Film Nerd 2.0: Universal monsters, Bud and Lou, and something really scary
That seems like a really specific age for him to have named two years ago, but sure enough, this year he seems to finally be developing a bit of a taste for being scared. Rather, he likes watching things that are meant to be scary but that don't actually scare him. That's a fine line to negotiate, and it hasn't been easy finding films that satisfy his very particular criteria. We did finally double back to "Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein," and sure enough, he loves that movie now. He's probably seen it a half-dozen times, and now he loves the moments that scared him so badly at first. Because he seemed comfortable with the iconography, we decided to try some of the Universal monster movies and see how they played for the boys.
First up was "Creature From The Black Lagoon," and later that same weekend, the original James Whale "Frankenstein." Watching the two of them so close together, it occurred to me that what make the Universal monsters so different from most horror films is the unmistakable undercurrent of pathos that is so important to the films. Yes, the Gill-Man is freaky, and yes, that image of him swimming along upside down, just below Julie Adams, is one of the great creep-me-out images of my childhood, but there is such sadness to the way he behaves.
The same is true of Frankenstein's monster, and Boris Karloff's work is about so much more than just the make-up. Yes, when you look at him, it remains one of the great bits of design in horror of all time, but it's the heavy-lidded eyes, the attempts at humanity, that make him so affecting. By the time the Monster was lost in the flaming windmill, both of the boys were very upset, but for the Monster, not by him. They were furious about the idea of the raw deal the Monster got, furious that people wouldn't just listen to him, wouldn't take the time to figure out what he was. They both clearly saw Dr. Frankenstein as the villain of the piece, and were confused when the Monster didn't manage a reprieve at the end of the film. They thought for sure people would realize their mistake and learn from it, but at the end of the movie, it appears that the Monster is dead, and they were inconsolable.
Even in the scene that upset me so much when I saw it as a kid, the moment where the Monster throws the little girl into the lake, they saw it as an accident, something that wasn't his fault. All they saw was a being who was never given a fair shot, who was totally misunderstood. I've noticed that when they incorporate Frankenstein into the games they play now, he's inevitably a good guy. They just made the decision, and their entire attitude to the character has shifted.
Toshi seemed more confident about his ability to handle scary movies, and he set his sights on the "Jaws" Blu-ray as soon as it showed up at the house. After all, as he pointed out, it's only rated PG. I tried explaining to him that the PG didn't really mean it was okay for him, but that seemed to fly in the face of every other conversation we've ever had about ratings, and he wasn't having it. The problem is that my wife adores taking the boys to the beach, and I know that if they see "Jaws," it will be years before we get either one of them to go swimming in the ocean again. We entered into a protracted series of negotiations, and at one point, he became determined that I would play "Gremlins" for him. The monologue Phoebe Cates had about what happened to her father along is enough for me to disqualify the film. Toshi pushed the campaign by asking me to put Jerry Goldsmith's "The Gremlins Rag" on the playlist I use when driving the kids around, and every time it comes on, they both pepper me with questions about the mythlogy. I've told them the premise, and that music sets such a funny tone of malevolence, so they're just dying to finally see it. Toshi searched for some alternative, the "near beer" of horror movies. Weeks of hunting and campaigning and begging finally ended when Toshi found another Blu-ray on the shelf that was also a PG rating, one that promised all sorts of new possibilities.
"If I can't watch 'Jaws,' can I watch this one instead?" he asked me, handing me a copy of "Twilight Zone: The Movie."