Monday, October 2, 2017

Baby’s First Exorcism: 10 Movies to Desensitize Your Kids to Monsters and Murder

Every new parent faces the same serious dilemma: When do I first show my child The Exorcist? Age 3? 4? 7? It’s a pickle, indeed, and the answer is a bit convoluted, because if you sit little Johnny or Suzie in front of Regan MacNeil’s pea soup vomiting and crucifix…errr… “play” too early, you might do serious damage to his or her psyche. Wait too long, and your child might spend the rest of her or his life watching the same damn Barney tape over and over, never conditioned to take in heartier fare.

No worries, Big Johnny or Suzie, because I am an experienced parent equipped to guide you down the perfect path toward ensuring your child will one day join you for marathons of horrifying, terrifying, disgustifying movies all Halloween Season long. The key is to systematically expose your child to the following 10 movies guaranteed to desensitize your kids to monsters, murders, and anything else your favorite horror flick may lob at them.

Step 1. Curse of the Cat People

We begin with a film that does not quite qualify as a horror movie despite being a sequel to Jacques Tourneur’s chilling masterwork Cat People. A sequel may seem like an odd starting point, but Robert Wise’s Curse of the Cat People really has very little to do with Tourneur’s picture about a woman with serious sexual hang ups who turns into a blood thirsty panther (or at least thinks she does) whenever she gets horny. Clearly, that movie would not be very appropriate to show to your three-year old, but Curse of the Cat People has more in common with Alice in Wonderland. Oliver Reed and Alice Moore from the original film have an over-imaginative little daughter named Ann who finds a photo of her dad’s ex, the now deceased cat-woman Irena Dubrovna, and fantasizes her into existence as a ghostly playmate. Ann also makes friends with an old actress with a penchant for telling especially vivid tales of the Headless Horseman. Curse of the Cat People is ultimately a very charming, moving tale of growing up fit for any tot, but its ghost and scary stories will gives your kid the heads up that there are things more intense than Cars 3 out there.

Step 2. The Wizard of Oz

Now it’s time to introduce your child to a genuinely scary movie. Once again, whether or not The Wizard of Oz is a true horror movie is highly debatable, but the fact is that every kid remembers the Wicked Witch of the West or those grotesque flying monkeys as their inaugural nightmare fuel. No one but the highly meltable villain dies in The Wizard of Oz, but there is nonstop danger as the Witch tosses a fireball at the Scarecrow, unleashes her monkey minions in a scene of terrifying chaos, and hunts Dorothy with more resolve than any boogieman hiding under your bed.

Step 3. Frankenweenie

So your wee-one now knows all about friendly ghosts and unfriendly witches. Now it’s time to give the shrimp a first taste of the main monsters. Dracula, the Mummy, the Wolf Man, Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Invisible Man, the Bride of Frankenstein, and of course, the Frankenstein Monster, himself, all make their presence felt in Tim Burton’s superb, stop-motion expansion of his short film Frankenweenie. However, they do it all in pet form, and what does a kid love more than his or her little doggie or kitty? Really, the Universal Monsters were always lovable, more misunderstood than inherently evil, so perhaps showing your kids Bride of Frankenstein instead would not be completely out of order, but Frankenweenie is directly aimed at kids and gives them their first look at the monsters in doll-like form rather than in the shocking flesh.

Step 4. Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein

Now we’ll ratchet up the reality a touch. Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein exposes kids to their first look at the monsters as portrayed by actual actors, and despite Bud and Lou’s capering, the monsters’ scenes can be quite frightening. Lon Chaney is more out of control than ever as he claws the stuffing out of his hotel-room chair after his first transformation into the Wolf Man. Glen Strange’s dead-expression as the Monster is more unsettling than Karloff’s more emotive and nuanced performance, and Bela Lugosi does his charming/threatening shtick as Dracula. Plus, the Frankenstein Monster actually murders someone, which will introduce your kids to this key ingredient of the horror stew. In fact, Quentin Tarantino cites Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein as the movie that hipped him to the effectiveness of matching comedy with violence, so maybe little Suzie or Johnny will also grow up to be a famous, cult filmmaker too!

