For all that the Baby Boomers get labeled "The Television Generation," the influence the Box had on shaping their lives and minds was relatively little. What did they have, three, maybe four channels, and a few hours of national programming a night? Hardly the stuff to build psychoses out of. For my money, the real advent of television dominance over the hearts and minds of America's youth came with the rise of cable television. An abundance of channels, the birth of niche programming, and the development and expansion of new and old genres followed. This, and the growing latchkey phenomenon, created the first generation to truly be raised by the television. My generation. Really, it's not all that surprising, how fucked up we are.
By far the most subversive influence on my young mind was HBO. Here was television designed to destroy social programming: Unedited, commercial-free movies shown around the clock. R-rated films in the middle of the day, and X-rated late at night, when no one would notice if the VCR clicked on. I never stood a chance. If it wasn't my brother replaying Full Metal Jacket every day during the summer of 1989, it was a cavalcade of horrors, sexual tension, and just downright strangeness infiltrating my impressionable little brain, filling me with the conviction that the world was a scary, fucked-up place that was out to get me. Y'know, the kind of stuff every kid needs to learn.
Looking back, the following ten scenes had the most effect on me, for good or ill. Youtube clips have been provided where available, so you too can warp your children. In no particular order:
1. G'mork Corners Atreyu, The NeverEnding Story (1984)
Of course, some movies didn't even need to be R-rated to fuck me up; this ostensible children's film did the job quite well. All through The NeverEnding Story (which, really, is a trip all on its own), Atreyu's been stalked by this monster called G'mork that we never see. Towards the film's climax, G'mork and Atreyu finally meet as The Nothing begins to tear Fantasia apart. G'mork gives a speech about how Fantasia is the world of hopes and dreams, and he wants to destroy it so people will be easier to control. It's pretty chilling, but I wasn't paying attention at the time, because G'mork is a huge fucking black wolf the size of a car with big fangs and a gravelly voice from the depths of Hell. Y'know, nightmare fuel. I slept with the night-light on for three fucking years because of that thing. I mean, look at it! This is plainly a creature that hates small children, wants to see them die, and will take great pleasure at sucking the marrow from their bones. And he's got those jaws that keep opening and closing, and he keeps growling, and there's that fucking tongue… dammit! This fucker took up permanent residence in my brain's closet.
2. Mikey Gets Conceived, Look Who's Talking (1989)
And then there's the stuff that you don't realize has fucked you up until later. You probably all remember this one; it's the one where Bruce Willis plays the voice of the baby, and it's pretty unremarkable otherwise. Except for the opening scene, where we see how Mikey gets conceived. Kirstie Alley is sleeping with her married boss, except we don't see that. We see them in the office, and him sort of feeling her up through her clothes. Then, with no warning, the scene cuts to sperm racing down the Fallopian tube, with "I Get Around" playing on the soundtrack. And they're all talking like Bruce Willis. (One helpfully calls out that he has the map.) For most of elementary school, this is how I thought babies were made.
3. The Puppet Show, Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988)
Another scene of nightmare fuel. This combined many things I was deathly afraid of as a child: Alien invaders, being eaten, and clowns. Really fucking creepy clowns, too. Alien clowns arrive in a small town, set up a circus tent (actually their spaceship), and proceed to shoot the townspeople with cotton candy that liquefies them and allows the clowns to suck them down like milkshakes. Sure, in your '20s it sounds stupid, but back then it was a danger all too real. I mean, if I were a clown from outer space, I'd sure eat me. Pretty much any scene with the clowns in it is creepy as all fuck, thanks to the character designs, but the worst for me was this one. Almost completely silent, it features a local yokel watching a puppet show where one of the puppets abuses another, and eventually zaps it into nonexistence with a laser pistol. Cute, unless you know the movies about Killer Klowns, and can guess what's coming. Sure enough, the clown puppeteer comes out from under the booth and candyfies the schmuck without a word. Would that it stayed that way, but instead it lets loose with this hideous multi-hyena laugh that, well, soiled my parents' couch. I have never tried to watch this movie since. Fuck that. And I'm killing any clown that comes within twenty feet of me.
4. Walter Donovan Chooses Poorly, Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade (1989)
You know the story: Indy's dad is out in the front hall dying, while the Grail Knight tells Indy and Donovan to choose from among many cups the True Grail. Donovan picks a jewel-encrusted cup he has to lift with two hands, and says "Surely this is the cup of the King of Kings." Whoops. This one freaked me out because it's basically a preview of what the body goes through when you die, all in about 30 seconds. Unlike most of the other things in this list, this will actually happen to me, albeit at a reduced rate. Try enjoying your popcorn and soda after *that*.
