Written by Jonathan Wojcik
Happy Nightmare Memories: Part III!
When I said that that Ernest's Tongue was the stupidest thing on television to ever terrify me as a weak-minded baby, I may not have been honest, because there were probably several other things perfectly tied for that esteemed title, and some of them, technically, never even existed.
The source of today's bone-chilling memory?
Yes, none other than that rather unassuming 1988 suburban comedy, Roseanne, a program which, like so many others, I usually just watched as a child because there weren't any cartoons airing at that hour. Oh yes, that was once a thing. There was no Cartoon Network. The 80's were darker times than most people remember. Watching this particular series was always a little weird and awkward for me, since the characters and their home were so remarkably similar to the distant neighbors and family I spent so much time suffering through long, boring visits with.
Just looking at Roseanne's house, I could smell that same weird smell; that mix of old cigarettes, thrift store clothes and a possible mouse infestation. We never saw much of their kitchen floor, but I'm sure it had linoleum with that thin, transparent skin peeling off. They all did.
I'm not knocking the show, mind you. I can certainly appreciate and respect it, but even then, there was something about Roseanne's life that I found oddly foreboding. Even before that bizarre final season where it turned out that Roseanne was fantasizing about her husband not being dead, the show instilled me with a strange sense of gloom, like I was staring the very end of existence in the face.
For the most part, that underlying dread kept itself in check. There was never usually anything too threatening about Roseanne, but I knew back then that the rules could change completely during Halloween. It's what I love so much about the holiday today, but back then, back when one drop of blood was too much for me to handle, Halloween specials became a minefield. Any show, no matter how normal the rest of the year, could potentially whip out the nightmare fuel at any moment, and having no way to predict how much farther that could go, it was always what I didn't see that terrified me the most. As soon as anything grotesque started to happen, I was certain it could escalate into pure blood-spraying, gut-ripping insanity regardless of logical context.
Thus was the case of the 1990 Roseanne episode, Trick or Treat, otherwise known as the one where Roseanne has a beard. If you asked me to guess how old I was when this episode aired, my reaction to this episode would have told me three, maybe four tops, but apparently, this shit aired in 1990. I was nearly seven. I'm almost angry that I was still such a little weiner at that age, and by the time we're done here, you're probably going to want to travel back in time and punch me right in my seven-year-old throat.
For review purposes, I'm going to be jacking a couple of images from Dinosaur Dracula's review of the same episode, so I shouldn't have to cover any of the same exposition the bloodthirsty carnosaur already did.
As a Halloween episode, this one already had the expected weird tone, and I was already more unsettled than I should have been by some of the costumes. Roseanne's husband Dan was supposed to be dressed as all of the Three Stooges simultaneously, but I only interpreted it as the Three Stooges melted together, and it would take me a few more years to realize they always should have been to begin with.
Still, nothing really jumped out as terrifying to me, and I stuck it out through most of the episode's first act.
....Until Roseanne's daughter Darlene revealed her costume:
After hearing my story about Ernest's Tongue, you're probably guessing that this gnarled, rubber demon bursting out of her stomach was what actually frightened me, but no. I didn't actually see the demon. Keep in mind, we only had an incredibly shitty little television. The screen was small, and it was perpetually fuzzy. All I saw was a girl suddenly screaming - however phony her act - and some mottled, flesh-colored something start popping out of her stomach area.
I wasn't even familiar yet with the reproductive cycle of the Alien. I had no precedence at all to guess at what was supposedly going on, and I didn't take any time to find out. As usual when something freakishly bizarre surprised me, I flipped my shit and ran out of the room.
This time, however, was a little bit different; this time, my mother was there, and my mother's reflexive response to these incidents was to try and dismiss my fear by spontaneously inventing an alternative explanation.
As I stood just outside the room, refusing to look at the screen, I asked a rather simple question:
....."WHAT IS IT!?!"
Now, had my mother actually told me that it was a fake rubber imp, everything might have been perfectly fine. I think I could have possibly handled that idea at the time, but since she likely presumed that was exactly what I was afraid of, she grasped at straws for a last-minute answer that she must have thought sounded just stupid and silly enough to calm such a weird-ass child.
And that answer is what actually freaked the shit out of me, a choice of words that will become even funnier in a moment.
Are you ready?
Do you want to know what my mother said to me in response to that simple, little question?
Do you want to know what she lead me to believe had erupted from Beckie's body?
Let me dress it up for you:
That's right. That is what my mother told me when I asked what was coming out of the lady on the TV.
"A rotten poop." That was the response her mind came out with when put on the spot. That was what she thought I could handle better than a fake monster.
I don't recall ever even questioning this reply. I didn't bother to ask what specifically caused the phenomenon of exploding, rotten "poops" or even how such a fate could be averted. I think I understood that it was just a character's Halloween costume, and probably not something that could really befall someone, but even so, the idea was there. Visions of rotten poops flailing like parasites out of people's chests lurked in my subconscious off and on for who knows how long.
To this day, my mother denies having ever said such a thing to me at all, but if those hadn't been her exact words, I certainly thought that's what I'd heard, or I wouldn't have been fucking haunted by the concept of decayed turds tunneling out of someone's body, presumably because they'd been held in for too long or possibly transformed by some sort of horrendous illness.
I'd like to thank Dinodrac again for already tracking down, screencapping and making an animated gif out of the episode, which was in fact the first perfectly clear shot I ever saw of the "Rotten Poop's" true face, though I'd already long heard it was some sort of latex devil-baby.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I don't necessarily need to use the bathroom, but something is making me very strongly want to.