Over at TCM's Movie Morlocks, I take part in a semi-regular roundtable called The Horror Dads, in which a few of us (including fellow bloggers Dennis Cozzalio, Jeff Allard and roundtable ringleader Richard Harland Smith) discuss watching horror with our kids. Although the youngest is my stepdaughter, rather than biological (I never actually use the term "stepdaughter"), I've been with her since she was a toddler so I've had the full experience of watching her grow. Somewhere along the way, Friday night became movie night for the three of us (me, my wife and daughter) and shortly after that started (somewhere around six years ago) the weekly pick became horror, or at least 90 percent of the time. There is an occasional comedy thrown it but even then, it's usually comedy horror.
As I've discussed at the roundtable, we usually keep ourselves to pre-1970 horror so that nothing gets too disturbing for the youngest. We've watched all the Universal classics, most of them multiple times, and all the Corman and Hammer classics. But we've also watched less celebrated thrillers like The Spiral Staircase or Hangover Square. We haven't watched Psycho with her yet but we have watched City of the Dead, twice, and although that also has a death by stabbing halfway through the movie, it's done as a cutaway so nothing is seen. It's not that she really understands something like Hangover Square but she appreciates the ambiance and feel of a horror movie or thriller or mystery. It's what she likes and there's no getting around it.
Most of that came not from me but from her mother, my lovely wife, Laura. Laura loves October, witches, black cats and graveyards. We spent a lot of time in an old graveyard in Massachusetts when we drove our oldest daughter up to college, reading tombstones and taking photos. There wasn't a person buried there with a birthdate later than the 1700's and most were born in the 1600's. That kind of thing holds a certain allure for us and it's something that Laura has implanted in the youngest since day one.
It's a love of the macabre but a gentle one. It's the atmosphere of it all that we love more than anything and, more often than not, movie night runs along the line of fantasy horror, such as vampires and mummies and sorcerers, rather than the mad killer variety. Still, I have occasionally tried, and failed, to bring a stronger variety of horror to the fore.
About two years ago I foolishly thought Theatre of Blood might be a hit on movie night. Laura told me that was a big mistake and I should pick something else. But, I countered, the youngest loves Vincent Price, loves him! I'd tell her to cover her eyes when anything too bad happens. So yeah, anyway, I'm an idiot. Nobody needed to say, "I told you so," because I was telling myself two minutes into it when the homeless crazies descend upon the first victim and it was quite clear this was not entertaining the youngest, but rather, freaking her out. It was turned off and put away. Another movie was shown but now, I can't remember which.
Of course, I saw Jaws at eight, in the theatre. I watched The Omen and The Exorcist at ten. And so, I thought, if I could handle it, she could. But, it occurs to me, there are three different types of horror fans (well, in a sweepingly general kind of a way, at least): The ones who like the gentler more ambient horror of yesteryear (1970 and before), the ones who like hardcore, disturbing horror from any time (Psycho, The Exorcist, The Shining) and the ones who like both. I fall into the "both" category, my wife into the "yesteryear" category and the youngest? I think I have to accept she falls into that category too, the kinder, gentler variety. Sure, there's time to grow into it but as she approaches middle school, I wonder. How many horror fans know early on, very early, that they like the hard stuff too? I did. It's usually not something that waits until puberty to manifest itself.
As she grows older I wonder if we'll continue to watch horror together. Will we graduate to stronger stuff or will she lose interest in the genre only to retain a nostalgic sense of warmth for its atmosphere, memories of Friday night with pizza and ice cream? I don't know. I do know there will still be plenty of mysteries and ghost stories to watch with her even if she never wants to watch the other stuff. But I'll also miss the enthusiasm that I fear will diminish as she grows older and has less time for Mom and Dad and more time for friends and parties. Oh well. It's been a hell of a good run and something I'll always hold on to, tightly.
As she grows up I realize more than ever how much a debt of gratitude I owe Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, James Whale, Peter Cushing, Hazel Court, Terence Fisher, Christopher Lee, Barbara Steele, Peter Lorre, Jimmy Sangster, Roger Corman, William Castle, Hammer Studios, Universal Studios and a hundred other artists who helped make the Friday nights of my daughter's youth some of the best nights we'll ever have together. Without them, it never could have happened.