After a couple of okay episodes offering not a lot in the way of chills, we enter darker territory. For reasons no-one cares about, a lot of broken adults claim to be scared of clowns. In a world where spiders, crocodiles, giant freak show jellyfish, murderers – basically- in a world where Australia exists, clowns are of little consequence.
Regardless, clowns have always been a staple of horror fiction, from Falstaff to Pennywise, so it seems reasonable to feature murderous undead clowns in a children’s television show. Lets see what Lovefilm has to say about the episode:
‘Two 12-year old boys, Josh and Weegee, and Kathy, 10, come upon a spook house, “Laughing in the Dark”, at an amusement park. Even though it is rumored to be haunted by Zeebo the clown, Josh declares he will go through the spook house and bring out Zeebo’s nose as proof that he completed the mission. Josh soon discovers for himself the truth about the mysterious Zeebo’
The first point to note for the more nerdy types in my audience is how the episode starts –
Rather than opening with our campfire losers as usual, we start with the story first, panning around an Amusement Park and zooming into the maniacal face of a raving loon.
At this point we cut to the campfire where we learn that Kristen is freaked out by clowns which leads to considerable ribbing from the group. Kristen seems to be getting a lot of attention in these early episodes, maybe she will turn out to be a zombie FBI agent sent to infiltrate and eviscerate the gang for the safety of the nation.
After this brief interlude, we return to the story. Josh, Kathy, and Weegie (America) are exploring an Amusement Park and stumble upon a Funhouse which is supposedly haunted by a dead, cigar smoking criminal clown. Weegie and Kathy are too scared to enter so Josh dutifully mocks them until the sinister owner pops out to spook shit up further. And lo and behold, it’s our old friend Arun Tager from the pilot episode. He’s playing another weirdo, but this time he is more convincing and subtle – a Carney who’d sooner steal your kidneys than your money.
At this point I must ask my American readers – do you all have bizarre themed bedrooms, and no parents? Weegie appears to sleep in an ice-hockey rink, and after 3 episodes we’ve only seen 1 parent (Aunt Dottie) who was completely oblivious to the devious antics of her spawn. Anyway, after we are treated to the ice-rink bedroom, we are sweetened by a scene more cringeworthy than walking in on your decrepid geography teacher fiddling with himself in the supply cupboard. Josh chases Kathy out of her house in his mocking way in a scene that belongs in Hades rather than in anything human eyes should ever have to witness.
Luckily, everything else in the episode is of better quality. There is a fair amount of tension and atmosphere once Josh enters the funhouse, and this develops well for the duration of the episode as Zeebo stalks the teenager. The section where Josh is at home at night (parents absent) is particularly strong and may scare younger viewers.
One thing to mention is the different take on the arrogant teen trope; in the pilot, the arrogant teen does nothing but moan and punch empty air, while in the second, the arrogant teen is a ringleading tossbag
In both episodes, it is the younger, nicer character who saves the day, but here Josh has to resolve the situation himself, using his owns smarts and bravery.
I’ve always loved Amusement Parks and have always envied people in the US for having such a readily available supply. Where I’m from we don’t have many, if any, but we do have other ways of amusing ourselves –
Any Amusement Parks I visited in my youth consisted of insect infested candy floss (cotton candy), vomit swamped puddles, an as yet unaccounted for stench, tramps, and one of those virtual reality rocket ship rides which goes up, AND DOWN!
Any ghost train I’ve ever been on was a trip through darkness while hobos spat in my ear and cut-out cardboard skeletons tragically flopped forwards out of their cardboard box tombs. One particular ghost train consisted entirely of a man in plain clothes who wiggled the four rubber Witch fingers he was wearing at me – that was apparently enough to justify the £4 entrance fee. I never got near anything resembling a funhouse until I visited one in Scarborough in my early teens and loved every high budget second of it.
Maybe I am lenient on shows which feature funny mirrors, mazes, and other spooky family fun. We see a variety of these sorts of devices during the episode, including the final room of many doors, one of which is the exit, the others hiding toxic horrors
The scenes based in this room could have had a few jump scares, but instead they focus on lingering tension.
