It's a Horror to Know You:: Troy Z (Stickmann) of Nature Trail to Hell in 3-D!

Hello TraumaTots! Allow me to introduce myself by directing you to my limited-run blog in which I, as a designer of Themed Retail and Entertainment venues, develop concepts for a theoretical spookhouse based upon Weird Al Yankovic's song "Nature Trail to Hell." Start HERE to get the introduction and start the walkthrough via the "Newer Posts" link throughout October 2012.

I would like to start out by giving thanks to our hosts at Kindertrauma for solving one of my own nettlesome Name That Trauma questions and for being my very first Twitter Follower! Prepare for me to yammer on.

1. What is the first film that ever scared you?

Geez, what DIDN'T scare me as a child? Kindertrauma is peppered with evidence of the detritus of my blown prepubescent mind. Not only simple commercials for horror movies (or even certain Disney adventure films — looking at you, RETURN FROM WITCH MOUNTAIN and WATCHER IN THE WOODS) would have me running up to the television to switch channels (this was before the preponderance of remotes, whippersnappers), but even the taglines for their print ads could generate fear. However, I can credit a specific movie as being a distinct turning point in my outlook towards the horror genre:


Let's establish something from the get-go: The Clown's off the table. We are not to discuss it. Fuck That Clown, all that it is, all it represents, and the shadow it leaves behind in the human psyche.

What's more important about this movie and what really resonated with me, and even though I couldn't put a description to this sensation at the time, is how elegant the Spider Skeleton Ghost that guarded the door to the children's room was. The ethereal translucency, the emaciated proportions, its haunting lowing; it all had the hallmarks of a devotional pietà that I knew others would consider obscene had I voiced it as such. I would thereafter surreptitiously scour special effects books at the bookstore and monster magazines on the shelf to catch another glimpse of this creature, and, in doing so, I realized I was more amenable to finding allure in the repulsive. Stolen peeks at gory heavy metal album covers, protoGoth imagery and underground comix would soon usher me in to the tastes of my teenage years, tastes that are fondly remembered as when I first could selectively develop my inclinations on my own accord.

I also credit "Poltergeist" as the first film in which the sterile artificial suburban landscape of which I was so familiar actually seemed as if it had the potential for magic. Up to then, the haunted house archetype to me was the stuff of purple-hued Victorian mansions depicted in children's books and, ultimately, the property of Elsewhere. After June 1982, the prospect of corpses boiling beneath the foundation of the tract home in which I lived seemed plausible.

2. What is the last film that scared you?


As much as everything terrified me as a kid, it takes a lot for a movie to actually scare me now. You can readily upset and disturb me sure enough, but to genuinely spook me takes a certain alchemy. I'm a fan of supernatural-themed premises, but being such a skeptic, I reflexively keep treating them as part of an unexplored manifestation of physics and even bureaucracies that mankind has not yet catalogued. As such, I keep relying on mentally seeking out the mechanisms that would be a solution to any supernatural problem in a narrative. This movie is the first in a long while where I just let that slide in order to be part of the ride.

I don't recall anything in INSIDIOUS literally jumping out at you; it's all either slow reveals or sudden revelations of specters standing still as though simply casually declaring their existence and vague intentions is enough to alarm you. And it worked: I've got a line-of-sight on everything in my dinky studio apartment, but my first bedtime after seeing this movie in the theater was the first time since I don't know when that I would consider the shadows hiding presences.

3. Name three Horror movies that you believe are underrated


I admit, this perhaps could be an entry under the "Against Your Better Judgment" category due to its suspiciously on-the-nose Nostalgia Bomb appeal to my age group for its 80s stylistic touchstones: Neon Katakana, Hair Mousse, and Shoulder M'Pads. But, c'mon, it's got a Killer AI, a Space Zombie, and TechNoir Deco Cathedral interiors, how could I not like this? It's the Gothic Haunted Castle in Space trope that predates EVENT HORIZON. Given that level of prescience, taking another look at the credits after all these years it makes me wonder if anyone involved went on to do bigger and bet HOLY BALLS GEORGE R. R. MARTIN WROTE THE STORY FOR THIS? Why is this film not being pushed out as a Blu-Ray based on his venerable name alone?

Part 1 can be viewed HERE.


The final six minutes of this movie are what validated the entire film for me, in particular the first pre-credits minute. Up to then, I felt it was a serviceable, if dull, monster movie, or a serviceable, if dull, date movie, with some redeeming and distinctive sequences (the reveal of what the "fin" in the water was during the boat-traveling part of the journey is particularly inspired). However, when the monsters cut off the climactic attack on the gas station to mate, the protagonists, just as I as a member of the audience did, gaped and marveled believably despite their moments-previously adrenalized terror. It was such an unforeseeable nature-documentary moment that is a game-changer for monsters and their portrayal. At that point, these creatures are now seen as just another animal on our planet. Although they are genuinely and thoroughly dangerous animals, there is now a reassuring familiarity to the literally alien.

The director and editor have to be given credit for the notion to separate the out-of-sequence first minutes of the movie from the climax. By culminating the movie with the moment where Samantha has a revelatory decision brought out by this unique witnessing, the makers of this film benevolently give these characters, and you as the audience, the peak experience that one would want to be remembered about oneself, just as all the corpses that were encountered along the path of this journey would wish to be remembered.


