Sam and scary movies


I blame Disney for marketing A Christmas Carol during the Halloween season. Sam (8) has gotten interested in scary movies, but he’s gotten them all mixed up in his head, which is easy enough, I guess, since he hasn’t seen any of them.

It all began with a commercial for Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights, which featured a 20-something guy walking into a deserted, decrepit theater lobby. He’s menaced by the doll from Saw, then Chucky from Child’s Play, then finally a guy in a pig mask, also from Saw. The pig-mask guy has a blade that shoots out from his sleeve and the commercial ends with the pig-mask guy (presumably) slashing the throat of the 20-something guy.

This commercial aired for weeks during children’s television blocks, so Sam and Kit (6) got to see it plenty of times. To a 20-something, or even to a teenager, the ad was witty and delightful, but for a pre-teen it was flatly terrifying and abhorrently violent. Kit finally started fleeing the room when it came on, but Sam got interested. Who were these characters, what were their powers, why were they famous?

At first, my wife and I chose to keep him in the dark as long as possible — at 8, he certainly doesn’t need to be familiar with the Chucky or Saw franchises — but Halloween approached, and visits to the Halloween store became necessary, and images of these characters, and many more, began proliferating everywhere. So I decided that familiarity was less frightening than mystery and started explaining to Sam who all these guys were and what all they do. I’m certainly not going to show him Saw, but I’d rather give him an overview of the genre instead of having his dreams haunted by something he doesn’t understand.

Schoolyard gossip had brought up the idea of Freddy Krueger, and Sam, not having a visual to go by, conflated the razors on Freddy Krueger’s glove with the knife up pig-mask’s sleeve. Plus, the lighting in the commercial was so murky that it was hard to tell that pig-mask guy was wearing a pig mask — it was just a big red cloak with something horrible where the head should be.

So that started the discussion — Sam thought that Freddy Krueger was a tall guy with some kind of mask, with knives up his sleeve. I explained to him that no, Freddy Krueger doesn’t wear a mask, he wears a hat and a striped sweater and a glove with razors on it. I quickly figured out that Sam had never actually seen an image of Freddy Krueger, at least not with a name attached to it (they’re all over the place at Halloween, of course). His fear, or fascination anyway, centered on pig-mask guy and the Saw doll.

But when he asked me about the "little guy in the commercial," I assumed he was talking about Chucky, and explained to him that Chucky is a haunted doll. Sam then asked why Chucky looks like The Joker, which confused me all over again. I figured out that he thought the Saw doll was a real guy, and patiently explained that it was just a doll on a tricycle. But the Saw doll is a doll, and Chucky is also a doll, and the pig-mask guy is also from Saw, and I didn’t want to explain any of this in very much detail, since none of this is appropriate for an 8-year-old.

Then, to make things more complicated, the trailers for A Christmas Carol came out, promoting the Dickens classic as a comic ghost story. And there is the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, another formidable scary guy in a cloak, and then Sam was asking me if the guy who menaces Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol is Freddy Krueger, and I thought, okay, I have to sit this guy down and explain a few things to him. I told him that Freddy Krueger is the ghost of a dead guy who can kill you in your dreams, and Sam thought that was a pretty cool power, and the pig-mask guy is just a guy with a pig mask who has a blade up his sleeve and the doll is just a remote-control doll that rides a tricycle and I think he’s straight on all that.

Now, it turns out, Sam went trick-or-treating with a slightly older kid who had a Scream costume. The cool part of the kid’s Scream costume was that it comes with a little rubber heart, and when you squeeze the heart fake blood courses down the front of the mask. All good Halloween fun, but yet another thing to explain about a movie he is in no way ready to see. And so as I’m explaining to him about the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, he becomes convinced that the Scream kid, was, in fact, dressed as the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, and that the cool thing that the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come does is squeeze a heart and blood runs down his face.

I explained that the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is a good hundred years older than the Scream guy, and is based on much older depictions of Death, or the Grim Reaper. Sam knows about the Reaper, or has seen depictions of him anyway, starting with The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy. But by the time I got done explaining that, Sam was on to the idea that the Scream guy carries a scythe and has a heart that he squeezes that makes his mask bleed.

Anyway, I’ll take him to see A Christmas Carol this weekend and he’ll at least get that much straight. I hope.

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28 Responses to “Sam and scary movies”
  1. notthebuddha says:

    Many screen adaptations aside, the third spirit isn’t especially reaper-like in the original. It is entirely covered except for its hand (which is “spectral” rather than skeletal), doubtless to emphasize how the future is largely unknowable but what is revealed should have a direct effect.

  2. black13 says:

    I think that if you took all of that and made a screenplay or comic book out of it, that would totally rock.

    The Ghost of X-Mas Future is really a dream demon that appears to his victims as a homicidal doll on a tricycle and torments his victims by making their hearts explode.

    Actually, I’m laying dibs on it for my next Christopher Price horror novel.

