A few years back, I watched a documentary about a pair of Swedish brothers whose parents had home through a bitter divorce when they were younger; the mother had become obsessed with trying to wrest away a vacation property that she and her husband had owned that her life became focused on this legal case to the exclusion of almost everything else in her life. it seems. She became a hoarder, living a hermit-like existence, and eventually stopped communicating with her sons. They eventually made their way to her apartment to check on her only to find she had died, and laid on the bathroom floor for so long she had mummified, and when they picked her up found this indelible stain on the bathroom tiles they tried to clean fruitlessly. They also had to sort through mounds of paper, legal documents, etc., and although the landlord asked them not to, they burned copious amounts of her papers in the fireplace. I don’t know if this movie actually fits the parameters of kinder trauma, but it was pretty disturbing when I watched it a while ago, and your readers seem pretty good at coming up with answers for this kind of thing, so if anybody remembers this film, I’d appreciate the help. Thanks!
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?
Christopher Lambert stars as a cop, out to stop a serial killer who is using the body parts of his victims to reconstruct the Corpus Christi in time for Easter- so it’s really an Easter movie the whole family will enjoy. While it wears its Seven (1995) influences flagrantly, it wears them well; don’t let the fact it was released direct to video put you off, I was pleasantly surprised by how good it was. It packs a punch with several scenes which will probably stay with you for a while.
This awesome early HBO movie stars Lesley Ann Warren as an artist whose new project consists of an answering service where people can call in and confess to their various misdeeds. Unfortunately for her, a serial killer is part of her audience and makes use of her installation to brag about his “artistic output” before turning his sights on her.
A gay bar gets wiped out by a vigilante group out to clean up their town, but one survivor manages to escape and take refuge with a group of people in their home which is then besieged. They defend themselves using guns and various homemade traps and devices. Borrowing heavily from Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), this Canadian film definitely shouldn’t be slept on; its atmosphere is taut and claustrophobic, leaving you wondering what will happen next and it ends on an intentionally sinister note.
A very cool creature feature comedy starring Alex Winter as an asshole actor who gets his comeuppance for peddling toxic waste for a quick buck. An outgrowth of Winter’s earlier MTV show The Idiot Box, Freaked features insanely over the top make up by Screaming Mad George and one of my favorite title themes/sequences ever, thanks to a collaboration between Henry Rollins and Blind Idiot God.
An eclectic mix they may be, but three movies have been nagging me to compile them into a list of non-horror movies for horror fans. A fourth is pouting as he feels left out, so I’ll include him as a bonus just to keep him happy.
The first non-horror movie for horror fans is a truly classic movie that many younger viewers may have passed over because it’s in that ancient black and white format with long-dead Hollywood stars of the past. Night of the Hunter (1955) is a drama with so many horror overtones that it is hard to even classify what genre it really falls under. From terrifying caricatures to visually surreal, almost Dadaistic visual interludes, the movie has it all. Some scenes are so out there, they remind me of the strangely lit, fever dream-esque scenes that have haunted me since childhood from various ViewMaster reels I owned.
The second non-horror movie for horror fans is a cable classic that burned its imagery into my young brain as I snuck in some forbidden late-night HBO while my parents were out with friends. The Name of the Rose (1986) is a truly unique medieval murder-mystery based on the novel by the late Umberto Eco. While its killer (literally) cast is composed of such Hollywood heavyweights as Sean Connery, Christian Slater, Ron Perlman, William Hickey, and F. Murray Abraham, its feel is much more intimate, almost documentary in a way. A truly fantastic historical whodunnit with some shocking visuals that will burn themselves into your mind’s visual vocabulary,
Riding that ever-present fine line between horror and science fiction, Dreamscape (1984) is the third non-horror movie for horror fans I can recommend. It’s an early cable staple, and a lot older than most of us care to admit, but its visuals still hold up today, including one scene that scarred me as a kid the same way Large Marge’s transformation did in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. A very young Dennis Quaid leads a star-heavy cast including Max von Sydow, Christopher Plummer, Eddie Albert, George Wendt and Kate Kapshaw on a terrifying journey bringing to life the things that people secretly fear the most.
Bonus non-horror movie for horror fans: Spring (2014) is, simply put, Before Sunrise (1995) if its script was written by H.P. Lovecraft. Drag your horror hating, Hallmark Movie loving significant other to watch it and you’ll be the hero by the end of the movie…I promise. Trust me.
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.
THE WITCHES is a swirling cauldron of kindertraumas and how could it not be when it’s based on a book from the mind of Roald Dahl (Charlie & the Chocolate Factory), cunningly directed by Nicolas Roeg (Don’t Look Now), enhanced by the genius of Jim Henson (The Dark Crystal), and features a fearless performance by Anjelica Huston (The Addams Family). Some of the frights it delivers are of the creepy and existential variety (a young girl trapped in a painting forever) and some are loud, brazen displays of the hideously grotesque (Huston’s true form as the evil Grand High Witch is truly the stuff of the most vivid childhood nightmares). This PG-rated film can be adorable (talking mice!) and it can be absolutely horrifying (Roeg pulls no punches with Huston’s demise). There are moments of eye-popping creativity but even its quietest respites sparkle with something wonderfully off-kilter and authentically magical.
