Traumafessions :: Reader Steven S. on an Anti-Heroin P.S.A.

Thank you so much for the gift that is Kindertrauma – every day brings new delights!

I am surprised that no one has yet mentioned a classic P.S.A. from the late ‘60s, and I must confess I’m grateful that they haven’t, as I am simply terrified that someone may excavate this childhood horror in video form and post it. Every few months or so I do a web search to see if it has ever resurfaced…to date, nothing.

It was an anti-heroin P.S.A., I believe 15 seconds in length. The camera panned around a wind-up toy monkey playing a drum as a little girl’s voice is heard: “They say that people who are addicted to heroin have a monkey on their back – isn’t that cute!” Then the kicker – the camera zooms in FAST on the monkey’s face. It bares its fangs, and the hellish thing screams. (It may have cut to a shot of an actual simian at this point, but my memory is unclear.)

The speed of that zoom was breathtaking – the child had scarcely finished her last word before the camera moved and the shriek was heard. It was unquestionably the most frightening thing I ever witnessed in my childhood, and despite a steady diet of filmed and written Horror from my youngest days, nothing had prepared my little six-year old psyche for this. Whenever the ad played again, I ran screaming from the room…and since it was only 15 seconds long, I didn’t have much time to get away!

A number of years ago, I posted this recollection on a web discussion group dedicated to all things horrific. Days later there was a very angry reply from a respected attorney in Texas, who said he had successfully repressed the trauma of this ad over the years…and my posting had brought the evil thing back into his consciousness and was giving him nightmares. Trust me; this cautionary spot had a profound effect on those of us of a certain age. I’ve long suspected this might have been an inspiration for Stephen King‘s short story “The Monkey.”

My arms have been covered in gooseflesh typing every word of this. Please – don’t find this P.S.A.!

UNK SEZ: Steven S., this is your lucky day because no matter how hard we tried, we could NOT find your P.S.A.!

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FatherOfTears (@fatheroftears)
12 years ago

Ah!  So that’s what it was!  I think I saw this as a kid on the very early 70’s.  Yep, it scared me as well!  I think I submitted something to this site a few months ago talking about this add.

gingin (@gingin)
12 years ago

There is very little out there on this PSA.  To date, I have not been able to locate it, and I have checked everywhere.  I cannot recall anything that has scared me half as much in my 43 years on this earth as this PSA did in the early morning hours before going to school.  Like the guy from Texas, I’m an attorney too.  However,  I never repressed the trauma of this ad like he did.    I think about it very often.  Ironically, I would give anything to see it again.  (Although I will probably regret it later.)

Bobba (@bobba)
12 years ago

I agree with gingin… I’ve been looking for this one for a while, just to confront the demon memory of the monkey.  It bugged me out, but at the same time I was fascinated by it.  Yow!  Thanks for the in-depth dissection!

ktech (@ktech)
12 years ago

This definitely exists and I remember it well.  The most frightening PSA by far.  And yes, as it zooms in it does cut to a motion blurred capuchin type monkey either attacking or rushing past the camera with it’s teeth bared and the image freezes while it’s frenzied cry blares out.  Pretty awesome actually.  Scary?  Hell, yeah!  I told my kids about this one and we just can’t find it anywhere, which is weird.  On a lighter note, I did find the “Let’s Get Serious” PSA, with the signing pills, which my kids didn’t think was real because it sounded to silly.  That PSA is a riot, but it did get my kid’s thinking that I might be telling the truth about the heroin monkey.  If anyone finds this out there, please post it or post a link to it.  Definitely worth a look after all this time to see if still has punch.  I figure it does.  

Bobba (@bobba)
12 years ago

From the Paley Center’s catalogue (Come to NYC! Trauma Awaits!):

In this early-1970’s public service announcement on behalf of the U.S Departments of Justice, Defense, and Health, Education, and Welfare, a toy monkey is shown playing a pair of cymbals. In a voice-over, a little girl explains that people who use heroin are said to have a monkey on their backs. Suddenly, the toy monkey is transformed into a gruesome, monstrous creature. Slogan (supered): “Why do you think they call it dope?”


