For my second-to-last entry regarding Kindertrauma, I thought I’d go over some of the moments that didn’t warrant an entire article, but were still evoke shivers when I think of them.
(one of HBO’s Short Takes; also known as “Flesh Eating Film Reels”)
I have no idea where or when I saw this, but I know I must have. Because when I was perusing old short horror films available on YouTube, this little gem came back, and I immediately had a Vagrant Story reaction (that’s an inside joke I don’t expect you to get).
My dad must have recorded this off of HBO (he recorded everything, we had over 200 video cassettes in our house) and then taped over it, because I only remember seeing the end. But the end is the scary part anyway. Strips of film from reels and cassettes come alive (in glorious stop-motion, I might add) and wrap around this guy who I always assumed was a film editor. Then they either suffocate him or consume him. Very evocative of my previously mentioned fears of drowning and lingering deaths when you’re trapped and alive but can’t do anything about it.
I never knew if it was the end of a movie or what, but HBO would air these short films very early in its life, presumably when they needed to fill gaps in-between movies. I don’t think my dad intended to record it. He probably fell asleep in the chair and forgot to hit “stop” (he did that a lot). But thanks Dad for this unintentional snippet of childhood fear.
Cyborg-lady from Superman 3
Either Dad had this on tape for a time, I just occasionally saw it while channel flipping. And I’m not alone with this scene being a sore point for many kids. I wasn’t into Superman, so I just caught it by chance. Especially since any good stuff happens near the end.
Again, we have our good friend stop-motion being used to portray a super-computer melding into a woman. The metal sears to her face, wires in her skin, while she screams. Even the most horrific animes at this time weren’t this bad. Like, what did she do to deserve this? Comic book villains are goofy, they don’t get tortured like this. All she did was fall backward. Looking back now, this should have been Brainiac, but it’s a poor excuse for filmmakers pulling their punches.
I often had insomnia when I was a kid. Probably from drinking too many Diet Cokes (that was what my mom bought) and not knowing what caffeine was. Not to mention an overactive imagination. So sometimes, if my parents had gone to bed, I’d sneak into the family room and watch late-night TV. Not like Johnny Carson or Saturday Night Live. I mean the 1 AM “what do we fill time with” cable stuff. Honestly, the TV guide was as entertaining as the other programs.
The only TV that didn’t require much comprehension were horror movies. TNT or TBS was usually a good bet for these. I remember once I watched three in a row: some modern wolfman movie in a cave, “The Spookies” which I didn’t understand, and Invaders From Mars. That sounded like a simple movie. Maybe it was like War of the Worlds. With a goofy title like that, it had to have something in it for kids.
Oh, how wrong I was.
Well, the title came from a cheesy 1953 film. But this is a remake. It’s the difference between Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Night of the Living Dead (1990) directed by Tom Savini. The first movie (which I’ve never seen) had big-headed green-skinned Martians and capitalized on the alien invasion/”Red Scare” trend. But the second is directed by Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), written by Dan O’Bannon (Alien), and special-effected by Stan Winston (every good movie ever).
The plot is essentially The Faculty or Invasion of the Body Snatchers or The Tommyknockers. Of course, I hadn’t seen any of those (or they weren’t yet created) so this is the first time I saw the paranoia plot and was thus terrified. And it combines well with the “no one listens to kids” trope. All the adults around little David are suddenly acting weird, and they all have scars on their necks. Of course, no one will believe him, because he’s a kid. The only person he can get on his side, after much struggling, is the school nurse.
At the end, it’s only the boy. Everyone else has been turned, even the army, so they’re no help. Your parents are your enemies. Your teachers are your enemy. He’s utterly alone and supportless, sneaking around the spaceship that buried itself in the desert (a little like the end of The X-Files movie or Predator 2), and there’s all this freaky spaceship stuff and giant aliens that are just walking mouths. And at the end, he confronts the leader, who’s essentially a giant brain on his throne (reminded me a bit of “A Wrinkle in Time”). I forget what he does, either the aliens are vulnerable to salt, or he busts open a power core.
But what prevents this from being its own entry is the stupid stupid “Phew, it was all a dream” ending. Not only that, but the spaceship lands again just like in the beginning, like he’s about to relive all these events, but for real. Even a nine-year-old isn’t fooled by that kind of lazy storytelling. Well, mostly.
