Ever watchful, ever underfoot

el_orfanato

My kids have been creeping me out lately.  They don’t know they’re doing it, they don’t mean to frighten me… and yet they do.  And I want to say on the outset that this isn’t going to be one of those “13 Creepiest Kids of Horror Cinema” posts where I run through a tick list of the usual suspects: Damien, Rhoda, Gage, Reagan, Isaac or Joshua.  No, those lists are usually the work of young, unmarried, unencumbered 30 somethings for whom the thought of having children is scary enough.  I’m fishing deeper waters here in an effort to figure out precisely why the fruit of my loom so often makes my blood run cold.

nicolettaPart of it has to do with the proximity of innocence to perversity.  Kids are figuring it out as they go, pleasing themselves with odd sounds, facial expressions and body contortions – and props play a big part in that.  (My daughter Vayda Jane can do 30 minutes with a drinking straw and an inch of milk.)  All of our adult entreaties to “Stop doing that!” must make absolutely no sense at all to a 3 year old who has discovered how to entertain and delight herself.  (When you’re an adult, that takes an iPod, a Wii and a cocktail of Cialis and St. John’s Wort.)  The amused giggle of a kid caught doing something he or she  shouldn’t beats for sheer lunacy the most maniacal mad scientist laugh because it’s so pure, so unfettered by psychology, by what our birthing guru called “story” – the encrusting of meaning, association and projection to every action, no matter how simple.  Kids are elemental, in-the-moment, and that’s why its’ so easy for us to imagine they’re possessed by forces from beyond or actually evil incarnate.  They’re different.

village-of-the-damnedMy 20 month-old son Victor spooks me most often these days.  He’s a textbook Bad Sleeper, meaning the process of getting him into bed is a workout that’s closer kin to an exorcism (complete with thrashing and spinning and boundless gobbledegook, with occasional spit-up); it also means he is prone to getting up in the middle of the night and wandering.  Luckily, I’m a light sleeper and will usually hear him turning the doorknob (squeaky, of course) in his bedroom down the hall.  But some nights I don’t hear that and I awaken to a vague impression of someone standing beside me as I lay supine.  I’ll open my eyes to discern the dim silhouette of a small human form standing over me with perfectly awful stillness and silent as the grave until the thinnest, hoarsest whisper cracks the quiet with a wispy “Hi.”  Ooh, I’m getting chills now just thinking about it.  You wouldn’t think one syllable could carry so much Gothic weight but, well, you really have to be there.  He got me good the other night, too, when I’d stayed up late writing.  I finished up around 1 am, shut off my computer, turned off the lights in the living room and was crossing into the dark, windowless hallway that leads to the bedrooms.  Closing the door to the living room behind me and pausing for a moment to let my eyes adjust to the absolute Tell Tale Heart blackness of this short corridor, I was suddenly aware of a dim sliver of blue light creeping in from my right.  I turned my head to see Victor’s door open and, back lit from the blue lava lamp we keep in his room as a nightlight, Victor’s perfect little silhouette.  And he said nothing.  Nothing! He just stood there looking at me.  Brrr!

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Another thing – kids are preternaturally strong!  Ever try to pry a potentially lethal sharp implement from their chubby little hands or retrieve a nickle from their fang-filled oral cavities?  Remember those mutant kids who beat full-grown adults to death with meat tenderizers in THE BROOD (1979)?  I thought that was science fiction until I had kids!  Imagine if adults were, as children are, force-fed three balanced meals a day plus healthy snacks and were then allowed the luxury of 12 unbroken hours of sleep.  Ye Gods, we’d be fit as titans!  But no, we’re flabby from bad eating habits (those 9 pm dinners) and weak from sleep deprivation, our psychic defenses made fragile by too many choruses of “Little Red Caboose” and “And Bingo was his name-o.”  We’re vulnerable. If our kids wanted to take us out, they could do it with extreme prejudice!

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Creepy kids in movies are at their creepiest when they are at their simplest and most basic.  Damien in THE OMEN (1976) isn’t scary (and nobody really thinks he is) because he’s a blank slate on which the filmmakers have projected all their own junk, their own “story.”  Ditto Reagan in THE EXORCIST (1973) and Gage in PET SEMATARY (1991).  Sure, they all have their moments, they’re all capable of raising a chill or two (Reagan’s sibilant sniggering at the death of Father Merrin) but they don’t haunt us and most of their offenses wind up being laughable because the psychology – our projection of our own fears and doubts onto them – is so bald-faced.  (If you want belly laughs at the prospect of evil children, track down a copy of the 1980 stinker THE CHILDREN, where mutated tots grow black fingernails and hug the grown-ups to death.)  That doesn’t happen in the Spanish movie WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? (1976).  Based on a novel by Juan José Plans, the film follows a British couple (married but vacationing without their children – unless you count the one growing in the belly of the Missus) as they come to realize they are the only adults on a sun-drenched Iberian island… where the children have taken over and slaughtered their elders (including an old man who is strung up by his heels and turned into a kind of pulpy pinata).  It’s an extremely unpleasant and deeply unsettling little thriller that lets the cast of kids behave like kids and is all the scarier for it.

