The late hour, lack of work tomorrow and a bit of whiskey now necessitate that I point out a handful of unlikely traumas: those that appeared, not just in movies that wouldn’t be labeled as horror, but moves that are best known for their moments of romance and/or sentimentality. Yes, for a burgeoning existential only child in a spacious house with relatives much older than she, no piece of media could ever be guaranteed trauma-free.
I’ll start with what in my opinion is the most quality film on this list (which might not be saying much): GHOST, otherwise known as the sexy pottery movie. I think even as a child I was not one to concern myself with the supernatural, so it was not those elements of the movie that got to me. Rather, aside from the underrated gore of, say, a dude impaled on a broken window pane, the scenes of karmic revenge filled me with a disturbing moral ambivalence. It was quite possibly GHOST that made me realize it brought me no pleasure to actually see bad guys tortured. Though I found said bad guys repulsive and wished them no happy returns, watching their abject terror and confusion over the onslaught of an invisible antagonist still left me more sad than satisfied. In retrospect, this was probably a very formative moment.
Now to travel down quite a few notches to a movie that made Roger Ebert’s worst-of list back in 1982 (my birth year, by the way). SIX WEEKS is one of those films you caught on network TV in the middle of a Sunday afternoon and years later barely believe you saw what you saw. The romantic leads are WHO? The plot was WHAT? And didn’t a, like, twelve year old dying girl talk about wanting to have sex all the time?
But the weird matter-of-factness and, dare I say it, realness, of stuff like a dying twelve-year-old talking about how sex is on her bucket list – because OF COURSE IT IS – is just the kind of thing that could draw young me into a sappy mess like this vehicle to begin with. And I barely remember anything about the ride… except the dread I felt over the constant awareness of this girl’s expiration date. And the harrowing – yes, I’m saying harrowing – sudden death scene where she’s on top of the world in the subway, swinging around the poles, and suddenly she’s screaming in pain from a terrible end-of-life headache the science of which remains ambiguous (she’s got leukemia she chose not to treat), then looking her father-figure straight in the eyes before collapsing. I mean, just effing awful and sad, all the more because I can’t remember the other technical weaknesses about the movie that no doubt make it dumb.
And finally, at the bottom of the schmaltz totem pole: A MOM FOR CHRISTMAS. Yep, a Disney family holiday movie with Olivia Newton John. I’m just going to let you take a minute to read the plot synopsis from imdb:
The story revolves around 11-year-old Jessica (Juliet Sorcey), whose mother died when she was three years old. Her father, Jim (Doug Sheehan), is a workaholic with little time for his daughter and hasn’t been able to spend time with her since her mother’s death 8 years prior and still seems to be mourning her. Just before the Christmas holiday season, Jessica wins a free wish from a wishing well. Her wish for a mother for Christmas is granted by Philomena (Doris Roberts) and Amy (Olivia Newton-John), a department store mannequin, is brought to life to be a mom for Jessica. However, there is a catch and Amy can only be a mother to her until Christmas Eve.
Now I ask you: What about this DOESN’T scream horror movie? Yet my life experiences up to this moment have led me to believe I am the only person who has ever entertained this thought. Aside from being yet another movie that, like SIX WEEKS, filled me with the dread of a terrible countdown to The End (Amy, a.k.a. Mommy, in essence will die on Christmas Eve), there’s a disturbing moment where the little girl has a spat with Amy, and out of hotheadedness wishes for her wish to be reversed, which causes her to look across into Amy’s apartment window AND SUDDENLY SEE HER AS A LIFELESS JOINTED MANNEQUIN, when it later turns out she is actually fine. GAH!
So there you have it. I’d love to hear some of your thoughts! As much as this site has taught me about horror films, some of my favorite scares (and entries on this site) have been those that are a bit less likely.
Thanks for the great traumafessions Leia! I’m with you. I’ve got a real soft spot for unlikely non-horror traumas. I know where you’re coming from. In fact, a friend has let me borrow INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS on DVD and I keep avoiding watching it because I know the main character carries a cat around with him in the city and I know I’m going to be worried about the safety of the cat throughout the entire movie.
I haven’t seen it, but yeah, when SIX WEEKS came out the universal response was WTF?!?!, which has always left me curious. Did the producers think pairing (Dudley) Moore & (Mary Tyler) Moore was some sort of brilliant gimmick to rival the chemistry of Dudley and Liza Minnelli (or Travolta and Tomlin)?
It should be noted that SIX WEEKS was written by David Seltzer, who gave us THE OMEN, PROPHECY (the mutant bear movie), and SHINING THROUGH. He is not a good writer, but for a while he seemed to know how to get butts in the seats. SIX WEEKS slammed the brakes on that trend.
There’s another dying-kid movie that I had to turn to Japan to find on DVD; ECHOES OF A SUMMER (1976) stars Richard Harris and Lois Nettleton (THE BAMBOO SAUCER, DEADLY BLESSING) as the parents of…little Jodie Foster? Oh God no. I’m looking at the DVD right now and I don’t think I have the guts to watch it. But it’s on YouTube if you want to put yourself through it.
I’m right there with you on GHOST! I caught part of the movie when I was a kid, around nine or ten (I think I caught it around the middle or something), and the deaths of the bad guys traumatized me big time. Especially the window pane scene. I was always afraid that would happen to me! Another thing that really creeped me out were those shadow demons that carried them off to hell. Eeep!