I have to say that I don’t remember ever seeing this episode, and I should add that it is the best out of the three I’ve reviewed so far. The series is getting better and hopefully this trend will continue. As always, I will conclude with a few comments on the cast. As already mentioned, Tager returns and does a good job in a couple of short scenes. He isn’t over the top, and is balanced enough that we are 50/50 on whether he’s involved with the evil clown, or just playing the part of a creepy carny. Christian Tessier, who plays Josh, has the most impressive resume of any guest star we’ve seen so far. Admittedly that isn’t saying a lot, but Tessier has been a consistent performer since his debut. Indeed, since 1988 there are only 2 years that don’t feature a credit to his name – 1997 and 2009. He has been an important fixture in many series – You Can’t Do That On Television, The Tomorrow People, and Battlestar Galactica to name a few. He can also claim some pretty big films to his fame – The A Team, The Day After Tomorrow, and Underworld: Awakening. Weegie, played by Daniel Finestone, only has 1 other credit to his name, appearing in a few episodes of the animated series For Better Or Worse, while Tamar Koslov (Kathy) has made a career out of voice work for the animated series Arthur, as well as popping up in a few small movies.
Next time round the campfire we’ll be facing a trio of spooky delights with Halloween, Witches, and wish-granting amputated limbs. Night night.
After a shaky first episode, I was apprehensive about the next one; if this was dodgy too I’d probably give up on the series
For this to succeed, the acting needed to be greatly improved and there had to be an interesting story. This one again focussed on ghosts, but featured two female leads. Lets see what lovefilm has to say about the episode:
Everybody is psyched about summer vacation except Amanda Cameron, because she has to spend the entire summer with her obnoxious cousin, Beth. Amanda is willing to do anything to join Beth and her group of friends, including the initiation: Amanda must sleep all night in the haunted house across the street. Even though Amanda does not believe in ghosts, what she finds in the house changes the past and the future. She might be able to change her fate for the summer after all…
From reading that, I had vague recollections of a girly, ghostly attic, but I must have been thinking of another episode. After watching this, none of it sparked any memories so it’s possible I’d never seen it. The story was fine; girl goes to stay with her annoying cousin who wants nothing to do with her, cousin tasks girl with staying in a haunted house, cousin gets comeuppance. I was half prepared for a silly conciliatory ending where both girls learn to respect and love each other, but luckily things don’t go that way. The episode goes for the more honest approach of ‘once a twat, always a twat’
The episode does have a few missed opportunities though which would have made it more memorable, and perhaps powerful. Firstly, why didn’t cousin Beth and her cadre pull any stunts on Amanda when she was in the haunted house? Did Beth know it actually was haunted? Did she think Amanda suffered from some deep-seated psychological trauma and that a night in a new house would cause an immense shitstorm freakoutorama? No, they leave Amanda to her own devices, and she would have spent an easy, uneventful night in peace had it not been for the pesky appearance of a meddling ghost.
Secondly, the episode does a good job of building tension but the pay-off isn’t worthy. Amanda finally comes into contact with a spooky little girl ghost, she screams, cowers in the corner, and covers her eyes knowing that she’s seen something unspeakably awful.
When she looks, the girl is so tragic that Amanda takes pity on her and tries to help. They could have still followed the story in this way, but went for a big scare too; Amanda pulls away her hands and for a second we see that the room is empty. With the camera close on her face she begins to get up, but suddenly the ghost girl’s head pops into view from the side and we all scream. It may not have fit with the ghost’s desires, and it may have been an obvious, telegraphed scare, but it would have worked damn it.
The general tone of the episode is much improved over the Hilton-esque (bland, messed-up, sweaty in all the wrong places) ways of the pilot. I’m glad to say the cast is much better too. Laura Bertram, who plays Amanda, is a fine young lead, and just about balances the sensitivity and strength required without becoming too whiney or stupidly empowered. Laura Levin (Beth), on the other hand, is like Buzz Crocker all over again. Told that she has to be the grumpy, spoilt, bad-tempered, bossy cousin, she snarls inanely, pouts in an over-the-top fashion, and generally shows no tact or restraint. It’s not quite the unholy mess of the previous episode, but it’s not far away.
Jennie Levesque, who plays The Lonely Ghost, has little to do but is creepy when she needs to be, sympathetic when called to be, and overjoyed when reunited with her mother. The mother, or nanny, played by Sheena Larkin, gives the strongest performance, standing out as someone I’d like to see more of. Again it’s a small role with only a few lines, but she makes every second count. I’m used to well acted bit parts in similar shows such as the wonderful Eerie, Indiana and Larkin has given me hope that this series will deliver.
