Ever since childhood, I recall having horror movies somehow in my life. Pop cultural icons of the 1980s included HE-MAN and ALF, and Freddy Krueger as well. Entertainment news was saturated with the blood of slasher flicks. There was no escape. Nightmare on Elm Street had multiple parts. As did Jason Vorhees’ seemingly yearly trips to Camp Crystal Lake. The early 2000s saw a bit of a change. The PG-13 crowd came out. After 9/11 and countless wars, the SAW franchise made it big, complimenting the culture of the time. Torture and fear.. hidden enemies that filmed our every need for status and forgiveness. Horror had changed.
As had I.
I may have written about this before. If so, forgive me and indulge me a bit on this.
My wife and I rented * I actually said ‘rent,’ yes, we’re talking the final years of Blockbuster world here* the movie THE HILLS HAVE EYES. The remake version in 2006. That movie may have had two of the most disturbing scenes I have ever seen horror—at least up until that point. One being a mutant rape scene, and the other being a moment when a father was burned alive on a cross in front of his family. The HILLS HAVE EYES remake is counted as one of the best re-dos in cinema. Not to make. I hated it. My wife hated it. And it was very well these two scenes that made us dislike the movie as much as we do.
Fast forward a few more years and .. birth.. new life. Our world turned towards the less than macabre, Sesame Street and silly songs. I loved every minute of it.
As my son got older a bit, his tastes changed as well. He is curious about GOOSEBUMPS but doesn’t want to watch it. He has quickly become a master at PLANTS VS ZOMBIES and enjoys watching the zombies eat brains and vegetables.
At the tender age of 4 and three quarters—proving how perceptive children can be—Ayden asked me a week ago: Why do you like Freddy Krueger so much? It think this query resulted from a conflagration of all of the Halloweenish atmosphere in stores and school, along with his noticing of my Freddy memorabilia I have in a big bag.
It was hard for me to explain why I had the items.
I had to soul-search a bit to my past and figure out how I even acquired them.
Let me go back.
When I was a kid, age 10-13 or so, my cousins and friends loved watching Halloween. There is a morbid curiosity in life, after all. From then on I enjoyed broadening my horror movie mastery. When I was in high school, especially towards my junior and senior year, I remember countless late night and even all-nighters when friends would gather with pizza and soda and laugh at movies of our choice. We’d have a MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 attitude when we viewed them. We had some very memorable quotes. This all before the time of cell phones. I wish we would have had the chance to record some of these nights. They are forever some of the greatest in my memory.
Horror sort of stuck there with me. Horror can be laughed at, especially 80s slasher flicks. Horror of today is a different story. There are movies that I feel are actually quite scary. The BABADOOK and IT FOLLOWS don’t have much of a potential laugh track, after all. Instead they are quite visceral. They hit deep.
But back to Ayden. How could I explain to a nearly-five you old intuitive and innocent child that I like horror for nostalgic reasons? How could I explain that I really don’t “like” Freddy as a friend but consider him one of the biggest pop cultural icons—and perhaps one of the most emblematic creatures of fear—of my generation? How could I explain to him that horror is not really something to like for the wrong reasons but respect for the right? And how.. how .. could I make it clear that a killer isn’t someone to hold dear? Especially when I had Freddy masks, heads, and foot-tall figures of his image?
Like any parent would, I artfully dodged the question and dismissed it before changing the subject, knowing of course it would rear its head again.
It certainly is not easy to explain to a child why horror matters. And I think it does matter.
I don’t like torture porn saturated flicks. I really never enjoyed much of anything from Rob Zombie. And I certainly dislike remakes. My horror tastes sort of orbit around POLTERGIEST in 1980 and BABADOOK and JEEPERS CREEPERS of the modern era. Movies that hit you on a level that means something, films that take your hidden primal fears and expose them to the elements of modern life. There are scary things in this world. Too often those scary things are based in reality. So telling Ayden that Freddy really is not that scary doesn’t work. His mind has yet to see images of war-torn nations and badly bruised populations due to dictatorships and famine, disease and pestilence. Freddy will suffice for now. Maybe that’s safer.
Horror, when effective, is not the escape that other movies are. Horror is the symbolic nature of fear of our time. And even though I did not like it much, that is why the show 24 and the horror franchise SAW worked so well. We, as people, decided torturing people during war was alright. We figured they hit us, so we’d shed our humanity, and hit them back. International law be damned. And that is what SAW was. No rules. No humanity. No forgiveness. It worked for that reason.
I don’t think my son will be a big fan of horror. And that’s fine. I was not either, at least not until those aforementioned moments with sleepovers and movie nights occurred in my life. And I’m a big baby anyway. I still squint my eyes so I won’t see too much, but just enough that others think I’m still watching. Even with that said, the documentary I’ve written about called THE NIGHTMARE admittedly is one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen, mostly because I had two incidents in my life of sleep paralysis, with one time occurring during my childhood. It was that incident when I believe, wholeheartedly, I saw a hat-man staring at my through my second floor window.
My son will learn and develop, discover and evolve.
He will ask questions.
This one about Freddy was easy.
They will get tougher from here.
The ones I dread more than any inquiry about a fictional demon are those about real demons, real nightmares, and real world horror that children too often encounter on a regular basis on this pale blue dot, somewhere on the fringes of the Milky Way Galaxy.