking to a camp counselor when the perfect truck with a fat bumper drove by. With the arrogance of an ignoramus, I cut the counselor off mid-sentence and basically advised them to “hold that thought” as I ran toward the vehicle, jumped on the back, and took it for a jaunty ride. I returned to the camp counselor to find a look of complete horror on their face about what they had witnessed. They asked if I knew the people in the truck and I shrugged and said no. Their eyes widened. I was told my actions were so severe that a demerit would not suffice; I had to go speak to the head of the camp!

I was taken to a large tent and instructed to wait outside. I watched the silhouette of a hunchback hag scramble about within and it was straight out of SUSPIRIA even though I hadn’t seen that movie yet. Eventually, I was summoned by the decrepit woman with glassy eyes and harangued for what seemed like terrifying hours. I remember none of her grizzled gobbledygook except her closing sledgehammer statement, “If I wanted to kill myself then I should go ahead because nobody would miss me when I was gone.” Hmmm, ok, that stung. I held it together until I made it back to my tent and then I lost it. I started crying just like those crazy babies I had previously looked down upon. The old witch was right! I could feel it in my bones. Nobody would care if I lived or died. The world would keep turning and it’s possible my parents would be nothing but relieved. The witch had cursed me with this terrible knowledge that was always there but I had been pathetically blind to before. I would never be happy again!

Yet somehow I eventually got over it and camp wasn’t so bad after all. Once during a hike, we saw nude sun-bathers on the beach! Incredible! I also painted an owl on a smooth, round rock and I can still see it in my mind’s eye today. That owl was wise and understood everything. That owl was a sage symbol of my inner fortitude and my recently obtained ability to drag myself out of psychological quicksand. That owl rock had divine power! I’m pretty sure my dad threw it away.

NOTE: Witches are like bats and opossums and are actually really great and don’t deserve negative stereotyping. This tale takes place very long ago so I hope all the kind witches reading this will forgive my youthful ignorance and not curse me.

My Kindertrauma:: Where Have All The People Gone (’74) By Unk

Directed by the great John Llewellyn Moxey (HORROR HOTEL ’60) and co-written by Lewis John Carlino (A REFLECTION OF FEAR ’72) and Sandor Stern (THE AMITYVILLE HORROR ’79), the 1974 made-for-TV movie WHERE HAVE ALL THE PEOPLE GONE has occupied a large space in my brain ever since I was a child. I remember my entire family being excited to watch it the night it aired because part of it was filmed at our local grocery store. Having recently moved to California, the concept of seeing a familiar place on our television was still quite mind-blowing.

And who could resist such a title and premise? WHATPG tells the tale of the Anders family who spend their free time in the woods collecting rocks and fossils. One day mother bows out early and returns home but father Steven (Peter Graves), daughter Deborah (Kathleen Quinlan), and son David (George O’Hanlon Jr.) decide to explore a cave. While inside the cave, some kind of never fully explained solar flair type incident occurs and the outcome is that just about every human (who was not safely hanging in a cave) is turned to literal dust. The surviving family members are left in an eerie unpopulated world where they search for answers, their certainly dead mom, and general supplies, (at my then local grocery store) all while battling mad dogs and a few other stray survivors. Honestly, not much of interest happens but boy is it creepy and vaguely depressing. I found the movie particularly engrossing because I knew exactly what the Anders were going through as even at my young age, I had already experienced the death and demise of every living person on Earth myself (or so I thought)…

I’m sorry, this is a Trojan horse of a post. I’m not here to discuss the adventures of the Anders family; I’m here to talk about the time when I was 4 years old and my parents abandoned me on a beach. It’s sadly true and I seriously thought that every single person in the world had died for some reason (I guess I was a pretty morbid 4-year-old).

Ya see, my family was vacationing at a beach house and sharing the joint with a few Aunts and Uncles and their kids. At some point, I was playing in the sand with my cousins, and all of the sudden I looked up to find I was completely alone. Where once there was laughter and commotion, suddenly there was a deathly silence; everyone had vanished. I went back inside the house and nobody was there either. Seventeen loud, squawking, clamoring people (six parents, and 11 children) had suddenly evaporated into thin air. I was alone and obviously, I would remain alone for the rest of my life.

