Name That Trauma:: Ploppa Smerph on a Time Loop Stalker

I’m helping a friend chase down an old memory and he has originally misapplied to the Friday the 13th series:

This memory is set squarely in the ’80s. As I recall it — our “lone survivor” girl is running for her life at night, maybe from a camp. She gets into a car and starts driving away, panicked. She leaves [The Killer] behind, and he just stands there and watches her drive away. The next scene is her in the van (or whatever vehicle) and [The Killer] steps out of the brush ahead. She SCREAMS and dodges him and continues. Then, he steps out into the road again. Same thing happens. This continues 1-2 more times, and she finally tries to hit him but ends up crashing. He has eliminated the Twilight Zone episode The Hitch-Hiker and the looping scene in A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 4: The Dream Master.

Malignant (2021)

There was a point while I was watching James Wan’s MALIGNANT when my eyeballs fell out of my head and rolled across the floor. I had to get down on my hands and knees, scoop them up and push the damn bastards back into my skull. It’s been far too long since a movie has surprised me to such a degree and I think I’d almost forgotten what a glorious experience that is. The brazen originality is even more astounding when you consider that the lion’s share of the film plays like a stroll through the horror section of a video store. It’s almost a Where’s Waldo? of horror homage; a colorful kaleidoscope spitting out splinters of BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (’64), SUSPIRIA (’77), PHENOMENA (’85), NEXT OF KIN (’82), THE SENDER (’82), I MADMAN (89), DARKMAN (’90), BASKET CASE (’82), BRAIN DAMAGE (’88), SCISSORS (’91), HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL(’99), GOTHICA (’03) and so many more. Personally it made me feel like a pig in slop as so much of the set-up felt like a big budget remake of my personal pet fave MADHOUSE (‘81). But then, just as you’re snuggling into the safety of the familiar parading by to the beat of one fantastic score, the entire highly stylized snow globe is turned on its head and shook ferociously and an incredibly novel and exciting new beast emerges.

Annabelle Wallis (who’s got a wonderful Juliette Binoche meets Mary Steenburgen in DEAD OF WINTER (’87) vibe going on) plays Madison Mitchell, a very troubled and very pregnant woman with an abusive husband and a repressed past (her younger self is played by the always excellent Mckenna Grace). One evening her home is invaded by a sinister, shadowy figure that leaves her with a mutilated hubby, a null and void pregnancy and a big giant bouquet of flashbacks to a traumatizing childhood and psychic visions of murders as they occur. Madison is my favorite type of horror heroine in that she is an unapologetic, freaked-out mess that everyone thinks is crazy until the inevitable moment they do some light research and find the files that explain everything…well, almost everything. Lots of folks are going to find the over-the-top acting style and sometimes comic book-like approach a little too hokey to handle but I honestly found it refreshing not to be weighed down with tired faux-gritty “realism”. This flick is a long way from SAW (’04) and the further away we get from SAW the happier I seem to be.

MALIGNANT needn’t worry about cynical audiences and lukewarm box-office. This bad boy is destined to be obsessed over endlessly. No, it’s not for everybody but thems the breaks when you draw outside the lines and stake new ground. I get the feeling Wan followed his heart and made exactly the film he wanted to and maybe he too was missing the broad colorful strokes and heights of fantasy horror achieved in less dour decades. In the end, it doesn’t matter what specific titles or sub-genres influenced Wan, by and large he clearly meant to remind of us of a time when movies were freer and more fun and that goal was exceedingly met. I for one can’t stop thinking about this wild, phantasmic explosion of dream-like insanity and I’m so grateful knowing that I can still find myself completely shell-shocked by a horror film.

Name That Trauma:: Mike M. on a Post-Apocalyptic Pollution PSA

Hi, Folks!
I’ve been thinking about a terrifying ad from the early 1970s… it was a PSA about air pollution, and it went something like this:

A regular-looking middle-aged guy wearing regular-looking 20th clothes is in some kind of underground, THX-1138-like Dystopia. There’s a voiceover talking about the dangers of air pollution. The regular-looking guy is dragged by gas-mask-wearing, uniformed goons before some kind of Nazi-like judge. The judge bangs his gavel, declares the guy guilty, and now the guy is TERRIFIED and REALLY struggling against the goons. The goons drag him down a hallway, and to judge by the change of light, it seems a big, sliding air-lock-like door has opened in front of him and the guy’s TERROR increases exponentially as the goons shove him toward the door. CUT TO: The guy is outside, with a vista of (very real, not special effect) smokestacks behind him, and he’s covering his mouth trying not to breathe, because the Nazi judge has sentenced him to * die by suffocation in the air pollution on the surface. * This was some heavy, heavy, stuff to see as a kid, and my local TV station played in the afternoons, when Astro-Boy and Prince Planet and Ultraman were on. It made a real impression.

