Horror movies are secretly one of society's most effective forms of birth control. When I first started watching them, the haze of teen hormones blotted out mostly everything beyond the blood and boobs, but as an adult with a son of my own, I've come to realize the underlying message of a surprisingly large percentage of them boils down to "Holy shit, do not reproduce." Here are some of the less-than-helpful lessons you'll learn from horror movies if you either have kids or are even vaguely considering it.
Examples: Rosemary's Baby, Mother, Inside, the Alien franchise
As far as horror movies are concerned, terror begins at conception. Even the most routine pregnancy can be pretty weird and scary, so of course filmmakers are more than happy to twist that knife a little deeper. Ratchet up the paranoia and dread, maybe add a demon/monster baby into the mix, and nature's greatest miracle turns into some grade-A body horror. The whole genius of the Alien franchise was in making teenage boys terrified of getting "pregnant" against their will, interrupting their promising space mining careers.
And if you actually make it through the pregnancy intact, there's a good chance somebody is planning to make off with your baby as soon as the umbilical cord is cut. Hell, according to movies like Mother and Rosemary's Baby, God and the Devil themselves are in the child-snatching business. Good luck keeping them safe with your floppy little human appendages. But even if they're not abducted by one of the Universe's spiritual superpowers ...
Examples: Pet Sematary, The Witch, Hereditary
A Quiet Place and movies like The Witch and Hereditary feature an increasingly common horror trope that can all but ruin a film for a new parent: the first-act child death. There's no outrunning or outsmarting death, as these films are happy to remind us. Every parent's worst nightmare can strike at any moment, and there's nothing you and your 1,001 child safety straps can do about it. And if you think that maybe, somehow, you'd be able to cope with the death of your kid given enough time and therapy, ha ha, think again.
Horror movies are pretty clear on the subject: Randomly losing your child will utterly destroy you on both an emotional and psychological level. Worse, your mourning will drive a wedge between you and the rest of your family, and may just distract you from the fact that your still-living offspring are being targeted by gross naked witches and/or Satanists. Forget mask-wielding maniacs, grief is the scariest and most relentless monster of them all. But that, of course, just plays into the larger message of ...
Examples: The Walking Dead, A Quiet Place, It Comes At Night
You could replace the zombies in The Walking Dead with pretty much any threat -- vampires, werewolves, sentient Roombas with little knives taped to them -- and it would be the same story. The undead aren't what make The Walking Dead compelling or scary; it's the systematic, relentless manner in which the series chews up any notion you'd be able to protect your loved ones in a crisis.
Most dads have a nice, tidy post-apocalyptic fantasy tucked away in the back of our heads. If society really shit the bed, we'd arise from the couch, our chronic lower back pain having magically disappeared, and become decisive men of action. The Walking Dead smirks at all that. Rick Grimes is the most competent man left in the world, and his friends and family still have the life expectancy of carnival goldfish. Movies like A Quiet Place and It Comes At Night play with the same basic elements of an apocalypse in which the threats are mostly unseen or don't really matter and a put-upon dad who's just trying to keep everybody alive, but fails in a way that borders on slapstick.
It's not that the dads in these stories are incompetent or careless; they're just up against a random, cruel universe that plays for keeps. And if they're not good enough, what hope do you have, guy who's half-asleep on his sofa, letting his toddler watch The Walking Dead?
Examples: It, Annabelle, Krampus, Unfriended
There's a very good chance you're going to kinda hate a large percentage of the things your kid likes -- the shows they watch, the games they play, whatever confusing shit they're into online. ("So you're watching videos of another kid taking toys out of a box? And then what happens? Oh. Nothing.") But hey, parents are supposed to find kid things annoying! "That vaguely creepy toy / incomprehensible YouTuber they love isn't actually going to hurt them," you assure yourself. But do you really believe it?
According to horror movies, nothing kids like is to be trusted. Toys? Evil. Dolls? Evil. The internet? Evil. Freakin' Santa Claus? Evil. Clowns? Well, even most kids know clowns aren't to be trusted, but yes, very definitely evil. And yet there's no keeping your little ones away from the haunted doll, cursed website, etc., because just as in real life, it's absolutely impossible to monitor everything they do or see.
And once they are lured in, well, these very same horror tropes tell kids that no matter how bad things get, the grownups won't save them, or even believe them. Better go down to fight the sewer monster yourself, kid!
