Traumafessions :: Reader Count Otto Black on Un Chien Andalou & “The New Mother”

Dear Curator of Nursery Terata –

Since you seem to like this sort of thing, here’s a merry tale of something that made a ghastly impression on my impressionable young mind. Luckily few children are likely to be exposed to this particular bogey by mistake (and hopefully none at all on purpose), but those unlucky few have my deepest sympathies.

When I was about 10, I was surfing the then-available British T.V. channels (all 3 of them) in search of random mid-morning diversion when I happened upon an Open University programme about the history of art just in time to be treated to a clip from LUIS BUNUEL and SALVADOR DALI‘s film UN CHIEN ANDALOU. It was the eye-slashing scene…

Not having a clue where such a thing could possibly have come from (obviously I switched off before anything worse could happen), for about 15 years I honestly thought I’d hallucinated that image until I finally saw the whole film. Beat that for nightmare fodder!

Talking of which, I’m surprised that you don’t seem to be aware of Lucy Lane Clifford‘s “Anyhow Stories,” undoubtedly an all-time pre-school trauma classic which makes “Struwwelpeter” seem almost tame by comparison. To appreciate the full horror of this kiddies’ bedtime favourite of yesteryear to which many, many helpless infants were exposed on purpose, you need to hear it read aloud. Which, happily, you can do HERE.

I particularly recommend “The New Mother,” a story so utterly terrifying that it has been included in horror anthologies for adults! And award yourself a pinch of fairy dust if you can work out the moral. If you ask me, it’s “don’t trust evil mom,” but surely that can’t be right…?

Yours archetypally –

Count Otto Black (deceased)

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12 years ago

I rented “Little Ashes” (A biopic about Dali, Lorca and Brunel) and perhaps one of the reasons that film got an R-Rating over here (Aside from the yaoi and adult situations) was because they included that scene. Fortunately, I was watching it on the computer, so I just changed windows until that part was over…
Man, what compelled Brunel to make that?

12 years ago

I’m pretty sure that Alvin Schwartz adapted “The New Mother” for either the second or third Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark book.  Either that or I’ve read an adaptation of it in some other similar context, because I remember the climax clearly, but I’d never seen the original Anyhow Stories version that I just found online.

Count Otto Black
Count Otto Black
12 years ago

In connection with my own post and the comments thus far, it may be useful to mention that Un Chien Andalou is one of the very few films ever made that faithfully tries to portray a dream or nightmare, and by far the most successful attempt to date, with the possible exception of Eraserhead.
When Bunuel and Dali were writing the script, the only rule was that everything had to come straight from the subconscious, so nothing was censored unless it made sense.  The starting point for the “story” was what the two of them had happened to dream about the night before; and since Bunuel dreamed of a cloud passing across the Moon that became an eye being sliced with a razor, that’s exactly what they filmed!
Incidentally, that’s Luis Bunuel himself playing the guy who does the slicing.  The effect was achieved with a real cow’s eyeball in a wax face.  Dali’s dream featured the hand covered with ants that turns up later; and although that image was of course upstaged by the slashed eyeball, I’ve just noticed that the poster for Dario Argento’s Phenomena visible on the right of the screen as I type this features an almost identical image, so I guess it made its mark too.
(Dali, by the way, also had a cameo in the film, as a priest tied to a piano full of dead donkeys, but he doesn’t appear until just after this clip ends.)
On a related note, until the rise of the splatter genre, the only rival to the notorious eye-slashing scene was the face-transplant in Les Yeux Sans Visage, which, although it was made 50 years ago, still packs a punch.  Because of this scene, the movie was banned for about 30 years in the UK, and the US version was heavily trimmed  (and somewhat misleadingly retitled The Horror Chamber Of Doctor Faustus).
I didn’t submit this as a Traumafession because thankfully I didn’t encounter it until I was all grown up.  However, one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen in a cinema was a film club screening of this just after it was unbanned.  They were having a season of great horror films that alternated recent movies, usually pretty gory ones, with much older “classic” stuff like The Bride Of Frankenstein.  The gorehound audience was mostly male, but the number of girls who were persuaded to tag along rose sharply for the tame old B&W stuff.
The thing was, because this film was banned for so long, nobody had actually seen it, just read descriptions of the notorious scene in movie history books which they assumed were exaggerating.  You know – the ones that claim Bela Lugosi as Dracula is still scary, even though there’s no blood, let alone a good meaty slew of glistening intestines like you want in a film about dead guys who bite.
Anyway, they all assumed this creaky old French art film would be a bit of giggle.  They were wrong… Even the boys went very quiet indeed when they saw THIS.
I trust you all enjoyed that.
Notice that this is exactly what happened to Nicholas Cage and John Travolta in Face/Off, except that we didn’t get to  see it because it was too excessive to be in a John Woo film.