The final point to make on this episode concerns the wraparound. Yes, a couple of Midnight Society members get a little character growth of their own. It begins and ends with a tender, young teen romance moment with Dave offering Kristen a gift (not of the mouth variety). We have to wait until the end of the story to see her open it. Could there be love brewing in our little group of losers? I’m interested to see if this progresses and what else is in store for the rest of our group.
Before I douse the flames of today’s blog with the water of closing my Kindle, let’s have a glance at the careers of the guest stars. Laura Bertram played Amanda and is the only recognizable name on the roster, having already starred in such popular series as Ready Or Not and Andromeda. On the other end of the scale is Laura Levin as Beth. Levin is to acting what poverty is to a Wall Street Banker, so it’s hardly surprising that she only has a few more minor credits to her name (including a few episodes of Ready Or Not). Pauline Little as Aunt Dottie has had a long career in minor TV movies and series and has lent her voice to some classic cartoons like Sharky And George and Samurai Pizza Cats while Jennie Levesque as The Ghost has only shown up in a few roles in minor series and small movies. Sheena Larkin, as Nanny (who I’ve just found out hails from my very own Belfast – I normally hate people from here on the big screen (due to a crippling lack of talent)), has made appearances in the odd blockbuster such as The Sum Of All Fears and Affliction. Her mainstay though is in smaller movies, although she does pop up in the Are You Afraid Of The Dark movie.
Overall, this was a large improvement over the pilot and I have hope that this improvement will continue as the series progresses. Our next episode deals with one of those misunderstood painted freaks, The Clown. Sleep tight.
The first episode in any tv series should introduce viewers to the central characters, tone, and ideas of the show. This way, prospective audiences can decide if it’s something they wish to continue with, or something they should avoid, like a spider shooting zombie
Ideally, the opening episode should kick so much ass that Jean Claude Van Damme would have a hard time dancing his way out of tuning in to the next one.
This being an anthology show of sorts, the usual rules may not apply – like The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits etc before it, each episode features a standalone story with standalone characters. However, taking a cue from many anthology movies, each episode and indeed the show as a whole features wraparound characters and plot.
The first episode introduces us to our narrators and the premise of the series. A gang of friends, teens called the midnight society meet around a campfire in the woods to tell spooky stories. It’s not much of an idea, but it is the sort of thing I loved as a kid, and the sort of thing I wished I could have been part of.
We briefly meet the group, but don’t learn much about them except that they probably have a lot of experience with bullies
We learn that they have some archaic rituals, sprinkling sugar on fire, opening each tale with the same evocation, and most importantly, voting on the quality of any newcomer’s story in order to initiate them into the group. Our newcomer, Frank, at first glance appears to be a mole on behalf of the school bully initiative, possibly joining to gain some valuable ammunition in his war against the freaks and geeks
He is all hilarious teen macho posturing and has based his look off Rufio from Hook, but after some general male ball cuppage, his story begins.
Lets have a look at the episode blurb from lovefilm:
Two brothers, Buzz and Denny, get lost while hiking in the woods. As night falls, they are directed by a stranger to a cabin where they might seek help from old Dr. Vink. The strange Dr. Vink poses a riddle to them which they mus solve before he will let them phone their parents. The boys cannot solve it and he throws them out into the forest. The boys panic as they are left in the woods alone under Dr. Vink’s curse. Their only hope is the Phantom Cab.
Ignoring the myriad spoilers above, just from the title I remembered parts of this episode from my youth. Although the show came out in 92, it was probably 95 or 96 that I first saw it. Either way, it’s quite some time so it must have made some impact on me. Not that my 12-year-old self would have been scared by a show like this given that I was already well versed in King, Craven, Carpenter, and Romero by that age
I remembered a creepy fairy tale house in the forest, but not what was in it, and I remembered a taxi zooming through the forest towards a fiery crash unless a question was successfully answered. As I watched, more pieces came back to me, such as the jittery bushes and Dr. Vink (who would show up in subsequent episodes).
Unfortunately, what I didn’t remember (and if I’m honest, didn’t expect) was how terrifyingly bad the acting was. The story consists of five characters; the two brothers, Denny and Buzz Crocker (America), Dr. Vink, the cab driver Flynn, and a Park Ranger. The Park Ranger only has one line and can be dismissed, while that noted thespian Aron Tager hams it up more than a Vincent Price themed pig orgy. The cab driver (Brian Dooley) has a complex dual role to contend with so it is understandable that a lesser actor could get confused. He struggles to deftly manage the positions of potential saviour, weird wood walker, aggressor, lunatic ghost, cab driver, and more, never really convincing anyone that he is any of the aforementioned things. Like I said though, it takes a higher class of performer to traverse such varied characters
That leaves us with our ‘heroes’, a term which I truly wish to never sully again in such a manner.
