August 9, 2012

INSIDIOUS and My Living Room Exile

Justin Beiber: The Death Metal Years
Starring Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins, Barbara Hershey, Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell. Directed by James Wan. (2011, 102 min).

My youngest daughter, Lucy, is currently eight-years-old, and my unlikely little horror buddy. My oldest daughter used to hold the title before she decided she’d much rather hang out with her friends on Facebook than on the living room couch with her old man. I can understand that. I didn’t want to hang out with my parents when I was 17, either.

I’ve always loved horror movies, and they make up a sizeable part of my DVD collection. I usually watch them late at night after the wife and kids have gone to bed. Lucy was well-aware of this, and after having watched most of her Disney and Nickelodeon videos dozens of times each, her curiosity was peaked: “Hey, Daddy, when can I watch a scary movie with you?” I was a bit touched because I knew the main reason she wanted to watch a horror movie was to spend some time with me. Naturally, I was more-than-happy to oblige. After all, I was roughly the same age when I started watching them.

With few exceptions, my wife does not like horror films, and was very reluctant to allow such a father-daughter activity. I suggested starting with something like Poltergeist, which was fun and scary without being overly gory. Since Poltergeist was one of the few horror movies my wife liked, she agreed, and the three of us sat on the couch and watched it together. And yeah, it scared Lucy, like it scares everybody. I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t scared by Poltergeist. But unlike The Omen or The Exorcist, watching Poltergeist is like riding a roller coaster; scary as hell during the ride, but once it’s over, all you think about is how fun it was. It's not the kind of movie which lingers in your head and screws up your sleep.
Lucy loved Poltergeist and, like all kids who’ve been exposed to a whole new world, wanted more. So, on weekends, I tried to find other movies in my collection I felt she was old enough to see. Fortunately for me, Lucy is very sharp, with a good sense of humor and a developing love of movies in general. So the two of us took in Tremors, Jaws, The Mummy, Gremlins, Arachnophobia and, eventually, Shaun of the Dead. To my surprise, Lucy especially liked Shaun, partially because it is very funny, but also because of the gore (to my wife’s chagrin, even though she likes Shaun as well). Shaun of the Dead led to Zombieland, which Lucy liked even more. In fact, she seemed to love zombie movies in particular.

Some of you may think I’m being I’m being an irresponsible parent, exposing a child to such things. But like I said, Lucy’s a sharp kid. She knows movie gore is just movie gore, and zombies do not reflect real life in any way whatsoever, which is likely why she took such a liking to them. Zombies are actually pretty silly creatures, and most kids know that.

We went through most of my zombie flicks in ensuing weekends (though I covered her eyes during Linnea Quigley’s infamous cemetery dance in Return of the Living Dead; I’ll always be uptight watching nudity around my daughters). Yeah, most zombie movies are plenty-gory, but there’s sense of playfulness in the good ones that makes the carnage easier to take.

Once those were exhausted, we moved on to Alien, The Shining, Cat’s Eye, The Thing, Christine, Creepshow and all five Final Destination movies (I bought her the FD films as a birthday gift, which got me a few stunned stares from other kids’ parents at her party. But Lucy loved them, knowing full-well they are nothing but bloody Road Runner cartoons).

Although she blasphemed by declaring Alien boring (I briefly considered donating her to science), Lucy quickly became a fine connoisseur of movie horror.

Before any of you claim I’m a bad dad, I’ll have you know that I watched every single one of these movies with her, and chose titles based on my knowledge of my own kid. In other words, I do not count on someone else telling me what’s appropriate for Lucy to watch.

And until we watched Insidious, I subjected her to nothing I hadn’t previously seen and deemed unsuitable. She does not watch films she doesn’t understand (like The Exorcist), torture porn, Italian gore, serial killers, mindless slasher films or anything nihilistic. Also, since The Descent was the last movie that actually scared me - and I’m not easily scared - my wife drew the line at that one.

Then one afternoon at our local library, the DVD of Insidious was on the shelf. I’d heard quite a bit about it, mostly from middle schoolers I teach, but never bothered to see in the theater. I kind-of resent the watered-down PG-13 garbage that has passed for horror lately, stuff which mostly appeals to the mall-rat crowd. But, hey, Insidious was at the library, it was free, and all I had to lose was a couple of hours of my life. Besides, I’d already tapped every horror movie of my own I was willing to let Lucy watch, and since this was a PG-13 ghost story, I figured Insidious would be a fun way for me & Lucy to cap-off the week.

"Hee Haw! Hee Haw!"
Insidious is about a family who just moved into a new home, and already there’s some weird-ass crap going on...strange noises, things lurking in the shadows...the usual stuff when you buy a haunted house. Meanwhile, one of their kids falls into an inexplicable coma and stays that way for months. Apparitions keep popping up with more frequency, and soon the mother is convinced the house is haunted, so they move into a new place. But all these nasty ghosts tag along for the ride. Turns out it’s not the house that was’s the comatose kid, being held in some sort of limbo because a nasty demon needs him to break out of the purgatory it dwells in.

While not the most original story on Earth (what modern movie is?), I have to admit, as mall-rat horror goes, Insidious isn’t bad at all. It reminded me a lot of Poltergeist, only a bit more serious. The movie’s loaded with creepy imagery and several scenes which admittedly made me jump. It sorta falls apart at the end by explaining way too much, but I had a good time.

However, the movie scared the living shit out of Lucy. By the twenty-minute mark, she was tucked under my arm and gripping me as though her life depended on it. She covered her eyes a lot, screamed a few times and jumped like she’d been electrocuted whenever something nasty popped up. I asked her several times if she wanted me to turn it off, but she kept saying no. Considering the stuff I’ve subjected her to before, I was a bit surprised how scared she was.

Then I recalled my own childhood, when Jaws scared me so goddamn bad that I slept with my parents after watching it. To this day, Jaws remains one of my favorite films because of the sheer terror it instilled in me as a child.

Lucy was experiencing the same thing as we watched Insidious. When it was over, she asked to sleep with her mom because she was a little freaked out. In fact, she slept in our room for most of that week, which meant I was relegated to the living room sofa. Yet, during the day, she talked about Insidious all the time, telling everyone who’d listen how scary it was and how much she enjoyed it. She wanted to watch it again a few days later, but my wife nixed that; she was still a bit miffed at me because of the new sleeping arrangements, and told the both of us, “No more scary movies.” That rule lasted roughly until the following weekend, when me and Lucy fired-up some popcorn and watched Cloverfield (which put her to sleep).

For me, Insidious is no classic, but it is an atmospheric and fun little horror film, one of the better ones I’d seen lately. For Lucy, I imagine it’ll be her own Jaws...the first movie that truly scared the crap out of her, one she’ll probably always have a nostalgic fondness for as she gets older.

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