Top 13 Traumas of a Geek Childhood
We all remember our favourite movies, shows, games, and books of childhood. That excitement of journey begun, the rush of adrenaline at the climax, the relief and delight of the resolution…
…and the moments that just plain scarred us for life.
We’ve all had them, those moments that permanently brand themselves into our memories, the ones that left us lying awake for hours, that left us bawling in our mothers’ arms while she assured us that, “It’s only a movie, it’s not real.” They horrified us, they traumatized us, they shocked us, and they have a special place in our hearts. There’s just no arguing that they shape us in some way, whether creatively or in how we react to certain things.
Now, this list is not all-inclusive; I am not going to make one of those top 50 lists of all the possible trauma-inducing moments in every childhood everywhere. These are my most traumatic moments, and some of them might match yours, and some of them might have made you laugh. And hell, maybe there are new scars to be had!
Now, a caveat: I was a creepy kid. ”Pink Elephants” was my very favourite part of “Dumbo” (my little brother ran out of the room screaming; I’d rewind it over and over and over…), so something had to be special to traumatize me. Also, I did not see “The Never-Ending Story” or “Watership Down” until I was in my twenties, so there will be no General Woundwort or, “Fight against the sadness, Artax!” (the only thing I thought when I DID see that latter scene was, first of all, “That horse doesn’t look in the slightest bit concerned,” and “Jesus Christ, kid, quit yanking on his mouth!” Which should tell you something.) Also, no death of Littlefoot’s mother. I knew enough about both living animals and dinosaurs when I saw that film to sympathize with the bloody carnivore. Hell, he was trying to do exactly the same thing the protagonists were; SURVIVE. His method of doing so just happened to differ from theirs. And the fact that he never talked, even though carnivores are almost universally more intelligent than herbivores, really bugged me. That, and Littlefoot’s name. I mean, yeah, it worked fine when he was little, but it was gonna sound a little strange when he reached 25 metres. What were they gonna call him then, “The-Sauropod-Previously-Known-As…”?
ANYWAY, without further ado, the top 13 (because I couldn’t make the decision of which to cut) traumas of my geeky childhood.
Number 13: The mother parasite (from “Star Trek: TNG” season 1, “Conspiracy”)
I was seven years old, and a bright-eyed newcomer to the world of sci-fi when TNG began. TNG night was “Daddy/daughter night,” the night when Dad and I claimed the TV and watched with wonder as the USS Enterprise boldly went where no one had gone before. It was enchanting. It was inspirational. It was mind-blowing.
And then they had an episode about head parasites.
This is low on the list because, in hindsight, I LOVED this episode. It utterly fascinated me, from the crawling feeling of paranoia to the slow revelations to the final five minutes, most of which you can see in the video above. First Captain Picard goes to a diplomatic dinner, and the dish is uncovered to reveal a bowl of worms, which the other captains and admirals begin tucking into. Picard and Riker manage to escape, only to discover that Remmick, assistant to one of the admirals, is the host of the mother worm.
First he bloody SWALLOWS one of the loose parasites, as casually as we’d swallow a bloody tictac, and as he talks in this haunting monotone his neck swells and deflates like a goiter that can’t make up its mind.
When Riker and Picard un-stupefy and fire their phasers, first Remmick’s head explodes, then his chest melts to reveal the mother parasite, which then explodes in turn.
There’d never been hardcore violence on “Star Trek” before, and for this reason this episode is often censored, and just as frequently vilified by Trek fans. Hardcore violence, they say, is the last thing Trek is about (which is why my Dad had no qualms watching it with his seven-year-old daughter). And to a certain point, I agree. But on another note, this was one of the first truly horrific images I’d ever seen in my life, and it imprinted itself in my head. It was one of those moments that is indelibly painted on my memory, and that first made me realize that sci-fi and horror are kissing cousins.
Number 12: The heart ripping and the false grail (from “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” 1984 and 1988)
Once again, these are low on the list because I remember both of these movies with a great deal of affection, and they are part of my collection today. But DAYUM did they freak me out as a kid.
Once again, I was seven years old, and it was my brother’s birthday. ”Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” was in theatres, and what better way to entertain a bunch of six-year-old boys than with some whip-cracking action?
Anyway, I asked if I could come too, and my mom acquiesced. So off to the theatre we went, and we all enjoyed the movie until…
Seriously, watching Donovan crumble into mouse droppings had me shaking in my seat. That moment just kept repeating over and over in my head as we left the theatre. Forget decapitations, pyromania, and Sean Connery getting gutshot…one museum sponsor getting freeze-dried is how to scar your child.