They have a typical older/younger brother dynamic going on, with all the clichés and none of the charms which come with such territory. I appreciate that both actors are young, but given that the series depends on upon child actors for its existence, you’d think the director would have tempted them with some candy or threatened them with death by shark to entice a better performance out of them. Their lines are blown away like a coke fiend furiously swiping his stash into the toilet as the Narc squad tears down the door. I’d call them wooden, but that wood be doing disservice to the best actor in the episode
They don’t convey any of the feelings that you would expect – annoyance, frustration, confusion, disgust, fear of an imminent explosive death – and to top it off they nonchalantly shrug off the whole affair by quipping with the person who saves them with the same thing that nearly got them killed in the first place. It’s enough to make you want to pull your own legs off
Luckily, The Midnight Society feature a more promising set of actors. Although their respective parts are small in each episode, each part adds up. I seem to remember that a few characters got more involved as the series proceeded, so hopefully this bunch of kids, as well as the cast of each story improves.
Finally, let’s do the cast some credit and cast a glance over their careers to date, as some of the guest stars on this show have become more famous since appearing. Most of the team on this episode have appeared on other Canadian and US TV shows and have done various pieces of voice work. Ted Dillon, who played The Ranger, has appeared in decent series such as The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and The Littlest Hobo, and has done voice work for the Rainbow 6 series. His shining honour in my book is landing the hallowed role of Commandant Lassard in the ill-fated animated Police Academy series. I’m sure he provided many, many laughs.
Jason Tremblay, who played the convincingly tough Buzz, shockingly has only 6 credits to his name. This raw talent’s career peaked with the respectable movie The Kid, but shock of shocks – IMDB says he will be back for another AYAOTD episode. Little brother Sean Ryan has actually appeared in some good movies such as To Die For and In The Mouth Of Madness, while Brian Dooley (Flynn) has been in a large number of TV movies as actor, writer, and director. Aron Tager (Vink) waited until his 60s before embarking on his televisual conquest. Since his first taste, he has been a mainstay of lesser known TV series and movies, and occasionally pops up in more famous fare like Serendipity and X-Men.
Next time, we’ll be entering a haunted house in ‘The Tale Of The Lonely Ghost’, so until then….
Simon Holt’s Devouring (Sorry Night 1) begins with that good old horror standard- the story within a story. The story within is actually quite horrifying and the central story once it gets going is fairly disturbing with lots of nice gruesome moments for younger horror fans. Again parents beware- there is minimal swearing, but there are plenty of moments which might be too much for younger or more sensitive readers. I believe children should be exposed to horror fiction (whether in book or TV form) at a relatively young age, and this book explores both the pros and cons of that way of thinking. On one hand exposing them may prepare children for real life horrors, helping them to cope better, though on the other hand it may help to bring out a darker side and can have dangerous effects. It may be simpler to say that horror simply makes for a damn good read or viewing.
The Devouring focuses on Regina, an adolescent girl and avid horror fan (her references to movies and texts may get kids into the classics of the genre), her eight year old brother Henry, and her friend Aaron- nerd and love of serial killer histories. Other characters come and go, but the central trio are interesting and loveable enough to help the pages turn. Reggie and Henry live with their father after their mum left without saying goodbye, and Reggie acts as surrogate. On a night before Christmas Reggie reads a strange horror journal she recently found in the bookstore she works in to Henry, and of course it terrifies him. The book tells of creatures called Vours who (Body Snatchers style) take over your body and send your sould off to a hell made up of your own fears. They only come one night a year, and only attack those most scared. Of course, it’s only a story, and of course Sorry Night comes and bring the Vours to Henry (Evil Dead style) after reading the book. A race to save Henry begins, but there may be a larger threat on the horizon.
The Devouring is a quick read which should leave readers thirsty for more. There are plenty of the usual horror cliches but hopefully most readers will not have encountered them before and there are plenty of other surprises and shocks to keep us enthralled. The plot and characters are interesting, the bad guys seem genuinely evil and threatening, and the scary parts come thick and fast. Part 2 will definately be one to look forward to and Simon Holt may well be writing scarier stories than the more established Darren Shan- judge for yourself.
