Childhood Horrors

Sometime ago in the mists of the last century, there were only three TV networks. On holidays, you usually had the choice of a football game, a different football game, or the longest movies the network could find – usually Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Sound of Music.  Chitty, an overly technicolor musical, scared the daylights out of me. As soon as that Childcatcher came prowling, I was behind the sofa holding my breath. Today’s kids would just send his photo to Instagram and beat him up.

Children see things differently. Some are easily spooked, some are skeptical from birth. Kids misunderstand and misinterpret things, and that alone can create unfounded horror.

Obviously, most children’s films try to avoid horror, but what’s marketed to kids is not always Barney and Big Bird – few Grimm’s Fairy Tales end happily ever after. Poltergeist –  ghosts, demons, peeling faces, and evil clowns in child-swallowing glowing closets – was only rated PG. PG, because PG-13 hadn’t been invented yet.

Young Sherlock Holmes (the food nightmare) scarred one of my children; to this day she won’t eat cream puffs. Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! and its disembodied heads was another. Another didn’t trust Nazgûl (nor should you), and was terrified by Matilda. The 1971 Alastair Sim animated A Christmas Carol, with its writhing starving waifs and the faceless, voiceless Ghost of Christmas Future taints every incarnation I’ve seen since.

If your child likes spooky things and wants to be a part of the Addams family, here’s a list of kid’s films – honest! – that just might give your kid the shivers. If you have a child with a more sensitive nature, you might want to wait a few years on these:

Toy Story – Oh, doll-headed spider and hook-bodied Barbie, how we hate you! You may be Pixar, but you’re scary!

Coraline – Creepy button-eyed fake parents trying to steal a child?  Hmm….

Labyrinth – Sure, we adore Bowie, but these are Muppets who steal babies, chase girls with drill bits with intent to kill, and drop people into pits lined with talking disembodied hands. ‘Nuff said.

Something Wicked This Way Comes – Disney likes to whistle and pretend this isn’t theirs, but Ray Bradbury didn’t edit the scariness out of his novel of two boys and an evil carnival run by Mr. Dark, complete with electrocutions and freakshow.

Who Framed Roger RabbitBut this is a comedy! you cry – and it is, until crying Toons get faced with The Dip. Be prepared for a talk on death.

Return to Oz – if the flying monkeys didn’t scare you, perhaps Dorothy’s electroshock treatments will.

Jumanji – sure, it’s a game, but a deadly one. Floors that swallow people are just some of the issues; the intensity and situations may be too much entirely for young viewers.

Harry Potter series – yes, the first one is a charming tale of an orphan boy who learns he’s a wizard, but the stories get darker, and major beloved characters start dying. By the third film, Voldemort is embodied evil and believably out to get Muggles. Like your child.

The Dark CrystalFraggle Rock it’s not. It’s a dark Muppet film with lots of dark themes. Preteens maybe, but there’s no Elmo to lighten it for the little kids.

Gremlins – another movie made before PG-13, so it was stuck with PG. Gremlins are cute little things until you feed them, and then they become psychopathic demons out to harm and kill.  If preteen horror films was a separate genre, this would be one of their cornerstones, along with perhaps The Witches, Watcher in the Woods, and Jaws (which is also only PG).

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory – let’s face it, Roald Dahl is almost never nice to children. Here alone, he sucks them up pipes, dumps them down garbage chutes, and has them cornered by very scary men in dark alleys asking them to sell their souls for money. But the crowning touch cited by many critics is the boat ride  scene, all psychedelic and threatening – but that’s the way it is in the book, too – a disorienting journey where everyone believes Wonka’s looney.

Every parent knows their child best. Some kids like a scary movie, some kids will wind up sleeping in your bed for a week with all the lights on. If your kid shows interest in scary movies, these might be a gentler introduction over, say, The Exorcist. Just be aware that even a seemingly wholesome, kid-marketed movie can have some really scary moments when you least expect it.

Unsung Heroes: The Soundtracks of Your World

Think of your favorite movie or television program. Now think about watching it with the sound turned off. It’s just not the same, is it?

amiv9s537f2i3cn7y4noEvery film, starting with the advent of the movie theater, has some sort of background music that adds to the drama of the moment. You know many of these tunes without even thinking, like Chopin’s Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor. Say what? You might know it better as the iconic Funeral March, parodied in umpteen cartoons and shows. Even if you’ve never seen the films, you can probably recognize the theme from Rocky, or Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, or Purple Rain. Remember the hits Ghost Busters, Saturday Night Fever, or 9 to 5? Those all began as movie songs. Think of na-na’ing with Batman or to Jaws, Hawaii Five-O, or Bad Boys, the theme from the white-T-shirt-promoting TV show Cops. Soundtrack songs stick in your head, sometimes without you wanting them there.

Sometimes a soundtrack can introduce you to music you wouldn’t normally listen to11avneu. My chances of cranking Mozart in my car are close to zero, but I’ll watch the film Amadeus over and over, reveling in “Salieri’s” moving descriptions of Mozart’s music, and I’ll feel every note of its beauty. I’m not too much into old-timey twangy folk, but the soundtrack to the 30’s-era epic Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? adds an earthy realism to the film. Stand By Me is chock full of pop hits from the early ’60’s. Ditto for Forrest Gump, whose soundtrack is pretty much a history of modern American music. Sometimes the music seems to have nothing to do with the movie but we love it anyway, such as Simon and Garfunkel’s top hits from The Graduate. The folky acapella track of Katniss singing “Hanging Tree” in Mockingjay hit number one on the charts in England. Philadelphia has a nice variety of music, from Oscar-winning pop hits to opera. The old British comedy series Young Ones used to spotlight different songs, and got me hooked on the group Madness.