Examples: Friday The 13th, Halloween, It Follows
But hey, it's alright to leave your kids to their own devices once they get a little older. You raised 'em proper! You can trust them to make good decisions and can take care of themselves! Uh, right? Sorry parents, but every slasher movie from the '80s would like to have a word with you.
It doesn't matter how many times you've patiently lectured them. Your teenager will get high and have sex in an abandoned summer camp built on an ancient Native burial ground while they're supposed to be looking for their friends who have just disappeared under mysterious circumstances. It's, like, a rite of passage, OK? Other favorite teen activities include splitting up, stumbling blindly into the woods to investigate creepy noises, and forgetting how to start cars. Parents just don't understand.
Examples: The Amityville Horror, The Conjuring, The Haunting Of Hill House
This is basically the moral of every James Wan move. The old mansion is a little creepy, and there are those whispers about what happened to the previous owners, but man, it's so cheap and roomy! Sure, the walls occasionally bleed and chant things in ancient Sumerian, but Dad's new job in town will be good for everybody! And maybe the youngest has started drawing pictures of a shadowy figure eating the family's souls, but darn it, this county has some of the best public schools in the state.
As adults, we get good at justifying our decisions, but horror movies are here to remind you that you're secretly so selfish that you don't care if your children get eaten by the ghosts of old ladies with black stringy hair. Also, always listen to your kid when they tell you something is wrong. Not to get too dark in this article about horror, insanity, and child murder, but I feel like there's a correlation between the steady stream of child abuse scandals hitting the news and the popularity of these "If only we'd listened to little Johnny about those bad things happening when we weren't looking" movies. Sorry if that subtext has made Annabelle 4: Annabelle vs. Chucky less enjoyable for you.
Examples: The Babysitter, Emelie, The Visit
Clearly, horror flicks serve up a lot of variations on the "Don't ever let your kids out of your sight" theme. The name of the game is figuring out what the audience is anxious about, and then jabbing at that emotionally sensitive spot over and over with a knitting needle. Thus this trope. Their teachers? They will kill your kid. Their babysitter? They'll stab your kid and eat all your Fudgsicles. Even their grandparents who usually can't remember where their glasses and/or teeth are have an elaborate murder plot all drawn up.
Also, in most of these "Whoops, we left the kids with a monster" setups, the horrible, selfish parents are off on vacation, a fancy dinner, or, gasp, getting it on. Y'know, doing something fun. The message? No more having a good time, or you'll return home to find your house surrounded by police cruisers.
Examples: The Shining, The Babadook, Mom And Dad
Every soon-to-be parent has those moments of doubt. "What if I just don't like my child?" It's a mostly baseless fear, as, barring some trauma, you're probably going to think you've got the best goddamn kid in the world. But still ... what if? And the hand-wringing doesn't end once the kid is born, as every flash of frustration, anger, or resentment is accompanied by a gut punch of guilt.
Of course, this kind of parental guilt is easy pickings for scary movies. The Shining is about a guy being stuck on an endless ski lodge vacation with his wife and son and realizing, to his horror, that he finds both of them really ax-to-the-face irritating. The Babadook takes all the exhaustion, frustration, and bottled resentment many moms feel and physically manifests it as an evil Muppet.
Best-case scenario in these kind of movies, you bury your resentment somewhere deep and dark (the mom from The Babadook literally banishes hers to the basement), and just hope it doesn't break free someday. Hey, at least it's better than freezing to death in a hedge maze.
Examples: Children Of The Corn, Sinister, Insidious, Pet Sematary
Let's say you manage to keep your offspring from being killed by a freak accident, the babysitter, their own stupidity, or, uh, you. Are you in the clear? Of course, you aren't. Horror movies aren't just about browbeating parents; they also want drive home that kids are little bundles of inscrutable horror. As soon as they aren't being threatened by the boogeyman, the little shits are planning to go Village Of The Damned on your ass. Why? No reason. They're kids, who knows what the hell they're thinking?
There's no winning -- not for parents in horror movies, or certainly not for us real-life ones looking for some dumb scares without a side helping of anxiety. Thank goodness we still have shark movies. Nothing to worry parents in them! Well, except for those teenage skinny-dippers not obeying beach safety protocols. Uh, how about giant monster movies? Hmmm, I wonder what King Kong's mother thought when he went off to New York alone? Damn it.
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Things could always be much, much worse.
The cops will come swooping in the seconds the credits roll.
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