Monday, October 29, 2012

Movies to scare the kids by

So it's Halloween.  Have I mentioned I love this time of year?  I must admit, with everything pressing down on us, and the prospect of not making it looming before us, it's been tough to get into the 'holiday spirit'.  We've tried.  We tried to keep an upbeat appearance at the sporting events, being thankful when we were available to watch them.  We've tried to do what we've done in the past, eliminating things like the Renaissance Festival where justification for the expenditures simply didn't exist.  But it has been tough.  I fear worst of all, the kids have picked up on the malaise, and detected a certain vacancy in the festivities that once dominated this time of year.

Nonetheless, one thing we still have is electricity - so far at least.  And with electricity comes scary movies!  I know, big leap that.  But anyway, scary movies with the kids are a staple of Halloween.  Influenced by Simcha Fisher's post on scary movies for the kids, I thought I would toss out the ones we've let the kids watch over the years, including the more recent ones we've opened up as they get older.

One note, it's tough balancing things with multiple kids.  Our youngest, of course, is out of the room when it comes to anything scary.  We leave him to the cartoons and half hour specials mentioned in a previous post.

Universal's Dracula: The Dracula against which all Draculas are measured.  Lugosi's signature roll is as old as you get before going silent.  Sound in film was as new as the iPad today, and the lack of musical score just adds to the creepiness.  The sets, particular Carfax Abbey and Castle Dracula, have enough atmosphere to fill Neptune   In addition to Lugosi, you also have Edward Van Sloan defining the way I still think Van Helsing should act, though Peter Cushing's Van Helsing, rushing down the table to slay Dracula with sunlight and a makeshift cross, gives him a run for the money.  Of course Dwight Frye's scene stealing Renfield is almost iconic in its own right.  This usually kicks off the scary movie portion of the holiday, and does so nicely.

Universal's The Wolf Man: Another in the hat tip to atmosphere.  I mean, is it ever not foggy in the world of Larry Talbot?  Contrary to popular belief, many of the legends associated with werewolves are not legends at all, but were inventions by screenwriter Curt Siodmak.  The Pentagram, the silver bullets (or cane as the case may be), even the poem that you are bludgeoned with a hundred times, all came from Siodmak's mind. The idea was simple, Siodmak had fled from Nazi Germany, where he saw good people he had known his whole life transformed into monsters by the frenzy of devotion to Hitler and his gangsters.  Pentagram?  Shall we say, yellow star?

Universal's Frankenstein: Some say the greatest of the Universal monster movies, with the exception of the Bride of Frankenstein (which many consider superior to the original  and one of the best sequels ever), Frankenstein throws most of the book out the window to focus on the basic question: what happens when men play God?  Well, they invent a career for Boris Karloff, that's what.  Once again, the atmosphere, the ancient tower, the culturally androgynous village with European flavoring, and the performances make this a classic.  Frye is there, once again, hogging the scenes along with Van Sloan.  But it's Karloff's sympathetic portrayal of a monster with a flat head and neck bolts that makes the biggest impression.

Universal's The Invisible Man: Don't know why, but this has become a part of the monster repertoire in my house.  The last couple years, they've watched this around late August, as if to start the pistons popping for more.  The primary charm of this tale is in Claude Rains' performance as the sadistic, and eventually evil, scientist who gets more than he bargained for.  Rains is a favorite among my boys, from Robin Hood to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington all the way up to the 'delightfully dapper' Louis Renault in Casablanca.

The Mummy: Whether the 1932 original, or the 1999 remake, you can't have enough mummies.  Nothing based on classic literature here, the whole mummy craze was inspired by the famous, and sometimes strange, occurrences surrounding the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb.  The original is a bit slow, I'll admit.  The 1959 Hammer Film, which my oldest got for his birthday this year, moved along nicely, though it's still not as spectacular  funny, or overall clever, as the 1999 version.

Salem's Lot (original TV series, not the Rob Lowe remake): Close the drapes after this one.  Floating kids scraping on the windows sent a generation of television viewers to pull those curtains closed.  My boys did the same thing when they saw this the first time.  Serious 'made in the 1970s' production values, and only skimming the surface of King's original story.  Lowe's remake is in some ways more faithful, but can't help with the typical modern injection of Political Correctness by bringing up issues of homosexuality, and basically sexing up and already sexed up (for its time) story.  But the original, friendly enough to play on TV when the Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo was given a time slot, is pretty safe.

Poltergeist: After this, my boys were reluctant to let the TV stay on for very long.  We watched it a few years ago, when our youngest was only about eight, and truth be told it was a bit much.  Then again, the kitchen scene with the food and the mirror is a bit much today.  Craig T. Nelson is at his best as the bewildered Dad of a typical early 80s suburban family living the dream, until the power of the netherworld explodes into his living room.  Fun stuff, and just creepy enough to make an impression on a family of suburban dwellers.

Children of the Corn (1984 version): We let them watch this a year or so ago.  We then promptly went out and found a corn maze.  While trying to find our way about the maze, a flock of crows suddenly burst out of a nearby patch of trees.  That did it.  I never saw three kids run through a corn maze so quickly.  This is as much nostalgia for me as anything.  My autumn quarter of my freshman year of college saw a TV on a stand with a VCR player in the commons, playing various movies at various times.  During October, horror movies were the rage, and that is when I saw this.  No Oscars here, it's enough to see Courtney Gains running amuck, getting his comeuppance at the end.

The Ring: This year was the first for the boys.  Maybe I'm just a sissy, but this scared the beans out of me.  My wife and I caught it about two years ago on some cable channel.  We started about a third into it, and I must admit, I hid my eyes a couple times.  Why, I can't tell you.  The whole thing, with its gloomy cinematography,  the endless broodiness, the sense of urgency, and that feeling that something is just never right, did a great job keeping us off kilter.  The ending still ranks as one of the most disturbingly creepy endings I've seen.  My boys spent a well earned night out in the living room - or in bed with us.

Silent Films (Phantom of the Opera, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Nosferatu):  For years, during Tricks or Treats, we play various silent movies.  This allowed for conversation with the family who stayed behind while everyone else went their rounds.  Of course now, the family isn't really around.  I think my oldest boy may stick around and help hand out candy.  My Dad is no longer with us, and my sister has her family to walk around with, such as it is.  Mom may stay now, as she's getting to the point where going out isn't easy.  My younger three will go after the candy (my oldest may go around the block for our youngest  and for old times' sake).  But we'll probably keep these going until they're home, then watch A Great Pumpkin, or some special.

Assorted Bits and Pieces (Bram Stoker's Dracula, The Howling, An American Werewolf in London, etc.): I make it a point not to show my boys things that stand grossly against the basic assumptions of Christian living.  I admit they are there.  I admit I like them when I do.  But I'm not going to be sitting there when they see a movie with some flagrant sex scene, or over the top gruesome blood and gore.  Nonetheless, some of these films that I won't be showing the  boys (even if they eventually watch them someday, somewhere) are good, and have great parts.  Now, with the miracle of DVDs, I can quickly show them some of the better parts from the better movies without seeing the whole thing, if nothing else, to scare them a little more.

Those are the ones.  There will be others, of course.  Our oldest has already seen Alien, and our 8th grader is beginning to work up the nerve.  A year ago, our oldest also watched JAWS.  Neither of these are necessarily 'Halloween' proper, but he was taken by how intense they were, saying he was almost shaking when JAWS was finished.  I told him that's what happens when you rely less on CGI, and more on things like character development, plot, and good old story telling.

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