Best Kids’ Horror Movie: Monster Squad

The term “kids’ movie” has been colored as of late by the likes of Pixar and Dreamworks.  They make many fine “family” films with lots of layers and advanced story telling, but in many ways these, often CGI films have neutered the kids movie genre.  Certainly there were animated movies in years past, but in the 80s these were mixed in with movies marketed toward kids that weren’t toothless at all.  Films like Gremlins and The Gate are movies about young teens or kids who go through a horrific experience, lots of action, gruesome scenes, but all aimed at a younger audience.

Best in the genre of horror movies for kids, for me, is Monster Squad.  Hot on the heels of Ghostbusters this movie I feel modernized the Scooby Gang concept and gave birth to the Buffy the Vampire Slayers and Supernaturals to come later.  Young, independent protagonists, fighting supernatural beings older authority figures can’t even fathom, let alone face.  For those taking notes, here’s what made it such a great kids’ horror movie:

The Classics Return: After a generation of “new” slasher killers and gorehounds, some great some not-so-great, Monster Squad brings back the monsters that made the genre popular.  Not just one or two but ALL of the great so-called “Universal” horror monsters, Dracula (yep with cape and tux), the Wolfman (pretty good animatronics), the Gillman (even BETTER animatronics), the Mummy, and the Frankenstein monster.  All with their classic looks, all doing their classic things.  Dracula creates his brides, leads the group, is the most together and menacing.  Wolfman howls at the moon, Gillman glugs around being creepy while the Mummy lurches and staggers in bandages.  The Frankenstein monster, true to his roots, remains both monstrous and sympathetic.  The film even re-creates famous scenes in a new way, such as the famous Monster and girl by the lake sequence.  It taught an entire generation of kids of the horror that came before.  Well those who weren’t obsessed with the Crestwood series anyway.  Even Van Helsing plays a key role.  I didn’t even know who this vital character was when I saw this movie!

Kids Being Kids: Popular YoutTube personality and “garme jurnalizt” Jim Sterling describes kids as basically “shitty adults.”  That’s as apt a description as I can think of.  REAL kids, neither the defanged yet endearing kids from modern movies like Paranorman and Frankenweenie, nor the extreme kids from the kidsploitation movies that shows rampant juvenile crime and drug abuse, but the kids I knew and grew up with.  They were smart asses, foul mouthed (especially when adults weren’t around), ignorant, and cruel to both friends and foes.  Yet through all that we were still kids.  We still played with toys, fantasized about goofy things, and could find joy in candy and cartoons.  That is what great about the kids in Monster Squad I don’t think I’ve seen a more real version of kids on film in ages.  Through all their idiot kid behavior and attitudes, they are still endearing and heroic.  Not in forced ways or fake ways, but in ways kids can be.  They fight monsters on their terms.  It’s a great mixture of Son of Frankenstein and The Goonies.

Layers of Story: Subtle layers exist in this film beyond the monster hunting and horror fun.  You hear parents arguing from the context and perspective of a kid who only knows whats going on from the yelling through the walls.  You see bullied kids and tough kids.  Most telling is Scary German Guy who says he knows true monsters.  A tattoo on his arm tells us all we need to know without a flashback or narrative.  Even the monsters are given background, Dracula calls the Monster an old friend.  The Monster calls him master.  There is story there we don’t know and are never privy to.  It just lends itself to the depth.

It’s hard to put your finger on what makes this movie so classic.  It is unddeniably cheesy and a product of its time.  It’s very 80s with kids in leather jackets (smelting silver in that jacket no less) being tough and cool and dated music montages but the story is epic and its horror roots firm and grounded.  Yes there is a monster in the closet.  Yes Wolfman has nards.  And so does this movie.


Best Teen Slasher: Cherry Falls

Brittany Murphy Cherry Falls

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Teen slasher movies rank my favorite of the slasher genre. As a big teen and horror movie fan, this subgenre blends the best of both worlds. They combine youth and livelihood with gore and chaos – a perfect fun mix without getting too heavy. However, for a good teen slasher, you need two things: teens who can act like teens and a believable serial killer.

Cherry Falls is a hidden gem and my favorite teen slasher. I first saw this movie on cable TV and fell in love. Here’s why:

Premise/story – Traditional slasher movies follow a specific formula. They have a serial killer, final girl, and teenagers who drink, do drugs, and/or have sex, who will die in the first 30 minutes. Guaranteed. Cherry Falls‘ premise has a serial killer who kills virgins only, which forces the teenagers to do the one thing they’re not supposed to do: have sex. It’s ingenious because what kills them in traditional slashers is the only thing that saves them in Cherry Falls. The premise turns the traditional roles upside down and is unique to the genre.

