Suggested Audio Candy:
 Robert Miles Children (Dream Version)
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Children are a constant source of fascination to me. Where adults have a tendency to mask their true feelings, kids are honest in the extreme, often to the point of brutality, and I find their frankness wonderfully refreshing. They view the world through wide eyes, whereas their elders become increasingly blinkered, and exhibit an enthusiasm that many of us misplace once we realize that life isn’t always fair. Indeed, my six-year-old son can brighten up the most overcast day and I cherish every last moment that we share together. However, we are here today with altogether different motivation. You see, while I get that children are the future and all that, there is one place that they are far less than welcome in my eyes.
Casting a child actor in a horror film is like inviting your mother-in-law to be on your Vegas stag weekend. It’s an unnecessary distraction and one that frustrates me to my very core. The reason for this is elementary: more often than not they are granted immunity and, if there’s one thing in horror I don’t wish to feel, then it’s assured of anyone’s safe passage. Even outside of the genre, ankle-biters can yank my chain like few others, and I call to the stand a certain Kevin McCallister to elucidate my point further. Tell me I’m wrong here and I’ll argue the toss until red in the face, but was I the only one watching John Hughes’s Home Alone desperate to see this little snot goblin receive his comeuppance? Come on Grueheads, don’t hold out on me.
Bungling burglars Harry and Marv had plenty of chances to even the scores and I spent the best part of 102 minutes just praying that Joe Pesci remembered the training Martin Scorsese provided him on how to crack a skull. Should he have jammed Kevin’s head in a vice, slammed it in a car door repeatedly, or even simply shot him in his foot, then I would have been a happy camper. Instead, exasperation was the primary emotion and don’t even get me started on Problem Child as I will likely go postal. I spent my childhood learning the painful lesson that children should be seen and not heard and both were blatantly disregarded as a worrying trend emerged in the nineties for placing kids front and center and catering for their every whim. However, comparatively harmless PG-rated fluff is one thing but, when I’m all in for some good old-fashioned human suffering, it’s bedtime for these little fuckers.
My case in point is this: I’m a huge fan of Dan O’Bannon’s The Return of The Living Dead and it would easily nestle into my all-time top five zombie films. When Ken Wiederhorn’s sequel arrived in 1989, it’s fair to say that I harbored some fairly grave doubts over whether or not such an audacious feat could be repeated. While I could get my head around the return of Frank and Freddy (now Ed and Joey), even though their vital signs had long since diminished, what really got my goat was the character of Jesse Wilson. The very moment the realization dawned that this pint-sized punk would be tagging along for the foreseeable, a little piece of me died inside. Wiederhorn’s film was on the back foot from that point forward and, true to form, Jesse was granted immunity. To be fair, certain other urchins perished and this provided a crumb of consolation but not as much as the idea of Tarman chowing down on his cerebellum.
Danny Torrance fared a little better in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining but only because his mother was such an irritant. Nevertheless, when he managed to escape through the bathroom window, part of me was praying for him to pick up a compound fracture on his descent and end up as firewood. Granted, it would have been a harsh end for one of such tender years but, if you want to talk about heartless, then I would urge you in the direction of hapless Dick Hallorann instead. It was on account of Danny’s telepathic cries for help that Dick left the cosy confines of his personal boudoir and battled unfathomable conditions to rush to his aid. What did he receive on arrival for showing concern? Obliteration before he could so much as warm his chilblains. It all could have been prevented had he not been such a clairvoyant cry baby. Meanwhile, Wendy walked away scot-free and Jack froze to death in the hedge maze. Justice? Not served. The twins are off the hook however.
Andy Barclay should have counted himself damn lucky for reaching puberty and I hold Charles Lee Ray personally responsible for not finishing the job when he had the chance. Whilst not nearly as hateful as he could have been, the fact remains that it was his insistence on being presented with a Good Guy doll for his sixth birthday that started it all off. Had he opted for a Nintendo Gameboy, then Chucky would likely still be in the cellophane and his babysitter wouldn’t be pavement fodder. To make things worse, he returned for the sequel and still managed to elude the icy grip of death. By the time Jack Bender brought us Child’s Play 3, he was sixteen and therefore no longer quite the prize he once was. Had the Lakeshore Strangler not bided his time so patiently, then it all could have been over at the very first lights out. That’s a pretty glaring opportunity wasted if you ask me.