Wait, what? This isn't a horror movie, you'd say. Watch it again: It's a crypto-horror film. It isn't until about five-eighths of the way though the movie that it suddenly hits you that a checklist of horror movie benchmarks have been achieved: dutched camera angles, corpse desecration, the creepy backwoods family with a talent for taxidermy. The fact that the events are seen through the eyes of an innocent little girl oblivious to both danger and normalcy is what occults the horror, and compounds it all the more.


4. Name three horror movies that you enjoy against your better judgment.

I've got some caveats to establish before we discuss these: when I declare that these are against one's better judgment, it's the judgment I perceive that would come from others toward the media itself. I can watch these repeatedly and guilt-free, but I would be hesitant to recommend these to you even if I did have an inkling of your sensibilities. These suggestions here can be a bit, shall we say, "challenging."


Know that this is a compliment when I declare that this movie should never play in theaters, but rather that it should be copied onto blank videocassettes and left innocuously and anonymously at bus stops. I'm sure this distribution strategy may have been considered by the filmmakers, but this would most likely have gotten the police involved and in an arrest-y mood.

As this literally edited-on-VCR film starts, you don't know if the trio you see are anything more than just some bon vivant pranksters killing time. It isn't until some time with a doll found at a playground that the tone shifts abruptly to the potentially malevolent. Suddenly, the whole scene around you smells of danger, the Underground, and viewer complicity.

Detractors of the "Found Footage" style have legitimate complaints; one being that the net result is far too polished. This, I testify, is what the real deal should look like: meandering, repetitive, discordant, and absolutely devoid of the input of Focus Groups. For example, the repeated shrill cackling of the lady Trash Humper character is a chore to endure, but to subject it to "notes" and trim any of it down would be to undercut the rawness and believability of the content. It's the most disturbingly transfixing movie of that year.


Years ago (decades, now? Holy shit!), after a couple of my college-age friends and I watched this, we pulled the rental VHS tape out of the VCR and decreed, "This Never Happened." Indeed, this flick is just a hot mess of Body Horror imagery, but there's something gleefully adolescent in me that just giggles appreciatively at the industriousness of a guerrilla camera crew piloting a fifteen-foot-tall Cybernetic Dong Monster through a Japanese suburbia.

ENCARNAÇÃO DO DEMÔNIO (Embodiment of Evil) (2008)

I loves me some ZÉ DO CAIXÃO ("COFFIN JOE"), and I‘ve got the coffin-shaped DVD Box Set to prove it. There's just something so extra appealing to me that a villainous character in a movie can revel in murder, menace, misanthropy, and misogyny, and through the mores of his Catholic country locale, provide further heretical shock by eating meat on Friday! And force you to eat meat on Friday!

ENCARNAÇÃO DO DEMÔNIO continues the tone of the ZÉ DO CAIXÃO sequels with its requisite bong-hit philosophizing and camp bombast while constructing fresh new setpieces that recall classic Exploitation Cinema. A particular scene involving an abducted female cop, melted cheese, and a rat seems to be JOSÉ MOJICA MARINS air-poking at the censorship board and cackling "Does this bug you? I'm not touching you!" and all we as the audience can do is slow clap and say, "Well played, sir."

5. Send us to five places on the Internet!

FEZ-O-RAMA — Handmade fezzes featuring everything from Cthulhu to Samurai Monkeys. If you're not clicking that link after I tell you the combination of words "Samurai Monkey Fez," then there is just no help for you.

CINEMA SUICIDE — Discusses Movies, Literature, Television, Grand Guignol, and a spattering of Metal. That's right, Metal is measured in Spatterings.

MIRACLE FISH — I saw this as part of an Oscar-nominated Short Film Festival a few years ago and I was completely absorbed because it made me realize how crucial an announcement of a genre instills the comfort of familiarity, and how the lack of it brilliantly sets you up to have the rug pulled out from underneath you. As you watch, you don't know if this is a Family Drama, a Coming-Of-Age Story, Child's Fantasy, Sci-Fi, or Horror, because certain scenes present compelling arguments. You don't know just how wound up you are until the climax. So I ask you to go into this as cold as I did, to see if the absence of genre expectation impacts your viewing experience. Wait ‘til it's dark, load the video link and hit Fullscreen HERE.

HAPPY PENCIL — Atmospheric artwork displayed at an atmospheric website that feels like one of the Rabbit Holes of the Internet.

MARS RISING FILMS — YouTube videos from a charismatic team. I'd recommend them even if I wasn't "Dr. Disemboweler" in one of their short films. Subscribe!

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Matt Sunshine
Matt Sunshine
10 years ago

Great read Troy! Poltergeist was one of my first horror movies. I love it to this day. I also love Tideland…very underrated.

10 years ago

Tideland! I love this movie to death. Terry Gilliam is amazing in my book, and rarely is his stuff universally loved, but I can't believe how underappreciated this movie is!

Wednesday's Child
10 years ago

Seconding the Nightflyers recommendation, and a +1 for "Shoulder M'Pads."

10 years ago

Wednesday's Child: Wow, you got the obscure "Shoulder M'Pads" reference, which me and my friends still use to this day! (Oops, we just dated ourselves.) I had to make a special note to Unk that this was not actually a typo.

Matt, Unk, and Fishmodes: I'm glad for the "Tideland" and Gilliam love. I was fortunate to see this in a theater when it opened, and the thing to note is that even the jaded art-house crowd got both skeeved out and uncomfortably quiet by certain scenes. I'm surprised this isn't more recognized as belonging in the Horror canon.