Monday, July 12, 2010

TOP 10 WILLY INDUCING MOMENTS - childhood T.V. trauma edition

No wonder she's crying; that top 10 sign is smushing her brain!

Rather than try to narrow down all of horror into ten slots, I'm picking the ten things I saw on television as a kid (age 10 and younger) that creeped me out the most (mostly movies).

all apologies to:
EXORCIST III – nurse in hallway

I saw this one in the theater when it came out, but thought I should mention it anyway. I nearly had a heart attack when I watched this murder scene. It’s brilliantly simple, as the camera lays still, watching the nurse at the end of the hallway as she checks the rooms. The camera becomes the audience, as we sit still and investigate the space within the frame, knowing something horrible is going to happen, but unable to do anything about it. She is eventually decapitated (off screen) by a creepy figure in white robes that comes out of nowhere, and the camera suddenly zooms in while an extremely effective stinger plays on the soundtrack. It just goes to show how a well made thriller can turn a bland hallway into a vast array of horrific possibilities.

10. AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON – Nazi wolf-troopers

A nice Jewish family is enjoying a warm and safe night at home when they hear a knock on the door. It’s probably one of those Jehovah witnesses trying to convert their way through a Jewish neighborhood. Well…not quite. Instead, a vicious troop of Nazi wolf soldiers force their way in, unloading machine gun rounds, slitting throats, and fire bombing kitchen appliances. Didn’t see that coming. The scene is such an “out of nowhere”, rapid fire assault of horrors (including those evil wolf faces) that it completely shocked me out of my boots when I first saw it as a kid. It may be the quickest annihilation of a serene and happy family unit in cinematic history.

The whole thing is a dream sequence, taking place in the mind of our hero David, who sits in a hospital bed after a vicious wolf attack. He wakes up horrified, but is relieved that this unspeakable horror was but a figment of his imagination, and thankfully…oh wait, one of the Nazi wolves jumps from behind a hospital curtain and stabs the nurse. Oh wait…that too was a dream. As if those Nazi assholes didn’t cause enough trouble with the whole Holocaust thing, they go off and breed evil wolf men who can invade people’s dreams (and even dreams within dreams). Assholes.

9. DEVIL TIMES FIVE – Sister Hannah

This obscurity features a group of killer kids led by (for my money) one of the creepiest, yet unlikeliest horror villains in movie history. Sister Hannah is certainly a nun in appearance, but may be only playing dress up, and even her age and sex is initially unclear (she could pass for a 13 year old boy in a penguin suit). She inexplicably tells a balding adult that he has a nice head of hair, and does so solemnly (she ain’t cracking wise). Later, while washing the dishes, she screams and breaks a plate, claiming that she saw something through the window that scared her. However, there is clearly nothing there.

The ending has her slitting the throat of the final adult, her penguin lid now off, exposing her flowing platinum locks, which may or may not be a wig. Previously speaking in hushed tones, she yells “you killed it!” at her victim in fiercely disturbed fashion, as if finally releasing all of the pent up fury she held inside as a failed person of religion. The “it” she’s referring to is never explained, nor is the red leather body suit she is wearing in the next scene, or her backstory, or what reason she would have to lead a group of children to kill an innocent group of adults. She is clearly haunted by inner demons, supplemented with several oddball touches; an inexplicable enigma wrapped around a reservoir of horrors that remains just out of reach.

8. SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES - kid wakes up to a bedroom filled with tarantulas

I hate spiders...fucking hate them.

7.FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER – final showdown

I could’ve gone with any number of scenes from the series (Amy Steel’s showdown with Jason in Part 2 is right up there), but this one sticks out in my mind. The showdown here seems to have a more brutal and primal tone than the others. Final girl Trish is clearly hysterical, but also desperately intent on surviving at all costs (the best of both worlds), running around, using any object at hand to attempt to stop an unstoppable force. Tommy Jarvis ends up laying waste to Jason’s head with a machete, over and over again, showing the kind of savagery that can result when your survival instinct kicks in. I remember imagining what I might do in this situation, thinking I would hack at Jason until he was merely hunks of meat in a pile, unable to get up and come after me one more time.

Maybe the creepiest aspect of the chase is when Trish tries to run out of a door, but it’s blocked by a crucified Crispin Glover, so she scrambles to break a window and exit that way instead. Jason follows chase, simply ripping Crispin down instead, which begs the question, why would he crucify him to a doorjam in the first place? It’s sort of an inexplicable detail that adds to the irrational and primal horror of the whole thing.

6. HELLRAISER & HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II – late night double feature

When I was ten or so, one of the premium cable networks decided to premiere Hellraiser II by having a double feature that started at midnight. After everyone else was asleep, I stayed up and watched these two back to back in total darkness, and…HOLY SHIT. These films truly pushed the boundaries of acceptability in my not quite yet jaded mind, as Clive Barker no doubt intended with the original story. Sadomasochism had never even occurred to me (there were no dominatrices running around my neighborhood molesting kids), and here was three plus hours of film steeped in such a S&M sensibility, on top of all of the gruesome fantastique.

5. LADY IN WHITE – trapped in the storeroom

As if it wasn’t already creepy enough to get locked overnight in an oversized closet, young Frankie, wearing a creepy Halloween mask, sees that he is not alone. The ghost of a young girl is playing and singing, but this innocence quickly turns sour when a look of horror overcomes her face. Frankie is forced to revisit her murder, and later, an intruder enters the storeroom looking for something, and tries to remain still in the darkness. Unfortunately, Frankie is noticed, and is thereby forced to relive the dead girl’s fate (although he actually survives).

