I have a Name That Trauma for you…I hope I can provide enough details for you or a reader to recognize it. I must have been 5 or 6 when this happened, which would make it roughly 1983-84.
I was flipping channels one day and I stopped on a scene of a fairly brightly-lit kitchen in a home. It looked very cheap, like it was shot on video (early-’80s video, at that), and it was just generally kind of a crappy looking kitchen, too. There was a woman standing in front of the stove, where there was a pot of boiling water. She was wearing a white, old-lady-ish full-length housecoat, and she had stringy, greasy, shoulder-length black hair. Her head was pivoted down toward the pot of water, and her hair was covering parts of her face, but it seemed to me like her face was mangled or monstrous in some way, under the hair. She was shaking her head around a little and growling, and otherwise just standing there still, with her arms at her sides. The impression that my 5-year-old mind got was that the boiling water was affecting her somehow…It had either made her into a monster, or it was hurting her. I changed the channel, but obviously the scene had a profound effect on me. For all I know now, it could have been just an episode of QUINCY or something that I misinterpreted, but it was the earliest traumatic TV-watching experience that I can recall.
The cheapness of it makes me think that maybe it was local public access, in which case I’ve got practically no shot of someone knowing it, but this happened in Jacksonville, Florida in the early 80s (if that helps).
Thanks a lot! I love the site.
UNK SEZ: Taylor, that is a tough one, especially if it was a local production like you think it may be. You never know though, maybe someone will recognize it as trauma that they too share. I have to say it doesn’t sound familiar to me, but you paint a pretty creepy picture nonetheless. Anyhows, you got me thinking about movies that squeeze tension or scares out of NOT showing a character’s face (or at least not right off the bat). The first thing that comes to my mind is this scene from GHOST STORY…at this point the audience is well aware that there is something not quite right with this woman and are just waiting for her to show her monstrous face. The tension of not knowing builds and builds…
SALLY FIELD gets the wiggins when she spies the back of this old lady’s head in a park in the television movie SYBIL. She could be hiding any face but Sybil is reminded of her cuckoo crazy mother…
When she draws her mother, that image too is missing a face…
In THE ORPHANAGE the protagonist Laura is shown more and more frequently from the back as she becomes increasingly entangled within her adopted home.
Sometimes the back of a person’s head can be used to represent an identity that is not fully aware of itself like this, one of my favorite shots from DOLORES CLAIBORNE where JENNIFER JASON LEIGH looks into a mirror only to see the back of her own noggin.
You can thank Belgian surrealist artist Rene Magritte for that shot.
When Norma Bates finally shows her face in PSYCHO the results are classic.
I know all this is zero help as far as finding the title of your own trauma goes, but I just wanted you to know that it’s a perfectly natural image (or lack of image) to be unsettled by, even without the giant pot of boiling water! Good luck, if anyone can help you track this traumafier down it’s our eagle-eyed readers! If anyone knows the name of the movie Taylor is talking about, please leave your answer in the comments or shoot us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Stand warned though, sometimes it’s better not knowing, sometimes the person in question turns around and they look like that crazy hag from DON’T LOOK NOW!