It’s hard to be too hard on Cole Sear as, while he didn’t end up six feet under, he did have to endure seeing dead people at every conceivable turn and that tempered any disappointment. M. Night Shyamalan’s supernatural thriller The Sixth Sense really put the young boy through the ringer and made a star of child actor Haley Joel Osment in the process. However, for all of Cole’s hardships, it was Dr. Malcolm Crowe who really got the bum deal. The only upside was the emotional scarring that would stay with the boy for life. What Shyamalan failed to enlighten us to was that, several years later, he likely ended up in a dingy back street huffing crack and ultimately choking on his own bile. The dead would have found that one amusing.
Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist managed the unthinkable by presenting us with, not one, but two minors who we didn’t wish to see come to harm. Carol-Anne was simply adorable and, while admittedly I gleaned much glee from watching Robbie tormented by cantankerous clowns and tyrannical tree branches, I was happy enough to see the Freeling kids endure the film unscathed. It’s a tightrope for sure, but Hooper’s film traversed it well and I felt no sense of squandered opportunity come the end credits. Perhaps if those around them were dying, as opposed to peeling their own faces off and realizing it was all a cunning ploy, then it would have been an entirely different story but Carol-Anne and Robbie are allowed off the hook on this technicality alone.
Another reprieve goes to little Tony Phillips from Harry Bromley Davenport’s gloriously goofy sci-fi oddity Xtro. With his long since misplaced father returning from an extended stint of anal probing, Tony provided a priceless pawn as the shit began hitting the fan in full oscillation. An alien love bite was his price of admission and he took it like a real mini-trooper. Moreover, Davenport took full advantage of the impressionable boy’s overactive imagination by affording him the privilege of becoming full-blown ringmaster. As a direct result, we were provided with a life-sized Action Man complete with bolt cutters, bayonet and bad attitude, a tiny toy tank with no intention of firing blanks, a razor-sharp throat slicing yo-yo, and a vertically challenged wobbly hammer wielding clown who harvested alien oviums from a wonderfully phallic wall-mounted female incubator. Not bad for one of such tender years.
Tommy Jarvis continues our run of youngsters we didn’t wish to watch hacked into tiny pieces in Joseph Zito’s Friday The 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter. While admittedly there was no place for pre-pubescent boys in Camp Crystal Lake, somehow he managed to convince us otherwise. It helped that Tommy wasn’t your usual despicable attention seeking brat and, indeed, his love of horror was never in question as his personal quarters resembled a shrine of sickness. Better yet, after Jason had worked his way through a particularly hefty troop of tanked-up teens, this cunning little cad grew a pair, shaved his head haphazardly, and took the fight to his hulking harrasser. Kudos were in order as he come out triumphant and truly turned the tables on the sulky momma’s boy with considerable panache to boot. I’m one for giving credit where due and Tommy Jarvis earned both his stripes and a shot at puberty.
Our next nipper has me on the fence if I’m honest. In space, no one can hear you scream right? Indeed, in space no child should be heard, let alone seen. While Drake was being sent to his early acid bath and Apone cocooned before lunchtime, the pursuit of cute and almost mute Newt bore no fruit as she found solace beneath Ripley’s wing and evaded having her dimples punched through. On one hand, she should have contracted interstellar hepatitis way before the rescue team even docked. That said, she was a plucky little poppet for sure who, at the very least, adhered to the children should not be heard part of her brief. However, when Hudson and Vasquez valiantly succumbed to their elected fates, I couldn’t shake the voice inside my head telling me “it should have been you”. I think it rather fitting that, despite making the drop ship evac unpunished, she ended up drowning in her alloy Moses basket while her neglectful surrogate mother was catching some hyperwinks and subconsciously playing footsy with Hicks in the adjacent pod.
