Sunday, July 25, 2010

April 16, 2009: Things That Scare Me: Case Study #3

In spite of (or, perhaps, because of) my adult infatuation with all things horrifying and horrific, I was scared of absolutely everything when I was a kid. A television commercial for a horror movie was enough to send me racing from the den in a sweaty palm panic. As an ongoing series here on Psychobabble, I'm going to be reviewing some of the things that most traumatized me as a child and evaluating whether or not I was rightfully frightened or just a wiener.

(Incidentally, The Onion recently posted an article with the exact same premise as this series. While I seriously doubt that I’ve been ripped off, as I’m sure I’m the only one who reads Psychobabble, I just want to point out that I’m not going to allow such repetition to impede the continuation of this series. Onward and upward.)

Case Study #3: Trailer for the film Magic

Released in 1978, Magic was one of those “crazy ventriloquist expresses his craziness through his dummy” stories that had already been done in the British film Dead of Night (1945), episodes of “Twilight Zone”, “Tales from the Crypt” comics, and about half-a-gazillion other places. Still Magic is a decent little movie with Anthony Hopkins working his creepy mojo as the ventriloquist, but what really gained the movie infamy was its trailer.

Apparently, this commercial only aired on TV a few times before it was pulled because stations were inundated with calls from the irate parents of kids who had been emotionally scarred by it. I was four in 1978, and I remember exactly where I was the one and only time I saw this commercial (I was being babysat by a nice old lady who lived down the block). While neither my parents nor the nice old lady placed an irate call to any TV stations on my behalf, I was absolutely horrified by it, the content of which was so utterly traumatizing that in subsequent years I was unsure whether I’d actually seen the commercial or merely nightmared about it. Good ol’ You Tube proves that I wasn’t hallucinating:

The Verdict: On the one hand we have a ventriloquist dummy (always creepy) in unflinching close-up reciting a poem worthy of an Alvin Schwartz book and a final eyes-rolling-back-in-the-head flourish to ensure no one mistakes this for The Muppet Movie. On the other hand, the dummy sounds like Bugs Bunny. Still, that is one fucking creepy dummy, and knowing that enough other kids were screwed up by this thing to get it yanked from the air forces me to conclude that I was justified in my fright.
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