Don’t be fooled by the recent strong grosses of Goosebumps and Hotel Transylvania 2 this Halloween: the kids are all right, and unspooked.
In fact, they have been unstirred for some time. Nothing to go bump in the night, no nightmares incited by movies targeting their eyeballs and overactive imaginations. Barring older siblings or haphazard parents showing them the still-common slashers and adult-intended horrors, it’s been some time since younger audiences have had something intended on terrifying their specific age group.
See, when I was a kid, we got this:
Have you had any nightmares in the two seconds since looking at this? Because I’ve had seventeen.
If you don’t know what you’re looking at, congratulations on escaping your childhood unscathed and welcome to The Witches. Nicolas Roeg’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved book stars Angelica Huston (pictured here drenched in Jim Henson-created creature design) as a high priestess witch determined to eradicate children by plying them with candy to turn them into mice. Though Dahl’s work never shied from children-in-magical-peril situations, Roeg & Henson takes this one to next level freakshow territory with confrontational imagery and ghastly makeup. And all while focusing on a young audience.
We’re far past a time when movies like this were made with the primary intent to scare the living shit out of kids. The era was subtley owned by Henson, also a staple of my terrorized childhood with the absolutely bonkers The Dark Crystal. Could a kids’ movie get away with this kind of earnest, unironic creations?:
Those things above are known as Skeksi’s and their dastardly plight is completely forgotten to me because I’m still recovering from the visions in my head of their soul-sucking of other poor, innocent puppets. If you remember The Dark Crystal, it’s not going to be for the plot or the few cuddlier elements. These guys were dirty, vicious, and pure evil, and were invented by a man we otherwise would believe to be a sadist if he hadn’t invented The Muppets.
Perhaps these are more creations of a tactile era we’ve moved past with the proliferation of CG effects. There was something to those moving, breathing puppets that opened our imaginations to the possibility of these demons existing in our real world.
But it’s not really a reliance on CG that’s stunted our ability to intentionally make the children lose some sleep. Whether we got wrapped up in the PC concern of long-lasting impact or our tastes for adult horror changed with it, the spectrum of horror adapted a more overt focus on humor as a hand-in-hand approach to the chills. The scares for the kids haven’t changed since; we want to give kids “adorably spooky” instead of actual fear. Outside of maybe the rebirth of Voldemort, can you think of any truly scary kid-oriented moment in recent years? Take to the comments if you can!
So I say: let’s scare the crap out of some kids. Wasn’t the most important part of being scared witless as a kid by something like Gremlins that it stimulated our imagination, made us fathom something different than our experience, even if that thing was scary? Aren’t we learning as much about ourselves as we cheer for Atreyu as we do hiding under the covers from The Nothing? Don’t the scary lessons we learn while growing up pale in the comparison to the primal fear incited by something like Judge Doom?