Since we’re putting the kids to bed, how about a few slightly more mean-spirited films that have been ballsy enough to buck the trend. Tell me it’s not satisfying to watch a wide-eyed child bite the bullet and I’ll stroke my chin in a rather suspicious manner. Guillermo del Toro would stroke his too as he procrastinated not in sending two inquisitive tykes straight to their eternal crèche in his 1997 film Mimic. Steven Spielberg too reminded us that great white sharks ain’t fussy when watching legs kicking in water, while Kevin O’Neill went one better by allowing his Dinocroc to decapitate a young rapscallion. You bet Roger Corman was on production duties. Meanwhile, Fred Dalton’s When a Stranger Calls asked the particularly disheartening question of whether or not Jill had checked the children and the answer was a resounding oopsy-daisy. James W. Roberson’s Superstition taught little Justin not to go snooping around in the cellar when a 300-year-old witch with a chip on her shoulder is busy preparing her comeback speech. Hell, Mary Lambert introduced toddler Gage to the grille of a full speed articulated sixteen wheeler and packed the little bleeder off to the Pet Sematary.
However, I have cherry picked a few choice cuts in particular and there seems no better place to start than Tommy Lee Wallace’s three-hour cable adaptation of Stephen King’s It. Pennywise the Clown had his pick of the crop here but plumped for sweet defenceless six-year-old Georgie as he supplied him one free swimming lesson, curious as to whether or not he would float. He didn’t. Alas, little Georgie was a sucker for helium and paid the ultimate price for his curiosity. Remember kids, if you happen to pass by a storm drain and Tim Curry is down there with a bunch of balloons as sweetener, fucking run as his size twenty-six clown shoes sure cover the ground fast.
It wasn’t an isolated incident either as Wallace had already subjected Little Buddy Kupfer to the most excruciating demise imaginable for his grossly underrated Halloween III: Season of The Witch courtesy of Silver Shamrock Novelties. Buddy learned a lesson that evening about sitting too close to the television and his penance had to be seen to be believed. What started as a tense, nervous headache escalated into a collapsed cranium and, in case we were any doubt as to whether reconstructive surgery was a viable option with Dr. Dan Challis just a few chambers away, all manner of insects then crawled through his decimated skull case and slithered too. Indeed, the serpent in particular, had immense fun navigating Little Buddy’s eye sockets. Had I mentioned that every under ten in America was wearing a similar facial death trap come the end of the film?
Even way back in 1931, somebody had the bottle to snuff an infant, although the guilty party would swear blind that it was purely accidental. James Whale’s adaptation of Frankenstein caused something of a stir on its release and the scene in question wasn’t reinstated until half a century later for fear of backlash. If you ask me, Maria had it coming for expecting a patched-up 7ft monster with no life experience to understand the rules of her petty game. Tossing flowers into the lake must have seemed like a decent enough way to pass the time but, just like Pennywise, Frankenstein hadn’t packed water wings for their activity and she ended up crab meat. Meanwhile, the loveable lug just pleaded ignorance and got off with a slap on the wrist, community service and a six month beach ban.
I’ve been saving the crème de la crème for last as Kathy from John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 will forever be my personal darling. Every kid gets excited by the sound of approaching ice-cream van jingles and she skipped outside, clutching a clutchful of dimes to retrieve her Vanilla Twist. After queueing up impatiently, lining the vendor’s palm with bronze, and taking a lick of her much sought-after cornet, melted gelato became the very least of her worries as she was provided strawberry sprinkles, the likes of which she simply didn’t see coming. To Kathy I have only this to say: you should have been satisfied with what you got as little Timmy Cunningham from number 10 got a moccasin to the back of his knees for his polite request.
I’m not sure what made this scene so damn hysterical but let’s consider the options shall we?
[A] The nonchalant manner in which she was executed.
[B] The sight of freshly spattered blood on her pinafore.
[C] The priceless expression on her face as she slid to the asphalt, still holding onto said ice-cream.
[D] The fact that this wondrous scene introduced me to slow play.
I think it would be an amalgamation of the four. Despite almost choking on my own mucus, it was worth every last snot bubble if you ask me. The next time I hear the spritely tune of Mr Rossi’s van coming over the horizon, I’m heading straight outside for recon. Not because I have a silenced pistol and uncatered for appetite for destruction, but with binoculars in hand for front row seats.
