Friday, September 28, 2012

Spawning the next generation of horror fans

I have a friend with an eight-year-old son who's been into ghoulies and goblins over half his young life.

You name it, he loves it. Ghosts. Skeletons. Witches. Jack-o-lanterns. Eyeballs. Fake blood. Even severed body parts don't faze him, though they would have to be the kind that looked pretty fake.

I'm sure that at least some of this has to do with having watched The Nightmare Before Christmas at a young age, and then seeing Jack Skellington and friends at Disneyland. But the joke was that he would start preparing for Halloween sometime in May. The best part of the joke was that it wasn't really a joke. He does start preparing in May -- or at least he used to. He'd probably start even earlier, except there has to be some amount of preparation that just qualifies as ridiculous -- even if our definition of what constitutes ridiculous might be different than his.

My friend's son is not alone. It seems that one of the chief ways for a young kid to assert his budding adulthood is to test his limits when it comes to fear. Even if this stuff is not all that scary, and the horror characters are pretty PG version of what they represent in reality, it still says something that young kids prefer things intended to scare them than things intended to be cute or make them laugh.

Naturally, the movies have taken notice.

Hotel Transylvania, opening today, is the middle of three high-profile animated movies released in a span of less than two months that seek to feed the macabre to children. Last month we got ParaNorman. Next month we'll get Frankenweenie.

Each of these movies actually appeals to me in some way, though it's unlikely I'll see any of them in the theater. At least they aren't just another movie featuring animals who team up for crazy adventures.

As discussed previously, the "fear" peddled here is very mild. My guess is that most of the characters in these films are comic relief, and their voices will be goofy if not actually cute.

Of course, this trend is nothing new -- it's just thrusting itself into the forefront of my consciousness because of the timing of these three movies. I'm not even sure there will be another movie aimed at children released during their two-month reign (unless you count Oogieloves. And really, do you?). Which means that if parents wanted to take their kids to the movies between early August and early October, they needed to test their children's tastes for this PG horror -- if their kids weren't already begging them to go, that is.

But like I said, it's nothing new. has a very useful feature on each of its movie pages, which is to list similar movies -- a godsend when writing a post like this. The similar movies for ParaNorman include Coraline, Tim Burton's Corpse Bride (the word corpse in the title of an animated movie?), Igor, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, 9, James and the Giant Peach, Monster House, Beetlejuice, Alice in Wonderland, and of course The Nightmare Before Christmas, among others that don't advance my thesis in any useful way. Oh, and of course Hotel Transylvania and Frankenweenie. For Frankenweenie's page, you can add to those titles Edward Scissorhands (not really a kids movie), Where the Wild Things Are and some other rather inexplicable choices, including Midnight in Paris and When in Rome. (Hey, I never said the algorithm was perfect.) Transylvania's page also offers us Monsters Inc. (that should have come up earlier), Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events and The Addams Family.

So, "scaring" kids has been a big business for years.

In fact, you could argue that a film in which there isn't some kind of intense antagonist is dramatically limp. Think of how far Disney has gone portraying its variety of witches and wicked queens over the years. It would be easy to say that some of those baddies are more intense than they really need to be. But clearly, having something that's genuinely at least a little scary raises the stakes for kids.

Since Hotel Transylvania stars the voice of Adam Sandler, I'm going to say there's a ceiling on how scary it will actually be. However, I'd bet you a hundred bucks there will be at least one character who can remove some or all of his limbs, and possibly even his head.

As long as it doesn't look realistic, I guess.

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