5. Frank Burns Gets Cremated Alive, Scrooged (1988)
Few attempts to "update" Dickens's classic A Christmas Carol work, but this is one that does. Bill Murray stars as Frank Burns, a heartless TV executive who gets the Ebenezer treatment on Christmas Eve, as his network prepares to air a heavily-hyped "blockbuster" version of the story. The goodness comes from the chemistry between Murray and the actors playing the Three Ghosts (including Carol Kane as a hysterical Christmas Present), but then it veers into sheer "what-the-fuck" territory when Frank visits the future. His ex-girlfriend Claire has gone from a compassionate charity worker to a frigid society bitch, his assistant's son is in the nuthouse, and Frank himself dies alone and mostly unloved, cremated by his younger brother. As Frank watches, the coffin is slowly railed into the fire… and then he's in the fucking coffin. Great, movie, combine my fears of death, fire, *and* enclosed spaces!
6. The Greatest Scientist In History, Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey (1991)
This one isn't scary, just… weird. At the beginning of the movie, Bill and Ted are killed by evil robot doubles from the future, who plan to take their place in an upcoming Battle of the Bands and thus ensure that, instead of ushering in a utopia, Wyld Stallyns instead pave the way for a ruthless dictator to conquer the Earth. (Really, that's the plot of the movie.) After journeying through Hell and beating Death best 4 out of 7, Bill and Ted hit on the idea of recruiting the greatest scientist who ever lived from Heaven to build them good robot doubles to help fight the evil ones. They think it's going to be Einstein, but it's actually these two weird, knee-high muppetty things called Station. They (and we) are skeptical, but Einstein himself vouches for them, so off they go to K-Mart to get parts to build the robots. Because… I dunno, Blue Light Special. And, after the shopping spree, well… that's when it gets goofy. The Stations start doing calisthenics in the parking lot, then take a giant running jump and slam into each other in mid-air, melding like two balls of Silly Putty. The mass hits the ground and grows into… a big Station. Who then builds the robots. I didn't know the word "absurdism" at the time, but this pretty fucking well sums it up, don't you think? Just remember this scene the next time someone tries to tell you Keanu Reeves is now a serious, respectable actor.
7. Large Marge, Pee-Wee's Big Adventure (1985)
Speaking of absurdism, here's an entire movie I'm pretty sure was made by people just fucking around one day on the lot. Tim Burton (or maybe Paul Reubens) says his take on this movie was "What a child's idea of adulthood is like." Yeah, fuck you, when I was a kid my impression of adulthood did not include hitchhiking and getting picked up by the living dead. Nothing says "juvenile heart attack" like a ghost trucker, bugging eyes, distended jaws, and a six-inch lolling tongue.
8. Peter and Tinker Bell Tongue-Kiss, Hook (1991)
I'm apparently one of the few people who liked this movie. Screw you, Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman and Bob Hoskins (he's Smee) all rocked. Unfortunately, the all-star cast also featured Julia Roberts, who for some reason was a sex symbol at the time, as Tinker Bell. And this Tinker Bell has to be sexy, and sassy, and bust out of her clock and put the moves on Peter. Middle-aged, married Peter. It's supposed to be romantic, but it just comes off as skeezy. Now, Tink was never a straight arrow before, but whose idea was it exactly to turn the character who introduces every Walt Disney Picture into a would-be homewrecker? I believe in faeries, but I don't believe in their sex drives.
9. Beverly Gets Romantic, Howard the Duck (1986)
In retrospect, this entire movie should have been one big warning about George Lucas. As it is, it stands out as one of the worst comic book adaptations ever put to film. And this is probably the worst scene of the entire film.The only thing more disturbing than this scene is the amount of fanfic it's probably inspired. Imagine being around five years old, watching TV, and seeing a grown woman trying to seduce a three-foot talking duck. You don't know what's going on, but something inside you knows it's terribly, terribly wrong. Fuck Brokeback Mountain; this is the love that ought not speak its name. And poor Lea Thompson; between Howard in this movie and her own son in Back to the Future, she had to play a lot of sick, twisted love scenes.
10. Judge Doom Shows His True Colors, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)
We end, fittingly, with a death scene. Christopher Lloyd's Judge Doom has already been a creepy as hell figure, lurching about Hollywood, hunting Roger and Eddie like a latter-day Javert, and taking perverse pleasure in dropping toons into his corrosive Dip. Then we get to the ending, where Eddie "kills" Doom through the apropos expedient of running him over with a bulldozer. Gruesome enough, but then the flattened Judge gets up, walks over to an air tank, and blows himself back into shape. And then he starts TALKING! LIKE! THIS! Dammit, cartoons are supposed to be my friends, not psychotic grim reapers on helium who try to kill me.
I have no real ending for this, other than the thought that the people complaining about how video games are warping our kids' minds ought to be thankful. At least they're not watching extremely creative, highly gruesome, savage entertainment on television. Or redheads trying to fuck ducks.