10-jack-sparrow-pirates-of-the-carribean.w529.h529There are times, however, that the orchestral music in the background of a film or TV series is so beautiful it can distract you from the film itself. The soundtrack to Thor did that to me; the movie was engaging, but the music drew your ear away. Pirates of the Caribbean is another – what is Jack Sparrow without his sneaky tiptoe music? Like Star Wars, the music themes give away what’s coming next. The soundtrack to The Lord of the Rings is majestic, speckled with sung tracks by Bjork, Annie Lennox, and the vastly underrated voice of Billy Boyd – Pippin himself. If you want to find a good one fast, John Williams is probably the undisputed King of Soundtrack music, but also look for Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman, Howard Shore, and the late James Horner. Every one of them makes soundtrack music look effortless. You may not like “classical” music, but these orchestral arrangements – “modern classical” – can put a different voice to the genre.

Soundtrack music can make or break a film or TV show. I’ve never seen 1981’s ChariotsScooby-gang-1969 of Fire, but that darned theme is still stuck in my head. Whether or not you liked the shows, the title themes from The Brady Bunch, Gilligan’s Island, The Addams Family, and The Mickey Mouse Club remain cultural icons, still widely recognized decades later. It was a song in the middle of the movie version of M*A*S*H* that later became the opening theme for the television series. Forty years later we still know the theme song to Scooby Doo, a show that originally ended in 1976, or The Flintstones (ended in 1966), but no one remembers the theme from Holmes and Yoyo, Dharma and Greg, Eureka, or even Monk. Half of Malcolm in the Middle’s charm was the catchy theme by There Might Be Giants.

Having a “soundtrack” album isn’t just for Hollywood musicals – those are a class by themselves – but for every film or TV series, and most of them, good or bad, have released one, though some may be hard to find (took me years to find the soundtrack to Ladyhawke, a poorly filmed but underrated movie). Check out the film, then check out the soundtrack. You may be delightfully surprised.

What movie or TV music rocks your world?

Susan’s Top 15 Summer Films

Sure, there’s dozens of great huge summer blockbusters to watch, but chances are you’ve already seen quite a few of them. Here’s a list of great films that take place IN the summer.  Some are great to watch with your kids and some are definitely for the older crowd. Which is your favorite?

1.   What About Bob?  (PG) A man follows his psychiatrist on vacation and drives him crazy.  And you thought your job was rough!

2. The Sandlot  (PG)  Kids.  Baseball.  James Earl Jones.  ‘Nuff said.

The Sandlot              Jaws           Caddyshack poster.jpg

  3.  Jaws  (PG, but I’d think twice about under 10) The original summer blockbuster, the one that started it all.  Thirty years later, those special effects still hold up.  You’re going to need a bigger TV.

4.    Caddyshack  (R)  Yeah, it’s got the predictable plot, the bad language, the potty humor, and I hate the stupid puppet – but you’ll still laugh yourself silly.

5.     Field of Dreams (PG) – The greatest baseball tribute movie. It’s not too late to cut a diamond in your lawn for playoffs. If you build it, they will come.

     Field_of_Dreams_poster          vacation            stand by me

6.    National Lampoon’s Vacation (R for language) – the mother of all summer vacation movies, who can’t relate to long trips with grumpy kids, relatives you can’t stomach, and things going bad every inch of the way?  Don’t you wish reality ended as well it does here?

7.     Stand By Me (R for language) – a fantastic coming-of-age movie for the 11 & up crowd – and it was written by Stephen King.

8.     Deliverance (a very adult R) – classic dark 70’s story of friends taking an ill-fated rafting trip that will make you fear the sound of banjos. 

Deliverance_DVD       west side       porky

9.  The Parent Trap  (G) – A Disney Classic of two separated twins who find each other at summer camp and decide to get their divorced parents back together. Watch the Haley Mills original; Lindsey Lohan’s not the role model people hoped she would be.

10.West Side Story – (Not rated, but I’d give it a PG if you object to guns and knives) Oh, to be in America, dancing on a New York roof in the heat of summer!  A classic story and a film that can never be reproduced, with a soundtrack that’s among the best musical scores ever. Make your kids watch it now, so when they have to watch it in highschool, they’ll be ahead of the game.

11. Porky’s  (R)  The American Pie of its day, full of juvenile sexual banter and potty mouth as a group of Florida teens tries their best to sneak into a strip bar. You will laugh until you cry.

12.Addams Family Values (PG-13)  Wednesday and Pugsley go to summer camp, with the inevitable twisted chaos that follows the ooky Addams family.

adams            super 8            sunshine

13. Super 8 (PG-13)  A group of kids plan to spend their summer filming a movie, and get far, far more than they bargain for when they stumble upon a government secret.

14. Friday the 13th  (R) The original slasher movie that sent everyone scuttling away from lakes and summer camps. It doesn’t matter where you watch it; Jason will find you.

15. Little Miss Sunshine  (R)  A quirky little film about a quirky family trying to hang together as they pin their hopes on their daughter winning the Little Miss Sunshine pageant – without any clue what it’s about.