Sunday, July 20, 2014

Childhood Traumas

Whatever became of the moment when one first knew about death? There must have been one. A moment. In childhood. When it first occured to you that you don't go on forever. Must have been shattering. Stamped into one's memory. And yet, I can't remember it. It never occured to me at all. We must be born with an intuition of mortality. Before we know the word for it. Before we know that there are words. Out we come, bloodied and squawling, with the knowledge that for all the points of the compass, theres only one direction. And time is its only measure.
~ Tom Stoppard
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

Everyone who knows me reasonably well knows that my fascination with horror has been lifelong, jump-started at the age of three by a TV commercial for a brand new film called The Exorcist. I don’t know why my mom refused to take her three year old daughter to a matinee showing of William Friedkin’s masterpiece, especially when you consider the fact that she had no qualms whatsoever about taking me to see the psychological scar-fest that was Bambi.
I suffered mightily throughout the 70s and early 80s, tormented by trailers for such classics as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Dawn of the Dead and Halloween, forbidden to see them simply because I was still in pigtails and knee socks. And yet, there was a whole world of horror to which I had unlimited access. Saturday morning cartoons, after school reruns and the G rated films my mom took me to were chock full of pure, undiluted horror, perfectly capable of warping my fragile little mind and all of which were considered suitable for all audiences. I beg to differ.
5 – Willie Wonka & The Chocolate Factory – Of course, this is the one non-horror film that most horror fans have in common. It’s pretty dark stuff just generally speaking. Kids being tortured, maybe even dying (their off-screen fates are never revealed) and Willie Wonka himself, sweet and kind, yet also amazingly sadistic, and never more so than when aboard his charming little tugboat the Wonkatania. The boat ride which follows has become legend as Willie whisks his captives away into a psychedelic nightmare of giant bugs, worms and decapitated chickens, all set to an eerie little ditty which – twenty years later – would be rerecorded by Marilyn Manson as an intro to his deeply disturbing (but nonetheless brilliant) album “Portrait Of An American Family.”
4 – The Brady Bunch: To Move Or Not To Move – Look, shut up, I was five! Scarier even than their floral polyester wardrobes and shiny, lobotomized stares was the episode in which Mike Brady gives serious consideration to the selling of the Brady family home. Desperate to remain in their sprawling HoJo inspired Mid Century modern, the assorted Brady kids decide to “haunt” the house and thus scare away potential buyers. Of course, this clever plot was not revealed until the third act, and the ghostly cries and blood curdling screams that led up to that point were more than sufficient to freak out a five year old girl whose only exposure to ghosts up until then had been reruns of Scooby Doo.
3 – Bugs Bunny & Beaky Buzzard – I miss the old cartoons. The sexist, racist, violent adventures of roadrunners, tuxedo cats and cross-dressing rabbits which never once struck me as anything other than goofy. The sanitized cartoons of today are so sugary and squeaky clean as to cause diabetes. Gimme the old minstrel shows and zoot suit wearing wolves chasing hot blondes with gravity defying boobs. Most of all, give me the violence that imprinted itself on my subconscious. For example: when Bugs Bunny manages to wrest himself from the claws of a mentally challenged vulture, he finds himself plummeting to earth at speeds which promise to splatter him across the terrain below like a soggy watermelon. Instead, Bugs finds himself buried up to the waist in sand and the skeletonized remains of a cow, which he mistakenly believes is his own shattered corpse. We know he’s fine, but put yourself in his paws for a second – your lower half blown apart and stripped of flesh? Sounds farfetched, unless you’ve seen Black Hawk Down.
2 – Jesus Christ Superstar (the leper scene) - I grew up Catholic and my mom loved musicals. Along with repeated viewings of Godspell, I also knew all of the words to all of the songs on the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack. The film itself ran fairly regularly on TV around Easter time, and it beat the shit out of Sunday School, even if I never could figure out why Jesus always looked so pissed off, or why Judas looked like a member of Earth Wind & Fire. Most memorable however was the scene in which Jesus wanders off into the desert and is besieged by a colony of rag-wearing lepers, all of whom are desperate to be healed and promptly dog-pile the savior, burying him in a writhing mound of rotting limbs. It was a scene right out of a George Romero zombie film, the lepers stopping just short of dismembering Christ and performing the first unholy communion on his flesh and blood.
Note the 666 GMS.
1 – The Mouse and His Child (1977). This is the one that really messed me up for life. I tracked it down on YouTube this morning and I still find it distressing to the point of seeking out electroshock therapy. A seemingly innocuous tale about wind-up toys seeking their freedom, this animated kids flick wanders off into horror world fairly quickly when the toys find themselves at the mercy of a vicious pack of rats. A broken toy donkey – his springs worn out and himself quite irreparable – begs for mercy, to no avail. Both the horrorstruck mice and the irreversibly traumatized audience watch helplessly as – in silhouette – a rat with a wrench dismembers the screaming donkey and casts his broken parts into the scrap heap with all of the compassion of a serial killer disposing of his latest kill. It’s truly harrowing stuff and begs the question: what the FUCK were the filmmakers THINKING, marketing this shit as suitable for children? Fucking hell, no wonder I’m on 200mg of Zoloft daily.


  1. Reading Rupert Bear's Christmas tree tale when I wasn't quite two years old helped make me what I am.

  2. I'm just glad I avoided Plague Dogs as a wee lad, Watership Down was traumatising enough.


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