I guessed I’d have to learn to fend for myself. How would I eat? I could make toast. I knew how to make toast so I did. I’d need money. My father had pennies all over his dresser. I was sure he wouldn’t mind me grabbing some cash on account of he was dead. In some ways this was the first day that I became aware of myself thinking inside of my head, feeling myself as an individual rather than some brainless tentacle attached to my parents. It was scary and surreal and I felt like I had graduated from passenger to driver in my own body. I’m pretty sure time stopped and every dust mote began to glow like a firefly. I was a deep-sea diver in God’s aquarium and I had to be brave and simply move forward through the invisible lava.

There was a store down the road where earlier my cousins and I bought candy ( sour apple laffy taffy?). Maybe I could venture there and perhaps find other survivors (thus began a cross between HOME ALONE (’90) & THE ROAD (2009) but I’m four, at least my mother tells me I was four; she wouldn’t be above smudging the truth to make hes self look less culpable. I could have easily been three). I went on my arduous journey. I don’t think I passed a single soul on the way to the store so I was very relieved to see a fellow human working behind the counter. I attempted to buy some candy but was told I didn’t have enough pennies and that’s when I lost it and began to cry like the baby I practically was. The cashier lady was rightfully mortified and wanted to know where my mother was. I told her my sorry tale and she agreed to walk me home (I didn’t know the address but I could show her). Midway back she asked what my mother looked like and I pointed to a woman approaching and said she looked like her. And it was my mom! Not only was she alive, but apparently, she was also OK with showing her neglectful face in public again (at least I assumed it was my rightful mother- there’s still a possibility that my entire family was abducted and replaced by pod people)!

THEY HAD ALL GONE TO A CARNIVAL. They took three cars and the occupants of each car for some reason assumed I was in another. Seventeen people and not one of them thought to count heads. They didn’t even notice I was missing until they arrived at the carnival. In fact, they all stayed and enjoyed the carnival as my mom (perhaps begrudgingly) was sent back to find me on the open beach where she left me (I didn’t know how to swim so luckily I didn’t drown; I was too busy walking down the middle of a road- did I mention I was (theoretically) four?) Where have all the people gone? I don’t know the answer to that but I can certainly tell you where my family can go as far as I’m concerned (and it’s not to THE CARNIVAL. I kid, I kid. For the most part).

Eventually this story became a laugh riot legend within my family and I’m very happy to guffaw along. If anyone cared to notice though, there is no laughter behind my eyes, only a dark void and every once in a while a tell- tale facial tick hints at unthinkably monstrous ideas ping-ponging within my skull.  Let’s face it though, my family has never been known for noticing subtle details (like missing children).

Thank you for letting me get that off my chest. Everything turned out fine (if you don’t count the lifelong psychological damage).  Anyway, WHERE HAVE ALL THE PEOPLE GONE is prime seventies TV movie entertainment. Just be careful who you choose to watch it with. Some people can’t be trusted.

My Kindertrauma:: The Wolf Man (’41) By Justin H. Q.

It had only been a matter of weeks since I’d first seen the music video for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” that near 15-minute masterful marriage of monsters and music, of ferocity and fun. It was my gateway drug to horror, teaching me in its way that horror should inspire screams as frequently as it inspires smiles. It had only been a matter of weeks and I think my dad was already grifting around town for a new VHS copy, because the copy I’d watched at least two times a day for two weeks straight was on its last four legs. 

I would return from time to time to “Thriller” and its Rick Baker-produced VFX but not for a while. And not because Dad couldn’t finagle a VHS copy from somewhere in town. If “Thriller,” to most of us, represented the future of horror, Dad’s next hat trick would take me back in time instead.

Dad handed me a weathered videocassette case with a white sticker stuck to its spine. The title read “The Wolf Man.” And he shook it in front of me like fishing bait as I sat there on the couch, staring at the television, apparently having seen it all that early Saturday morning. And as he teased me with the case, the videocassette’s plastic guts rattling around within its frame, he told me that he’d got it from a friend at a house party the night before. Perhaps I hadn’t seen it all, I admit. But I was about to see what comes next.

The Wolf Man (1941) found me at the perfect time in my life. When I saw the film as a child, I was old enough to have graduated from picture books to the point that I was already losing interest in reading. The stories of fiction novels were too sprawling and drawn-out for my attention span. Somehow, I sensed the pretense and artificiality of fiction. There was no dread there. There was no terror there. There was no peril.

But after a few viewings of “Thriller,” my dad told me about this affliction called lycanthropy, in which a real life man will imagine he turns into a real life wolf when the moon is full. I thought he was trying to scare me … until my next visit to the public library. I asked the librarian if she had any books on legends, on lore, on werewolves, on lycanthropy. I left with five books that day – all nonfiction. And like that: I was a reader again.

