In the inaugural blog edition of Radio vs. the Mailbag!, we’re asking you to re-experience the fictional traumas of your childhood.
We all experienced media as kids that drove us to tears, gave us nightmares or forever colored the way that we saw the world. Some of those old feelings are still with us when we rewatch, reread or re-examine this media as adults.
This month, we ask:
What frightening or disturbing moment of popular media scared you as a child and has really stuck with you into adulthood?
Our hosts had this to say…
If there’s one movie moment that burned into my young skull, it’s gotta be the Johnny Five beating scene from Short Circuit 2.
I mean, holy shit.
It has to be the most jarring change of tone I’ve ever seen a movie take. One second, it’s a goofy ball comedy for kids and the naïve robot who does the funny voices is humiliating the bumbling villains, and the next it’s a scene from Reservoir Dogs.
Suddenly we have a prolonged attempted of a comic relief character who is literally begging for his life as he’s being hacked up with an axe. One of the goons even cringes in horror after one of the blows as his shirt is freckled with Johnny Five’s internal fluids.
After Johnny Five barely escapes with his life, he’s nearly broken. Half of his head is gone, he’s missing an eye, and he’s bleeding out.
He’s later found limping down an alley by the grumpy jerk who’s been acting as his comedic foil, and unable to speak, he scratches a message on the alley wall.
“D Y I N G”
This was in a kid’s movie.
As a young movie watcher I experienced a great many of my formative cinematic moments indirectly. Because I was often not allowed to watch movies too violent, or too racy, I remember the rush of peering around the corner into the living room at a forbidden movie playing on the TV. Something about the excitement of breaking the rules, combined with the provocative nature of the images, burned certain movies into my young psyche. The one such moment that scarred me from childhood was from 1982’s The Beastmaster.
Beastmaster was fantasy action movie, aping the success of the Conan films, starring Marc Singer as the titular character, a man named Dar who could communicate to (and possess) animals. Oh, he also has two cute ferrets as companions. Just like Conan, Dar is orphaned when ne’er-do-wells sack his village and kill his parents. Revenge ensues.
On a path of predictable alignment with Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, Dar must descend into the underworld, a dungeon (this is a fantasy movie, remember) to find whatever macguffin he has to find. Along with an alluring half-dressed slave girl and precocious kid, he discovers that this is where they create the dreaded Death Guard. They are the supernatural and vicious minions of the sorcerer baddie Maax (played by hilariously overhammy Rip Torn in a goofy fake nose).
Watching through a grate above a torture chamber, a man is being transformed into a Death Guard, by having a straw stuck into his ear and a glowing, green leech forced into his ear canal. Horrible screaming follows. This moment traumatized me.
Looking back on it now, the practical effects were silly and the actors barely conveyed the terror expected when someone has his brain eaten from the inside out. But for me it was torture. Of what little I can, I recall clutching my own ear and running back to bed trying to ward those images out of my mind. That image of the glowing ear leech burned itself into my memory, and sent shudders down my body for the next few years.
It wasn’t until many years later that I saw Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, that had a similar plot device, where Khan puts an ear bug into Chekov’s helmet. We watch in horror as the small, slimy worm works its way across his cheek into dives into his ear canal. Ugggh, it still creeps me out.
Star Trek did this scene in a much more terrifying, and convincing way. I still cringe a bit hearing Chekov squeal as the score punctuates the horror with startling blasts of aural shock. By comparison, The Beastmaster’s gross-out moment looks like geriatric dinner theatre. Regardless, it will forever be a punctuated life moment… that I will refuse to pass along to my children.
What about you, listener? Let us know in the comments below!