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Often when driving at dusk, Vayda will say from the back seat “Daddy… the sun’s going down” and the combination of that vaguely ominous announcement and the high pitch of her little kid voice gives me a perfect passing fright.  I think of the beautiful simplicity of that equation and laugh at how hard adult actors have to try to be scary.  I think of plumby, verbose Anthony Hopkins in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1989) or cheesy Robert Englund in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984) and its plague of sequels or Robert DeNiro in CAPE FEAR (1991) with his cornpone condesensions and tattoos and big cigar and… oy.  Some people work just hard when they should be working smart.  Don’t they know being scary is child’s play?

10 Responses Ever watchful, ever underfoot
Posted By Jenni : January 27, 2009 5:42 pm

I love your comment that if we ate 3 healthy meals a day, had healthy snacks, got 12 hours of sleep a night,and I would add, sev eral times a day running and playing, we’d be titans-so true!!

I bet,sometimes, you can’t wait until Vayda and Victor are parents and then their kids can scare them!

Thanks for your earlier blog about winning the award(congrats) and for listing some other blogs to check out. The one about dummy deaths sounds like a hoot, and so does the one on schlock. I’ll check ‘em out soon.

Posted By Jenni : January 27, 2009 5:42 pm

I love your comment that if we ate 3 healthy meals a day, had healthy snacks, got 12 hours of sleep a night,and I would add, sev eral times a day running and playing, we’d be titans-so true!!

I bet,sometimes, you can’t wait until Vayda and Victor are parents and then their kids can scare them!

Thanks for your earlier blog about winning the award(congrats) and for listing some other blogs to check out. The one about dummy deaths sounds like a hoot, and so does the one on schlock. I’ll check ‘em out soon.

Posted By Thivai : January 28, 2009 10:52 am

I have always wondered why scary kid films are so popular and effective (if they are not clihed and laughable)–thanks for giving a parental perspective to balance out my childless suspicions!

Posted By Thivai : January 28, 2009 10:52 am

I have always wondered why scary kid films are so popular and effective (if they are not clihed and laughable)–thanks for giving a parental perspective to balance out my childless suspicions!

Posted By medusamorlock : January 30, 2009 9:49 am

Hilarious post, RHS! I never had kids so I haven’t experienced the sheer terror of motherhood, but it’s a good thing they’re so cute, eh?

Delightful!!

Posted By medusamorlock : January 30, 2009 9:49 am

Hilarious post, RHS! I never had kids so I haven’t experienced the sheer terror of motherhood, but it’s a good thing they’re so cute, eh?

Delightful!!

Posted By C.D. @ Austin Tejas : January 31, 2009 9:41 am

Thank You RHSmith. This is a funny article/ blog, please keep them coming. I would like to remind yall of the film that with out a doubt has the most scary children in movie history. In my 45 years of going to the cinema no other movie has accurately portrayed children as really frighting, horrifically ghoulish, psychopathic real life murdering killers as this biographical horror,.. nominated for Best Picture(1984). The reason that this movie is so unbelievably terrifying is because it is 100% TRUE and the movie is Historically accurately down to the REAL LIFE actor played himself in the movie. It proves the old saying “Truth is stranger than fiction” is true in this case, and the saying ” The Truth is much more scary than Fiction ” is true too. If you don’t believe me that’s ok, but the next time your want to watch a REAL CHILDREN’S HORROR MOVIE and see the mountain of piles of human skulls, Torture and mass murder on a scale not witnessed since World War 2.( Except for maybe the Russian or Chinese or North Koreans Gulags ) and to stay true to our article and keep on the subject of those” CRAZY KIDS” most of the mayhem and systematic Killing Murder Torture and Old Fashion Genocide is carried out by Khmer Rouges Army of Children and teens.
The moral of my story is watch ” The KILLING FIELDS” and then I highly recommend watching the unofficial sequel ” SWIMMING TO CAMBODIA” too. I promise, It makes for a great double feature, if your able to stay awake that late. And if your not able to handle the
double feature both films sand on their on two feet. So split em’! But just watch em’.

