Collins’ Crypt: Even At 17, You’re Still Too Young For Some Horror Movies

BC will be considering more than the body count when he shows horror movies to his son.

For the past year and change since he was born, people have asked - usually joking but sometimes not - when I will let my son watch this or that horror movie. I've given it some thought; I don't want to get too ahead of myself, but this horror-loving dad finds thinking about such things a fine way to daydream as I rock him to sleep or feed him that mush he calls food. I know he probably WON'T be as young as I was when I saw Texas Chainsaw Massacre (I think I was 7), but if they do Jaws in theaters for its 45th anniversary, he'll be 6 then and I think that'd be a fine time to introduce him to that masterpiece. The classic Universal Horror films like Frankenstein and Dracula are probably also a safe bet for that age, maybe when he's 5 if he wants to (his old man will have them on during October anyway). Slashers...I guess we can see how it goes, but I don't see him watching anything like Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter until he's probably about 9 (a little older than I was when introduced to this particular form of entertainment). It's not so much the violence in those but the lack of response to someone's death - I'd rather whatever body count he sees in his first forays into horror have some kind of weight to it (like the ones in Jaws, each of which propel the plot forward).

But then there are the ones that might be okay for him to see early as far as the violence or terror factor goes, but I will try to keep away from him until he's old enough to APPRECIATE them, and in that realm, that's something I'd have to monitor until he's ready for college, really. I realized this last week, when I finally watched Brian Yuzna's Society again for the first time since I was 16 or 17. At that time, nothing in the movie really fazed me with regards to its violence or nudity - I had seen plenty of both in countless movies for over half my life, but (I realize now) I was still too young to really even get what the movie was saying about class issues. Even with its teenaged hero (only a year older than me), the themes of the film are a bit more sophisticated than I could really grasp with my limited understanding of the world - I knew there were rich people and not-so-rich people, but didn't quite get the joke that the higher ups saw the less fortunate as something to literally feed on. When a "poor" character is introduced in the narrative, he's wearing a plain T-shirt and jeans, while the others are wearing their rich kid slacks and buttoned shirts. At 16 I wouldn't think anything of this, but watching at 35, as soon as the character entered the frame I knew he was supposed to be beneath them, socially - it was cinematic shorthand that I couldn't have followed the last time I saw it.

In fact I distinctly remember thinking that the movie was boring, though I can blame Fangoria a bit for that. In an article that provided pretty much all I knew about the movie beforehand, they discussed the "shunting" that featured Screamin' Mad George's incredibly out-there designs, such as a literal butthead (that is, a guy who has a face where his buttcrack is) and people melting together as they had an orgy. Of course, if you've seen the movie you know that this is actually kind of a spoiler - the "shunt" is something hinted at but never fully explained until we see it, twenty minutes before the end credits roll. But it is a horror movie, and George was a big name at the time (he created the famous "roach motel" kill in Nightmare on Elm Street 4), so they had to cover SOMETHING about it - and that's pretty much all that the movie offers in that department. For its first 70 minutes or so, the horror elements are kept to a bare minimum and often presented as possible hallucinations - maggot-covered fruit, a woman who apparently has her breasts on the same side as her buttocks, etc. Neither of those things would make for particularly interesting photos in a horror mag (well, the latter would, but nudity was forbidden in those pages), so the movie's big secret was kind of spelled out for us Fango readers.

So 16-year-old BC impatiently sat through the psychological thriller-esque first hour and change, not particularly interested in the hero's attempts to find out what his family and the snobs at high school are hiding from him. "GET TO THE WEIRDO ORGY!" was probably my reaction, and if I may digress a bit - this is the complete wrong way to watch the film. The shunt should be something that's just as appalling and shocking as it is to our hero when he finally sees it - knowing what it is ahead of time is a giant disservice, because it should be like nothing you could have possibly expected. You get hints that it's sexual in nature (incest is suggested), but any reference to faces melting together or women with arms where their legs should be are completely left out, and ideally your mind would be blown to discover what it was after spending most of the movie thinking it was, at worst, just some weird upper class orgy.

Of course, my son will grow up 10 miles from Brentwood and Beverly Hills, so it's likely he might have a bit more exposure to upper class assholes than I did growing up in suburban Massachusetts, where I had one friend whose house had a third bathroom and I assumed they were millionaires. Still, watching again now, at 35 and vastly more mature (okay, slightly more mature), I kept thinking about how much I wished I had saved my first viewing for a few years, a bit wiser and a bit more aware of what a "WASP" is. Instead of spending the past 18-19 years thinking that the movie was boring, I could have been spending the past 12 years or so championing it as not only a fairly hilarious satire, but one of those "best to go in blind" movies that I, as a horror fan, positively love and rarely get to experience. When I was doing Horror Movie A Day I saw plenty of movies without any inkling as to what they were about, but unfortunately a lot of them sucked, which is probably why I never heard about them. But it was those rare exceptions that made it all worthwhile, and I'd go to lengths to preserve that surprise when it came time for the review, settling for a more "Just trust me" attitude rather than explaining why I liked it. I had to spoil the particulars for Society due to the nature of this piece, but if I was talking to someone in casual conversation who had never heard of it, I'd tell them that it was a Rosemary's Baby-type thriller about a teenager wondering what his family was up to, and hope that they were intrigued enough by that and that alone to check it out for themselves (a lot easier now that the good folks at Arrow have released a new Blu-ray; it hasn't been available on DVD for years).

