Traumafessions :: Reader Greg from Oakland on The Dark Tower Game & Madame Tussauds Chamber of Horrors

To the good people at Kindertrauma:

Assuming you’re interested, this is a two part-episode Traumafession, connected only by my father and his Anglophilia. In hindsight, I realize that my dear old dad chose one of my Christmas gifts when I was eleven years old, a board game called The Dark Tower. The game featured a dark gray plastic fortress tower with crenelated edges and a black electronic display screen with buttons that, when pressed, would randomly determine your fate as you moved across the board. The object was to collect keys and conquer the tower, or something like that.

I remember two things about this weird remedial-Dungeons & Dragons board game with the mysterious revolving monolithic phallus (I was just about to enter puberty, so give me a break.) One was the playing card depicting enemies called the “brigands.” (This has to appeal to my dad, so they can’t be called “boogeymen” or “demons” or anything pedestrian like that.) These fiends were depicted as howling creatures bearing white soulless eyes, black thin bodies with sharp shoulders, fanged beaks, and gnarled goat horns on their heads. They freaked me out, but what was even worse, oddly enough, was encountering and slaying a dragon, a moment celebrated by the tower with an early electronic dragon-shrieking-as-it-dies sound. It gave me the willies, but of course, victory is always bittersweet. (Also jarring were the “plague,” “lost,” and “starvation” sounds, all of which can be heard HERE.)

The reason why I know my father decided to get this for me: I stumbled on a 1981 television commercial for this game with ORSON WELLES in dark cloak narrating a suitably histrionic tale of battle that one might enjoy in the process of playing Dark Tower. ORSON WELLES, of course, is American, not British, but my dad adored his Shakespearean gravitas, and he probably thought, “If it’s good enough for ORSON, it’s good enough for my son,” possibly not realizing (or in denial about the fact) that poor penniless ORSON would whore himself out for frozen peas and cheap wine at this point. ORSON’s enormous bulk takes up half the screen while the titular dark tower glows ominously in the background.

The following summer my dad treated me to a trip to England in order to follow my brother’s rugby team on a short tour, during which the American teenagers would be repeatedly, methodically, and quite naturally annihilated by various English school boy teams (perhaps that dragon-slaying sound would be appropriate here). Anyhow, one of the London sites my dad and I visited was Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, including, of course, the notorious Chamber of Horrors. Keep in mind that my father would routinely take me to films that were not exactly… age-appropriate: I was nine during the legendary Summer of 1980, when he took me not only to see THE CHANGELING with GEORGE C. SCOTT, but also THE SHINING.

So here was the Chamber of Fricking Horrors at eleven: the Manson Family with shaved heads, some bespectacled freak named John Christie who dismembered women and secreted their body parts in various nooks and crannies of his home (you get a glimpse of these through a crack in the kitchen walls of the display), and on the staircase heading down to the chamber, there was a wax figure of Adolf Hitler encased in thick glass, probably because too many people would deface the bastard’s image. Worst of all—for me, at least—was the display of Marat’s body in a bathtub. He was the French revolutionary with a bad skin condition that required, for some reason, lots of baths; Charlotte Corday took advantage of his vulnerable position and stabbed him repeatedly with a knife. His body was immortalized by the French painter David, and this wax display was modeled after it. One had to mount several steps in order to look into the bathtub, as I recall, like walking ceremonially past an open coffin. Marat’s head was swaddled in a towel, bearing a disturbingly peaceful look on his face, as if he were just napping and might bolt awake at any second.

Back at our hotel, the bathroom had a claw-foot bathtub that reminded me of the one in which Marat sat slumped in death. From my bedroom at night, I could see the dark form of the tub, and I imagined the silhouette of a toweled head slowly lifting above the edge. It was the first time in years that I joined my parents in their bed, and in the cold light of morning, I felt like a total wuss.

God bless the Internet, right?

Thanks for all your good work.


Greg from Oakland

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unkle lancifer
10 years ago

I had to send this traumafession to my little brother- we had this game!

I think the tower eventually malfunctioned but it was fun while it worked.

Thanks for this, I forgot all about the Orson Welles commercial!

Tom Vaughan
10 years ago

I don’t remember much about this game other than we loved it and that it seemed sooooo hi-tech. I don’t even recognize those playing pieces. It was a long time ago, people!

It is also how I learned what ‘barter’ meant. Never even heard of the word before the game.

And is it me, or is there a strange maliciousness to the delight that Orson Welles takes when he says he was “victorious”? Something sounds off about that moment.

10 years ago

Madame Tussauds Marat is a “dead ringer” for Hank Azaria.

El Borak
El Borak
10 years ago

We walk through the wood, we walk
Up the stairs to the landing
Up the stairs into the hall, oh oh oh
Take oasis, Marat’s bathing

Brian Katcher
10 years ago

I still have my Dark Tower game. The great thing was, you could play with friends or by yourself without the board. Bazaar closed, suckas!

10 years ago

Wahhhh! How come all the cool kids got the fun toys and I got stuck with my mother’s “Little House on the Prairie Christmas” kick that year. Now *that* was a traumatizer! :-0

10 years ago

I have such fondness for the Dark Tower game. Considering I lived out in the middle of nowhere where actually RPG usage was out of the question (there is nothing sadder in the world than a young boy trying to explain to his grandmother how to play Star Frontiers), this was high gameplay action to me. Ah, memories.

3 years ago

How about The Omega Virus? That came out eleven years later, though.


Even then, that voice was more sexy than scary to me.