The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Let’s Scare the Shit Out of the Kids!

Written by: Pat King, Special to CC2K

Special Contributor Pat King shares some childhood memories of watching movies that scared the living daylights out of him…and he loved every minute of it. Are we overprotective of children and what they’re consuming when it comes to horror films? Pat thinks so. 

I don’t think it’s a bad thing for kids to have the living shit scared out of them. What I mean to say is that maybe it’s okay for kids to be exposed to movies that scare them down to their freakin’ souls. I know, I know, I don’t have any kids, so what gives me the authority? Well, I think the fact that I was a kid at one time, and not too long ago, either, gives me a little experience in the matter. Still, no, I don’t have kids. So interpret that how you will.

I was a kid in the late 1980’s, a strange enough time for any child, what with the Greed Generation, indoor shopping malls and the last gap of the Cold War and all that good stuff. I remember with a certain weird nostalgia the first horror movie I was allowed to watch. It was on October 31st, 1988. I had just turned eight the previous August. My mom took me to the video store and let me pick out a horror movie for Halloween. I remember being overwhelmed by all the choices. For some reason, I picked A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge. Maybe the cover just looked cool. Maybe all the copies of the first movie were sold out. Who knows. So while my dad took my little brother around trick or treating and my baby brother slept, my mom and I watched the movie. Yes, it was an awesome night. And, no, I wasn’t scared. I thought the whole thing was cool as shit. Okay, maybe I was a touch scared. But not much.

Now, quite naturally, this was far from the the horror movie I’d watch, not by a long shot. Naturally, I watched the rest of the Nightmare movies, and, of course, every Friday the 13th movie that was out at the time. (I think I watched part V or VI first and then went back to parts I and II. I had no idea that Jason wasn’t in the first movie, so the ending came as a genuine surprise.) Then it was on to pretty much any slasher the video store had in stock.

My parents put very few limits on the kinds of stuff I was able to check out. They wouldn’t let me rent Silent Night, Deadly Night because they didn’t want to ruin the purity of Santa Claus, and I guess Christmas itself. Consequently, at nine years old I believed in both Santa Claus and Freddy Krueger. The other movie I wasn’t allowed to rent was I Spit on your Grave. This was actually a very solid decision. I Spit on your Grave is really a nasty piece of business. It features one of the longest continuous rape scenes in film history. Yes, the victim eventually kills her rapists, but she’s not afforded anywhere near as much screen time as the men who brutalize her. It really is a vile piece of shit, and it’s one of the few horror movies I would be vehemently opposed to showing to children.

Anyway, as you can see, my parents were fairly liberal about what I was allowed to watch. Same went for almost all my friends. Except for Tyler, whose mother was super-religious. But we snuck him videotapes. And guess what? We all turned out okay. Though I did once shoot a man while I was in Reno, and I did it just to watch him die, but other than that, I’m a pretty gentle soul. I feed my cats often and give my rats yogurt treats on a regular basis. I sometimes even watch a romantic comedy with my wife.

I mean, nobody really believes anymore that exposing kids to violent media leads to violent adults, at least without considering other factors in that person’s life. Unless you work for a cable news station and need to pump up your ratings or want some cheap publicity after a mass shooting. Not only that, but I think the opposite is true: scary movies might actually be beneficial for children.

Slasher movies were super-popular at when I was growing up, so that’s what I watched. I mean, even to an eight or nine year old kid, there’s nothing really scary about the Friday the 13th movies. Right? Funny, yes. Mildly twisted in parts, sure. But scary? I think not, my friends. I mean, the Nightmare on Elm Street movies were a tad on the spooky side because they took place in people’s dreams, but us kids, we knew the deal. Violence itself, especially cartoon-like violence, just isn’t scary. Death by itself isn’t scary to a kid. But how people die can definitely be scary.

I only saw maybe five seconds or so of the first horror movie that really scared the hell out of me. I was five years old and had wandered into the basement where my parents were watching a movie. I mean, they had told me not to come down, so naturally I was going to ignore them and eventually go down. And what did I see on the TV screen in those brief moments? I’m not sure, exactly, but I have vague memories of someone being pushed into some sort of pit. Anyway, you know how kids’ minds can exaggerate stuff. I’ve often wondered if what I saw was the end of The Amityville Horror where James Brolin’s George Lutz falls into the evil black tar that’s living underneath his basement. Damn Indian burial grounds. When will people learn not to build houses on top of them?

