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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Scooby Doo, Where are You, Now that We Need You?

What can I say about the glory that is the original series of Scooby Doo? It is one of those shows that makes me want to sound like some BBC arts presenter, who gushes with superlatives about the rich, artistic quality, the genius that evokes Leonardo, Michelangelo. You know, that kind of stuff. I even want to suggest that our brave hero’s cry of ‘Scooby Dooby Dooooo’ reminds me of Yeats…

I know that Scooby is back with a vengeance, and it is a deep pleasure to see youngsters worshiping at his majestic feet but (and now I definitely sound like a BBC arts presenter decrying the decline of western culture) it’s just not as good as it once was. Yes, folks, I am getting old.

But what can Scooby and the Gang tell us about horror and television. Well, first, there is the association with children that we discussed a while back. The show started in the late 1960s, which was only about ten years after horror films were the first major package of films that were sold to television and developed a huge following among the kids.

Indeed, most of the humor in the series relies on a high level of familiarity with the history of the horror film. Each week, the gang would run into yet another classic monster or classic monster movie type, and the series depends upon a familiarity with these monsters, their mythologies and the narratives with which they were associated.

None the less, the show was actually strongly associated with a particular period of horror. Despite the psychedelic clothes and van design, the series is strongly rooted in the monster-hunter narratives of the 1940s, as exemplified by the Sherlock Holmes films of the 1940s.

If the Sherlock Holmes films are now remembered as detective stories, they were known as ‘mysteries’ at the time; and the term ‘mystery’ was not a separate category from ‘horror’ but meant stories of the strange, weird and uncanny. Holmes was therefore usually hunting down supposedly supernatural monsters, and even when the mystery was not a monster on the loose, the ‘mystery’ was not just a puzzle to be solved but a seemingly impossible phenomena that seemed to defy logic – even when the work of Nazis or criminal gangs.

It is therefore worth remembering that the Scooby gang drive around in ‘The Mystery Machine’, and they are teenage detectives in search of clues. They were monster hunters in much the same way as Holmes in the 1940s or Carl Kolchak in the 1970s.

This also relates to a theme that is central to the 1940s but also to horror from the Gothic novel to the present: the tension between the rational and the irrational. In the Holmes narratives, the conflict revolves around the possibility of supernatural explanation versus the power of Holmes’ rational logic. Would he be able to counter the supernatural; to give it a rational explanation? Or would the forces of the supernatural and the irrational win out?

Of course, like the Scooby gang, Holmes always finds a rational explanation; as does the detective in The Beast With Five Fingers. But in other narratives, the supernatural wins out and ridicules the powers of rational thought. Think about The X-Files for a moment!

However, Scooby Doo, Where are You? may have seemed to follow a rational logic but, let us be honest, who really cared about the key figures of rational normality, Fred or Daphne? Walking blocks of wood! Instead, it was disruptive monsters on the one hand, and the mad antics of Scooby and Shaggy on the other, that provided excitement. And Scooby and Shaggy were driven by an obsessive preoccupation with food; not the desire to solve the mystery (they ran to food and away from the mysterious and uncanny).

They are driven by the body, not the mind; they continually lapse into irrational panic; and it was usually their slapstick clumsiness that captured the menace, not Fred and Daphne’s carefully laid traps. And then, of course, the two blocks of wood are finally upstaged by Velma, who explains everything; and she was in almost all ways far closer to Shaggy and Scooby than Fred or Daphne, being another teenager outsider: the bespectacled smart girl. God, one can only imagine the humiliation that Daphne must have heaped upon her in the locker room back at school!

At the present, teen horror series a huge on television following Buffy the Vampire Slayer (in which Buffy’s group called themselves the Scooby gang); and, consequently, while Buffy may have been highly important in industrial terms, Scooby Doo hangs over the whole output (from Buffy to Pretty Little Liars, Supernatural, Teen Wolf, and The Vampire Diaries) like some grand ur-text; or some renaissance master: Leonardo, Michelangelo …