Of course, a few days later, my uncle found out we’d seen “Indiana Jones”, and that we’d liked it (and I had, trauma or not; like I said, creepy kid). So what does he do? He digs out his old VHS of “Temple of Doom”, and…
Again, these are low on the list because I genuinely loved them, even then. But God, from the chilled monkey brains to the snake surprise to the heart-ripping to Indy being possessed by the black blood of Kali…all of it was incredibly horrifying to my seven-year-old brain. This was more sustained blood and gore than I had ever seen in one place in the space of two hours, and I came out of it shaken and disturbed.
And then I tasted Indian food and learned about Hinduism, and then I got mad. And then I watched the movie again and remembered why I loved it. And then I had another curry and read more about Shiva and Kali, and got mad again. And then…
You get the idea.
Number 11: The Smooze (from “My Little Pony: The Movie” 1986)
Yeah, okay, I fully admit it, I was a “My Little Pony” fan. I collected the damn things well into my early teens. And in all of their cheerful sunshine-and-rainbows philosophies, nothing, but NOTHING was as fucking horrifying as the mother-humping SMOOZE.
The basic idea is that these evil witches decide to eliminate the ponies (because, y’know, they’re evil). The way that they do this is by summoning the bloody eldritch horror from beyond in the form of the Smooze, this purple sentient gunk that sweeps over and engulfs the land, eventually forming an impenetrable shell over whatever it’s covered.
So please picture this; you’re a five-year-old child, your mom’s popped this into the VCR, and you sit, surrounded by your My Little Pony figurines and the Dream Castle model and the plastic Nursery for the baby ponies…
…and you watch this purple slime SWALLOW IT ALL.
I think even worse was the point later on when the ponies go to find Megan, a girl from our world who is the keeper of the Rainbow of Light, the most powerful magic the ponies know. She goes and unleashes the Rainbow against the Smooze…which promptly fucking eats it.
Yeah, the Smooze was eventually destroyed, and nobody died, but JESUS it was hard to watch when I was a kid. Fuck “G.I. Joe” and their terrorists; the My Little Ponies fought the frickin’ Colour Out of Space.
Number 10: Kefka Destroys the World (from “Final Fantasy VI”, 1994)
I dunno about you, but “Final Fantasy VI” was one of the defining moments of my development of a gamer. My jaw just about hit the floor during that opening sequence of Terra and the Magitek soldiers marching towards Narshe. The soundtrack still haunts me. I still have it on my game shelf, and the music on my Ipod. And nobody, NOBODY who has played that game can forget the halfway point.
The party goes to confront the villain, the psychotic Kefka, on the new continent floating over the sea. They have to stop him before he re-arranges the statues of three goddesses, which determine the alignment of the world.
So first, you fight this bio-mechanical dragon called the Atma Weapon, which is one of the most epic battles with one of the best battle themes in all of gaming history. Then you move to confront Kefka…only to have him brush you aside and shove the statues around anyway. Your party barely escapes from the crumbling landmass, only for your airship to crash. The last thing you see before the screen fades to black is the entire planet, rocked by explosions…
This is the game that taught me to never, ever, take anything for granted. EVER.
Number 9: “Lab Animal” (from “Garfield: His 9 Lives”, 1988)
A lot of traumatic things happened to me when I was seven, apparently. Anyhoo, I loved Garfield as a kid. Loved him. I had a bunch of his books, got up on Saturday morning to watch “Garfield and Friends” and, of course, I loved the TV specials. Hell, “A Garfield Christmas” is still my favourite Christmas special of all time. So when I found out about a new Garfield special airing one night, I was thrilled. I snuggled into my pyjamas with my teddy bear and settled down on the rug to watch “Garfield’s 9 Lives” and was never the same again.
The basic premise is that Garfield is narrating his previous 8 lives to the audience. Most of them are fairly typical Garfield fare, Garfield as a prehistoric cat, Garfield in ancient Egypt, blah blah blah. But then it reached life number seven and ho-ly shit.
First, Garfield comes out and tells us cheerfully that this is why he still faints at the sight of test tubes (chortle). First thing we notice as the segment starts, is that far from the usual cartoonish Garfield animation, this is done in a very realistic style, especially where the cat is concerned. It opens on a government lab, where a sweet orange cat, subject #19-GB is being pinned down by scientists and given a painful injection, after which he’s thrown back into his cramped cage. Later, the drug-addled cat wakes to hear one of the scientists saying, “Larry, get 19-GB ready for dissection.”
