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Commentary

Scary Movies are for Kids

It’s not but, oh, once a month or so we get the latest “violent shows make kids violent” studies blasting across the news.

Scores of people, even certain movie buffs, constantly decry horror films as a bane to society, something that gives good movies a bad name, something only a tick or two on the cinematic continuum from pornography.

Horror as a whole is sadly misjudged, and is saddled by society with an unfairly harsh criticism.

I’ve long argued that horror films, first and foremost, are meant for kids to watch and enjoy.

As a father of three, I can attest that we tell our kids all sorts of things to get them in bed at night, or keep them from smacking their sister, biting their brother, or tying up the babysitter, and scary movies are just another vesse for delivering that message: straighten up, or you’re dead meat.

They’re simple morality tales: bad little boys and girls and snatched up by the jabberwocky, never to be seen or heard from again (if they’re lucky).

We’ve been telling variations on the Freddy or Jason stories for years in the form of simple fairy tales. Grimm’s stories are every bit as ghastly and grisly as anything that ever came from the recesses of Wes Craven’s or John Carpenter’s heads.

Witches shoving people into ovens and devouring them, wicked trolls enslaving princesses, wolves devouring grandmothers (and tin woodsmen who hack them open to save the grannies). Michael Myers is simply a second cousin to the big bad wolf. Just last week, we picked up a book for my 2-year-old daughter at our local Borders and were surprised to find out it contained depictions of a little girl devouring a bear and cutting off a giant’s head.

Everyone knows the story of Santa Claus, right? The kindly, chubby old elf has been breaking into our homes, leaving “presents,” maybe kissing our mommies. Making his list, checking it twice? That guy.

Think again: the original Santa yarn includes not only rewarding the good children, but yanking the bad ones from their beds on Christmas night and making them his slaves, cruelly beating them if they don’t work properly. Often the bad children, the story goes, are never heard from again.

Pop a hockey mask on jolly old St. Nick, and what’s the difference?

So for generations, literally centuries, we’ve been telling stories, similar or virtually identical in theme to the majority of horror films out there,  but it’s scary movies responsible for the downfall of civilization? Pardon me, but that’s a load of crap.

Horror films actually do the opposite narratively speaking. In general, the nasty kids, the ones who smoke and drink or otherwise defile their bodies and minds are the ones who are punished. This has long been noted in popular culture, and there are literally dozens of books and television programs devoted to just that ideal.

My generation grew up on horror films. I devoured every slasher flick I could get my hands on, from the various “Fridays,” “Halloweens,” and “Nightmares” to the lower-budget stuff from “Sleepaway Camp” and whatever else.  Was it to my detriment? I don’t think so. Even as a kid I knew how ridiculous they were, but that didn’t mean it didn’t scare me from going to a remote cabin with a bag full of pot and a bunch of loose girls looking to party.

You’re asking to be hacked to pieces when you do that.

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