And the thing with Society in particular is that, perhaps to a fault, there isn't much to it beyond the reveal. Bill's growing paranoia is fine, but nothing particularly novel - you've seen this same thing done better in other movies (including Rosemary's Baby, which works whether you know about Satan's involvement or not). So when it comes to the question of "When is my kid old enough?", I not only want Will to wait until he's old enough to appreciate the movie's satire, but also that he's old enough to sit still for a slow burn. He might know about how scummy rich people are by the time he's 12, but he'll still probably be too impatient to enjoy what Society offers. Going back to my earlier examples of movies I saw when I was younger, Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a great one to watch at different stages in your life, because it works on a couple of different levels of equal entertainment value. When you're younger you can just enjoy it as you would any masked maniac type movie - it's got the jump scares (Leatherface coming out before 'sawing up Franklin still gets me on occasion) and the relatively fast pace, plus as a bonus to parents - no nudity! I know this is a taboo that can keep the Friday the 13ths and some of the Halloweens at bay, but TCM was made with the hopes of getting a PG rating (not a joke), and thus sex-free.

But when you get older you can appreciate its place in the horror canon - such "slasher" films (I use the term very loosely for this case, but thanks to Leatherface's iconic appearance he gets lumped in with Freddy and Jason) didn't really exist then, so if you're into horror and film history in general you can watch it to enjoy how it set the stage for many more dead teenagers to come. And then when you know more about the time period that it was made - particularly Vietnam and the recession - it can be appreciated all over again. We can assume that the family is getting more desperate for bodies to keep their BBQ business going, which is why they've gotten sloppy enough to leave evidence of their grave-robbing behind. A random plot point, but also subtle commentary on the desperation many (non cannibalistic) families were going through at the time - scrambling to put food on the table and keep their businesses afloat. So even though it's far more violent and intense than Society, I wouldn't be opposed to showing it to Will before his 10th birthday, because the metaphorical stuff isn't necessary to appreciate the movie on its basic levels. Ditto with The Thing - isolation and paranoia are themes he can enjoy when he's older and wiser, but when he's like 8 or 9? Sit back and enjoy a kick-ass monster movie, son!

Religious themed horror is another thing I wonder about. I was raised Catholic (not strictly so, just Catholic school from grades 1-8 and the weekly mass - my mom would even pick the shorter one on Saturday, bless her), so movies like The Exorcist and The Omen resonated with me a bit more than they probably will for Will, who won't be raised anything, really. Sure, Linda Blair spitting pea soup will entertain him no matter how old he is or how he is raised, but will Karras' journey have any meaning to him until he's garnered what "losing my faith" means? Maybe it's because I hold these movies in such high regard, but I'm just as concerned about the possibility of him thinking that The Exorcist (THE EXORCIST!!!) is "boring" as I am the idea that he'll get nightmares about getting possessed. I mean, if he doesn't like it that's fine (he'll get a "not my son!" reaction, of course), but I want his reasons to be valid, not due to him being unable to connect to it because we watched it before he really even knew what a priest *was*, let alone how significant it is to one if they began doubting God's existence. A lot of that movie's power comes through on a subconscious level, with Catholic guilt and things of that nature informing how much you take from it (John Landis had a great quote about seeing it with two Catholic pals: "They had nightmares for weeks, but I'm a Jew so I slept like a baby!"). No, that's a late high school one, I think, after he gets his crash course in God and priests from movies that use it in broader strokes - From Dusk Till Dawn, perhaps?

Oh, and MPAA ratings mean nothing to me. Recently, a friend and I were discussing (over Twitter) when we can show Jaws to our sons, and some random came in to say he was watching From Beyond at 8. I, being the smartass that I am, replied something like "I'm sure 8-year-old you was really taken by the film's take on the consequences of playing god," and he replied that he was mostly just taken with Barbara Crampton in her corset. I can't argue with his logic (at 8 years old I personally was all about that nurse in Dream Warriors), and I wouldn't dare to deny Will the preadolescent allure of seeing whatever the 2022-ish equivalent of Barbara Crampton in a corset is (might be the same thing; the woman doesn't age), but I hope it'd be in a movie that was just as appealing to an 8-year-old in its other areas as well. That guy didn't watch From Beyond in his underoos because he was interested in the plot - he likely just saw the R rating and knew it was something "cool". But just because it's rated R doesn't mean it's automatically appealing to the younger crowd looking to prove they're up to the challenge. I mean, I look at all of these Parents Guide things on IMDb and I'm kind of taken aback at how technical they are: "There are 7 F-words," "a woman shows her buttocks," "a man is sliced in half," etc. But they never bother to include whether or not a kid would actually engage with the material in the manner that it's intended, which is just as if not more important. Using an R rating or even the reasons for that rating to determine that your kid can't see a movie like Friday the 13th makes as much sense as buying that same kid a copy of 2016 Obama's America because it carried the same PG rating as Frozen. Saw is a hard R, but it's not particularly deep - if he can make sense out of the fractured timelines and such, he can watch those as soon as he watches any other violent horror (again, 9-ish?). The PG Legend of Hell House? Same as Exorcist, I think he should be about ready to drive before he sees that one.

In other words, it's gonna be a fun process. For all I know he might not ever show any interest in watching the movies he keeps pulling off the shelves (he can reach S-Z on the horror section - he's particularly taken with BOTH versions of The Wicker Man, curiously) and stick to the 30 or so comedies I own, or maybe he won't like movies at all. But if I do my job right (meaning: he eventually takes my place as reigning horror trivia champ of Los Angeles), I'll be considering a lot more than the number of heads getting chopped off when it comes to deciding whether he's old enough for a movie. It'll be like curating a festival or all-night marathon, except it's one that will last ten years and have a much smaller, very specific audience to please and engage. He doesn't have to like them all, but I hope he at least knows the right reasons WHY he doesn't like them.