My parents shooed me back upstairs as soon as they noticed me, but by then the damage had been done. For the next couple of years or so, I lived in fear of flushing the toilet. Yeah, that’s right. I would piss or crap as quickly as possible and then flush the toilet and get out of the bathroom real quick. I mean, I would just run out without giving a thought to washing my hands. I wonder if that’s the reason I started holding my poop in for as long as a week at a time, only to have it hurt like hell when I finally set the thing free.

Okay, so maybe that wasn’t the best way to make my point, but I was freakin’ five years old. You shouldn’t be watching stuff like that when you’re five. When’s a good age? Hell, I don’t know…maybe six? Seven? That was a pretty good age for me to start. Results might vary, though. Consult your conscience.

I was twelve years old when I finally saw the first movie that really scared the living shit out of me. Yep, I finally watched The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. If you saw this movie when you were young and it didn’t terrify you, you’re a braver person that I, but I just don’t see how it’s possible to be young and not have this movie affect you in some way.

Naturally, the grainy 16mm footage and the documentary feel contributed to my terror. Slashers from the 80’s were just too slick for anyone to forget that they’re a fantasy. But with Texas Chainsaw, you feel like you’re along for the ride with these unfortunate college kids heading to a cannibalistic doom. Second of all, those fucking pig sounds Leatherface makes. There’s a lot of things you don’t want to hear as you’re being hoisted onto a meathook, and a man squealing like a pig is probably one of the first things on the list. Third, there was the whole “based on a true story” claim. Sure, it was kinda sorta based on the case of serial killer Ed Gein, but only in the sense that both Leatherface, Chainsaw’s main villain, and Gein both liked to make stuff out of human skin. But twelve-year old me was thinking there was an entire of flesh-eating psychopaths, including one who wore a mask made of human skin, living in the Texas backwoods.

Yes, indeed, that movie genuinely scared the living shit out of me. I had trouble sleeping at night. It didn’t help that we lived out in the middle of nowhere in a little town in Upstate New York, across the street from a dairy farm and its rows and rows of cornfields. Nope, not at all. What surprised me most was the genuine, shaken-to-the-core emotions the movie made me feel. Almost everything I watched up to that point had been emotional junkfood. You know, cartoons, cartoon-like horror movies, stupid 80’s action movies. It was all either emotionally deadening or had me in an action movie sugar rush where I bounced around the room in a frenzied bloodlust. Pow, pow, pow, you dig?

I suppose what I’m saying is that I’d like to see kids have a balanced entertainment diet, especially if they find themselves interested in horror movies. A little bit of sugar, a little bit of protein, maybe some mystery meat. I’m not sure I want to see kids seeing death only as something cartoonish or boring. On the other hand, it doesn’t do anyone any good having kids that are too scared to flush the toilet, either. Letting kids get a real scare every now and then allows them to explore their fears, possibly even helping them think about why they were scared in the first place. God knows, when kids move beyond the Sesame Street years, it’s difficult enough to find visual entertainment that gets them thinking, least of all about themselves or their own emotions.

I’m using horror movies here, but naturally this can go for any type of movie genre. In the 80’s we had the Rambo movies and Commando, but we also had had movies like Platoon and Hamburger Hill, movies that showed what war was really like. I guess, it didn’t hurt that I had a Vietnam vet father who was careful to point out that war is a terrible experience and that there are no “good guys” or “bad guys.” Only sadness, death, fear, pain and boredom.

So let’s untighten our britches and let kids watch what they want while staying involved, talking with them, asking them questions. Let’s not worry too much about censoring what they see. They’ll probably find it soon enough, anyway. Looking back, my young friends and I watched a lot of pretty vile stuff growing up, but we all turned out reasonably okay because we had good parents who were involved with our lives and talked to us. They let us explore our interests on our own and gave us love and support. They knew we’d turn out just fine