Friday, June 20, 2014

Summer of Fear: Chucky

One thing I love about the long history of horror films is how each decade his its own unique type of horror film that's a product of new generations of filmmakers, new technology, culture, politics, media, and so on. They each have something special to offer. The 50's were a fantastic time for creature features, the 60's for psychological, suspenseful scares, the 70's got a lot bloodier and gruesome, really running with the serial killer trend. Then there were the 80's.

Boy, I don't know what happened, but things got kind of weird. I think it's the source of the campiest horror I've ever seen, and some of the most surreal plots. That's the decade of excess for you. It sounds disparaging, but that isn't my intention. The 80's had its clunkers-- every decade does, and even those have their place. But even something campy, weird, or surreal can be amazing. Think about the plots of movies like Evil Dead, Hellraiser, Nightmare on Elm Street. That's some weird shit, but they're incredible films.

What's really cool about these running themes throughout specific time periods, is not just how society made them, but how they made society. Specifically, how they terrorize a generation of kids, giving birth to new horror fans, writers, directors, and artists.

I think most horror fans around my age and older distinctly remember the first horror film (or films) they saw that scared the snot out of them, usually at an age that conventional wisdom says is too young. I'm not entirely sure whether this trend has continued through the younger millennials and beyond, though. Either they're being protected way more than we were, or the movies aren't as scary, or they're super-human robots who fear nothing. I could be very wrong, I have no evidence, only feels and intuition based on the web.

Thankfully, I was born in the 80's, and my dad did not see anything wrong with letting his young daughter watch the sci-fi and horror movies he was watching. I'm also pretty sure I'm not a robot. Like 80% sure.

The film that affected me the most was Nightmare on Elm Street. It forever takes the prize, because I had a real life terror of bathtub and shower drains for an embarrassing number of years. I was convinced that was where Freddy's hand was emerging from in Nancy's bathtub scene. I also found the Crypt-Keeper scary as hell, and had nightmares about Tales from the Crypt being on TV, and not being able to turn it off. Third on my list of childhood fears based on horror is Chucky, from Child's Play.

I had nightmares about Chucky too, usually chasing after me. It never metastasized into a greater fear of all dolls, but some of the creepier ones do make me a little nervous. Especially the ones that talk and move. Even more especially a doll that I owned.

It was one of those dolls that you could press a button to make it talk, or move, or you could press a fake bottle into its mouth to feed it. If you're an 80's kid too, you probably know the type I mean. Unfortunately one family holiday, my cousins got a hold of it and messed around with it so much, its hair got permanently weird, and very much like Chucky's. It didn't help that they started calling her "Chucky's girlfriend." She inevitably became a new special guest in my nightmares, and I'm pretty sure I stopped playing with her for that reason.

Fast forward a few years, and my parents' friends are over with their kids, who are around me and my sister's ages. We're playing ping-pong in the basement, like we usually did on nights like these. My friends find this horrid doll, and we goof off with it the rest of the night. It doesn't work at all anymore, but is still fairly creepy just to look at. Later, as they're leaving, I'm sitting at my kitchen table with the doll in front of me. I'm not even touching it. Out of nowhere, it starts talking. Probably said "Mama" or "Feed me" or something. I learned that day that my knee-jerk reaction to a situation like that is to throw the offending object across the room in terror.

And I think the best lesson we can all take away from this, especially parents, is that you absolutely should let your children watch scary things when they're young. It doesn't make them crazy, bad people. It makes them rightfully wary of possessed dolls and shower drains. You'll buy less toys, and they'll take shorter baths and showers. WIN WIN.

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