Halloween isn’t just for murderers, psychos, and drunk frat boys, you know- I believe that children deserve to have some spooky fun too- you don’t want to scar them, no, but kids love to be scared, and I’m sure you love being the strong reassuring parent too.
This list of 31 movies was created so that you can split the fun over the entire month (alternatively you could wait until closer to the day and have a few marathon sessions) and let yourself tremble ever so slightly in the supposed safety of your own home. And kids- just be sure that mum and dad have locked the doors and windows, and that they’ve checked under your bed and in your closet for… anything. After all, better they get chopped to pieces and eaten than you, right? Just remember, Mum and Dad are old, forgetful, and possibly drunk, so maybe you should check the doors yourself. And keep your toys and dolls close, because if and when the time comes they may be your only friends and your greatest protection against the dread armies of the night which are gunning for you and only you. Maybe sneak that baseball bat, hockey stick, or golf club into bed too- I’m not saying you’ll need it, but I’d rather be swinging that than a pillow.
Don’t worry, movies can’t hurt you- if anything they will prepare you for any real horrors you may be unlucky enough to encounter. So watch them closely, and listen as if your life depended on it. You never know when your fears will come in handy. Maybe tonight…
These don’t have to be watched in any particular order, but some would suit the big day (or night) better than others. Enjoy.
Abbot And Costello Meet Frankenstein: The first of several meetings with Universal’s monsters, I’ve included this because vampires exist more prominently on this list (plus all manner of creatures pop up here anyway). With a host of stars and a surprisingly smart script, this is obviously played for laughs but should act as a good introduction to the world of classic monster features. There are a few moments which younger kids should find entertainingly scary, and it’s short and fast enough to stop them from becoming restltess. Classic Halloween Scene: When Dracula rises in the House of Horrors.
Arachnophobia: Everyone’s afraid of spiders, right? If not, then you’re an idiot (spiders cause at least 14 million human deaths each year- need source…) and should watch this film to remind yourself of how deadly they can be. We follow the adventures of a deadly spider from Venuzuela to a small American town where it mates with a local and have thousands of evil babies. Amongst this we have a new family arriving in the town in classic The Birds style. Jeff Daniels plays the new doctor and he has to deal with some prejudice from the locals, but he soon finds himself investigating a string of mysterious deaths. This has just enough scares to unsettle the kids but enough laughs to keep the mood light- a good introduction to horror. Classic Halloween Scene: When the Doctor sees a dark shape on his bedroom wall.
Beetlejuice: More of an offbeat comedy this, but with enough surreal and disturbing moments to warrant its selection. Tim Burton’s film is a triumph of plot, ideas, visuals, acting, and comedy. An excellent all-star cast give some of the best performances of their career, while the ideas surrounding the afterlife are fresh and innovative. Kids will get kicks from both the gruesome jokes and some of the darker scenes. Classic Halloween Scene: Beetlejuice becomes a snake.
The Changling: This one seems to have been a rite of passage for some kids, but it is one which passed me by when I was young. I only saw it for the first time after my teens had disappeared behind me, and maybe some of the scares were lost on me. Watching from the perpective of a child though, the big house, the dark rooms and sounds, and that wheelchair on the stairs could be terrifying and make the youngster a bit more apprehensive about spending a few hours alone at night in their own home. Classic Halloween Scene: When we climb into the attic.
Casper: A lighter one for the younger kids, this at least deals with the ideas of ghosts, the afterlife, good vs evil, haunted houses, and is filled with good performances and action for the whole family to enjoy. Classic Halloween Scene: When Casper’s family show up for the first time.
Corpse Bride: Another lighter one, and another eye-fest from Burton. This has all the hallmarks of a Disney classic- the enchanting and enchanted characters, the weird and wonderful worlds, the struggle between an innocent goodie, and an ogre like baddie, though most of those conventions are turned on their heads. Burton gives it a grim Victorian feel where everything is dark and dank, and even above the shadows there are things which creep and crawl lurking around every corner. Classic Halloween Scene: When Victor first gets taken down to the land of the dead.
Dracula (30s): A classic to chill the bones of all comers, this still has the ability to… worry those who haven’t seen it before. A film that’s almost a hundred years old- how could that possibly be scary? Well, there’s a reason why this is still considered the best version. Classic Halloween Scene: When Harker first meets The Count.