But I wasn’t reading the mystery novels of the Three Investigators with its calculated deduction that would certainly reach a pat solution for a crime. I wasn’t reading Tolkein’s The Hobbit with its assured happy ending. I was reading about the real world, I constantly reminded myself, and it was a world in which I lived.

And although I understood that The Wolf Man wasn’t based in any universe of reality, what frightened me more than the possibility of a man turning into a wolf when the moon is full was the notion that he’s doomed to kill the thing that he loves the most after his transformation was complete, according to the lore that I read, even according to the 1941 film, but suddenly: the dread was real. The terror was real. There was peril. As a child, to have that trusted paradigm of the world fractured into a new one – terrifying. Mournful. Like the death of your first dog.

I became fascinated and horrified all at once – with my overactive imagination – with the possibility that I too could transform into a werewolf. But what frightened me from sleeping was the idea that I would hurt someone close to me – my parents, my siblings, my friends. Why couldn’t the legend tell that werewolves were fated to kill their elementary school teachers instead? What a joy it would be to stalk into my first grade classroom between popcorn reading and recess and eviscerate my homeroom teacher. “Diagram that sentence, Mrs. Thompson.”

So today, I remain most fascinated with – of all the monsters – werewolves. What I immediately understood of them as a child – especially after The Wolf Man – was that they were sometimes superhumanly strong, could be ferociously violent, and looked the most menacing of all the monsters, whether walking upright or down on all fours. But what ultimately makes the werewolf more frightening than most of the other monsters that I would discover in my youth is the nature of their kills, the target of their monstrous behavior. 

As a child, I didn’t understand then that the real world was filled with all manner of flesh and blood monsters that could do more damage than any fictitious monster on the silver screen. For some of them, only the television set was closer to me in proximity. The real monsters could be living right next door. But when I saw it as a child, The Wolf Man taught me true terror, and it had nothing to do with the origin story that had birthed it or the physical appearance of the creature or even the orchestrated score in the background that signaled danger was lurking nearby, that you’d better cover your eyes …

… Because the loss of those closest to me was the greatest terror. Whether at the hands of a supernatural werewolf or the hands of fate, here was a horror that would haunt my dreams, long after the credits rolled on Universal Pictures’ The Wolf Man.

It’s a terror that we never really outgrow, do we, even as the sun comes up and makes idle promises to chase the monsters away?

My Kindertrauma:: Poltergeist (’82) By Justin H.Q.

Think of the locations that haunted your worst nightmares growing up, and they were likely the things of shadowy forests, Gothic castles, and European villages haunted by one creature or ghoul or another. But as E.T.: THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982) seemed so close to home by recreating the neighborhoods that so closely resemble the ones we were growing up in, POLTERGEIST (also 1982, with a complex production backstory that forever links one film to the other and vice versa) appeared to take that same visual familiarity and imbue it with terrifying images that rapidly reappropriated the look and feel of Spielberg’s family sci-fi film setting and created in it one of the most effective horror films of the 1980s.

And to what glorious effect – be reminded that POLTERGEIST is rated PG. Watching it as a child, I found that the film was peppered with so many elements of my own young life: action figures scattered around the bedroom wherever their last space battle left them; overturned Hot Wheels cars on the floor, capable of wounding you if you step on them with a bare foot; the anonymous baby dolls, teddy bears, and more, each one abandoned like an orphan because of the sheer number of them. And it was these nostalgic details of the film that seemed to openly invite the terror into my home – because the film fooled me like it likely fooled many – because Poltergeist teaches you that if it can happen in that home, then it can happen in your home. It could even happen in my home. That’s the effect of horror. And watching the film even today, one wouldn’t know that the film dodged the bullet of an R rating.

The film operates through a deceit that lulls the audience into a false sense of security by asking moviegoers to walk the same living rooms, kitchens, and bedrooms as the Freeling family – but quite suddenly, those warm, safe spaces of the home are occupied with suspicion and then dread and then finally unadulterated horror. By the time this film concludes, there’s been no respite for the hauntings that threatened to destroy the Freeling family from the inside out. The only escape comes in the form of a retreat to a local motel – the most impersonal home imaginable (and yet still thematically in keeping with the carbon copy approach to the home already established by the cookie cutter neighborhood in the film). The only way, then, to protect yourself from a fate similar to that of the Freelings is to truly separate yourself from the one ingredient that appears to bind most families. It certainly bound my family together on more than one memorable occasion: the television set. Film at 11.

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?