Show Your Kids ‘Halloween’ This Year

halloween Crackle

In third grade, I was the Digimon Agumon for Halloween. He was a small, yellow thing with big claws and a toothy grin. After several years of Ghostface—including one whose mask bled that had me removed from an elementary school Halloween party—I was ready to try something different. Agumon was the perfect costume. Or I thought he was. Later that night, we sorted the candy and I was fleeced for my best big bars. I sat down to watch a TNT premiere my mom had been excited about all day—Halloween: H20. Two hours later, Agumon was over. The only thing I wanted to be was Michael Myers.

My affinity for the Halloween series is no secret. I’ve done deep dives into its history. I’ve taken umbrage with how the new trilogy is treating its characters and mythology. I have even written love letters to the black sheep of the franchise Halloween: Resurrection. Most importantly, I’ve recently listed John Carpenter’s original boogeyman saga as a must-watch for families this Halloween season. Here, in the spirit of all things spooky, I thought I would expand on that contention. Arguing that truly, honestly, unequivocally, this Halloween is the perfect time to show Halloween to your kids.

On its face, at least to those audiences outside the horror sphere, it might seem like a bold, harebrained suggestion. Yeah, show your kids the R-rated movie about, in the words of Casey Becker, “the guy in the white mask who walks around and stalks babysitters.” Of course, horror fans know that Halloween, much like the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, isn’t nearly as extreme as the horror moniker suggests. Sure, they’re terrifying—and classic horror tentpoles for a reason—but other than a breast here or a stab there, they’re considerably more restrained than even most modern PG-13 genre fare.

In my first piece for Dread Central, I wrote a letter to my mom and all the horror parents. The ones who cultivated a deep, longstanding affinity for all things frightening. It’s one of the pieces I’m most proud of. It’s also the one that perhaps best conceptualizes my relationship with horror movies writ large. Growing up, horror movies were about more than bloody violence and scary monsters. They cultivated in me an undercurrent of resiliency. An undercurrent of acceptance and empathy for things that were different or difficult to understand. Horror movies made the real world a lot less scary.

Monsters could be tackled and defeated. As a closeted queer kid in the early aughts, I saw more of myself in the likes of Scream or A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge than I did in most if not all age-appropriate media targeted toward me. Perhaps even more importantly, it cultivated an enduring family tradition. With every new horror release comes a Friday night screening or Sunday evening watch party. My mom, my siblings, and our respective partners all gather together for a bloody sensational movie.

While everyone’s genre history is different, I firmly maintain there’s nothing wrong with starting that horror appreciation early. While I’m certainly not suggesting second graders be plopped in front of the television for a Martyrs and Inside double-feature, I do think Carpenter’s Halloween is the perfect gateway horror entry for the curious or burgeoning young horror fan. Gateway horror as a subgenre in its own right is as diverse as ever. Some youngins might catch something like Return to Oz and find themselves eager to seek out scarier, weirder material. Others might see something like Blumhouse’s Black Christmas remake (a movie better than most would have you believe) and start browsing similar titles, embarking down a The House on Sorority Row and The Initiation rabbit hole.

Halloween is R-rated horror through and through. That is to say, it isn’t conspicuously gateway horror. Modern parents especially might conflate the Myers of old with the Myers of new. No matter one’s thoughts on Halloween Kills, it would be difficult to point to its trailers last year and earnestly argue “Yes, this is for kids!” That isn’t for me to say—though elementary school me would have been foaming at the mouth to see it. But Carpenter’s original remains uniquely suited to the young new horror fan.

With razor-sharp tension, almost no blood—no matter what that dolt at Stu’s party in Scream says—and a remarkable performance from Jamie Lee Curtis, Halloween was a frightening foray not just into boogeymen, but the young babysitter who would contend with him for almost half a century. Growing up, Jamie Lee Curtis and Laurie Strode were iconic to me. One and the same, really, she was everything I wanted to be. Resourceful, strong, but vulnerable where it counts most (Resurrection notwithstanding), I was as eager to identify her as a role model for a class presentation as my peers were to pick Amelia Earhart.

The ethos of Halloween was no less grounded, no less resonant, than a block of Nickelodeon cartoons. In many ways, I’d argue, they were even more poignant. The conceit of Halloween had more to say with its stalking and slashing than most content available at the time. While the landscape of children’s media—especially children’s horror media—has shifted considerably since (there’s a lot of good stuff out there), Halloween was one of the first. Not only that, Halloween was and still is one of the best. 

While mileage may vary, I can earnestly say my life might look different had I not seen Halloween so young. Sure, my deep ties to horror would obviously be jeopardized. Truthfully, I think I’d be missing a lot more than that. When I was called the F-word after running for school president, I went home and watched The Slumber Party Massacre 2, and I genuinely felt better. When graduate school was kicking my butt and I was certain I couldn’t do it anymore, I put on a double of Halloween 4 and Halloween 5 to calibrate my mind and calm my spirit. It might sound pat and dramatic, but horror isn’t just horror to me. It’s a core part of my identity.

Communication scholar Walter Fisher argues that the way we develop and interpret meaning in the world is through stories. Tracing back as early as the oral tradition—myths and legends and etchings and tall tales—meaning has its roots in stories. Stories make or break. They give meaning to the minutiae and the tragedy, the heartbreak and the triumphs. My story is horror, and that story of horror is in no small part the story of Michael Myers. Alongside the likes of Ghostface and Don Mancini’s Child’s Play, I saw myself refracted in the glossy knife’s surface, in the reflective pool of crimson blood on the ground. I saw the person I wanted to be—kind, empathetic, brave, and resilient—and endeavored to cultivate that every day of my life. Horror makes heroes of the scared. This season, there’s little else that might prove so meaningful.



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