Edward Scissorhands: There isn’t much horror here, but there are some ideas which are more usually found in horror- the crazy scientist, the old castle, the misunderstood outcast, the tyranny of normal people. Most of all though it is a love story but one which even you’re most manly son will enjoy thanks to Depp’s superlative lead. Classic Halloween Scene: When our friendly jock pushes Edward too far.
Frankenstein: This would act as a good partner with Dracula for an old school horror night. If the kids haven’t been scarred enough by The Count, then torment them with visions of lumbering giants who just want to live and be loved, and crazy scientists who just want to scream. Whale’s campy film has plenty of iconic moments and shocks and even though the film is roughly 400 years old, it should still have enough power to make the younglings tremble. Classic Halloween Scene: I wonder if this child can swim- another good example to call upon when telling your children why they shouldn’t talk to strangers.
Fright Night: This vampire flick has plenty of laughs and scares for ages 9-14 and can be enjoyed by all ages, especially those were around in the 80s. This will stir your child’s imagination with thoughts of what that funny new neighbour really gets up to by himself at night, and will have them questioning how they would react if a vampire was stalking his neighbourhood. Classic Halloween Scene: Evil Ed in a red wig, that’s scary, right?
Ghostbusters: Who ya gonna call? Mummy probably after being scared senseless by the opening scene in the library. This has just the right amount of scares for kids, balanced nicely by humour which all ages will appreciate. While the kids dream of hunting down monsters with their proton packs, dads can dream of being Bill Murray. Classic Halloween Scene: Rick Moranis being chased by the devil dog.
The Haunting: One of the best haunted house movies of all time, the atmosphere, the sounds, and the scares should be more than enough to keep your brood enthralled and make them forget they are watching a ‘black and white’. The film follows the standard ‘spend a night in a haunted house’ formula as two men and two women, each with their own reasons for staying, are put to a variety of supernatural tests. Classic Halloween Scene: Waking up to all that banging, booming, noise.
Hocus Pocus: This one is Halloween through and through, depicting all the things you’re kids will likely be getting up to- trick or treating, dressing up, trying not to be abducted by witches. Parker, Najimy, and Midler are eerily convincing as a trio of wicked sisters, whilst the younger actors are more than their match. Watch this with a few episodes of Eerie Indiana and remember that Omri Katz kicked ass before he vanished, possibly into a parallel evil milk man dimension. Classic Halloween Scene: When it looks like our heroes may be boiled in broth.
Jaws: You should be familiar with the film- chances are you saw it quite young, and you turned out mostly ok, didn’t you? The gift of childhood will mean that any bad effects will be overlooked thanks to the fantastic action on screen. Just be aware that your kid may not want to take a bath ever again. Classic Halloween Scene: A young boy shows America just how much blood he has, and how far into the air he can spew it with the help of a little fish.
Lady In White: Frank LaLoggia’s underrated gem is a treasure trove of drama, heart, nostalgia and asks the audience some important questions about race and morality, but more importantly is that it has some terrific tension filled scenes. When a boy is trapped in his school locker room by bullies he inadvertantly witnesses what seems to be the re-enactment of a young girl’s murder, via the spirit world. Moments later a man enters and catches the boy. He loses consiousness. The rest of the film sees the police trying to find a serial killer, while our hero is haunted by the event and by the ghost of an old woman- it seems he must find the killer too. This one also has an effective Halloween setting and an authentic 60s feel. Thanks to some great acting the scenes of horror still hold up today. Add this one to your list if you can find it. Classic Halloween Scene: The Lady In White coming down the stairs.
Poltergeist: Possibly the most famous of all the haunted house movies, Spielberg’s teaming with Hooper is a riotous success. Scares typical of Hooper, laughs and vision typical of Spielberg, we see a family brought to their knees by a house which doesn’t want them. Indian burial grounds, evil trees, loony psychics, clowns, freaky children, parallel worlds- it’s all here. There are some gory moments and the tension is turned up pretty high, so be on hand in case it is all too much for some of the kids. Classic Halloween Scene: Looking in the mirror, sometimes you just want to pull off your face and start over.
Q- The Winged Serpent: What says Halloween more than a giant, flying prehistoric Mayan dinosaur God? Not a lot. Marvel as Michael Moriarty and Shaft race around New York trying to prevent the beast from carrying off any more unwary sunbathers. Unfortunately their plan doesn’t involve resurrecting King Kong and having a ‘Giant Off’ but nevertheless this is a decent romp which the kids will enjoy for the big monster and the few moments of blood and terror. Don’t worry mum and dad, there isn’t much blood on show. Classic Halloween Scene: Any of the camera sweeps over the Manhattan skyline as I wonder what terrors are coming down for us.
