Tuesday, September 24, 2019

LET'S FRIGHTEN CHILDREN! Sleepers

Now that I've looked at some entries in the more mainstream family horror canon, I'd like to take a side-trip through the overgrown, ominous field alongside the road here to peek at some less-conventional but still easily accessible options for sharing frightening entertainment with kids.

By and large, I'm still thinking about this issue with young kids in mind. When I was growing up in the 80s, it was the era where even grocery stores had large VHS rental operations (and, with Redbox, we see all that is old is new again). Depending on the clerk at the counter, you could be 10 years old and rent any of the (as a friend of mine recently called it) unholy trinity of horror movies -- Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, and any of their attendant sequels. So while I saw things like RoboCop or The Dead Zone at what was almost certainly too young an age, I don't think I'm any worse the wear for it. As a parent, you know your kids best and at a certain point, regardless of what the MPAA thinks, you're more than welcome to sit your tiny clone down on the couch and say, "Hey! Lemme show you something that scared the ever-loving shit out of me when I was your age!"

These are titles that kept popping up in my imagination as I thought about this series of posts, but that didn't conveniently fit in another post.

The Twilight Zone

Welcome to TGI McScratchy's, where it's constantly New Years Eve! Here we go again!
The Twilight Zone is on Netflix. Almost all of it. That means every day in your house can be New Year's Day, but even better, because you don't have to sit through the same three commercials on the SyFy Channel for however many hours you binge the show during their annual marathon. Something really fantastic happened in my house after I introduced the kids to Rod Serling's anthology masterpiece: the kids started asking me to tell them scary stories. But what they really wanted me to do was re-tell them the stories of the episodes. For a while there, I was really good at telling versions of And When the Sky was Opened, Mirror Image, Twenty-Two, and Little Girl Lost. The creepiness of so many of the episodes, from the uncanny to the paranoid to the unexplained, was a great way to introduce unsettling narratives into their media diet, and a lovely (for me) antidote to the Disney Channel. And the contained nature of each story makes them easily digested and easily understood. It was, and remains, a great thing to put on every now and again...if I can keep the kids from fighting about which episode to watch.

Animation

I spent a lot of time talking about animated features in the last installment of this series, but one of my favorite, favorite cartoons growing up was Disney's short The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I don't recall how I watched this so many times, separate from The Adventures of Mr. Toad — the two were originally presented back-to-back as a feature film — but I can only assume I taped the Ichabod Crane segment off the TV at some point and watched it repeatedly from that homemade VHS recording. I'm so pleased that this film is now part of my family's annual Halloween viewing programme. One of the neat things about it is that the whole thing is told in voice-over by Bing Crosby. There's very little diagetic sound in the segment, apart from the Headless Horseman's laughter and some sound effects.

The same decade that The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was produced, the Disney Animators Strike resulted in a whole bunch of animators heading out on their own to create their own studios. The most accomplished of these was almost unarguably UPA, which is now probably best remembered for Mr. Magoo. UPA was a titanic force for animation innovation and experimentation, and one of my favorite of their films is 1953's The Tell-Tale Heart, directed by Ted Parmelee. It's so creepy, and so wonderful.



And it's very difficult not to love a film that pulls all of the posts in this series together, which is Tim Burton's short film Vincent, about a little boy named Vincent who idolizes Poe, and which is narrated by Vincent Price. It's simply a joy.

 

The Best Ways to Ruin a Vacation

Here are a couple of good ways to ruin a vacation: 1) come to learn there's a man-eating shark in the water, or 2) decide that your new neighbors are serial killers. Either one of these scenarios will wreck a couple of weeks for you.

In the first case, I'm clearly talking about Jaws. This isn't a traditional horror movie, I guess, but it's the movie that gave us blockbusters, and it's been making people scared to go in the water since longer than I've been alive, so it's probably a slam-dunk crowd-pleaser for your home. The thing about Jaws, I think, that makes it such a great choice for young audiences is that even though there are frightening sequences, it's such a propulsive adventure tale that it's hard to not get caught up and just fall in love with the ride, even if parts of it scare you.

When it comes to Joe Dante's The 'burbs, it's a similar equation with different variables. It's tough to be too scared when you're laughing, and who's going to thumb their nose at a David S. Pumpkins/Princess Leia team up? In this comedy-horror that doesn't show up on nearly enough listicles these days, Tom Hanks' Ray decides to do a staycation during the same week his idiotic neighbor friends Art and ex-soldier Rumsfeld decide that the Klopek family, who just moved in to the cul-de-sac, are a bunch of murderous psychopaths. While there is plenty of gentle satire about suburban America and fan service to some lesser-known horror titles, the bottom line is this movie makes me laugh a lot, while sitting in a sandbox full of horror movie toys. If it's been a while since you've seen this one, give it another look, and see if it might be a good way to get your kids to laugh at some familiar horror tropes.

But Then, There's No Place Like Home

Finally, I have to mention one of my favorite-ever movies, and another title that I watched until the iron oxide started falling off the homemade VHS recording: The Wizard of Oz. They used to show this movie every Easter on network TV (Easter? Why? Network TV? I didn't have cable.) and one year I taped it, Maxwell House commercials and all, so I could watch it over and over and over and over again. The only other thing I'll say about this movie is that the flying monkeys have traumatized every generation of Americans for the last 80 years, so why shouldn't they traumatize your kids, too?


Recommendations

The Twilight Zone
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
The Tell-Tale Heart
Vincent
Jaws
The 'burbs
The Wizard of Oz
Ghostbusters

Posted by Vance K — cult film reviewer and co-editor of nerds of a feather since 2012, Wizard of Oz devotee since...well, for much, much longer.

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