I would like to share with you now one of the most terrifying and gruesome catalog of pop-culture horror I was witness to within the first 11 years of life…no, not that issue of Fangoria my friend shared during a birthday party…no, not the robot-lady in Superman III…it’s…
Little House On The Prairie.
Now, you wouldn’t think that such a seemingly family-friendly show would be a gateway to viewing all manner of grotesquerie. But it might have been executive producer and star Michael Landon’s commitment to an “edgy” and realistic portrayal of life on a small farm in the 1870s and 80s that helped produce some of the most potent and under-the parental -radar nightmare fuel to plague my generation.
EXHIBIT 1: ALBERT WAS EVIL
Let’s start with the low-hanging fruit here: Albert, the little orphan boy the Ingalls adopted. So much of the Horror of Little House revolves around Albert that even as a small child I saw him for the demon-child jinx that he was.
It was Albert who was responsible for the most horrifying death on the series: that of Alice Garvey and Mary’s infant child in a fire. Albert had been sneaking smokes & ditched the still-lit butts in some straw in order not to get caught—mind you, he does this at a school for the blind. Next thing you know, the entire school—filled with blind children!—is on fire, and Alice is literally trapped on the top floor with the baby in her arms, getting consumed by the flames as she tried in vain to break the window (with the baby. She tried to break the window open with the bundled baby).
So that’s Alice Garvey—mother of Albert’s best friend—and the baby of Mary (Mary, who has just had to deal over the last year or so with going completely blind) who is technically Albert’s nephew.
Words cannot describe how terrifying this was to watch as a kid, so beyond the pale.
Also, as I said: Albert was evil.
EXHIBIT 2: DARIO ARGENTO APPARENTLY DIRECTS AN EPISODE
Albert sort of redeems himself in another highly-creepy episode in the series, “Sylvia”—in which he has an ill-fated romance with a girl who is stalked and raped by a man in a Alice, Sweet Alice mask. After she gets pregnant, Albert runs off with her to get married, only to have her die in his arms after a fatal fall.
Tonally, the psycho-sexual quality of the entire episode—and especially that mask—was something more along the lines of an Italian giallo horror presentation. Little House On The Prairie was a show explicitly made for families. That didn’t mean that it shouldn’t have shown some of the horrors of living during that time-period…but there was no preparation for a kid for an episode like “Sylvia.”
EXHIBIT 3: ALBERT’s MORPHINE ADDICTION
An older Albert then has a run of bad luck in a couple of episodes, the most notable one being where he gets hooked on morphine. I remember this one getting a bit of press as a kid—a “very special episode” on drug abuse on a show that seemed to be made up of mostly Very Special Episodes.
And so Albert is on the horse and has to get off of the drug cold turkey…meaning, a lot of screaming while tied to a bed. The coup de grace is a graphic scene where he vomits white goo everywhere:
You’d think that Albert would finally get a break after beating heroin with crude 19th-century detox techniques…but then in one of the post-series TV movies he starts getting nosebleeds and turns out to have a fatal blood disorder and dies. I mean, WHAT THE HELL??? Why was that even necessary? And why did the writers seem to have it “in” for Albert? (oh that’s right…he was evil.)
EXHIBIT 4: TONS OF MORE “EXHIBITS!”
I realize a whole post could be (and indeed has been) written about Albert Ingalls, but just to touch upon briefly some of the other scary episodes:
- The one where Mama Ingalls is snowbound or something at home alone and then gets an infection on her leg, which drives her delirious. The Bible starts talking to her (I think actually speaking, from the pages) about “if your hand offend thee cut it off” and next thing you know she’s got the crazy eyes and the knife about to chop her leg off.
- The one where there’s some sort of plague going on in Walnut Grove and everyone is dying and they have to host sick people in the school/church. And people are like really dying.
- The one where Laura thinks she killed her newborn baby brother by mental telepathy.
- The one where Mary first goes blind…”shudder”
- The one with the little boy in the circus cage who had his vocal chords damaged with lye.
- The one with the crazy Civil War vet who takes Laura hostage.
- The one with the dream sequence where Mrs. Olsen’s decapitated head is served on a platter.
- And many, many more!
Even the final “entry” in the series, “Little House: The Last Farewell,” features a moment that, if not really “scary,” is certainly WTF?! That’s when the town, after being forced to sell Walnut Grove to an evil developer, decides to ceremoniously blow up all their houses and buildings. Like, with dynamite.
So the next time you’re looking for a little scare…forget the “Halloween” franchise. To heck with those ghost films that are all the rage nowadays…instead, why not try…