Horror is not often associated with children’s media. The flagship genre behind the authority of the comics code, horror, has been subject to censorship for fear of “corrupting the youth”. It’s a story recreated through media, inspiring films like “Scream.”
Horror serves more than just entertaining brave viewers, it often serves deeper psychological purposes. Horror is described as a cathartic experience that allows for controlled stress and release.
This process of gratification releases dopamine and primes our responses to similar situations. In this way, it can be a healthy exercise in fear. Although tied to moralizing intentions, folk tales play with the idea that being scared is fun.
Tastes change over time, as seen in “The Simpsons” story of “The Raven,” which Bart criticizes for not being scary. In this way, horror is a relative experience; it’s equal parts what the viewer brings in and what they take away.
The listings often draw a fine line between “adult” oriented features and “family” horror features. Though the real key is fleshed out characters and nowhere is that more apparent than in horror-centric coming of age stories.
Often times, horror films centered around children have the dual roles of growing a character and confronting a threat, like in the movie “Night of the Hunter.” The story follows two children as they try to escape the clutches of an evil preacher who married their mother for her money.
In the end, the children changed. Faced with the horrors of life, they have become adults. This is the central theme of the bildungsroman: stories centered on the personal trials of children. These trials are reinterpreted through the prism of fear in films like “Coraline” and “The Black Phone”, reflecting a horror subset featuring the young protagonist.
This has been recreated on TV with shows like “Goosebumps,” an anthology serial adaptation of the R.L. Stein book series of the same name. Each episode finds new ways to put kids at the forefront of the action, from monster librarians to evil sponges, while each episode tackles new morals like telling the truth.
The animation gave us “Over the Garden Wall,” which blends folklore and scares into something wonderful, embodying a certain “Frog and Toad” vibe with gothic imagery. At the same time, it explores Wirt’s experience of finding his identity.
“Stranger Things” places elements of the 80s gothic by further exploring the trope with absent parents having their own storylines to explore. In the first season, the plots are divided according to age group – adults investigating the disappearance of a child, teenagers fighting a monster, and children helping a mysterious girl.
Children’s experiences contribute to their own personal growth. In a callback to “Night of the Hunter,” it’s up to children to make rational decisions in the face of a threat, and through that ordeal, they grow.
The latest of the horror movies aimed at kids comes with “Wendell & Wild,” a clay-animated feature from the creator of “Coraline” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas” featuring comedic duo Key and Peele. The film promises to bring chilling imagery and a unique narrative to children’s films, as trauma and horror are brought into conversation.
Horror centered on young protagonists contains a unique collection of films that not only scare us but show the growth of the characters. These horror characteristics become a new lens to look at life, as we get scared and end up growing up with the protagonists.
Benjamin Ervin is studying English Literature and Writing at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Benjamin know by emailing him at [email protected]