Luke Eveshim (Jasen Fisher) is a young boy who listens to his grandmother Helga (Mai Zetterling) as she warns him of the presence of incognito witches all over the world (she knows the score because her childhood friend was snatched by a witch and was forced to live out her entire existence pitiably trapped in a painting). She informs him that witches have a purple tint to their eyes, clubbed feet, bald heads (concealed by wigs), and can smell the presence of children. This information becomes very useful when Luke is accosted by such a being while hanging out in his treehouse and especially when he and his grandmother inadvertently spend some time at a seaside hotel that is host to a convention of witches (masquerading as The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children). Accidently, Luke learns of the devious witches’ plans to turn every child in England into mice, is turned into a mouse himself, and must find a way (with the help of his grandmother and a new friend) to stop the diabolical creatures.
THE WITCHES is tons of lively fantastical fun buoyed by Roeg’s endlessly creative and bold direction (apparently Roeg reluctantly edited out even more frightening bits when he witnessed his young son’s reaction to the film). It’s also got an admirable mean streak that ensures the viewer never feels they are safely snuggled in a story with a guaranteed happy ending. What really takes the film over the top is the marriage of Anjelica Huston’s gleefully evil performance and the incredible make-up and special effects provided by Jim Henson’s workshop. As the evil Grand High Witch Eva Ernst, Huston provides as much hypnotic dark charisma under heavy make-up (that took 6 hours to apply and six hours to remove) as without. The character is wonderfully larger than life and absolutely oozing with gloriously grotesque wickedness. No adult or child who witnesses this iconic nightmare creature’s remarkable unmasking is likely to ever forget it. Although THE WITCHES ends up relenting by tacking on a happier ending than the book (to Dahl’s dismay), this flick seeps pure hideous horror art and is a masterpiece of dark fantasy.
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”!
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.
Hello Kindertrauma! I have a very vivid memory of a terrifying TV moment that I experienced in the late 90s that I am hoping to finally resolve. It probably goes without saying that while this scene is seared in my mind, my recollections of it may not be entirely accurate. It’s very likely my imagination has filled in the blanks over the years, so take all details with a grain of salt!
From what I recall, there are two adult women (one younger and blonde, the other closer to middle age and in a blue sweater – I think her name is Melanie) sitting in a darkened living room watching TV. They’re watching old home movies of a young girl dancing, and it seems like the girl is Melanie’s daughter. This isn’t a happy scene, however, as Melanie seems to be depressed, and is watching the tapes to relive better times. Maybe she’s become estranged from her daughter, or perhaps her daughter has even passed away. The younger woman tries to comfort her, telling her that everything will be alright, and she may even try to encourage Melanie to turn off the tapes. At one point, the younger woman gets up to go into the kitchen, as Melanie lights a cigarette. While she’s in the kitchen, the younger woman hears a loud noise coming from the living room. She walks back in and it’s clear that something weird has happened. She finds the TV playing nothing but static, and sees Melanie just sitting there in the shadows, cigarette between her fingers, staring off into nothing. The young woman tries to get her attention, but she’s unresponsive, and after a moment, she disintegrates into dust. The scene ends with the younger woman screaming.
I suspect this was a cold open to a TV show, as not only is it very likely that it came on after something else I had been watching, but I also remember it cutting into opening credits (though I don’t remember the details of this at all). I’m fairly positive I saw this on my local (Canadian) station, and for years I’ve thought it might be an episode of either the Outer Limits revival series, or an episode of Da Vinci’s Inquest, just because I remember seeing ads for those constantly at the time. However, I’ve done a bit of digging into the Outer Limits and haven’t found anything, and Da Vinci’s Inquest seems like more of a cop drama than a supernatural one, so honestly I’m not sure how viable either of these leads are. Still, of all the weird, unsettling things I saw on TV as a kid that stuck with me, this is the one that I remember most clearly (probably due as much to its emotional intensity as its outwardly creepy climax), and I’m hoping that this will be enough to spur someone else’s memory. I’d love to finally put this near-lifelong curiosity to rest.
I have childhood fragments of a ( not terribly traumatic) show that I have no idea how to go about researching. I don’t believe this was a movie but a series, and I know it from a teacher wheeling a TV into a room and playing either a cable feed or VHS tape. This would have been early 1980s probably pre-1983.
I recall a show with a boarding school for genius kids who solved mysteries and/or fought crime. There was a team of them of mixed ages, mostly white I believe they had a token African-American kid. One kid I believe wore glasses, which we know indicates he must have been Very Smart Indeed.
I recall these kids having what seemed unusually large beds in a housing situation with a pretty awesome timbered roof/attic area, and I recall there being some form of “secret” compartment behind one or more headboards where at least one kid kept crimefighting gear Batcave style.
To the best of my recollection, the kids weren’t superheroes of any sort, they were just smart and foiled crime Scooby-Doo style. Maybe they were in an orphanage?! I recall no plots, but I feel like this was a series I only saw one or two episodes of, not a movie.
Any help is welcome. This has bothered me for years.