I was seven. I had to ask my mom what “dissection” meant. She told me.
The cat turns out okay, but not before he escapes by crashing headlong through a window and being tracked by VICIOUS DOGS.
Yeah, I didn’t sleep that night.
Speaking of which, I found out in the course of researching this article that “Garfield: His 9 Lives” was originally a book, and one of the stories they elected NOT to adapt for TV was called “Primal Self”. And for the sake of my seven-year-old brain, I am so glad that they didn’t.
Yeah, spoiler alert, it gets worse.
Number 8: Raphael Gets Beaten Into a Coma (from “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the Movie”, 1990)
So, another major confession, Raphael was my absolute favourite turtle among the four. I thought he was awesome, with his sarcastic retorts and his loner attitude…he was the bad boy turtle, and he captured my nine-year-old heart. So when I went to see “TMNT the Movie” in theatres and saw Raphael get cornered by the Foot Clan on the roof of April’s building, I was stoked. Raphael was gonna kick some shell. He was gonna be totally badass. I could not wait to see my personal Turtle crush open a full can of whoop-ass on…
Right through the next 10 minutes of the movie, through Raph being thrown through a skylight, to Don saying that Raph is barely alive, to Leonardo keeping vigil at Raph’s bedside (tubside?), I don’t think I fully came back to myself until Raph woke up. And while it was bloodless and short and ultimately caused no harm, it was still a shockingly dark moment in what had been, up until then, cheerful cartoon fun.
Number 7: The Jabberwock (from “Alice in Wonderland” and “Alice Through the Looking Glass”, 1985 TV adaptation)
I’m not sure how old I was when I saw this. I must have been at least six, but that’s all I know. And I remember almost nothing, NOTHING about this TV movie except that fucking Jabberwock.
So, initially, at the end of “Alice in Wonderland”, Alice awakens in what appears to be her own garden. She rushes to her house, calling for her mother and father, but no one is there. It’s only when she looks in the mirror that she realizes she’s on the wrong side. With nothing else to do, she slumps into a chair and opens a nearby book. ”Beware the Jabberwock, my son…” she reads. And oh, how those lines haunted me for years to come, because the Jabberwock then just bloody APPEARS to terrorize her. It disappears again readily enough, and that would really have been nothing…except…
Later on, after Alice is crowned queen, she receives a present. The present? A box of OMFG JABBERWORK
It chases Alice through the castle, fucking MURDERS the kindly white knight, and Alice flees in panic until she finds a mirror that serves as a portal back to her own world….and the Jabberwock MOTHERFUCKING FOLLOWS HER THROUGH.
Of course she manages to dismiss it through the power of imagination or whatever the hell, but that mattered nothing to six-year-old me. I don’t think I slept for the next week, at least not without covering all the mirrors in my room.
Number 6: The Mines of Moria (from The Lord of the Rings Book I: The Fellowship of the Ring)
No video to accompany this one, because this was purely Master Tolkien casting his spell over my eleven-year-old mind. I’d read a lot of books before and since then, but few have given me chills the way his description of the Fellowship’s journey under the mountain did. I’m still not sure what entirely it was, whether the suffocating darkness, the feeling of claustrophobia, the need for constant silence and the knowledge that, whatever they’d hoped, there was no hope of finding any survivors of the dwarven colonists. All they could do was press on…and on…and on…
I think what really got me was the discovery of Balin’s tomb, and Gandalf reading aloud from the rotting and half-illegible book of records that was found there. Ian McKellan performed impeccably in the movie, but if you haven’t read the book you’re still missing quite a bit from this scene; the book was abridged for film, and cut were descriptions of the colony’s early, optimistic days, the discovery of the orcs, Balin’s death, a list of the dead, and many other little details that wormed their way into my consciouness. Keep in mind as well, this was shortly after I had read The Hobbit, and characters like Balin were part of the main company. Now I got to read about them dying horrible deaths in the darkness.
The icing on this black and worm-riddled cake, however, is the onomatopoeic word that Tolkien used to describe the distant drumbeats of the approaching orcs: “DOOM.” Over and over and over, as the Fellowship rushed towards the catastrophic confrontation on the bridge. “DOOM.” Over and over, as they realized they were trapped, just as the colonists had been. ”DOOM. DOOM.”
“We cannot get out. We cannot get out.”
“We cannot get out.”
“The end comes soon. We hear drums, drums in the deep.”
“They are coming.”
