Reviewing the Scary Movies That Traumatised My Childhood (Vol. 1)
As I sit on the couch getting into the Hallowe’en spirit (such as it exists Down Under) by watching some of our new favourite horror movies like The Cabin in the Woods I’ve been reflecting on the ones that scared the utter crap out of me as a child. Some of them are horror movies that someone managed to slip though the protective horror-proof forcefield my parents kept me under growing up, and others are family friendly fare that featured sometimes unintentionally disturbing imagery. To begin we’re going to take one of each.
The Movie: An American Werewolf in London (1981)
The Trauma: I think I was 8 or 9 for this one. Whilst the aforementioned parent units were visiting friends, us young’ns were left to amuse ourselves with toys and video games. Good times. On TV was a behind-the-scenes look at the revolutionary special effects of John Landis’ horror comedy. The bit I saw concerned a motorcycle rider who had fallen to the ground and had his head squashed by a bus. I thought we were watching the news.
The Review: It wasn’t until I was studying film at university that I sat down and watched this movie, and when I saw the motorcyclist in the massive car pile up during the films finale that I connected the movie with that footage from my childhood. I’ve been back to watch An American Werewolf in London countless times since because it remains to this day my absolute favourite horror movie. A number of movies have tried to blend horror and comedy before but it rarely works out. Either the horror is sub-par with the focus on slapstick comedy or the comedy comes in the form of over-the-top gore. A couple manage it, such as Tucker and Dale vs Evil, but most are schlock. This movie though…this is both scary and funny.
The story begins with two American backpackers travelling through the English country side when they happen upon a pub called ‘The Slaughtered Lamb’ (I have a tee of the sign, I’m that much of a geek for this movie). Creeped out by the occult symbols on the wall, the attitude of the locals and possibly the cameo from Rik Mayall they head out into the moors and are attacked by a wolf-like creature. The one who survives recovers in a London hospital, later staying with a nurse, only to find out that his bite wounds now carry a curse. At the turn of the full moon he becomes a werewolf and viciously attacks any who crosses his path, and during the day he is haunted by his victims who want him to kill himself.
During the course of the movie laughs come in the form of our hero’s (David) slacker attitude, cameos from Frank Oz and sequences where David wakes up naked in a zoo. These laugh out loud moments are mixed in with some dark humour, such as the recurring presence of his decaying best friend and the polite Brits who want him to off himself. Part of the films genre blending success comes from the staunch separation between the horror and comedy. You’re having a chuckle and then you get to subway scene with a lone victim being pursued by the wolf, mapped out in POV shots and the excellent shot from the top of the escalator.
The intensity of the scares in somehow enhanced by the fact the comedy has suddenly been entirely drained from the movie. The less-is-more approach to revealing the monster lends a great deal of suspense to the horror scenes, even though we’d got a decent look during the amazing transformation sequence (done with imaginative practical effects).
Although it doesn’t have the pop culture stardom of other 1980s horror movies like A Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th it has retained a solid following. Although it was horrifying seeing the SFX reel as a child I still love this movie. The sequel though…that was horrific.
Rating: TEN out of TEN
The Movie: Return to Oz (1985)
The Trauma: You’re thinking Wizard of Oz. Nice songs, happy characters…Munchkins, flying monkeys, general pleasantness. Then you pop in the sequel. Between Dorothy getting electro-shock treatment, a queen with a removable head, the Nome King being a nightmare in stop motion…and the fucking Wheelers.
The Review: Christ, this movie. Put out several decades after the original film, it sticks pretty close to the written source material and that sends the family friendliness down a few notches. Dorothy, now played by Fairuza Balk who is best known for American History X and The Craft, can’t get anyone to believe her about her trip to Oz. Her parents decide that frying her brain with megavolts is the best solution, so Dorothy is of to one of the most bleak and unfriendly asylums in cinema history. When things go wrong during a storm she is transported back to Oz along with a talking chicken. Unfortunately things are not as she remembers. The Emerald City is in ruins and the Yellow Brick Road has been dug up, with the horrifying Wheelers – basically clowns with wheels instead of hands and feet – patrolling what remains of the city.
Dorothy, fleeing for her life, meets creepy animatronic Tic-Toc who needs winding to operate. They learn that all of Dorothy’s friends and the citizens have been turned to stone. They are caught by Princess Mombi, who collects beautiful women’s heads and keeps them in cabinets to wear in place on her own. She intends to add Dorothy’s head to her line up so Dorothy escapes with the help of a creature with a Jack O’Lantern for a head and a horrid thing they Frankenstein together about of furniture and a severed moose head.
Ok, I’m going to stop here because who’ve either seen this movie before or you’re going to think I’m making shit up.
This is a dark and disturbing film but it isn’t without it’s charm. Fans of the book series maintain that it is more faithful to the book series than the 1939 effort was, and if that’s the case they sound like nightmare material. We get bombarded with images of severed heads waking up and screaming, clowns with wheels for hands, a sentient severed moose head and the decaying Nome King. Although it was intended for children to watch no-one in their right mind with leave it out for the babysitter to show…rather it has developed into a cult favourite among those who prefer their movies to make them shift uncomfortably rather than gross them out.
Rating: SEVEN out of TEN