I never liked math, but I never missed an episode of Square One. Well, occasionally I’d change channels once Mathnet came on–not a fan of detective stories. But every time Mathman came on, I had to flip away for a minute or two. I don’t know why, maybe it was something about that music, or the ominous coin-slot drop, or the black screen, but it scared the crap out of me. It hit that sweet spot of uncanny dread and fascination like I had with Braingames.
It didn’t help that the bad guy almost always won and ate the good guy. Maybe that’s why I could never watch it–Mathman was doomed. He’d make a few correct solutions, then chomp something wrong. (And being too young to understand fractions, his demise was unpredictable but inevitable. It was never a matter of if, but when). And suddenly the bad guy (him being a tornado didn’t help) would get the go-ahead to chase him. Being a maze, there was no escape, and as decreed by fate, the bad guy would eat him. (Really, he just covered him and Mathman would expand into pixels and fade out). But seriously, fuck that tornado guy.
Fun fact I just learned: the company that produced this segment was Blue Sky Studios, which has since made Ice Age and other average CG-animated movies.
House II: The Second Story
(at least the ending)
In the same way I caught Night of the Creeps and Invaders From Mars, House II was also frequently featured on afternoon TV. But I always caught the end of it. And as one might expect from an afternoon movie, it can hardly be called horror, unless you’re a small boy with nothing to do.
I’m not sure I was so much afraid of this as I was weirded out. From what I can remember, the ending sequence starts with a kind of revolving wall gag with a beautiful woman (who’s meant to imply woman trouble for the main character, who I think was the straight man from Perfect Strangers? Or at least looked like him) disappearing and reappearing. There’s a green dog puppet, who’s super-cute until you realize it’s probably undead. There’s another puppet too but I forget what it is. And there’s an old man who looks like the guy on the cover of Phalanx.
And he’s undead too. Green mottled skin, rotten teeth. Like a zombie prospector or something. Like he got lost on the way to Mad Dog McCree. My guess is this guy’s an ancient relative of Perfect Strangers who got resurrected/summoned into the house and hijinx ensue, like Down and Out in Beverly Hills or Uncle Buck.
And there’s a big climax at the end, but I forget what it is. I think it’s got to do with being sucked into the afterlife or some other dimension. But the grandpa sacrifices himself, and then Perfect Strangers is holding him as he dies (again?) saying he’s sorry, but the old man says not to be. “I got to meet my great-great-grandson.” Then there’s a gravestone. And Perfect Strangers, his two supporting cast (including the girl who I think might be an “Imprinted Love Interest“), and the puppets ride a wagon off into a field, which seems to be nowhere near the titular “house” where everything happened. Like did they fall into the bad dimension? Or get trapped in the past and now where are they going?
I’ve never seen the first House or this movie all the way through. I’m not sure it would make any more sense if I did.
The Vacuum from Mr. Mom
Jaws was absolutely verboten to watch. Not because my parents wouldn’t let me, but I wouldn’t let me. I knew it was too scary for me. Even the music was scary. And I already had that “going down the drain” thing. Add a shark to that and forget it. But in the early eighties, people were still copying all the iconic bits. You may not have seen the movie, but you knew the music, which also sent down an occasional shiver.
I also had a blankey. It was white. It was made by my grandmother. Baby pictures show that it had a scene from Bambi on it, but it was worn off by the time of my first memory. I carried that thing everywhere. It was my cape, my sword, my whip, my blindfold, my all-purpose rope, and my lovey. Technically I still have it, or what’s left of it, which is a strip of wrinkled fabric, no heavier than a washcloth. In short, Linus was my idol.
Now Mr. Mom is a movie about a stay-at-home dad, which was progressive for 198-something (see also: Baby Boom). And of course, there’s the requisite scene where everything’s gone butt-knuckle crazy. Like in that Goofy cartoon “Father’s Day Off“. The baby’s crying, the sink is flooding, the phone is ringing, and so on and on. But what’s notable is that the vacuum starts taking off of its own accord. I don’t think vacuums could do that, then or now, but it was a “thing” in old comedy. My house had a similar vacuum with the gray dust bag and headlight for scaring the cat.
But when this vacuum took off, it started playing the Jaws theme. And it goes right for the son’s blankey. Vacuum + Jaws + loss of blankey = DO NOT WANT.
I didn’t watch Mr. Mom until decades later, at my girlfriend’s (now wife) house. And obviously, it wasn’t as scary as I remember. But I steered clear of that movie for a long time. Didn’t hurt that I didn’t understand the material at the time anyway.