When I was a kid, horror was everywhere. For the adults you had THE SHINING, CAT PEOPLE, MISERY and SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. For the teens there was FRIDAY THE 13th, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, EVIL DEAD and HELLRAISER. For we youngsters, there was POLTERGEIST, GREMLINS, BEETLEJUICE and MONSTER SQUAD. Everyone had something that could scare them, that would give them nightmares or make them jump at shadows in the dark. We loved it. We loved being scared.
But something seems to have changed. At some point, the world decided that we couldn’t scare kids anymore. Gone were the kid “friendly” horror movies. Shows like ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK were canceled, with no replacements in sight. Hell, even kid oriented sitcoms stopped having “scary” Halloween episodes. It was as if Young Pete from THE ADVENTURES OF PETE AND PETE was right, and there was an International Adult Conspiracy working to make the lives of kids boring. Their last major victory, and maybe the end of the war, came in 1997 when R.L. Stine ended his GOOSEBUMPS book series.
Now, we face our first generation in ages to grow up without nightmares caused by authors, artists, and filmmakers. A generation raised on YouTube videos of MINECRAFT playthroughs instead of campfire tales of hooked hands and haunted forests. My friends, I fear horror is losing a generation of children, and horror can’t afford that.
There are still battles being waged – Michael Dougherty stood at the frontlines when he made KRAMPUS, a truly scary and fun horror movie for all ages that, as far as I can tell, parents didn’t let their kids watch. This movie, which should bring the darkness of horror into the hearts of children around the world, may never get a real chance to. Compared to GREMLINS, KRAMPUS is very tame, and yet I see friends who love horror saying that they don’t think their nine or ten year old kid could handle it.
Instead, they bring their children to the GOOSEBUMPS movie. Don’t get me wrong, GOOSEBUMPS was a fun time in the theater, but was it horror? I would argue that it has more in common with JUMANJI than it does any of Stine’s books. Yes, the monsters, ghosts and evil puppets from the GOOSEBUMPS books are all there, but they don’t elicit fear, they create excitement.
This is, I feel, a more serious problem than many may think. Horror is more than fun. Horror is more than entertainment. Horror is a way for us to confront our fears, and to understand that we are not alone in being afraid. A film like THE VISIT can show kids that it is OK to be afraid of old people – it is natural. Sure, not every old lady is going to chase you under the house – chances are that will never happen in you life – but when you are nine, the concept of aging is just starting to make sense to you. You start to understand that the person with white hair and a wrinkly face is closer to dying, and that image is frightening because one day that will be you. Not to lean on it too much, but KRAMPUS is scary not just because of the monsters, but because (spoilers ahead!) the true horror is spending your life with your family. Kids need to know that they aren’t the only ones who, at times, hate the idea of being around their cousins and siblings. That family gatherings are hell for everyone, and we all fear that they will never end.
These are lessons, these are feelings we all experience, but by hiding these away from today’s youth, we risk making them feel alienated, making them feel different, from everyone else. Horror, odd as it may seem, helps us feel connected to the world – there is a reason why, as the concept of the teenager came into being, so much horror was centered around puberty. We all go through the changes of more hair and cracking voices and pimples, and it terrifies us. The WOLF MAN, I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF, and TEEN WOLF all, some more overt than others, play on this. Kids connect with FRANKENSTEIN because he has a hard time expressing how he feels and often gives in to anger. A seven year old feels and does the same things.
We, as a society, count on the pillars of horror to explain the world. Stories of the supernatural teach us that there are things out there we don’t understand, and maybe we never will. Tales of masked maniacs hacking up teens shows us that there can be repercussions for our actions. Ghost stories are a reminder that the past is always there, the choices we have made stay with us and that some choices will haunt you. We understand that we are a collective not just in species, but in thought – we all have the same worries, the same fears, of that which we have no control over.
Horror brings us all together. It reminds us of our mortality, of our human weaknesses. It lets us accept our faults, our failings, in a way no other form of storytelling can. It shows us that we are not alone in the dark recesses of our minds – that we are not that different from our neighbor. We, each of us, lives in an inner world of terror – terror of aging, terror of what lies beyond our door, terror of the unknown – and that it is OK to feel these things, as long as we don’t let those feelings control us.
At the end of GREMLINS, Gizmo opens a skylight, letting the sun hit the monsters and killing them. The light vanquishes the darkness, and opening the path brings the light in. This is what horror can do for kids – it can show them the light and open a path where they can face their fears. Sure, it may well create some new fears along the way, but we can shine a light on those ones too. What we can’t do is hide in the closet and wait for the boogie man to go away.
So it is that I come to you, the parents out there, asking that you let your children watch horror. That you introduce them to the scary and the unknown. And watch it with them. Talk to them about the movies and books. Show them that there is nothing to fear, nothing to worry about, when what they see on screen makes them scared. Help them learn the lessons horror can teach, so that they can carry these lessons on to the next generations.
And you, the makers, please think of the children. Make the horror you wanted to see when you were a kid, and make it for those kids. Give us more like KRAMPUS, give us more GOOSEBUMPS. Remember how you felt watching SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES and bring that feeling back to the masses of today. The children, and the fans of horror, will thank you for it.