Geek Speak

From The Dark Crystal to Phantasm: In Defense of Traumatizing Children

Kids today have it too damn easy. I’m not talking about the prevalence of iPads and Xboxes, or the fact it takes fewer than ten seconds to look up any fact known to humanity. I’m talking about the fact that kids today aren't traumatized by pop culture. Consider The Dark Crystal: They don’t make kids' movies like this anymore, and if they did, the helicopter parents who insist on treating preteens like toddlers wouldn’t let their kids see them anyway. And who loses out?The kids, that’s who.

If you remember The Dark Crystal at all, you probably remember it fondly, through the comfortable gauze of nostalgia. What has probably slipped your mind is how grotesque and terrifying the Skeksis were, looking like a cross between a vulture and leperous komodo dragon in the midst of a six-day meth binge. You’ve almost certainly forgotten that those Skeksis maintained their life by literally sucking the lifeforce out of the tiny, innocent humanoid Podlings — a process that gets its own, lingering scene — turning it into a delightful beverage and using the mindless remnant left over as a slave. And the genocide, of course: You do recall that the plot hinges on a nearly complete Gelfling genocide (mercifully not shown), don’t you?

Yeah, that’s quite a kids’ movie.

Sure, The Dark Crystal is a rare breed of kids’ movie, but plenty of other films from that era went dark and disturbing, from Willy Wonka murdering kids because they couldn’t resist his candy to that fucked-up horse scene in The NeverEnding Story. I’m not going to pretend I’m up on all of what constitutes kids’ entertainment these days, but I haven’t seen the likes of any of that since, well, since I was a kid. These days, kids get their entertainment with all the edges sanded off, and I’m not sure it’s doing anyone any favors.

It’s not like you can show your kids real scary shit, either, not without being judged mercilessly and maybe having social services called on you. The first movie I saw in a theater was Jaws, and I was about two and a half. Is it coincidence that I adore sharksploitation movies to this day? I saw Phantasm at six or seven years; it scarred me psychically, and for years I’d see that fucking silver ball coming for me when I closed my eyes at night. That’s why it made my year when I got to interview writer-director Don Coscarelli thirty years or so later. The only movie I ever remember my mom asking my dad if I should be watching was Humanoids From the Deep (NSFW trailer below), and I’m pretty sure it was some boobies that prompted that, not any of the other, actually disturbing shit in the movie. (For the record, Dad didn’t kick me out, and I watched the whole damn thing.) Okay, The Exorcist was banned in my house, but that is the only film I remember ever being forbidden, and that was just because it terrified my mom.

I lived through all that, and it made me the monster-loving freak I am today. I can't say it didn’t traumatize me, because it absolutely, completely did — and that’s why it was awesome. I learned to deal with my fear, come to grips with some of life’s darker elements and appreciate a good decapitation scene, all before puberty. I don’t know if I’m going to do the same for my kids — I really don’t relish the idea of a visit from social services, and my wife would probably murder me, anyway — but I can say that if you’re asking yourself, “Can my kid handle this?,” the answer is probably yes.

Hell, give it a try: Take your seven-year-old toThe Dark Crystal, that classic of Gelfling genocide and Skeksis slurping the brain juice from Podlings; it's screening on Monday, August 24, at the Alamo Drafthouse in Littleton. Leave your DVDs of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre where the kids can find them. And if some new, fucked-up “kids’ movie” full of genocide, slavery and dark magic ever comes out again, take the damn ten-year-olds to see it. Twice. They could use some toughening up.

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Cory Casciato is a Denver-based writer with a passion for the geeky, from old science fiction movies to brand-new video games.
Contact: Cory Casciato

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