  3. Yes, let’s hope that A Christmas Carol solves this mystery! Sounds complex when seeing all this through the lens of Sam. He sounds like me – so intellectual that he analyzes everything to death and creates his own reality. : )

    • Todd says:

      His mind also runs much faster than information can enter it. So while I’m telling him the plot of A Christmas Carol, he’s already trying to jump ahead and figure out how Freddy Krueger figures into it.

      • Anonymous says:

        I think I have this problem with my 7 year old too. It ends up like Herodotus’ Histories with these incredible tangents because every 10 words at the beginning of one answer leads to 3 more questions. We rarely ever make it to the end of the first answer to be honest.

  4. mr_noy says:

    I don’t have any kids but I’ve had similar conversations with my friend’s son. He’s fascinated by comic book characters, super heros, Star Wars, Greek mythology (the original superheroes, IMO) their various powers and so on but there was a time when he tended to get them all mixed up, so he asked a lot of questions.He’s almost 12 now and I’m astonished at the amount of pop cultural mythology he’s managed to integrate and keep straight. I daresay he probably knows who most of these horror icons are now even though I’m sure his parents have never let him watch any of those films.

    A few years ago when I went over to visit I was amused to see him doing something that I used to do when I was a kid which is to mash up these various characters, mythologies and story lines with gleeful abandon. Why shouldn’t Luke Skywalker team up with Spiderman? They can hop a ride in a Transformer and go duke it out with Cobra’s new army of dinosaur riding green army men who will then destroy an entire city made of Lincoln Logs and Legos. Now that he’s older he knows that Batman doesn’t exist in the same universe as, say, The Avengers and that Indiana Jones isn’t going to duke it out with Doctor Octopus. I think this deepening awareness of continuity and consistency might engender more, not less, creativity.

    • Todd says:

      Well, Sam is a real stickler for continuity. From a very early age, he knew that Spider-man and Martian Manhunter didn’t exist in the same universe. Once he’s old enough to see these movies, I’m sure he’ll be the kind of kid who criticizes movies with regard to whether a werewolf would “really” do one thing or another.

      • ogier30 says:

        I’ve had fun trying to explain “Who is Robin?” and “Why does Optimus Prime look different?” to my four year old. Can’t wait to start trying to explain the horror movie franchise continuities to him…

    • serizawa3000 says:

      Silly question

      Familiar with the concept of the Wold Newton Universe?

      Back in the day, the late Philip Jose Farmer got the notion that the characters of adventure and mystery stories all coexisted… Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes, Doc Savage…

      Alan Moore took a cue from Farmer and did up the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen… I’m interested in what he’ll do next, but my favorite moment was probably the sequence at the beginning of volume 2 where John Carter and assorted Martian allies (including C.S. Lewis’s Sorns) take on the “molluscs” just as they launch their invasion of Earth…

      Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula novels are also worth a look, IMHO…

  5. jdurall says:

    But by the time I got done explaining that, Sam was on to the idea that the Scream guy carries a scythe and has a heart that he squeezes that makes his mask bleed.

    Definitely don’t bring up The Frighteners, which has a ghost with a scythe who pulls people’s souls out of their bodies and kills them. I think he did a heart-squeeze, also, but I might be remembering it incorrectly.

    • serizawa3000 says:

      re: The Frighteners

      You are correct about the heart-squeezing. Even before we see the “soul collector” do this (to a couple mortals *and* to a ghost), there’s that news article at the beginning about victims’ hearts looking as if they’d been crushed…

  6. popebuck1 says:

    I’ve spent the last two months working in a Halloween store, and we got families who had obviously exposed kids younger than Sam to all of the major horror franchises. It’s kind of jarring the first time a 6-year-old asks you for the Freddy Krueger or Chucky masks, because there’s no way in Hell our parents would have let us see any of that stuff when we were that age!

  7. charlequin says:

    I feel like I’m missing something. Why is an event that sounds like it’s aimed at the old-enough-to-make-out-at-the-movies set, and which is promoted using violent horror imagery, being advertised during children’s programming?

    • Todd says:

      My guess would be that Universal knows that lots of 20-somethings watch Spongebob Squarepants. Other than that, I have no idea. I’m not usually the sort who is inclined to call up a TV station about a commercial, but I was troubled by this ad as well. I wish I could find it on Youtube — the one I could find, for the Orlando theme park, is the same commercial but with the Wolfman standing in for pig-mask guy.

  8. serizawa3000 says:

    Back in 2006 at the Horrorfind Weekend I met Alex Vincent, who was the young star of the first two Child’s Play films. The one who gets the Chucky doll. He’s in his twenties now, but at the time of filming he was six, seven. I asked him what it was like to be in a movie like that at such a young age. He wasn’t scared. The FX guys showed him how Chucky worked, that sort of thing. I figure the next logical step would be to talk to Linda Blair about what it was like filming The Exorcist…

    • Todd says:

      Or you could ask Danny Lloyd what it was like shooting The Shining. According to him, he went through the whole process without even knowing he was shooting a horror movie.

  9. Anonymous says:

    this brings back memories.

    as a kid, i was always terrified of chucky specifically. i used to go to a local video store to rent nintendo games, and the vhs boxes for the child’s play movies were precariously close to the game racks. sometimes, my mother would have to shield my eyes with her hands, lest i catch even a glimpse of that ginger terror.

    at 6 or 7, i caught the opening portion of child’s play 2 on ppv (we had a legal black box, because mom worked for a cable company) and puked my spaghettios all over the living room floor. delightful!

