Official Traumatizer :: The Sleestaks

Brothers SID and MARTY KROFT were responsible for creating a multitude of alarmingly psychedelic, trauma-packed universes in several children’s programs televised in the seventies. One suspects LEWIS CARROLL himself would be humbled by their uncanny gift for turning the family television into a rabbit hole to push unsuspecting toddlers through. In 1974 they upped the ante, shelving their previously more colorful and cartoony palette with a Saturday morning offering entitled LAND OF THE LOST. Although L.O.T.L. may look dopey and low tech by today’s standards it was a giant leap forward in sophistication both on a technical and a storytelling level for the KROFTS. Concerning a widower and his two children who thanks to “the greatest earthquake ever known” are propelled into what seems at first to be our world’s past, but later reveals itself to be a alternate dimension altogether, L.O.T.L. was ripe with threats its young audience had never been exposed to before. Its half hour running time was an invitation to an avalanche of prehistoric dinosaurs with diverse dispositions, pre-Wookie, mini Sasquatch beings with formidable brows (and a faux language created by a linguistic) and most notoriously and horribly, the dreaded creature known as the Sleestak. (Note: You do not want to say the word Sleestak to a child of the seventies when they are drinking a glass of water or you will have a spit-take dampened face to contend with, …the word carries that much awesome fright power!)

Sleestak are lizard-skinned, seven-foot-tall creatures with giant insect eyes and three pronged pincher hands. They have a single nubby horn on their head, a little nubby tail, and presumably internalized genitalia. They carry crossbows, slink about in caves (they don’t like light!) and introduce their presence with the most horrible slurpy hissing sound that’s ever been heard outside of a dentist’s office. It has come to my knowledge that the more you learn about Sleestak the more atrocious they become. They sacrifice humans to their gods, they feed live animals to their recently hatched young, they hibernate in cocoons and, perhaps most disturbingly, they communicate with a “library of skulls” which is a grouping of their previous leaders’ heads that death can’t even shut up.

In the interest of full disclosure I have to admit that there is one Sleestak who is polite enough to wear some clothing, speak the mother’s English and can the hissing. His name is Enig (originally spelled Eneg as an anagram tribute to STAR TREK creator GENE RODENBERRY), he’s an “Altrusian” with golden skin, and of a more reasonable height. You have to feel sorry for the guy because he originally believes the barbaric Sleestak are his ancestors but comes to find out that they are his peace loving people’s inevitable future selves instead. (THE LAND OF THE LOST‘s mind-fucky time collage at work once again.) Enig spends a lot of his time in a lost city working on a time matrix table chuck full of shiny stones trying to get the hell home and really, who can blame him? Good luck with that Enig, let us know how that works out.

Go ahead and laugh at the Sleestak, just don’t underestimate the tightness of their pinchers grip on the psyche of a generation. You can find them lurking in paintings, used as icons for rock bands and skateboard hubs, lampooned on ROBOT CHICKEN and infiltrating slang with alternate spellings and meanings. As ridiculous as they sometimes appear, they have an astonishing primal power that viewers respond to immediately. What is that power? Does it come from the fact that with their round dark eyes, non-existent nose and slit grimace mouth, they more than slightly resemble our most innate and ancient symbol for death, the human skull? Or is it their reptilian nature that gets our dander up? Lizard men in general have existed across the globe in many mythologies from the beginning of time. In the present they loom in the form of alien abductee stories and conspiracy theories that claim our leaders are hiding some green scales of their own ala the famed miniseries “V”. Do they represent a primitive version of ourselves or a cold callous being we are afraid we’re becoming? To a kid, the question when seeing these threatening creatures is a simple one: fight or flight? I think we all know the answer that every child of the seventies formed in their heads as soon as they heard that first horrible “Hisssssssss.”

So here’s to you Sleestak, you really don’t get enough respect. Sure you starred on a show that displayed some of the worst and most often repeated blue screen effects in television history and, yes, most of us noticed that there was a limited supply of you on hand (the KROFTS had only 3 Sleestak suits and they had to represent many more) but I can tell you from experience that whenever you entered the television screen in my house you could hear a pin drop. And yes, I admit that the foolish day that I tied a rope onto the back of my brothers bike and forced him to pull me around on my roller skates in the basement that when I inevitably bashed my head into the cement that the first thing I saw was not a circle of chirping canaries but a circle of hissing Sleestak looking down on me (true Traumafession!) You, my dear Sleestak may have been kicked out of the boob tube decades ago, but there is a cave in my and many other peoples’ heads where you still roam hissing, and naked with a crossbow poised and aimed.

: Here is how the Sleestak will look in the upcoming tongue-in-cheek LAND OF THE LOST theatrical MOVIE starring WILL FERRELL

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Corey Convex
15 years ago

Great links as usual…The Robot Chicken short almost made me blow beer out of my nose…and multiple references to David Icke always make me happy.

I work with a guy who was renting LOTL on dvd and talking about the show like it was The Sopranos every morning at the water cooler.

15 years ago

LOTL actually had a really intricate and compelling mythology for such a low-budget and frankly lame show. Plus they had the sleestak–total ace in the hole there.

I hear British folks talk about how they would hide behind the couch every time the Daleks appeared on Dr. Who, but I’d be willing to bet that a Sleestak sighting would have sent them scampering out of the house into the back garden.

I suspect “Sleestak” is from the old English meaning “piles of nightmare fuel”! 🙂