Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Children's Films That Will Irrevocably Screw Up Your Children (pt. 1)

1.  The Monster Squad (1987)

The movie:  A group of ragtag nerdy 11-year-olds go up against Frankenstien, The Mummy, Wolfman and The Creature From The Black Lagoon, who Dracula has recruited to help him find an amulet that could destroy the world.  Also, the kids become friends with Frankenstein and the fat one kicks Wolfman in the nards (hey, he said "nards," not me: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qu6L9pG_E6o).

That sounds like fun.  Harmless Halloween-style fun.  What's the problem? 

The story is that director Fred Dekker (since placed in director jail without parole due to Robocop 3) wanted to update the classic Abbott-and-Costello-Meet-MGM-Monster-and-hilarity-ensues formula with a charming, funny, kid-friendly movie.  The DVD's special features explain why and how this plan turned into a fairly violent, creepy, unfriendly kid's movie.

First, MGM would not lend out the rights to the designs, forcing special effects artist Stan Winston to create new looks for the monsters.  This is the late, great Stan Winston of Jurassic Park fame - also Pumpkinhead, Predator, The Terminator, Friday the 13th part 3D, and Danny DeVito in Batman Returns - real kid-friendly looking stuff.  As a result, to a child, the new Creature, the greasy Frankenstien and the decimated Mummy are fairly terrifying.

One day, Dekker approached the screenwriter during lunch thinking he was doing rewrites. It turned out he was actually tinkering with his next screenplay, which would turn into Lethal Weapon.  Shane Black, the highest paid screenwriter of all time, wrote a kid's movie.  This led to said kids movie involving a lot of blood and death, explosions, near-nudity, vicious stabbings, a mummy unraveling into nothing but a skull and - hey, what the hell - he threw in references to the holocaust too.  Of course, as a grown person in 2011, it's fairly tame, but for 1987, it's pretty gruesome.

Okay...but is it worth fucking up my kid for?

Absolutely.  It was my favourite movie for a time when I was young.  It's often funny, pays plenty of homage to the old great horror films.  It also updates them in inventive, clever ways.  It also includes the most awesome '80s montage ever and an original Monster Squad rap over the credits.  Enjoy it for the camp, or just plain nostalgia.  Basically, it's The Goonies if The Goonies didn't suck.

2.  Watership Down (1978)

The movie:  This animated adaptation of Richard Adams' novel features a group of anthropomorphic rabbits trying to escape a facist rabbit leader.  It all boils down to a rabbit war, involving a dog ripping the animals to shreds.

That sounds like a clever, educational allegory, what's the problem?

Yes, it is a clever, powerful allegory for tyranny and it stays pretty faithful to its source material.  In fact, The Economist hailed the original novel as a triumph, proclaiming, "If there's no place for Watership Down in children's literature, then children's literature is dead."  So its a timeless adapt-Um....I'm sorry, I need to address this, did you miss the part where I said a dog tears a rabbit to shreds on screen?  Because, even though animated, it is gruesome.  It isn't just the dog, it also contains extreme rabbit-on-rabbit violence.  And animated blood.  So much animated blood.

Is it...can I...?

Considering that I saw it for the first time last year and it left me in a fetal position, it's a tough call.  You should, but I'd wait a couple of years or really drill it into the kid that rabbits suck and deserve to be literally torn into pieces in front of their eyes.  The animation is incredibly unique, the voice acting by John Hurt and Nigel Hawthorne is compelling.  And the kid's gotta learn there's awful in the world one day, right?

3.  Cloak and Dagger (1984)

The movie:  For some reason, 11-year-old Davey wants his imaginary friend to resemble his widowed father, a pilot.  Both the father and the friend are played by Dabney Coleman (my imaginary friend was way cooler-looking).  After witnessing a murder, the victim hands Davey a video-game cartridge containing military secrets.  Davey and his imaginary friend - a secret agent named Jack Flack - are on the run from murderous spies.

That sounds like a great child fantasy, in the tradition of The Last Starfighter and The Manhattan Project...wait, what's wrong with this one?  Nothing, right?  This is a trick.  Every healthy, growing boy has an action movie fantasy like that.

Typically, a growing boy's action movie fantasy doesn't involve murdering a guy for killing your imaginary friend and implied psychological trauma.  Near the end of the movie, the villain shoots at the boy, hitting a wall where the boy thought Jack Flack stood.  So the 11-year-old grabs a gun and straight-out murders the guy.  Realizing that Jack Flack had tricked him into shooting the villain, the boy becomes filled with rage, shouting "I don't wanna play anymore" like, you know, a lunatic would.

But the trauma doesn't end there.  The remaining evil spies take over a commercial airliner.  They kidnap little Davey and, in exchange for him unharmed, demand a pilot so that they may flee the country with the military secrets in hand.  The spies are unaware that Davey intentionally smuggled a bomb onto the plane (this is, I forgot to mention, the most malevolently clever 11-year-old boy of all time; also, he seems to have a death wish).

Remember when I mentioned, for seemingly no reason, that Davey's actual Dabney Coleman was a pilot at the start?  Yeah, he volunteers to fly the plane in exchange for his son.  In the distance, Davey watches the plane explode, only moments later seeing his father walk away unharmed and hug him.  The happiest ending ever.

Except, hold on.  We never saw Davey's father leave the plane.  There was no reason he would, he was just as unaware of the bomb as the evil spies.  So we're left to assume that Davey's real Dabney Coleman is as dead as his imaginary one, and his dead father is now his new imaginary friend.  The child, now officially orphaned, has had yet another psychotic break.

Suck on that, kids.

Should I allow them this kind of existential crisis so early on?

It's most likely that your child won't understand that kind of psychological complexity, and rather just think his dad got out of the plane somehow.  Hell, that's what I thought at first.  It would take a pretty advanced toddler to latch on to the fact that little Davey is well on his way to being a serial killer with delusions of grandeur.  Though as I got older, I started to think about the logistics of the ending, and it haunted me.

Jesus God, what have you done to my child?


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