Radio vs. the Mailbag: Childhood Nightmare Fuel

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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…

Mike says:

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.

Casey says:

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!

11 thoughts on “Radio vs. the Mailbag: Childhood Nightmare Fuel

  1. Holy Shit!
    I’d have to say McDonald’s “Mack Tonight” Moon Man commercials from 89 or 90. There was just something about his pale Crescent bulbous head that made me cringe in horror. I was even more terrified when I picked up one of my dad’s JLI comic inside J’onn J’onnz in his original martian form scaring the shit out of me. any promotion that makes kids scared of Martian Manhunter should not be allowed to exist.

    Mac tonight still haunts me in my dreams, and I’m damn near 30.

  2. Funny you should put up a pic from ‘The Neverending Story’. Although, it isn’t Artax’s death in the Swamps of Sadness that I found so horrifying as a child (although, it was very sad). No, in my case, it was the Gmork. That horrible wolf scared the crap out of me as a child. Such a vicious, evil monster that always seemed just within feet of killing Atreyu. I found it very scary and may have even hid behind the sofa when it was on screen when I was very young. I still find the Gmork scary and don’t like to look at it.

    In addition to that, I have two scenes from ‘Watership Down’ that kinda made me scared of the dark as a child, and they still creep me out to this day. The first is Fiver’s vision where he sees the field covered with blood. It’s pretty innocuous in the book, but the film took that line and put it on acid with its creepy silhouetted tree branches and that music. Just hearing that music alone is enough to put me on edge and make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. So, naturally, I have that music on my playlist. The other scene that gets me (still) and is the one that really made me afraid of the dark as a child is when Captain Holly describes the destruction of the Sandleford warren, and we get another trippy scene, only this time it shows rabbits trapped underground and dying. The line “runs blocked with dead bodies — couldn’t get out” really does it. Maybe it’s the fear of being trapped. Kind of have a similar reaction to the scene in Balin’s tomb in ‘The Lord of the Rings’, where Gandalf reads Ori’s account of the dwarves’ last stand, particularly the line “we cannot get out”. And I think the fact that it’s a recollection of events adds to the horror, because it’s already happened and there’s nothing the heroes can do.

    Anyways, in addition, I kinda hid behind the sofa when the rankor appeared in ‘Return of the Jedi’ too, but that’s not a fear that’s stayed with me.

    • Watership Down scared me too- That surreal death sequence with “Black Rabbit”. As a kid, I really didn’t need to see that.

  3. Most fears are based on separation from people I love, or else people I love unexpectedly turning into something they’re not. That’s why I’m really uneasy with convincing (and even some unconvincing) zombie/wearwolf/vampire films to this day, and why Carol Channing becoming a sheep was so terrifying in Alice. I was actually afraid of woodland creatures after reading Bunnicula for a 3rd grade book report, thinking they’d mistake my toes for carrots or turnips.

    Here’s the other scary childhood stuff, though:

    1. Linda Hamilton vaporizing at the chain link fence in T2.
    2. Fear of swamps, induced by Neverending Story, Return to Oz, and Brave Little Toaster, and Raggedy Ann/Andy movie where they’re all stuck in caramel, the trash compactor scene in SW:ANH and the Indy series. Perhaps oddly, I was totally cool with The Princess Bride fire swamp and Agustus Gloop getting sucked up the chocolate lake tube.
    3. Just about anything in Return to Oz, but especially the heads and her anthropomorphized-but-vacant companions.
    3. Dumbo, separated from his mom, being rocked in her trunk, after she’d been deemed a Mad Elephant and chained away. Cue the wracked sobs.

  4. So, my younger brother’s not a listener but I can tell you that his entire childhood conspiracy mythology was based on Fire in the Sky and XFiles. He once ended up in panicked asthma-attack tears during a bad summer lightening storm, convinced he was about to be abducted by aliens.

  5. Sharptooth from The land Before Time.

    Nothing was as terrifying as that damn T rex. Doesn’t hurt that he takes out a main character about 5 minutes after his introduction.

    ON another dinosaur related note: the SNES version of jurassic park has indoor sections where the game went from top down zelda style gameplay into first person gameplay. Walking down darkened halls with eerie music playing with raptors jumping up into your face? Terrifying.

    And lastly: Are you afraid of the dark?

    Not sure what channel it aired on in the US but it was a Canadian show that was essentially a child focused tales from the crypt…only without the crypt keeper to provide levity. It was not uncommon for the villains to either get away at the end of an episode, or to outright win.

  6. There’s an ep. of Star Trek:TNG “Identity Crisis” The whole sequence where Geordi spots this unexplained humanoid shadow in a mission log , then goes and re creates it on the holo deck. And still can’t figure out who or what’s casting it. I’m 34 now and still a little creeped out by that.

  7. I’m glad that Becky mentioned “Fire in the Sky” because around the time I was thirteen years old, I was utterly terrified of alien abductions and movies about them.

    And this was at the height of “X-Files'” popularity and there were so many TV movies retelling so-called “true stories” about people getting forcibly probes and pierced by weird monsters and then dropped naked in a field.

    There was even an episode about “Star Trek: the Next Generation” where the crew of the Enterprise was being taken and experimented on by beings from another dimension. Shudder.

    But “Fire in the Sky” was the worst, if only for the long, windy drill bit moving ever so closely to the main character’s eyeball…

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wsjhdoWKtXM

    Even now, I don’t want to even watch the YouTube clip of it. Brrrrrr….

  8. For about a decade, I was terrified of Doctor Who.
    I had heard of the show, and wandered in right at the end of an episode. The Doctor was creeping along a narrow walkway in a space station until he came to a small port-hole like window. Inside, a gelatinous green mass was swirling about.
    Then, there’s a cracking noise, and the glass starts to break.
    We cut back to the Doctor’s companion and the supporting cast standing around waiting for him to come back, but no… instead of the Doctor, a giant green mass of man-eating snot oozes around the corner… but that wasn’t the worst bit.

    Oh no, it was at that point that the end titles played.
    Now remember, this is my first exposure to the character, so I look over at my brother and say, “That’s the end? What happened?”
    To which he replied, “That’s it. The Doctor’s dead.”
    This messed me up BIG TIME because at that age, I just couldn’t fathom the idea of a tragic ending like that.

    The piranha fish in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ (and piranha fish in general – there was a rash of pirahna movies at the time in the wake of ‘Jaws’). It didn’t help that we spent every holiday at my grandfather’s house at the beach.

    There are probably dozens of others. I was a pretty easily terrified kid with a bastard imagination that delighted in messing with me.

  9. My mom’s favorite fear moment from my childhood was in The Labyrinth. I whined and begged to get out of the theater while the goblins were under the bed waiting for Sarah to say the words. After that part I was fine the whole movie, so it’s more something she always mentioned.

    Personally my worst childhood film experience was Attack of the Killer Clowns from Outer Space. When they they take the silly straws and stick them into the cotton candy cocooned humans. I had watched plenty of horror films by this point (7), but this scene was a lot more terrifying to me than anything from Wes Craven. Close second is Halloween 2 when they watch the commercial.

    I don’t know how any parent managed to let their young child sit through Watership Down. I share in that childhood terror.

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