Christmas Shopping Horrors

Sorry, I have been so erratic lately but, once the REF was gone, Christmas appeared right around the corner! However, despite its stresses and strains, this year’s season of good-tidings has proved fascinating, horror-wise.

I’m not saying that I am now cool or anything, but, Great God, kids have changed. This year, when I asked friends and family what their kids wanted for Christmas, the responses that I got were repeatedly about things that harked back to my own (and once unpopular) fannish enthusiasms.

Most kids today, it seems, are into The Hunger Games, which looks pretty much like 1970s exploitation films (and their more mainstream Hollywood companions). In a futuristic world, kids are forced to battle it out TO THE DEATH as part of some evil, mass-mediated form of social control. It is part Death Race 2000, part Rollerball, part … well, part quite a lot of 1970s dystopian science fiction/horror.

In addition, many kids also seem to be into material that one friend summed up quite nicely with the phrase, ‘Gothic light’. For some of you, this term might summon up the terrible vision of Twilight, and certainly my niece, who is around ten says that this is her favorite book. However, not only is Twilight subject to quite unfair and completely contradictory criticisms (see my article and other pieces in a new collection on the subject) but there is a lot more to ‘Gothic light’, which sort of puts Twillight in a quite different light.

I had wanted to get one kid a copy of Eerie, Indiana, but it turns out that the show might be a bit old fashioned for them. Although, it turns out that my niece is really eager to watch Buffy, which is now back in vogue. Fantastic! Her favorite television show is also something called Wolfblood, which has completely passed me by and which I need to obviously check out.

But of course Christmas shopping was never going to be easy and, while the kids might love this stuff, their parents are, predictably, worried about it. The appeal to many kids is that these books, films and television series seem fascinatingly adult (for someone between eight and twelve) but that is precisely their problem for many parents.

I had thought about getting Warm Bodies, a wonderfully sweet, witty zombie/romance, with a killer performance by John Malkovich, but apparently the thought of a post-apocalyse zombie wasteland, however much it might be redeemed by love, might prove traumatizing to kids… Damn!

So, the encouragement was to go, instead, with something more appropriate to kids: Snow White and the Huntsman. This might have the star of the dreaded Twilight (who was once known as a fascinating androgenous child actor), and it may actually be darker and scarier, in my humble opinion, than Warm Bodies, but its based (however loosely) on a fairy tale and is therefore more appropriate for kids … apparently.

Of course, I would have thought that any child with half a brain cell would really want Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil, if they knew anything about it, but if parents are going to object to Warm Bodies, they are never going to get over this joyous, endearing comic spatterfest – although what child could resist the charms of Tucker or Dale … I know that I can’t.

Ah well, maybe another Christmas.

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Strictly Come Dancing – The Halloween Special

[It’s from last year but what the hell!]

So it is another week when the REF has kept me from more worthwhile pursuits like discussing Tales from the Crypt, or Dead of Night, or the final episode of Dexter, which kept me up half the night – not from fear but from a really heartfelt sense of melancholy. Of course, I won’t say why, and not just because of SPOILERS – when I get the chance, I want to take some time with this series, which has given me so much pleasure over its various seasons. I don’t know about you but, when its on form, I find it really moving…

Okay, moving swiftly on, before someone calls the psych-ward, I thought I would give a moments thought to the fact that it was Halloween this week, and rather than finding myself with Jamie Lee Curtis in the house, a serial killer on the loose outside and a double bill of Forbidden Planet and The Thing from Another World on the TV, there seemed to be very little Halloween related on the box – except for a Strictly Come Dancing Halloween Special.

For those of you who are not privy to the wonders of British Saturday Night Television, Strictly Come Dancing is the show that is called Dancing With the Stars in the US – although the BBC version is the original, which also discovered Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli, who are judges on the British version, too.

The Special basically involved the same format as usual, but with Halloween-themed costumes, routines and songs, and judges’ paddles that were shaped like ghosts. Not particularly scary, but with a lot to tell us about horror television.

First, one gets an interesting glance into what is imagined to be the popular perception of the key horror monsters and sub-genres, although, second, we also got a very selective tradition that seemed to largely consist of a version of the Gothic that had been filtered through Tim Burton – even when we get a reference to science-fiction-horror, it was less The Thing from Another World or Creature from the Black Lagoon than a case of Mars Attacks!

Then, there is the question of what happens to horror when it becomes something that can be used to ‘theme’ regular programming, like a Christmas Special. Which of course makes me immediately wish that we had a Johnny Cash Horror or Halloween Special, along the lines of the great man’s Christmas Specials from the 1970s. I can see him singing ‘The Man Comes Around’ on it as clear as day – or night!

And of course that raises the question of horror tastes. Loads of people who claim not to like horror wouldn’t have a problem with this kind of show, while lots of horror fans would hate it. I might like both but largely as an exercise in schizophrenia (in the horror sense of the term – split personality – rather than the clinical sense).

But separating this kind of horror material out from ‘real’ horror seems to simple to me. What it shows us is the complex ways in which horror is part of a common cultural language, on television and in other media, which may produce a variety of different kinds of identification. People may claim to hate horror in one context and yet have no objection to the genre in other contexts or at particular times of year.

Hell, Christmas television is full of material that would be dismissed as wildly inappropriate at other times of the year, but which is given a certain license at yuletide – remember the episode of Beverley Hills 90210 where Steve ran into Santa Claus?!?!

Anyhow, I am now taking votes on the scariest thing in the Strictly Come Dancing Halloween Special – there is a lot to choose from!