There’s a whole website called Kindertrauma devoted to stuff you saw on TV when you were a little kid that terrified the crap out of you. Not all of these things were horror movies, or even intended to be scary — some were just maybe a little too weird or unhinged for your developing, impressionable mind to handle. Commercials, odd bits in educational shows (including ones you might have watched in school), scenes in non-genre movies, music videos. This afternoon, I was inspired to post the original Arch Oboler story “The Chicken Heart” from his classic 1930s horror show, Lights Out. This inspired a Bill Cosby bit on his 1966 LP Wonderfulness, and was later referenced in a 1972 episode of The Fat Albert Show. I saw this program three or four years later, which would have made me, well, three or four. It scared the living shit out of me. Fourfingerwu saw fit to respond with a YouTube clip of the Fat Albert bit. It’s pretty silly (arguably today the Cosby connection is way creepier and more disturbing), but watching it I’m still reminded of the nightmares I had after seeing it for the first time.
Looking back, I realize what really unnerved me was not that it was “scary,” but that it was weird. A chicken heart really isn’t what you visualize when you think of the word monster. And that’s true of the Lights Out story, too. As Stephen King pointed out in his seminal horror survey Danse Macabre, in a chapter devoted to Oboler, the idea of being devoured by a giant amorphous blob that used to be a tiny chicken heart beating away in a lab is kind of absurd, even downright silly. That doesn’t make the tsunami of protoplasm rushing towards the narrators any less terrifying. And when I think about the stuff that really scared me as a kid, it’s not things like the Wolfman or Dracula or Frankenstein. (They shortened his name at Ellis Island, folks. It’s documented.) It’s stuff like the Blob, which could come at you through the goddamned toilet. (I saw the “comedy” Beware! The Blob on the late show when I was around the same age as the “Chicken Heart” bit, and I didn’t sleep well for another decade.) Or it’s seemingly innocuous stuff, like this video for Helen Reddy’s “Angie Baby,” which aired on the Sonny and Cher Show:
Or this Sesame Street sketch, which starts out innocently enough, but ends in a moment of pure apocalyptic terror (seriously, when I was a kid my heart stopped at the end):
Or, God help me, just about anything in The Clyde Frog Show, a regional educational show that aired in the south and southwest in the ‘70s. (Yes, that’s probably where Cartman’s puppet on South Park probably came from.) Those black felt backgrounds, like the howling void always at the characters’ backs.
That said, I grew up to like weird things. I saw Alien in the theater when I was seven, and it’s probably my favorite movie. I play a ton of Hidetaki Miyazaki video ganes, usually late at night. I have more editions of Lovecraft than I could ever need. I miss Bernie Wrightson like he was my favorite uncle. So maybe all those traumatic cartoons and puppet shows paid off, even though I get the feeling Clyde the Frog wouldn’t approve of Cthulhu.
So what are your favorite disturbing childhood TV memories?