We’ve got a fun Roundtable topic this week. What movie did you see at far too young an age that left you traumatized from the experience? The more irrational this fear, the better. Especially if it’s a movie that isn’t necessarily “scary” per se, but that made you quake in your boots nonetheless. Can you look back at these movies and laugh at how silly your childhood fear was? Or do they still leave you unnerved at even the thought of them?
I’ll kick this one off.
- ‘Ghostbusters‘ – Yes, really, ‘Ghostbusters’. It’s a comedy classic. I’ve seen it a hundred times in the years since, and laugh all the way through it. But I swear to god, when I was 10 years-old, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man scared the living crap out of me. I can hardly even imagine why anymore. It must have had something to do with being a friendly-looking product mascot turned evil. That menacing smile creeped me the hell out. It seems silly now, but I actually had recurring nightmares about being stomped by his giant gooey foot. Fortunately, I outgrew it, and the movie is funny enough that I can watch it again now without curling up in a ball in mortal terror. Most of the time, anyway.
- ‘Superman III‘ – I know I’m not alone on this one. Even 27 years after the fact, just the thought of this movie makes me furious. No, I’m not talking about the whole Good Superman/Bad Superman garbage, or Richard Pryor’s intolerable performance, which had no place anywhere in the world of the Man of Steel. No, I’m talking about the scene at the end of the movie, when an out of control computer grabs hold one of the main villains, pulls her into its electronic workings, and solders and splices pieces of machinery and hardware onto her as she screams in pain and horror. Then, the damn thing sets this nightmarish demon robot monster loose on her own brother and the brother’s floozy girlfriend. In preparing for this little visit to my own childhood hell, I just watched that clip for the first time in at least twenty years. Though today it seems stupid and silly, it still has no place in a children’s movie, and stands as proof that studio executives, no matter the age or era, have no damn idea what they’re doing. Never have, probably never will. Watch if you dare!.
- ‘The Phantom Tollbooth‘ – In 1971, a brilliant book was made into a brilliant movie. It wasn’t a big hit initially, but it gained an absolutely astonishing following, and even got a remake in 2005. It’s a movie that will forever hold a place in my heart – ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.’ One year before that, the great Chuck Jones managed to absolutely terrify me with a much less whimsical and wonderful envisioning of ‘The Phantom Tollbooth.’ It has a truly awful animation style that still makes me uncomfortable today, and a complete lack of regard for what’s actually enjoyable to watch. My parents decided to rent ‘The Phantom Tollbooth’ one day, and I’ve never forgiven them for it. The book may have been worth reading, but I got through about thirty minutes of the movie before it was too much. I’m not sure if it was the Spelling Bees or the Senses Taker, but whatever it was, it was awful. I haven’t tried watching it again, save a quick YouTube clip to remind me how much it weirded me out. These days, if I’m going to watch someone traveling in a small box and meeting weird and interesting creatures, it’s going to be The Doctor.
- ‘Pet Sematary‘ – My grandparents gave me their old-ass television when I was very little. While most late night programming didn’t phase me (I fell deeply in love with the vivid colors presented in Hammer’s underrated ‘Revenge of Frankenstein’), even I had my limits. When Mary Lambert’s inelegant but still effective ‘Pet Sematary’ flashed by my impressionable eyes, I was terrified. It wasn’t the animals that came back from the dead that bugged me out, but rather the ghostly visage of the patient that our hero Louis Creed (the robotic Dale Midkiff) couldn’t save. This man’s head was crushed, the side of his skull caved in like a giant wad of bubblegum, with blood oozing down the side of his face. In fact, this could be my own imagination. He could look totally innocuous. But I can still remember the heebie jeebies I got when I first saw this image. Later in the movie, a zombie child seeks revenge for tampering with God’s laws. I still watched, of course, but nothing could top the maimed man, who as far as ghostly apparitions delivering a message from the great beyond, was infinitely creepier than Griffin Dunne in ‘American Werewolf in London.’
- ‘Trilogy of Terror‘ – When this topic first came up, I was going to write about ‘The Poseidon Adventure,’ which so freaked me out when I saw it during its original theatrical release at the tender age of 9, I was convinced my home would be washed away by a tidal wave that same evening. (It didn’t matter that we lived a good 10 miles from the shore and in a very hilly area. I just KNEW we were doomed to drown!) But then a little troll figure popped into my brain, and it forced me to dredge up the horrific childhood memories of a low-budget TV movie called ‘Trilogy of Terror.’ I was a good deal older when I saw that flick – maybe 13? – one night when I was home alone, but let me tell you it scared the bejeezus out of me. (And probably still would today, if I could ever work up the nerve to see it again – which I can’t!) Anybody remember Karen Black? Well, shortly after she made an idiot of herself as the harried stewardess at the controls of a jumbo jet in ‘Airport 1975,’ she starred in this bizarre collection of three tales of the supernatural. The last segment, in which an African Zuni fetish doll comes to life and terrorizes her in her apartment, still provokes flashback shivers today. With a mouthful of razor sharp teeth, a deadly spear, and a squealing chant that rings in my ears to this day, this two-inch-tall cyclone of evil scurries about the apartment (the effect was cleverly enhanced by a subjective camera), chasing and traumatizing a rightly hysterical Black, who must figure out a way to vanquish this seemingly indestructible devil. The segment probably doesn’t run more than 20 minutes or so, but back then it seemed like an eternity, and made me worry every inanimate object in our house would suddenly come alive and attack me. I truly have never seen a more frightening piece of film. Apparently, there’s a ‘Trilogy of Terror II,’ which was released back in 1996 and revives the grisly doll. But there’s no way in hell I’d go within 100 feet of it. Hopefully, I’ll be able to sleep tonight!
Those are the movies that creeped us out as kids. What movies scared the pants off you?