Posted By C.D. @ Austin Tejas : January 31, 2009 9:41 am

Thank You RHSmith. This is a funny article/ blog, please keep them coming. I would like to remind yall of the film that with out a doubt has the most scary children in movie history. In my 45 years of going to the cinema no other movie has accurately portrayed children as really frighting, horrifically ghoulish, psychopathic real life murdering killers as this biographical horror,.. nominated for Best Picture(1984). The reason that this movie is so unbelievably terrifying is because it is 100% TRUE and the movie is Historically accurately down to the REAL LIFE actor played himself in the movie. It proves the old saying “Truth is stranger than fiction” is true in this case, and the saying ” The Truth is much more scary than Fiction ” is true too. If you don’t believe me that’s ok, but the next time your want to watch a REAL CHILDREN’S HORROR MOVIE and see the mountain of piles of human skulls, Torture and mass murder on a scale not witnessed since World War 2.( Except for maybe the Russian or Chinese or North Koreans Gulags ) and to stay true to our article and keep on the subject of those” CRAZY KIDS” most of the mayhem and systematic Killing Murder Torture and Old Fashion Genocide is carried out by Khmer Rouges Army of Children and teens.
The moral of my story is watch ” The KILLING FIELDS” and then I highly recommend watching the unofficial sequel ” SWIMMING TO CAMBODIA” too. I promise, It makes for a great double feature, if your able to stay awake that late. And if your not able to handle the
double feature both films sand on their on two feet. So split em’! But just watch em’.

Posted By C.D. @ Austin Tejas : January 31, 2009 9:41 am

Thank You RHSmith. This is a funny article/ blog, please keep them coming. I would like to remind yall of the film that with out a doubt has the most scary children in movie history. In my 45 years of going to the cinema no other movie has accurately portrayed children as really frighting, horrifically ghoulish, psychopathic real life murdering killers as this biographical horror,.. nominated for Best Picture(1984). The reason that this movie is so unbelievably terrifying is because it is 100% TRUE and the movie is Historically accurately down to the REAL LIFE actor played himself in the movie. It proves the old saying “Truth is stranger than fiction” is true in this case, and the saying ” The Truth is much more scary than Fiction ” is true too. If you don’t believe me that’s ok, but the next time your want to watch a REAL CHILDREN’S HORROR MOVIE and see the mountain of piles of human skulls, Torture and mass murder on a scale not witnessed since World War 2.( Except for maybe the Russian or Chinese or North Koreans Gulags ) and to stay true to our article and keep on the subject of those” CRAZY KIDS” most of the mayhem and systematic Killing Murder Torture and Old Fashion Genocide is carried out by Khmer Rouges Army of Children and teens.
The moral of my story is watch ” The KILLING FIELDS” and then I highly recommend watching the unofficial sequel ” SWIMMING TO CAMBODIA” too. I promise, It makes for a great double feature, if your able to stay awake that late. And if your not able to handle the
double feature both films sand on their on two feet. So split em’! But just watch em’.

Posted By C.D. @ Austin Tejas : January 31, 2009 9:41 am

Thank You RHSmith. This is a funny article/ blog, please keep them coming. I would like to remind yall of the film that with out a doubt has the most scary children in movie history. In my 45 years of going to the cinema no other movie has accurately portrayed children as really frighting, horrifically ghoulish, psychopathic real life murdering killers as this biographical horror,.. nominated for Best Picture(1984). The reason that this movie is so unbelievably terrifying is because it is 100% TRUE and the movie is Historically accurately down to the REAL LIFE actor played himself in the movie. It proves the old saying “Truth is stranger than fiction” is true in this case, and the saying ” The Truth is much more scary than Fiction ” is true too. If you don’t believe me that’s ok, but the next time your want to watch a REAL CHILDREN’S HORROR MOVIE and see the mountain of piles of human skulls, Torture and mass murder on a scale not witnessed since World War 2.( Except for maybe the Russian or Chinese or North Koreans Gulags ) and to stay true to our article and keep on the subject of those” CRAZY KIDS” most of the mayhem and systematic Killing Murder Torture and Old Fashion Genocide is carried out by Khmer Rouges Army of Children and teens.
The moral of my story is watch ” The KILLING FIELDS” and then I highly recommend watching the unofficial sequel ” SWIMMING TO CAMBODIA” too. I promise, It makes for a great double feature, if your able to stay awake that late. And if your not able to handle the
double feature both films sand on their on two feet. So split em’! But just watch em’.

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