Tuesday, August 14, 2012

a life-long love of scary movies

I take my eight year old daughter to PG-13 movies from time to time, with a minimum of guilt. Most of them I check out beforehand, usually via reviews or content advisories. I have to admit I'm less concerned about any sexual entendre vs. gratuitous violence. I think a lot of the innuendo goes over a kid's head, but violent images can really scare and haunt you at any age — or worse, desensitize a person. But I also have always loved scary movies, which can get a little bloody at times, so it is definitely a balancing act on what I think she can handle. It's been especially tough lately with all of the PG-13 comic book moves, which are marketed very strongly to kids. Most of the super-hero ones I have said yes to, except the darker Batman, but luckily she wasn't too interested in that one (nor was I.)

The other day the kid asked me if we could buy Dark Shadows when it comes out on DVD. I was surprised and used my patented "We'll see," which temporarily gets me off the hook for a yes/no answer. I have to think about it. That is one of the ones we actually saw together in the theater. Apart from the over-the-top "sex" scene with Barnabas and Angelique, the romantic content was pretty tame. It is Tim Burton, after all. There were a few "bloody" scenes with vampire Barnabas chowing down on a few folks after he was set loose on humanity. The violence occurs off-screen (actually tame for Burton), but the blood-spattered Johnny Depp as Barnabas tells the tale.


All of this rumination takes me back to many years ago when I was a kid and first acquired a taste for scary movies, encouraged and abetted by my movie-buff father. I was eight, the same age as my daughter, and he told me I could stay up and watch Chiller Theater with him. Chiller Theater introduced its features with a shot of a six-fingered hand sinking into a steaming swamp while a deep voice intoned, "Chiiilllleerrr!" Both spooky and thrilling, especially coupled with my being allowed to stay up late and watch a movie with Dad while my brother had to go to bed.

Chiller Theater aired at 8 p.m. and we watched a lot of scary movies together, featuring wayward mummies and werewolves, but my favorites were always vampires. The one that had the most impact on me was The Return of Dracula, starring Francis Lederer as a vampire who comes to modern, late '50s California and poses as an artist, which, combined with his middle-European accent, causes all the girls to find him extremely attractive. There was something truly scary about the black and white stark unromaticized California setting, and I can still remember the final scene where Dracula gets staked in a particularly nasty way.

Another one that made an impact was The Son of Dracula, starring Lon Chaney Jr. as Count Alucard, which my eight year-old self, with a nudge from Dad, was able to work out as Dracula spelt backwards — how clever!

But I have to admit that as excited and priveleged as I felt to see these grown-up movies with my father, I was also pretty scared, especially during the scenes when the Transylvanian counts would sneak into young girls' bedrooms and bite them on the neck. Dad and I worked out a system to help me deal with the scary scenes. He had seen all of these movies before, so when a scary part would come up, he would tell me to cover my eyes and let me know when it was safe to look again. Of course Dad was more evil than Count Alucard, and would say, "O.K., You can look now," at precisely the scariest moment. What a betrayal. How frightening. How wonderful. I've been hooked on scary movies ever since.

Which brings me back to my daughter and Dark Shadows. When we went to see it at the movies I told her to cover her eyes and lean into me if anything scared her. She did, and when bloody Johnny Depp was getting cleaned up I told her it was safe to look again. I guess I'm a little less naughty than my dad. But I'm still not sure about buying the DVD. I can remember that scary, low-budget, but still classic horror film to this day. Does she really need to relive Depp as Barnabas, on disc, over and over again? Talk about de-fanging. It might be better to check out some original Dark Shadows DVDs from the library and give her a taste of the original Barnabas. Or maybe I can track down The Return of Dracula and see if Francis Lederer is as scary to this generation as he was to me then.

Related: dark (eye) shadows
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