I’d better watch my step here as, what I haven’t mentioned, is that children have an uncanny way of getting their own back. When I’m least expecting it, I’ll likely receive Damien Thorne’s tricycle treads to my Achilles heel or be taken for an exclusive tour behind the rows by those pesky Children of The Corn. As tempting as it is to turn the tables and let the goblins run amok, I already covered that in H is for Hellraiser and have no intention of repeating myself. However, I may have negated to mention the kids from Ed Hunt’s Bloody Birthday so, in the interest of fairness, time to right that wrong. In my defense, this 1981 film was pretty unremarkable and the most memorable thing about it was its playful poster art. That said, the concept of three children born during a solar eclipse, taking the adults down a peg or two makes it ripe for revisitation. Their tools of dispatch included a perilously placed skateboard, bow and arrow, and loaded revolver and, love ’em or loathe ’em, they were resourceful little buggers.
One of them even got himself typecast as, twelve months later, he was up to his tricks again in Boaz Davidson’s majestically misfiring medical massacre X-Ray. This time he picked on one of his own and found an ingenious new secondary function for a hat stand in the process. I would imagine that Billy Jayne’s parents were a little concerned by his career choices at that time but it certainly didn’t stop them from signing that consent form.
Special mention must go to nine-year old Esther from Jaume Collet-Serra’s 2009 thriller Orphan, regardless of the fact that she only scrapes this list on account of a technicality. You see, she may have looked sweet and innocent but try telling that to her doting parents Kate and John Coleman when she slid her digits into daddy’s secret lunch hamper. And no, they weren’t on a family picnic at the time. That’s right, Esther was approaching that age when she would begin asking all kinds of uncomfortable questions. I’m not talking about her first period or where Mr. Bunny takes Mrs. Bunny and why she vacates the warren lopsidedly and smelling like rabbit jism. It’s more along the lines of what mommy and daddy have planned for her upcoming 34th birthday. You can understand why she felt frustrated as it must be soul-destroying getting turned away for Marlboro Lights every day. I just feel sorry for whatever cum-syringe decides to steal her cherry after prom night to discover she’d midway through prolapse and massively menopausal. On the plus side, should he go on to marry her, then she’ll look still great in her sixties.
Anyhoots, I think that is all we have time for as I got a part-time job as a tooth fairy and could do with the work right now. It may sound innocuous enough and, indeed, I fully intend to compensate each child for any surplus milk teeth beneath their pillowcases. That said, I’m also packing a mallet and can’t be dealing with the return journeys so may as well round it up to two bucks fifty for their entire collection. Of course, I shall do no such thing as children are the future and one day I may just need somebody to treat my infected bed sores. I may seem a tad mean-spirited but it’s all in jest really. However, I grew sick and tired many years ago of hearing bigots slandering anyone with the brass balls to not supply special favors to the under tens.
Have you ever heard the term “if you want to be treated like an adult then you’d darn well better start acting like one”? Apply that to horror and I won’t seem half as nefarious. There is always space for promiscuous pot-smoking skinny dipping ample chested co-eds and their dimwitted beaus. Meanwhile, the elderly offer an additional bonus and deserve everything they get for giving up on flannel washing their genitals. Domestic pets are fine and dandy also, regardless of how many cat years old they are. So why not kids? What makes them so privileged and untouchable? In reality, I get on just fine with the little whippersnappers unless they tie my shoelaces together or leave roller skates lying around near stairwells. However, should they dare to enter the realms of blackness I frequent when they should be tucked up in their vaults, then I wash my hands of them. After all, you can’t wrap them up in cotton wool forever can you? I’m pretty sure that’s a felony without the correct ventilation.
Should any underage rascals have snuck onto this page and be reading in abject horror then allow me to clear a few things up. Santa Claus doesn’t exist, neither does the Easter Bunny and while puberty will open new doors, wait until you get your very first yeast infection. Life doesn’t always play fair I’m afraid and you can’t expect a free ride forever. Believe me, you’ll thank me when you’re older. By the way, if you keep on pulling that face, the wind will change and you’ll look like that forever. The exact same thing happened to Rocky Dennis and, outside of his impressive baseball trading card collection, he ain’t got many reasons to be cheerful. Yes I’m quite aware that he has a girlfriend but she’s legally blind and will soon become a distant pen pal when she puckers up and it feels like she’s removing her lipstick with sandpaper. I’m sure you’re right and he is hung like a Shetland pony but that’s scant consolation to her when she runs her hand down his rock face. Now get to bed or I’ll send John Merrick up to read your bedtime story and you don’t want to be seeing his trunk.
Truly, Really, Clearly, Sincerely,
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of the Crimson Quill
Copyright: Grueheads Films 2017