Friday, August 14, 2009
Even though I’m comfortably in my 40s, I am prone to flashbacks of pop-culture memories from my childhood that still creep me out.
These typically come courtesy of a cartoon, toy, book, TV show or movie. Often they’re generated by something that wasn’t specifically intended to be scary (clown puppets, for instance) but elicited a frightened response anyway.
Two haunting examples immediately come to mind.
One hails from the 1968 movie “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.” In the kiddie musical there’s a villain called the Child Catcher, whose mission is to trap and imprison all the children in the kingdom of faraway Vulgaria. Played by Australian actor Robert Helpmann, the fiend brandishes a large (prosthetic) nose, long stringy hair, jet-black suit and flowered top hat. He looks like a warlock auditioning for “Project Runway.”
Adding to my initial fear was the fact a schoolmate once crafted a life-size picture of the Child Catcher out of colored paper, which he mounted behind his bedroom door.
That was the bogeyman of my late childhood, but by my early teens I found a new one thanks to a 1977 made-for-TV movie called “Dead of Night.”
This anthology series by Dan Curtis featured three hit-or-miss segments, the last of which was the modestly titled “Bobby.”
In it, Joan Hackett portrays a mother dealing with her missing son’s apparent drowning who resorts to a black magic ritual to bring him back. The tactic is a “success,” and young Bobby (Lee H. Montgomery) shows up at her door ... only he isn’t quite right.
Before long, Bobby is stalking mommy around their oceanview house wielding a sledgehammer. Not to give away the punch line, but mom ultimately learns she’s summoned a resident of the lower planes.
For years, I was unable to exorcise the visual that accompanies this revelation, which was simply too much to handle for a kid more accustomed to a diet of “Happy Days” and “Wonder Woman.”
If these examples stir interest in your own tormented recollections, I suggest you check out Kindertrauma.
“Your happy childhood ends here!” the site’s tagline trumpets.
Its manifesto proclaims, “Through reviews, stories, artwork and testimonials, we mean to remind you of all the things you once tried so hard to forget.”
Kindertrauma does a fine job of not just allowing people to vent about their respective disturbances but also hunt down images and video clips of said topics — many of which are rather obscure. Both the Child Catcher and “Bobby” were analyzed by others in past posts. Guess I’m not the only one to be scarred by these abominations.
The site’s greatest contribution is its Name That Trauma feature, which allows folks to describe a disturbing childhood memory (typically inspired by something that was glimpsed once on TV) so fellow readers can help uncover the source material.
Perhaps a few decades from now a Web site will spring up that will remind users of all the Web sites that once traumatized them while they were growing up.
— Entertainment editor Jon Niccum explores facets of pop culture that have established a unique niche on the Internet. He can be reached at 832-7178.