Remembering Trap Door
I feeling wistful, in a mood to reminisce about moments from my youth, and I find myself pondering a little stop-motion animation that ran for a short time in the 80’s, and though it was originally released before I was born I was fortunate enough to experience a great deal of it thanks to the miracle of VHS.
The forty episode run featured the young manservant of dark and clearly haunted castle, Berk cleans, cooks and generally tends to the every whim of The Thing Upstairs, a disembodied voice with generally disgusting body parts. Berk’s only company is Boni, an animate skull prone to headaches and pessimism, and a fat and hyperactive arachnid called Drut. The regular five-minute interludes into their lives and their daily activities always coincide with the appearance of some terrible entity or dark monstrosity that has emerged from the dread portal in the cellar, The Trap Door.
Alright so five minutes does not exactly allow much time for a complex narrative, nor does a kid’s show offer much by way of genuine horror, but for a child there’s something to be properly afraid of here.
Take the Splund for example. The inflated pink mouth with stumpy limbs emerges from the trap door while Berk is out of the room, teleporting around giggling maniacally and licking the residents, but he never actually does anything, no damage, no harm, barely even the mess making and mischief of the typical monsters. But the way he snaps from one place to another, bursts into fits of hysterics which end just as abruptly, and he says repeatedly that he’s going to like living here. He doesn’t ask, he simply demands, and the group seem powerless to resist him. Berk jabs him with a needle and he seems to pop, but when the Boni and Drut start laughing hysterically it leaves you with a haunting question.
Or there are the ghoulies summoned by the heavy spellbook that’s just lying around in the cellar. The animation on them is simple, and they do nothing more terrifying than turn things upside down and make things float and hover, banished easily by reciting the spell in reverse. And honestly how can anything be too spooky when the spell includes the words “Ghoulie Thousand Trouser”? But the chilling sounds, and the possibilities of what their powers could do are chilling enough to make you wonder. And what else is in that spellbook? And what the hell was that spellbook doing in the cellar anyway?
Kids horror seems to be out of vogue at the moment, the Coralines and Paranormans are few and far between and all apparently coming out of Laika Entertainment. Have the days of Goosebumps and Grisly Tales for Gruesome Kids come and gone completely?
Trap Door was made by an animation studio of two guys, Charlie Mills and Terry Brian, and the entire cast of characters and creatures voiced by one man, Willie Rushton (actually Drut’s rapid series of chitters and squeaks are one Nick Shipley but there’s a point I’m getting to here). It’s testament to the power a small but determined group can wield, and on a small budget, sets are wood and cardboard with a detailed paint job, monsters are lovingly put together out of clay, foam, and what appears to be builders foam in places, complete with fingerprints from the animators own fair hand. The heights of the special effects are the aluminium foil lightning bolts.
But for a show aimed at children incapable of retaining information long enough for a complex and weaving story there’s enough story, design and well sculpted fantasy to leave a long lasting impression. It captures the imagination, feeds, informs and sculpts the creative mind that follows.
That begs the question, what shows from your childhood can you always call upon to fuel some inspiration? What did you watch then that shaped you today? Join the conversation in the comments or on Facebook.