The scene not only manages to combine three scary scenes into one, but the exclusion of an attacker in relation to the ghost girl’s death makes the whole thing even more effective. We only see her horrified reaction and struggle, her cries and pleas, which focuses the scene away from it being about a murder, and onto the unspeakable horror the girl is experiencing.

4. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET – “this…is god”

It’s late at night, and Tina leaves the house to investigate a noise. She walks down a nearby alleyway, and the hideous Mr. Kreuger descends upon her, uttering the above line in reference to his glove, stretching his arms out, and later cutting several of his fingers off. These attempts to scare are seemingly illogical, and that’s what makes them so frightening. They only make sense in a dream logic sort of way, as chaotic horrors of the mind bubbling to the surface. Charles Bernstein’s wonderful synth score adds a lot to this scene, conveying sort of a nursery rhyme through the looking glass, twisted and warped into something evil.

3. HALLOWEEN– Laurie crosses the street…

I could’ve chosen any number of scenes (or even a scene from Halloween II), but this bit seemed to effect me the most. Laurie goes across the street to Annie’s house, suspecting something is wrong, and the camera follows her the entire way. This suburban street is dark and lonely, and we have been conditioned to expect Michael Myers to pop into frame at any time. However, Laurie does manage to safely get to the house, but the power is out, so she has to explore in the dark. She finds the corpses of her friends in an upstairs bedroom, and flees back across the street with Michael giving chase. She screams and pounds on the door for little Tommy to let her in, desperately trying to find help amongst an uncaring row of houses.

I used to have nightmares as a kid where I was fleeing an intruder through a dark empty street, hopelessly trying to get someone’s attention, knocking on people’s doors, screaming for help. It’s not much of a stretch to think that John Carpenter’s opus was at least partially responsible.

2. THE SHINING – the hedge maze

While initially fun in theory, it would be pretty damn scary to get lost in one of these things. Kubrick uses the maze motif wonderfully throughout. The family initially checks it out for fun, Jack stares at at model of the maze, and the finale has the boy running through the snow covered hedge maze, chased by his psychotic father. He hurriedly scurries around each corner, desperately trying to escape certain death, but getting completely lost in the process.

I had some maze related nightmares as a kid thanks to this movie. I guess I could subconsciously relate to the idea of being desperately lost, traversing the same ground over and over, hopelessly feeling that you’ll never escape.

1. UNSOLVED MYSTERIES– Rachel Runyan special alert, November 8th 1989

Here it is, folks. The most soul searing slab of televised horror you could expose a child to (or anyone for that matter). I could pick from numerous Unsolved Mysteries broadcasts, particularly within the murders and missing person cases, but this one seems to stand above the rest.

Robert Stack explains that three-year-old Rachel Runyan was abducted from a playground in Utah in 1982, and we see a withered picture of an adorable girl. Well, a few weeks later, her body was found partially submerged in a creek, and we see police retrieving a small body bag from the area, amidst of mass of dead foliage. We then see the creepy composite sketch of the abductor, and all of this unfolds with a bone chilling score layered over the segment, like a mysterious death pall.

Two and a half years later, we learn that a message was found written on a bathroom wall that is related to the case. It reads “Beware…I’m still at large. I killed the little Runyan girl! Remember…BEWARE!!!”, and includes an upside down cross and 666 insignia. The detective in the case then talks directly to the audience, attempting to get the facts of the case out to the public as best he can, as tastefully as possible. He explains that young Rachel was, unfathomably, tortured and raped before being murdered, possibly by multiple people.

If that wasn’t enough, he explains that police think the whole thing was captured on film…a rape/torture/snuff video of a three-year-old girl. They show another withered photograph of Rachel, explaining that she was wearing the same dress in the photo on the day she disappeared. The detective then asks if there is anyone in the audience who happened to purchase a snuff film featuring the young girl in the photo, wearing the dress pictured. If so, to please send it into Utah police, anonymously. Jesus H. Christ.

This whole thing would’ve been unspeakably horrifying as merely a work of fiction, but alas…it is not. On top of that, only the necessary clues are relayed (the segment only runs three minutes or so), for purposes of taste, in an attempt to capture those responsible. However, this forces the audience to fill in the details with their imagination, further spurned on by the fact that the whole thing really happened. If there exists a truer manifestation of “horror” than this, of the kind that is relayed through visual media, I sure haven’t seen it.

Here is a video of the segment (albeit poor quality) if you really want to see it:

p.s. This post was inpired by Andre's list at "The Horror Digest" blog. Her list is here


  1. Great list. Some good ones on there. I totally forgot how scary Unsolved Mysteries was to me too. It was a special that would come on every once in a while before it became a series. I always looked forward to it and had to turn every light in the house on after the show ended. Thanks for reminding me about that!

  2. @ Chris
    Yeah, there were 7 specials I believe. The first one was hosted by Raymond Burr, and the next two were hosted by Karl Malden. The rest of the show had Robert Stack on board, of course (I think that's right). I'm a huge fan of the show having watched it from the very first special (when I was 7 years old, I think), all the way until it started getting shitty when it was made for Lifetime (although they had the occasional good segment). A lot of the creepiest ones were shown in the first 4 years or so.

  3. The scariest part: "Some writing in a bathroom told us to beware," the hick detective explains. After some advanced sleuthing --- a break in the case! "We noticed an upside down crücifix and the numbers 6, 6, 6. That leads us to believe they are satanic..." Chilling.

  4. @dvdrtrgn
    Yeah, a lot of the satanic stuff can seem silly sometimes, but not here.