CATALOG ID: AT:23829.009


gingin (@gingin)
12 years ago

Nice work, Bobba! I have to show my ignorance here. Is there any way to view the PSA through the Paley Center website? I just went to it and it does not appear that there is.

senski (@senski)
12 years ago

I haven’t looked at this, my old Traumafession, in months. And then I saw that there were additional comments. And then I saw that they were very detailed…and I was afraid that someone found a link…I’m not sure I’d have the courage to click on it!
Stupid monkey.

finbar (@finbar)
11 years ago

Wow, it looks like we have the beginnings of a support group for this hellacious blight on my childhood! The post by Steven S. actually made me laugh out load because it mirrored my experience and memory of the PSA almost exactly!
As I remember it, it was indeed a real monkey that screamed at the end, a close-up of the head with HUGE fangs! Also, I think the length of the PSA was shorter than 15 seconds; seemed more like five or six. And the other thing I remembered was that this particular PSA often aired immediately after the end of “Laugh-In,” so imagine the juxtaposition of watching something funny going right into something so horrible, especially from a nine-year-old child’s perspective! I have to admit I have a curiosity to find the PSA, too, but like others here, am kind of glad I can’t. And Steven, I can certainly relate to the gooseflesh.
There was another PSA that scared me almost as much, from about the same time period. There was a famine in Biafra, which I believe was fighting for independence from Nigeria. The spot featured a close-up of a crying, starving Biafran baby, with a stern voice-over, saying, “He’s dead now, but you can help others like him.”
Again, imagine the impact on a nine-year-old kid. Here comes the gooseflesh again.

monkeyfromouterspace (@monkeyfromouterspace)
11 years ago

I’m absolutely thrilled there’s actually a web page dedicated to this frightening psa! I used to run SCREAMING from the TV set to the sheer delight of my older brothers. Thanks for creating it, and thanks, Bobba, for the Paley Center info. I’m planning a trip to NYC in late Oct and will definitely check to see if this psa is viewable. If so, I’m going to film it and (*gulp* some of you will be mad at me) post it on youtube. The time has come for some of us to face our childhood demons and laugh about them from our adult perspective. Those of us who can’t do it, don’t watch the link, and no disrespect towards any of you for the fear continuing on. I promise I’ll notify this page if I’m able to do it! Peace all!

jspivack (@jspivack)
11 years ago

I went to see a local band tonight, and their logo was a cymbal monkey. It brought back vivid, horrific memories of the PSA in question; I’m dying to see it again! I may get up to NYC this week and if time permits, will visit the Paley Center to see if it’s available. Now, as Dan Ackroyd’s ambulance driver in “Twilight Zone: The Movie” said, “you wanna see something REALLY scary”? I give you the infamous  British Public Information Film (their version of PSAs) “Apaches”: Trust me, watch all three parts; I absolutely guarantee you’ll need at least a home remedy for insomnia, if not a prescription for Ambien. Enjoy!

lux (@lux)
11 years ago

First, Kindertrauma ROCKS!!!
I cannot believe I actually found a place where there are others who share the same horrific childhood memory.  I don’t think I ever ran out of a room as fast or let out such a bloodcurdling scream as I did when that PSA would come on.  Perhaps my disinterest in heroin has something to do with effective PSAs!  I’ve been trying to locate that ad for some time now and would love to see it!  Very little scares me these days (I LOVE horror films but think most of the genre these days is crap) but I have a feeling seeing that ad again would reveal a deep psychological scar.  And ‘finbar’, I definitely agree that the juxtapositions within the ad (child’s voice) and when it aired (after Laugh In) made it more terrifying.  I too was horrified by that Biafra famine ad.  Can’t believe someone actually remembered it.
Hope you find the PSA in NY, ‘monkeyfromouterspace’!  POST IT POST IT POST IT!  Not masochistic, ok just a little! HA

Curtis Ross
Curtis Ross (@fb1014225647)
10 years ago

I knew I couldn’t have been the only child traumatized by this PSA. After having the wits scared out of me a couple of times, I began leaving the room when the closing credits of a TV show rolled lest that thing finally leap out of the screen – which that quick zoom suggested it could do – and devour my soul.

gingin (@gingin)
9 years ago

Guess what I just found on YouTube today, guys? Go to YouTube and type in “Early 70s anti heroin psa, monkey on their backs”. Enjoy.

Steven Philip Senski
Steven Philip Senski (@fb534522428)
9 years ago

That’s it. That’s it. I just watched it, and I am shaking like a leaf. Amazing.

Bobba (@bobba)
9 years ago

I just found the page on You Tube, but I am not ready to watch it. I must confront this fear, but I don’t have the fortitude. This is my ultimate Kindertrauma. Emphasis on Trauma.

SlasherChick (@slasherchick)
7 years ago

I finally saw the Monkey PSA for the first time today. If I hadn’t had the warning, the end might have actually made me whiz my pants.

So…uh, thanx for that. :o)