by Heath Holland
Don’t do what I did.
Whether you are a parent now or not, the odds are overwhelming that one day you will be. When you are, you’re probably going to want to share the things that you love with your kids. That’s why it’s become increasingly important to me to represent my love of the horror genre to my own child in a healthy, fun way, especially around this time of the year (dead bodies + candy = fun!). Maybe this is because I grew up in a house where horror wasn’t allowed. I’ve talked before about how Halloween was basically banned in my house, so I won’t beat that dead horse (for more on this, read every article I’ve ever written), but I sure did make up for this when I was old enough to start calling my own shots. I went horror nuts and haven’t recovered since.
But how do I share that with my kid in a safe way that doesn’t scare them away from the stuff? By nature, horror is dark and scary, making this one of the trickiest, narrowest tightropes that a parent will walk. On one hand, you don’t want to shelter them from horror altogether because you want them to be interested in it. Besides, kids these days are surrounded by all the marketing power that major corporations can buy and horror is everywhere. If you keep them from it too much, you’ve got a kid that’s frightened of Count Chocula. Yet at the same time, exposing them to too much horror can turn them off of the stuff altogether. In my experience, kids are naturally attracted to scary things. While we don’t necessarily want to open our back door and find a clown on the back porch, we do inherently seem to have a curiosity and enjoyment of ghosts and goblins from a very young age. More recent kid-targeted monster movies like Hotel Transylvania and Goosebumps are great at having fun with some potentially eerie content. However, it’s my own personal belief that they pull too many punches and deprive kids of a real feeling of danger. I think it’s important to show kids JUST ENOUGH to get that thrill while withholding any trauma.
I thought I was doing a great job. Horror always came kind of easy around our house; my daughter was born with some serious goth tendencies that seem completely innate and not taught, and at the age of three she was watching A Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline by herself in her room for comfort. When she wasn’t feeling well, she could count on Jack Skellington and Sally to cheer her up. Will she be wearing black nail polish and listening to My Chemical Romance within a few years? My Magic Eight Ball says “outlook good,” but I guess that will be my cross to bear if it happens. Because she already had an affinity for the universes created by Tim Burton and Neil Gaiman, I figured it would only be natural to introduce her to the world of Universal Monsters when she was around 6 or 7. Success! She now loves The Wolf Man and also really enjoys Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein. We try to catch Svengoolie on Saturday nights and she loves picking out the actors that she recognizes from other old horror movies. She can pick Lon Chaney, Jr. out of a black and white photograph of a hundred middle-aged overweight men. She’s never been bothered (or really noticed) if something is in black and white or a little heavy on the “talky” side of things and a little light on the action.
Last year I introduced a few horror movies that weren’t black and white and were a slightly edgier. We went with Monster Squad and Dark Night of the Scarecrow because they’re both a little creepy but also both kind of tame in the gore department and relatively risk-free in the nightmare category unless you fear supernaturally-motivated scarecrows or being kicked in the nards. Because I tend to chase spooky, atmospheric horror over shocking, trashy, stomach-churning horror (AKA the news), I see many of the same affections popping up in my kid. She recognizes when she’s being pandered to, and she doesn’t appreciate being patronized by something that markets itself as being scary but serves up no real threat. Kids recognize when the movie they’re watching contains no actual peril. THEY WANT PERIL. They want to go on a ride with the characters on screen and clench their little fists as they wonder if everyone makes it to the end of the movie. I was feeling pretty good about myself and the successes I’d achieved in raising a little horror fangirl. I was so proud of her that I actually interviewed her last year for this site because I thought her takeaway on the genre was insightful. How great of a dad was I?!
Big mistake, HHH.
So now we play the waiting game. Time will tell if the images of Jason Voorhees lurking in the woods of Camp Crystal Lake or Michael Myers haunting the streets of Haddonfield are going to turn her off of more hardcore horror or if they’re going to intrigue her and bring her back wanting more. Like a victim of some senseless killer in a scary movie, her horror fandom is clinging to life by a thin strand; it could go either way. She could find her interest strong enough to eventually come back for more--knowing that ultimately everything will be okay—or she could release her grip and go into the light, never to return to horror. This is going to be a long night; I pray for dawn.
Nope. Sometimes they come back.