Sleepy Hollow: This one is decidedly dark and if it wasn’t for Depp’s fun performance as Ichobod Crane which lightens the mood quite a bit, then I wouldn’t have included this for kids. All the Burton hallmarks are there- miniatures, gloom, pale faced oddities and so on. There are be-headings, but these are not shocking, and the sight of Walken as the headless horseman would be, I imagine, quite nerve-wracking for your bambinos- just what you want. Things don’t go too far though, plus there’s a love story thrown in, and though it looks and feels quite dark, there isn’t anything terrifying or brutal. Classic Halloween Scene: Any time Christopher Walken opens his mouth.
Village Of The Damned: Don’t bother with Carpenter’s version- not even Luke Skywalker and Superman could save that from being a disaster of Glee proportions. The original has all the ominous dread you could wish for, and as the film ends and the children turn slowly, in unison, to look at you with their eyes, you’ll wish you made them watch The Human Centipede instead. Classic Halloween Scene: When the kids decide to show off their power by making a man crash his car, and his brother shoot himself.
The Witches: Roald Dahl’s wonderful story is brought to the big screen with giant helpings of Angelica Huston and Mr Bean. A young boy is staying at a hotel with his family when he accidentally uncovers a massive group of witches who are plotting to turn children into mice. Can he stop them in time? There are some nicely gruesome effects here and thankfully the entire cast are excellent. Dahl’s storys are eternal and have that elusive quality of being enchanting to children and highly entertaining for adults. Classic Halloween Scene: When the witches first uncover themselves.
Monsters Inc: One of the first Pixar mega hits, this should please the wholy family with stunning animation, stellar voice cast, entertaining story, and homages to classic horror moments. I think we all wondered at some point in our younger days about what may be lurking in the closet or under the bed, and this film shows a delightful alternative to what we may have imagined. Classic Halloween Scene: I guess some of the monsters may look quite scary for younger kids.
Gremlins: Growing up in the 80s, this was a staple of both Halloween and Christmas. It has that small town America, nostalgic tone which movies nowadays just don’t have. Maybe things were more innocent back then. Although, when you think that this film depicts cuteness becoming evil when rules are not obeyed, animals being blown apart in microwaves, an old woman being fired out of her home via her roof , and assorted other nasties, it seems amazing nowadays that this was seen as a kids movie back then. If a kids movie now doesn’t feature singing, dancing, every token character imaginable, and at least one ridiculous romance, then it isn’t a kids movie. In my opinion, if there isn’t violence and minor atrocities then it isn’t a kids movie. Classic Halloween Scene: The Christmas tree.
Tremors: As entertaining now as it was then, and with effects which have held up surprisingly well, Tremors is like a cheesy 50s monster movie, but with modern humour and sentiment. It is pretty gross at times, and there is some swearing, but the blood and guts is mostly coming from the monsters while your kids will be too entranced by the plot and action to pick up on the cussin’. Maybe. Set in a desert wreck somewhere in the US, Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward and assorted other inhabitants must battle their way to safety and survival whilst being hunted down by giant subterranian worm monsters. This takes a simple, well worn idea, and packs every moment with wit and invention to make it seem incredibly fresh and fun. There are some scary moments, but mostly this is a fun trip which will live long in the memory. Classic Halloween Scene: The old couple think their car will keep them safe…
The Frighteners: Peter ‘Barefoot’ Jackson makes the leap from New Zealand zombie weirdness to Hollywood ghosty madness, a few years before taking the final step to Mordor. This is a sometimes confused film, but has more hits than misses and should entertain young and old alike with the satire and scares. There aren’t many scares and the film relies on Michael J Fox and some snazzy effects, but that shouldn’t stop everyone from having a good time watching it. Classic Halloween Scene: The opening moments seem to suggest a scarier tone than what actually follows, but there are still some tense parts.
Critters: A more direct horror film than Gremlins, but still one with more moments of laughter than screams, Critters is to Gremlins what Twin Peaks is to Dallas. A group of evil, furry monsters land on earth to breed and eat- humans seem like a tasty target. Luckily for humanity, a couple of bounty hunters are not far behind. Classic Halloween Scene: Don’t these people learn? If your power goes off, you never go off by yourself to the barn/kitchen/basement.
