Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Terrifying Moments in Children's Television: Punky Brewster

                                                 liketotally80s.com


When I was little, I was scared of a variety of things that I saw on television that weren't actually supposed to be scary. For example, my parents had a black and white television that I would plop myself in front of nearly every day and watch Sesame Street. One day, my parents took me over to someone's house that happened to have a color television. When I first laid eyes upon a green Kermit (who must have been green from eating childrens' souls), I lost it.


                                                                   toontowncentral
Where is your God now?


More than me being a wuss and or a demented toddler, this was due to the fact that young children are easily scared by things that are unfamiliar and shocking to them. This brand new world, which they have only been in a very small amount of time, is full of unfamiliar and shocking things.  

That is why you won't see children's television shows with excessive violence, gore, or overtly scary themes and techniques in their programs. But sometimes, a few slip through the cracks to haunt our nightmares well into adulthood.

This brings us to the mid 1980's hit kids show, Punky Brewster. The show was based on the exploits of a socially precocious foster child, her adopted family, and her quirky group of friends. It was a lot like the current girl-centered Disney kids' shows that are on today (zany hi jinks, pop culture references, moral lesson at the end), only without the overt sexualization of its main child star.


                                                         eonline
Pimpin' ain't easy


The show was immensely popular with young kids and parents. For the time that it aired, the show was very topical, dealing with issues such as the Challenger Space Shuttle tragedy and abandonment issues felt by foster children. It also had many of the basic moral lesson standards that kid sitcoms base all their shows around. Also, like many boys my age, I had huge crush on the girl that played Punky Brewster, Soleil Moon Frye.


                                                                 askmen.com
Many of us still do


For whatever reason, the producers of the show decided to whip up a batch of child nightmare fuel with a two part story called 'The Perils of Punky.' It starts off innocently enough; Punky goes on a camping trip with her foster father, the grandmother of one of her friends, her dog named Brandon (which is officially the worst name for a dog ever), and the rest of her zany band of grade school friends.  

As poorly supervised children are wont to do, the kids wander off into the woods and get lost. They then decide to head into a cave to seek shelter and stay in one place while the adults attempt to locate them (which is actually a pretty rational decision).


                                                                                              sharetv.org
  "It's either this, or we get a ride from that 
guy in the unmarked van we passed earlier."


Once inside, they find a still burning fire. Instead of assuming that this means the cave is occupied by potential child murders, the kids promptly sit down around it. Punky then begins to tell them a ghost story about 4 kids and a dog that get lost in the woods and find refuge inside of a cave...which is either very lazy storytelling or a bad attempt by Punky to be meta.  

After a few minutes, a large group of Indians show up, scaring the crap out of the kids. After an awkwardly racist greeting from Punky of "How...do you do?", one of the Indians sits down, demands that the children sit down, and begins to tell them a story.


                                                                                        myrottingbrain
"Oh, and thanks for going all 'manifest destiny' on our campfire, jerks."


He tells the story of a 'Princess Moon' that fought and defeated an evil spirit named Owa Tagoo Siam, bringing fertility to their land.  The evil spirit had now returned and was killing the land around them. Even better, our very own Punky Brewster was somehow divined as the new champion to defeat the evil spirit, saving the land around them.

Going only on the word of stranger that the kids had just met in a cave, the gang decides to take on the evil spirit. They are sent deeper into the cave, which promptly closes the only tunnel opening that they had back to the outside world.  As they head further into the cave, they see multiple sets of glowing LED lights/eyes staring at them.

The group heads into another cavern and find a rock with arms and legs fused into it from all sides. Punky makes the incredibly stupid and unsanitary decision to walk right up to one of the arms...which then uses it's hand to lightly caress her face. Suddenly, the decapitated but somehow still alive head pops up and introduces himself.


                                                                                        Punky's Place
I was looking for legitimate work
 as an actor when this happened!



He turns out to be quite friendly, but he has some very grim news:  The reason that his body is strewn about the cave (but he continues to live on a personal hell for years) is due to the evil spirit...the one that Punky is supposed to defeat.

