A bigger horror is to let kids scream

THE GRIPE

the gripe

The Buzz

July 21, 2006|By MICHAEL SRAGOW | MICHAEL SRAGOW,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Parents, please: If your juvenile entourage is screaming or complaining that a movie is too scary, let your children go - and you will earn the thanks of every adult sitting around you. You may even wind up with a happier, healthier child.

At a preview showing of Monster House, a little girl started whimpering in the opening minutes. Why wouldn't she? In the first scene, a cadaverous old man with terrifying teeth and spooky eyes seizes a child's tricycle, breaks off the front wheel and then tosses it inside the title house. The geezer's home later transforms into a living thing, with windows as eyes, the front door as a mouth and a carpet runner as a curling, lapping tongue.

For the film's intended middle-school-age audience, it's a grabber of a gag, but it understandably had the grade-schooler in back of me yelling, "Daddy, I'm scared!" In a litany that continued throughout the movie, her father replied, "There's nothing to be scared about. It's only a movie."

It's only a movie? Not for that child, I bet. If she's anything like I was as a kid, a movie is scarier - also more vibrant and more magical - than anything mere daily life has to offer. When I was 5, I wanted the thrills my older brother seemed to get from a nonstop diet of horror movies or fantasy films, but I could tell when I couldn't handle them. Just looking at the poster to The 7th Voyage of Sinbad in front of New York's late, lamented Roxie was enough to make my knees quake. My patient dad came up with an alternative - a trip to the Hayden Planetarium.

Later, when I was ready to be scared, I knew. Maybe my tolerance came from seeing sci-fi/horror classics on the TV in the living room, where I could manage the terror. (I could hide behind the big chair.) Maybe it came from my realization that junior high was more frightening than any film. Whatever the reason, I learned to stop worrying and love good horror films - but I did it on my own schedule, with a father who listened when I told him I was scared.

michael.sragow@baltsun.com

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