Brittany Murphy – I just love her. She was so full of life and character, and is a great twisted, goth mess as the star. She’s a good girl with an edge and doesn’t let the people push her around. She’s cute and flirty, but very smart and acts like a teenage girl did in 2000. She’s not afraid to say no, returns what she’s dealt, and knows how to take care of herself. She was a strong final girl and pretty hot too.

Time period – The movie released in 2000, right before teen movies became not as good. The 80s teen slashers are classics (eg. Friday the 13th), the 90s were almost as good (eg. Scream), but the 2000s teen slashers suffered the disease of the new millennium – they followed two great decades of pop culture and tried to be politically correct. Most teen slashers in the 2000s were either sequels, spoofs, or just bad. Cherry Falls was one of the last great teen slashers.

The killer – SPOILER alert. The teacher (Jay Mohr) is the killer. As an audience, you suspect him, but you’re not sure why. The first time I watched it, I didn’t expect him until much later in the movie when it was obvious. It’s not in your face, and the build up is well done. Also, it’s not your typical motive. The movie mixes messed-up abused kid with Psycho-style mommy issues. He’s also not the greatest killer; he gets beat up a lot and has to fight to try to kill the final girl. The killer acts like a real person and portrays what a teacher would act like if he were killing his students.

Between the lines – There’s a lot of questionable subject matter in the movie. Foot fetishes, an awkward father/daughter relationship, a questionable mother/daughter’s boyfriend dynamic, cross-dressing, etc. At first you don’t pay attention to it, but on second or third watch it all comes out. Pay attention to the underlying glances and interactions, and you’ll see this is a pretty effed up small town. Everyone has issues, no one is perfect or trying to be something they’re not. All characters and actors feel very real, which adds something special.

So, why with all the teen slashers out there, is this my favorite? It just is. It’s clever, fun, somewhat cliched, but it puts a spin on a classic genre that I hope one day will come back. They just don’t make them like they used to. If you haven’t seen it, check it out!

Story of the Month: Shadows of The Ring

StoryoftheMonthOne of the traits I’m best known for as an adult is my inability to get scared by horror genre media.  TV shows, movies, haunted houses (even the “real” kind) don’t really scare me.  It’s probably because I was scared of everything ever from 5-10 years old and got it all out of my system.  This is a case of, while not being scared really, showing the effects something SCARY can have on even someone like me…

Horror movies of late have been less scary than ever.  The torture genre is just uncomfortable to watch, not scary or even fun.  Most of the other genres have just been done to death.  During the early 2000s the US was invaded by Asian horror, and it was a kind of horror I had never seen.  My introduction to this kind of film was 2002’s The Ring.

I saw this on my College’s free movie channel my senior year.  This channel showed second-run theater films at 7 PM and often again at 9 or 10.  I saw a lot of movies that way and when the showed The Ring at one of the “late shows.”  I won’t go into the movie.  Great tension, creepy imagery, and one of the best horror film finales in recent memory.  It made an impact and the crazy video tape and thrilling climax really stuck with me.  I enjoyed the film, but wasn’t creeped out or scared really, and went to bed right after it went off.

At the time I lived in a sparse single-dorm room.  Just a computer, desk, fridge, TV dresser, and bed with four posts.

I woke up sometime after three and caught sight of a shadowy figure at the end of my bed.  I froze for a split second pondering options…no don’t hide under the covers…no don’t scream for help…or say “is someone there.”  There was a shadow…a small, child-sized shadow…like a little girl with hair over her face…like Samara from The Ring standing at the right corner of the foot of my bed.

The split second passed and I made my decision.  I gave the creepy shadow a sharp, fast KICK with my right foot smacking the lil creepy thing right in her dark face.   Then felt the stinging pain in my foot as though I’d kicked a 2×2 post of pine…mostly because there was no creepy girl ghost at the foot of my bed…it was my hoodie draped over the right corner post of my bed.  So I actually HAD kicked a 2×2 piece of pine with all my might and really damaged my foot.  Seriously it still gets sore 12 years later.

So it goes to show you, no you might not feel scared from a movie, no you might think a horror movie is simple fun and didn’t effect you at all…but when you least expect it shadows enter your imagination and you might be more effected than you think!

Shadowy monster or Halloween decor shadow? You decide!

Shadowy monster or Halloween decor shadow? You decide!