The Watcher In The Woods: Ahh, Lynne Holly Johnson- she could walk through my woods any day. Whatever that means. Disney go for scares here, and perhaps they went a little too far because this sank without a trace upon release. The story follows a family moving to an old mansion owned by a creepy Bette Davis. Soon the daughters begin to notice and encounter some strange and frightening behaviour. This was a difficult shoot as there were disputes over how intense the scenes of horror should be, and indeed the film was pulled from theatres and some new endings were filmed. Check them all out on DVD. Classic Halloween Scene: Standing beside a pond is a terrible place to be hypnotized.
Monster House: The scary version of Monsters Inc. This may be an animated kids film, but be aware that some parts may be too intense for younger viewers. A young boy and his friend investigate their creepy neighbour’s house after the neighbour suffers a heart attack. It seems that the house has some dark secrets. Naturally this has plenty of funny, witty moments, and the animation is perfectly suited to the Halloween nature of the story. Classic Halloween Scene: When we see the house ‘come to life’ for the first time, and chow down on a toy.
IT: I remember the first time I saw this- i must have been 9 or 10, possibly 11. Just the right age to be exposed to this. Naturally you should know if you’re child could handle this or any other horror film. This one will give them nightmares, but if watched with friends then they can fight through their fears together and come out the other side stronger. Again it’s a good one to watch over a number of days. If they wake up screaming that a clown is after them you may feel that they shouldn’t see Part 2. But then they won’t have any closure- there’s nothing worse than never knowing how the nightmare ends. Classic Halloween Scene: Out of many, lets go for the rain-soaked opener with Georgie- once seen, never forgotten.
The Lost Boys: A great one for the younger teens to watch, before they get too self conscious and laugh about the hair and clothes. This was the epitome of cool at the time, and it still has that fleeting 80s air of cool which not even the passing of decades can shrug off. Yeah we can laugh, but Feldman, Patrick ,and Sutherland have never been better. Vampires are at once romanticized and demonized. We see how seductive the life (or death) style is- sleep all day, party all night- but also the cost of losing yourself, your family, your soul. This has plenty of twists, memorable scenes, humour, action, and one liners, and while it isn’t bloody it does have a high level of fear inducing moments. Classic Halloween Scene: When Sutherland and his team head for Michael’s house as soon as sun sets for a final battle.
The Hole: Joe Dante goes back to doing what he does best- family oriented horror adventures and does a good job of recalling his best work. A young family move to a new town, new home, and the teenage son falls for the girl next door- so far, so Dante. Upon finding a seemingly bottomless pit in their basement, the group investigate and a tonne of strange and scary events start happening to them. Dante has always known how to get the best out of a young cast and how to turn an interesting script into something fully entertaining. Most people missed this on the big screen, but there’s no excuse in DVD land. Classic Halloween Scene: The creepy TV eye.
Return To Oz: Vastly superior to the original in every way (don’t hurt me), Return To Oz is pretty horrific, portraying Oz as it should be- an unending nightmare. If your young son or daughter was sucked off to a magic parallel world of witches and wonder, chances are they’d spend the first few hours shrieking in horror and the next few sitting under a tree holding their knees in a foetus position and rocking backwards and forwards. If the tree didn’t eat them, they would eventually get up and explore. The film follows Dorothy who has, for all intents and purposes, gone crazy after her adventures in Oz (naturally) and has been sent to a hospital by her family. It turns out the hospital is more like an asylum, and after some terrifying moments, Dorothy flees, only to wake up once more in Oz- though the Emerald City has been destroyed and her friends have been turned to stone. Dorothy begins her quest to find out what has gone wrong. Featuring men with wheels for limbs, headless witches, hell, man eating rock monsters, and any other number of nightmares, this is either a wonderful movie, or the spawn of Satan. Classic Halloween Scene: Dorothy trying to sneak around the corridor of heads.
Feel free to leave any comments and suggestions- are any of these films clearly not suitable for kids, or have I missed any which you would show at this time of year? Which films spooked you as a kid?
As a fan of the more extreme side of cinema, I ask you to join me, as I explore the history of Cinema's most extreme movies with all the sex, violence and symbolism intact. I'm here to reflect on the extreme movies that have come and gone to see what they mean, see what makes them so extreme, and of course, see if they're any good.