    *btw, todd, i really miss your episode-by-episode dissections of venture bros. just sayin’!

  10. That’s one scatterbrained kid you have there. He seems like he’s growing up quite fast. I bet he’ll make a good investigator/detective…something like that, with all those questions. But, he seems a bit like myself, in that I find I must know the answer to unknown concepts and queries that pass through my field of grasping. Without fail.

    Also: Just got back from seeing A Christmas Carol. I think it is the best of Zemeckis’ 3D outings (Polar Express, Beowulf). Sam will love it (if he loved Where the Wild Things Are, he will find much to enjoy here). Are you taking Kit, too? She may be a little shaken–it’s a very boisterous, energized interpretation of the Dickens tale. There is rarely a moment of slowdown.

  11. pirateman says:

    Hilarious and awesome. I wonder how he’ll fare in A Christmas Carol? It does look pretty freaky, especially with the 3D stuff involved.

    You know, it strikes me that kids are probably much more scared of different things than adults are. Do you find that to be true? I know that there are things that kids find scary that adults don’t (because they outgrow them), but I wonder if there are example of movies or things that we find scary that kids wouldn’t? I mean, I feel like there are long stretches in “Halloween” that are just people talking to each other and walking around. What do you think?

    • curt_holman says:

      “it strikes me that kids are probably much more scared of different things than adults are.”

      My daughter gets much less worked up in action/animated action movies with destructive violence and suspense (like, say, The Incredibles) than she does with scenes in which kids are doing something Against The Rules and are in immediate risk of being caught by adults. Those often make her very nervous, even in an innocuous context.

  12. noskilz says:

    Some of those Sam-remixes sound pretty neat.

    I subbed for a pre-k class some time ago, and was rather startled when some of the kids were playing “zombie”: one of the kids was the zombie and tried to catch the others, accompanied by lots of “I’m a zombie” and “he’s a zombie, run!” It was kind of cute, but made one wonder who would show zombie movies to preschoolers – or maybe zombies are such a feature of pop culture that even preschoolers are familiar with the notion.

    • Todd says:

      Yes, pre-K kids are familiar with zombies. And as long as they don’t actually see a zombie movie, the idea of a zombie seems, for some reason, to be kind of adorable to little kids. They’re slow and stupid and there’s something goofy about them. Both my kids have known all about zombies for years now, but have never seen anything remotely resembling a zombie movie.

      We have have a whole brace of “zombie jokes” around our house. My favorite is: What does a vegetarian zombie say? “Grraaaaaaaiiiiiinnnns.” My second favorite: What does a zombie sheep say? “Baaaaa-rrraaaaaaiinnnnnss.” They go downhill from there.

  13. freyja says:

    hey, i remember being into freddy krueger when i was around 8. i think that might have been around the time he had his own tv show. pretty sure i saw nightmare on elm street parts 1 and 3 before i was 10.

    didn’t understand a lot of what i do now though, and conflated a lot of stuff too, as i find when i go back and watch these movies. it’s really amusing to see what kids come away with from these things, and often (i’d argue) it’s not quite as damaging as we think because they simply don’t “get” a lot of the adult stuff yet.

    sounds like a pretty epic explanation– like the horror equivalent of the birds and the bees. 😉

    • Anonymous says:

      I caught a glimpse of the first Pinhead movie when I was 3 or 4 years old, and it really scared me.

      But since mom is a hardcore bad movie fan, I watched all the Chucky movies since I was 6 or so. Mom used to rent them all the times and we watched together. We had a great time!

      I think that’s why I’m so jaded when it comes to horror movies. Stuff like ‘The Ring’ was utterly stupid, ‘Blair Witch Project’ was meh, and ‘Saw’ is just gross and I refuse to watch torture porn.

      In a theater, when everyone’s covering their eyes, I’m the girl with the popcorn making fun of it.

      • freyja says:

        oh god, child’s play destroyed my life. i used to have nightmares about my own dolls for a long time and had to get rid of all of them.

        freddy krueger never scared me at all though. in fact, i sort of had a neurotic crush on him when i was a preteen. robert englund’s adorable. still haven’t seen the hellraiser series, but i really want to.

        blair witch was kinda meh, but i loved the ring. it was visually just a very well-done movie, and i know the psychic little boy’s been overdone but i really liked this one’s sass. i liked the changes from the original– the horses and such– and the “ha! you thought this was a horror movie that makes SENSE? we spit on you!” ending. as horror movies go i thought it was incredibly smart.

        saw gets more ridiculous with every installment but it still has a spot in my heart and i will still watch them. tobin bell is pretty fantastic and sometimes it’s worth it just for the backstory. i don’t find it to be strictly “torture porn” most of the time, but it is big on the gore i suppose and lately that’s sort of shunted the more creative elements (the traps and plot twists) to the side. which is a shame.

  14. Thoroughly convinced you have a genius for a son.