The kids later find an enchanted ax, which they promptly leave behind instead of taking it for use as a weapon.  After this, things really begin to go off the rails.

As the group heads deeper into the cave, the come across a giant spider web. All the kids except Punky become trapped in the web; they were the lucky ones; Punky gets attacked and taken down by a giant spider.


                                                                                           myfakeleg


She uses the ax (which followed Punky and magically appeared right before her imminent death) to hack into the creature's thorax, killing it and saving her friends...or so she thought.

As they continue through the cave, her friends begin to vanish one by one. A deep, disembodied voice begins to taunts her over their disappearance.  Punky can hear her friends screaming for help, but can't see or help them. When she asks the evil spirit what it wants, it's answer is simple:

"You."

She then demands that the spirit give her back her friends.  

"You got it," the spirit responds in a playful voice. As soon as this is said, the decapitated head of one of her friends appears inside the cave wall, screaming her name in a demonic voice and laughing hysterically.


                                                                              strangefamousrecords
Demon possession can also ruin your teeth; 
make sure to brush them every night, kids!


Punky runs to another part of the cave, where she is confronted by the floating, disembodied head of another one of her friends.  To make sure you know something unholy and terrible is happening, her eyes are glowing red.


                                                                                         Punky's Place
...and don't do drugs.


As Punky continues to scramble about in fear, she is confronted with the last of her friends, Margaux (yes, that is spelled correctly). Margaux descends to the cave floor as merely as skeleton, still wearing her hat and retaining her hair. Close up shots, however, revealed a now zombified Margaux, angrily screaming Punky's name and looking ready to devour her former friend's soul and/or vital organs.



                                                                                         Punky's Place
BRAINS!!!


Margaux's skeleton then explodes as Punky runs further into the cave.

In case any of you don't believe me or would prefer not to sleep well tonight, here is a video of this horrible 45 second sequence of events:




Punky finds a place to sit and mourn her now dead friends. She also bemoans the fact that her foster father will never find her. As she is doing this, an image of him and her friend's grandmother appears before her. They discuss how they were ready to except that the children were gone forever and that life would actually be easier and much better without them.

Punky starts to get upset, but then realizes that it is only the evil spirit trying to play a trick to discourage her. She then turns to her faithful dog, Brandon, for support and comfort...who unfortunately has been skinned alive and left as an enlarged, walking skeleton.


                                                                                         Punky's Place
IAMS weight control dog food may also be responsible.


At this point, the evil demon finally shows up in the form of a velvet rug with knives for hands. It begins to taunt Punky about her dead friends and the ways that it will torture and kill her. This includes turning her into a mouse and being fed to snakes.


                                                                                         Punky's Place
"Cower in the presence of my horrible production values!"


Punky then receives a spiritual visit from Princes Moon herself (who looks an awful lot like child actress Soleil Moon Frye). She explains to Punky that can defeat the evil spirit by abandoning her anger and fear and feel love, instead.  

Somehow, Punky is able to instantly get over the death and demonic possession of all her friends. She tells the spirit that she does not feel hate or anger towards him; she feels sorry for him because he will never feel love. This causes the spirit to hurl more death threats at Punky, freak out, and then die in a horrible 1980's CGI explosion.


                                                                                          sfgate
The forest still got a raw deal.


After all this, we flash back to the kids at the random campfire, where Punky is finishing her story; it turns out that the whole thing was an exercise in meta storytelling. The tale of murdered/possessed children, decapitated talking heads, demonic spirits, and giant spiders had all been a product of Punky's imagination and poor special effects...or was it?

As soon as the story is finished, the adults find the children and everyone leaves the cave. Punky hangs back for a second, pauses, and then says goodbye to Princess Moon. As she leaves, Princess Moon appears and thanks Punky for her heroic deeds. So it was all real...or maybe just a dream...or maybe, a dream within a dream wrapped in our own reality...


                                                                                                                               boxoffice.com

"BWAAAH!"

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