Step 5. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad

In Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, Lou Costello regularly plays fear for laughs. He does a lot of gibbering and blubbering and screaming of “Oh, Chick!” whenever he encounters the Wolf Man or Frankenstein Monster. His reactions are consistently funny rather than frightening, but it usually is very frightening to watch someone being really frightened. I suspect that the Disney crew who made The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad intended Ichabod Crane’s terror when encountering the Headless Horseman to be funny. Crane gets bug eyed, ends up on his equally traumatized horse backwards, and engages in other high jinks when being pursued by the head-snatching Hessian phantom, but Crane’s fear is what registers most. The scene is played for scares above all else with a palpable air of dread engulfing his ride through the wood’s before meeting the Horseman to the sound of a heart attack-inducing stinger. The expression on Ichabod’s face after gazing down into the Horseman’s head hole expresses gut fear as clearly and completely as all of Shelly Duvall’s wide-eyed shivering in The Shining. What the hell did he see down there? Your kids will certainly be pondering that awful question when the lights go out at bedtime. Fortunately, since they’ve already been desensitized by the previous movies on this list, they will be able to handle it without a single nightmare. You’re welcome.

Step 6. Hausu

After Jaws became a massive hit in 1975, Japanese studio Toho tasked director Nobuhiko Obayashi with making a similar movie. Quite sensibly, Obayashi delivered a haunted house movie in which school girls with names like Gorgeous, Fantasy, and Kung Fu battle cats, disembodied heads, demonic house ware, and a girl-eating piano. Hausu may have cheated Toho out of its giant shark movie, but it still became a big hit especially with kids who no doubt enjoyed watching their peers smack around various evils. The film is lighthearted, but flying severed heads are still scary (even if they just bite you on the butt), and Hausu is the first movie on this list to feature a fair share of blood. We also see most of the girls meet some sort of gruesome end, and the “it was all a dream” ending is undermined by a final creepy image.

Step 7. Coraline

Each of the movies on this list so far have managed at least a few creepy images. Coraline piles them on your head until you need a straw to get some air. There’s no gore or death in Coraline, but it is hardly a step back from Hausu. The film takes advantage of a child-specific fear perhaps even more terrible than the boogieman fears of Wizard of Oz and The Adventures of Ichabod. What if the mom you love so much was hiding a monstrous side? This particular mother wants nothing more than to take her daughter’s eyes, sew buttons in their place, and trap her in a sort of jail for underage spooks. The stop-motion characters do not make the presence of button-eyed Other Mother any less terrifying. Coraline builds to a grueling climax in which Other Mother’s otherwise pleasant face goes off-puttingly gaunt and cracked and her body metamorphoses into that of a giant spider. Before that are scenes of Coraline’s other associates all appearing as similarly disturbing characters, the worst of which may be her Other Father’s transformation into a sort of horrible puppet man. Under most circumstances, a 4-year old would curse mother and father after being forced to watch Other Mother and Father in Coraline, but yours has built up quite a thick skin by this point, so prepare yourself for plenty of kisses and hugs instead!

Step 8. Something Wicked This Way Comes

So your kids have now seen some really scary stuff in animated form. Let’s draw them in further with another live action movie without most of the overt fantastical “it’s only a story” qualities of Hausu and Coraline. With its dark carnival that fulfills attendees’ greatest fantasies in horrible fashion, Something Wicked This Way Comes isn’t exactly realistic, but it feels more realistic than any of the other movies on this list. And despite its predatory villain, blood, tarantula plague, and pretty up front suggestions of sexual desire, Something Wicked This Way Comes is a Disney movie aimed at children. Perhaps these elements are what kept it from being a big success or a better loved movie, but do not let its underwhelming reputation prevent you from showing Something Wicked This Way Comes to your kids. Otherwise they might not be prepared for…

Step 9. The Witches

…the soul-scarring terrors of Nic Roeg’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Witches. Roeg’s surrealist camera angles and the utterly heart-ceasing true faces of a coven of witches scheming to turn the world’s children into mice would give a 40-year old nightmares. The sense of danger becomes especially real when the picture’s young protagonist ends up getting turned into one of those rodents and seems unlikely to return to boyish form. Your kids will shrug it all off though since they’ve been well prepared for the moment when Angelica Huston takes off her mask. 

Step 10. The Exorcist 

Congratulations! You should now have children able to handle the most horrible horrors and terrible terrors. Feel free to celebrate by going out for a night on the town while leaving them at home alone with nothing but a TV, a VCR, and a tape of The Exorcist. The tots will laugh themselves silly as fellow youngster Regan MacNeil breaks out in open sores, does a 360 with her head, spews chartreuse puke into a priest’s face, and does that crucifix thing. Don’t be surprised to return home to find the kids quoting favorite lines such as “Your mother sucks cocks in hell” and “Stick your cock up your ass, you worthless, motherfucking cocksucker.” Best of all, you and the kids can now spend the rest of Halloween season watching anything from Audition to Cannibal Holocaust without concern, which will surely only strengthen the family unit. Enjoy!
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