Traumafession:: James Lewis of LARPing Real Life on Reflections of Murder (’74)

The Frankenstein Monster, submerged in a bathtub, slowly emerges from the water and sits bolt upright. Its hair is matted to its squared-off skull. The dark, half moons of its dead eyes are rolled back in their sockets. It steps out of the tub, dripping water on the floor, and towers over a cowering woman in a white gown…

I have carried that image in my mind for as long as I can remember. I’m fifty years old now, and I can recall being terrified by it as a child of five. For 40+ years, I had no idea where that image came from or why it’s played on a never-ending loop in my head. Unable to track down its source, I’d come to accept the possibility that there was no movie, no TV show from which it came. It was just something my five-year-old brain invented, something it created to deal with some real life fears, perhaps. As a last ditch effort, I thought I would reach out to the Kindertrauma crew with a “Name That Trauma” post. It couldn’t hurt, right?

Before I could pen that post, however, the universe figured it had tortured me enough and decided to cut me a break. By chance recently, I caught sight of a video thumbnail on YouTube that stopped me dead in my tracks. There it was. THERE IT WAS! The very image that had haunted me all my life. The exact image! Feelings of excitement and relief swept over me…as well as a sense of confusion. It seems that the Frankenstein Monster of my nightmares was really…Sam Waterston?

The source of my lifelong trauma is a made-for-TV movie called Reflections of Murder. A remake of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1955 classic suspense film Les Diaboliques, Reflections of Murder aired on ABC in November of 1974 (when I was three!). It was written by Carol Sobieski, who also wrote The Toy (1982), Annie (1982) and Fried Green Tomatoes (1991), and directed by John Badham, who would go on to direct feature films like Saturday Night Fever (1977), Dracula (1979), Blue Thunder (1983), and WarGames (1983). Starring opposite Sam Waterston and completing the movie’s love triangle are Tuesday Weld and Joan Hackett.

I hit play on Reflections of Murder as soon as I saw that thumbnail, but I don’t know if my viewing was a watch or a rewatch. Though my mother and father were as lax as most 70s parents when it came to my TV-watching habits, I doubt that they would have let me watch the picture with them in 1974. I can only imagine that I saw the image of Sam Waterston in the tub in a commercial, and it stuck, shambling after me my whole life like a Romero zombie. Many years later, I saw Les Diabolques, and when Paul Meurisse as Michel rises up out of his own tub of water, I had the feeling that it was familiar, but the camera angles were somehow all wrong. He sat up on the right side of the screen, looking left; my Frankenstein Monster looked to the right. Little details, sure, but they were big differences to my memory.

So how did reliving the source of my childhood nightmares go? When Sam Waterston emerges from the bathtub to surprise his wife, I have to admit to being a tad underwhelmed, but not by much. It’s hard not to compare and contrast it to the same scene in Les Diaboliques. The distorting effect of the water does much to contort Waterston’s face as he sits up. The scleral lenses he wears also give him the dead eyes of Boris Karloff’s Monster from Frankenstein. While Clouzot and company kept their scene silent musically speaking, Billy Goldenberg, who also wrote the music for such made-for-TV movies as Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973), Helter Skelter (1976), and This House Possessed (1981) uses shrieking violins and skittering strings to punch up the proceedings in Reflections of Murder. There’s a very Psycho-like feel to all of it. While Goldberg’s score works in the context of the film, I prefer the silence in Les Diabolique. It allows the wife’s groaning as she dies of a heart attack and the water dripping off the husband as he stands in the tubs to take center stage.

When all is said and done, however, I have to say that Reflections of Murder is a pretty darn good little thriller. While perhaps lacking in the black-and-white moodiness of the French original, Reflections of Murder’s setting and muted, 1970s color palette does create a unique sense of gloomy atmosphere all of their own. The entire picture, with its rainy locale, spooky schoolhouse, and falling leaves, has a wonderful, autumnal quality to it. Compared to other made-for-TV movies of the 1970s (and we’re talking the Golden Age of MFTVMs), I think it more than holds its own and is well worth checking out.

I am also very pleased to have finally solved my little mystery. For a while there I was really doubting myself. I was thinking this was my own personal, one-man Mandela Effect. Instead, I have a fun story to tell and a new film I can recommend to people.

Now…if I can just prove to the world that it’s “Berenstein” and not “Berenstain”…

-James Lewis of LARPing Real Life

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1 year ago

That is some undeniably creepy imagery. I can see why that scene could burn itself indelibly into the mind of an impressionable child.

James Lewis
1 year ago

I may have added to it over the years, bdwilcox, but as is I think it’s a great creepy scene. I’m so glad I had a chance to rediscover it.