Number 5: “All Dogs go to Heaven” (frickin’ ALL OF IT, 1989)
…so where do you want me to start with this one? With the main character being murdered in front of our eyes? With the knowledge we’re cavorting with frickin’ undead dogs throughout the film? With the continued exploitation and neglect of a young girl? With Charlie’s repeated nightmares of hell? With the literal kicking of the puppy when Itchy gets the crap beaten out of him? With Charlie dying a SECOND TIME and then being sent to hell for (successfully) cheating death? Or maybe the last scene, when he’s permitted to return to Earth to say goodbye to his friends while being stalked by the canine equivalent of Satan?
I was eight, people, and I have never seen this movie since. Not once. But I can still hear, with perfect clarity, the voice of that angel greyhound thing saying, “Char-lieeeeee….you can never come back…never come back…” After he escapes from Heaven. This movie was horrifying in every sense. The protagonist is DEAD. You are taking your kids to see a movie about a DEAD DOG doomed to eternal damnation. And that has very graphic and horrifying visions of Hell.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s an awesome film, and massively groundbreaking, but good fucking God, don’t show it to your kids and expect them to come out the same.
Oh, and you want some more trauma heaped onto it? Judith Barsi, the young voice actress who played not only Anne Marie in “All Dogs go to Heaven”, but also Ducky in “The Land Before Time”, was being severely abused by her alcoholic father while this movie was being made. She reportedly began having panic attacks during recording sessions and plucking out all of her eyelashes. Shortly after production was completed, said father took a rifle and shot her in the head before killing himself. Judith Barsi was ten years old.
Ducky’s catchphrase, “Yep, yep, yep!” Is inscribed on her tombstone.
Number 4: “The Mysterious Stranger” (from “The Adventures of Mark Twain”, 1985)
…this is another piece that got censored out of most broadcasts because it seemed to make children run screaming out of the room and never sleep again. But lucky me, I live in Canada, and we got the uncut version.
Did I run out of the room screaming? No. I think I was in shock.
Oddly enough, the image that haunted me in the next days and weeks was that of the little clay cow falling into the chasm. I don’t know why, except maybe that out of all of the little creatures, the cow seemed to have done absolutely nothing wrong. But it got wiped out anyway. I cannot watch this sequence without feeling a little sick inside, as though I was watching someone being beaten bloody and not doing anything to help.
Traumatized? Who, me?
Number 3: The Flower, “It’s a ‘B’ Movie” and “Worthless” (from “The Brave Little Toaster”, 1987)
Oh, how to count the ways this movie scarred me. I really could have filled half of this list just with clips from this movie, but I was determined to keep one work to one spot on the list.
It sounds like the dumbest idea for a kid’s movie ever conceived; a bunch of household appliances abandoned at a summer cottage journey off in search of their beloved “Master”, a young boy. But somehow, in execution, it becomes one of the most intelligent and enduring animated films of my generation.
Fun fact, the move was based on the novel by sci-fi author Thomas Disch. If you don’t know who he is, look him up. He’s awesome.
Anyway, intelligent and enduring it most definitely was, but it was also extraordinarily heart-wrenching. Like “All Dogs go to Heaven”, it’s a case of where do I start? With the cottage’s air conditioner realizing he can’t go with them, going insane, and then exploding? With the psycho clown nightmare? The point where one of the main characters gets STRUCK BY FRICKIN’ LIGHTNING?
Well, those parts didn’t bother me so much. The A/C was a bit of a dick, I was never scared of clowns, and the creepy kid in me thought the lightning bit was kind of cool. The first part that really made my little heart break in two was the first linked video here, the bit with the flower. The sequence is less than a minute long, but it basically shows the Toaster encountering a lonely flower that mistakes its reflection in the Toaster’s chrome side for another flower. The Toaster, freaked out and knowing that he can’t stay there forever, leaves to rejoin his friends, but decides to take a quick look back…and finds the flower has DIED OF LONELINESS.
Okay, now that all the kids in the room are weeping uncontrollably, let’s move on to video number two. ”It’s a ‘B’ Movie” was actually one of my favourite songs, and was really enjoyable to re-watch, but it’s all about context. See, the main characters have been collected by a junk dealer who plans to use them for spare parts. ”It’s a ‘B’ Movie” takes place in his storeroom, with all the other appliances he’s collected over the years. It’s like the predecessor to the mangled toys in “Toy Story”, with machines that have been cobbled together out of different parts and now linger in the shadows. The real horror comes, first of all, when the main characters realized their predicament upon witnessing the junk collector DISMANTLING one of the appliances. Onscreen. With the atmosphere being that of a psycho killer performing surgery. And then they have to escape when the junk collector begins trying to do the same to the Radio, one of the protagonists.