If guys could help me track this down, I’d really appreciate it!

–Mike

Name That Trauma:: Phil on Death by Laughter

Kindertrauma,

Can you help me? I’ve been trying to understand this memory for years:

It begins with the main character checking into a hotel or mansion to stay the night. That night, their sleep is interrupted by hysterical laughter. The next morning, they open the bedroom doors to investigate. There is a brief shot of a bed in disarray. In my memory, the bed is covered with blood and the corpse is visible, but that might be my imagination. This memory convinced me that I could be killed by my own laughter.

The source: I saw this on a videotape between 1981 and 1983. It was recorded by my grandma and shipped to us overseas. We were living in Paris, France, so there is a slim possibility that it was a French TV broadcast, but I’m pretty sure the actors spoke English, so it was probably one of Grandma’s tapes. Grandma mostly taped things off of Chicago area TV, but sometimes she would rent movies and cross tape them. She loved mystery anthology TV, so there’s a decent chance this was on a show like Mystery!

Incidentally, this is not the most traumatic thing Grandma sent us. That honor goes to Un burattino di nome Pinocchio. This Italian animated Pinocchio movie is way too true to the book. The animation walks the line between beautiful and deeply uncanny. “Highlights” include Pinocchio getting hanged from a tree, Pinocchio getting stripped naked and roasted over a fire by a blue cannibal, and the Blue Fairy dying while a bird explains it’s Pinocchio’s fault. If you’re not already aware of this childhood-ruining film, then you should be. It’s on youtube. I’ve tried to rewatch it, but the memories are too intense and I can’t last more than five minutes.

-Phil

The Night House (2021)

Covid killed my go-to neighborhood movie theater so now I’m starting to frequent the brand new fancy movie joint they shoved into our local mall. It’s all right I guess, maybe even a little easier to get to via subway but I’m not welcoming the place into my heart just yet. There I was sitting down in the perfect seat that I acquired from the do-it-yourself kiosk when a very large dude sat right next to me with a huge tub of popcorn he was devouring in the style of notorious muppet Cookie Monster. This was not going to work for me as I can barely stand sitting next to friends and family let alone a complete stranger. No offense to the zealous popcorn fan but I had to change seats. Sadly, that new seat turned out to have already been selected by a gaggle of teen girls and eventually I ended up in an awkward corner too close to the screen wondering if a semi-full theater was even remotely safe and reminiscing about the good old days when ya just sat anywhere and matinees were three bucks instead of ten.

Anyway, I had a psychic feeling that the non-flashy, unassuming THE NIGHT HOUSE would be a good bet because I was so impressed with director David Bruckner’s excellent take on Adam Neville’s novel THE RITUAL. It didn’t hurt that I am also a big fan of star Rebecca Hall’s earlier film concerning a haunting, THE AWAKENING (2011). As it turns out, THE NIGHT HOUSE is an impressive collaboration between a remarkably skilled director and a truly talented actress. It’s a film that’s haunting in every sense of the word and I’m still kind of stunned at the level it unflinchingly stares into the abyss. There’s a visual, almost subliminal M.C. Escher meets HOUSE OF LEAVES aspect to the flick that is nearly maddening and yet exquisitely subtle. This flick somehow finds the perfect uncanny pitch for a haunting tale and even in a crowded theater, I have to admit to getting legit spooked.

Much like THE RITUAL, THE NIGHT HOUSE is a deep dive into the treacherous waters of grief and the undercurrents of guilt and anger lurking within. Hall portrays Beth, a woman who has recently lost her spouse in the darkest and hardest to process of ways. Now her every night is spent wondering why her husband killed himself, why was he building a mirror image of their house across the lake and whether or not she’s going insane as her dreams begin to overlap with her reality. Hall is brilliant and relatable every step of the way and her character is refreshingly impatient, testy, snarky and seemingly all around exhausted with existing. We come to find that Beth herself had once been in an accident that left her dead for several minutes and the nothingness she encountered exasperates her grieving process even further. This is some fascinating existential horror that profoundly chills to the bone. Is it worth risking your own life to see in a theater? Maybe not. The good news is that THE NIGHT HOUSE will be arriving on VOD services in early October and this is one movie that may actually be better watched at home, late at night, under a blanket, preferably during a storm.