Once that little excursion into body horror is over, the rest of the movie is relatively trauma-free…up until the end, where the main characters are sent to a junkyard. That’s where “Worthless” comes in. A series of junked cars sing a sad song about their halcyon days as limos and hearses and party vans as…a giant magnet picks them up and drops them into a crusher.
This is bad enough, but then the main characters get trapped on the conveyor belt to the crusher as well, including the Master, who had finally come to rescue them. And the Toaster saves them by…throwing himself into the crusher’s mechanism and being ground into scrap metal. Onscreen. While we all watch.
Yeah, he gets repaired in the end, but you think that mattered to any of the kids left watching?
Number 2: “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark Volumes 1, 2, and 3″
Once again, all of it. These are some of those books that got banned in pretty much the entirety of the Bible belt. Filled with collected folklore, myths, and urban legends (and thus able to disguise itself as educational), the book was frequently the first true collection of ghost stories many of us ever read, and also our intro to well-known spooky staples like “The Hook”, “The Golden Arm”, “The White Dress”, and many others. I absolutely loved these books. I collected all three volumes, and I have vivid memories of dimming the lights and reading the stories aloud to a rapt audience consisting of my little brother and a bunch of stuffed animals.
Most of the credit goes to Alvin Schwartz, who researched, collected, and re-wrote all of the tales. But although the stories are now ingrained in our collective consciousness, what most of us remember are…the illustrations. Oh, boy, the illustrations.
Drawn by Stephen Gammell, the art is still some of the most horrifying shit you could ever lay eyes on. He makes a simple thing like a dead tree look like it was pulled straight out of Satan’s own brain.
His illustrations range from the gruesome
To the surreal
To the eerie.
One of my personal favourites is about a scarecrow put together by two shepherds that inexplicably comes to life.
And another involves a woman who has a recurring dream of staying in a hotel and being warned of danger by a mysterious lady with black hair. Which doesn’t sound all that creepy until you see the Gammell’s illustration of the black-haired lady.
Yeah, find these books if you can, but beware; recently they’ve been republished WITHOUT Gammell’s artwork. Make sure you get the original versions, because these stories are not the same without the art.
Number 1: Judge Doom and the Shoe (from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”, 1988)
I was one of those lucky, lucky kids whose parents took them to see “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” in theatres. And don’t get me wrong, I loved it, and I still love it. And I know this movie is high on the list of every “most traumatic” list, but it seems like the part everyone quotes is this one:
And I guess this was one of my creepy kid moments again, because I thought that was AWESOME. Best fucking twist ever. I think I even cheered when the bastard got run over by the steam roller. At that point of the film, wild horses couldn’t have dragged me out of the theatre.
No, my mental scars came much earlier in this cinematic masterpiece, when Marvin Acme’s body is first discovered. During the investigation, a crate of living cartoon shoes is knocked over. As Judge Doom is first introduced, the last shoe is found, cuddling innocently up to the Judge’s ankle.
Judge Doom, smiles, picks the shoe up…and uses it to demonstrate his newly-invented method of killing toons; a corrosive chemical called only “the Dip”.
Seriously, this whole sequence is utterly horrifying. From the giggling of the Weasels to the shoe’s pleading eyes to its pained whimpers to the way the Dip is stained red afterwards…it is one of the most chilling moments in all of cinematic history, and I saw it when I was fucking SEVEN. I just remember sitting there, my eyes fixed to the screen, thinking over and over, “Someone’s going to stop him, right? Right? SOMEBODY’S GOING TO STOP HIM, RIGHT!?”
I think it was the first time I had ever seen a completely innocent, harmless creature die in a movie, with the possible exception of the flower in “The Brave Little Toaster”. And at least the flower couldn’t WHIMPER. And the flower wasn’t KILLED.
I did love this movie, but I wasn’t able to watch it again until high school. And even then, I had to close my eyes as that little shoe dissolved.
So, that’s it, kids. The top 13 demons of my childhood. And you know what? Though they all horrified me at the time, and frequently still give me chills to think about, I’m grateful for each and every one of them. They each taught me a lesson, whether it’s it that good people can die, or the most mundane things can be terrifying, or don’t follow weird strangers with morphing clay masks instead of faces, they all shaped me in one way or another. And so, for every nightmare, every tear, every sleepless night…I thank you, traumatic moments.
I hope you’ve seen a few of your own traumas here…and if not, maybe you’ve been scarred a little bit yourself.