Being a parent for over…Squirrel!… years now, I sometimes look back at the memorable heart-to-heart conversations I’ve had with my wife about parenting. Many of the exchanges concerned the movie content I wanted to screen for my children, not surprisingly. Movies that were perfectly okay to watch on TV when I was that age, the 3 to 12-year-old bracket. Bravely venturing to win over my spouse on the subject in the last years of the 20th Century.
Really facing scrutiny once the new millennium entered when every such thing had to pass through the inevitable “parental” high summit. The closed-door kind between you-know-who and she-who-must-be-obeyed meant to hash out all those age-old questions many of us begetters are duty-bound to explore. The stuff of legend, or so I tell myself. Think superpower nuclear arms control negotiation with a “…watch those pronouns” quality.
More importantly, whatever yay or nay decision of what our kids would be allowed to see hinged on a tangential quotient — their nightmare potential. Of course, it must be stipulated that I was not attempting to introduce my kids to the likes of 70s horror films (The Exorcist, The Hills Have Eyes, Alien, or the Texas Chainsaw Massacre etc.). I’m not the greatest parent in the world, but give me some credit, please.
I have enough judgment and discretion to know better than to expose those to my kids when they were that young — I was holding those off until they’re in their teens.
No, the movies I dearly wanted to share with my young children were those I watched on television in the 60s. And what were the films in question? They were the glorious Sci-Fi/Monster movies from the 50s, naturally. A grand era for the genre. They were extraordinarily fun then, and they’re considered downright classics even today. Notable stories of the period built around the B-level special effects of my youth.
At first, I didn’t think this even warranted consideration, let alone formal discussion. I watched those movies all at the same tender ages my kids were then, and I suffered no ill effects whatsoever. That I can remember, anyway. However, that didn’t pass muster with the mother of my children. No, she demanded some sort of proof that neither progeny she carried for nine months would end up with any night terrors, thank you very much.
I had to do something, so at the turn of the century I came up with my Wife’s Kid Nightmare Scale:
Just like a rain forecast, it was my honest measurement to show my loving partner the likelihood of a movie-monster induced nightmare of our offspring watching said film. Zero meant absolutely no nightmare, and scaled upward. 50% meant the kids were as good as not to get one. Getting anywhere near 100% guaranteed that I, as a spouse, would have zero chance of any snuggle time with my favorite snuggee.
Primarily, because there would be a x-year old sleeping in-between us due to said nightmare.
Also meant I’d likely get slapped in the face by said sleeping child when they rolled over in the middle of the night. Trust me on this. Now that I have a teens — who’ve been banished from mom and dad’s bedroom — I thought I share the following list. Along with my justification at the time for other parents out there who are, or will, go through a similar negotiation/discussion concerning the bedrock films I tried to pass on to our kids.
I remember when I first watched this simply wonderful example of science-fiction one night at home on TV. Probably the first movie that actually got me to think about human nature byway of visitors from another world. A true classic that incorporated great writing, imagination, cinematography and score. Okay, Gort could be a little intimidating for the youngest, but he rocked!
The first of the Japanese-made Godzilla movies I remember catching, the 1956 American rework — and don’t get me started with Roland Emmerich’s monstrosity that was his ’98 American remake. Not as great as Ishirō Honda’s original, but nary a toy tank was left intact by the end. Even the littlest of our kids will know it’s a man in a rubber suit, but they’ll love it. I swear.
Forget those 90s asteroids films, this was the one that had me wondering, as a child, how we’d get off the planet if this really happened. Okay, I admit George Pal’s spectacular sci-fi classic was a bit worrisome for this young lad. The coming total destruction of the Earth probably ingrained an early appreciation of the disaster film. Not even Roland Emmerich could surpass it with his 2012.
Along a similar vein, another of the Ray Harryhausen classics that cemented my appreciation for the visual effects creator, and sci-fi devastation. Besides, it had friggin’ flying saucers, for chrissakes!. Loved watching the stop-motion animation, too. Especially its smashing use in raining down wreckage on Washington, DC, Paris, London, and Moscow. What? Why are you looking me that way?
Another of the great Harryhausen’s monster flicks from a decade known for them. I think I actually convinced my wife by saying it just concerned some wayward octopus. The kids love those things. Besides, it lands in San Francisco. Had to know it’s as good cooked there, and all we’d have to do is just play one of the damn Barney music cassettes so that the kids could dance to it.
Unbeknownst to this kid, I was being introduced to Shakespeare’s The Tempest when I first watched it. The film had me glued to the family TV, especially while I tried to figure out where the heck that monster came from (what’s an id?). Never mind some character was murdered, plastered across the interior of the ship, in fact, by some invisible being. It’s only alluded to, so the kids won’t see anything. Really.
The special effects, in another George Pal production, along with the adaptation of H.G. Well’s classic tale, offered more good times for me. Plus, when those alien pods finally reached my home town of L.A., and gave it an epic pounding, the movie was tops in my book. It also made me think about sneezing on my kid era foes, too. What? You think our children might not see it that way? No, not my kids.
Okay, this was probably the only movie, considering there was no visible monster in it, that gave me my first experience with paranoia as a youth. I admit there’s a bit of an ick-factor as the pod people begin to form up and replace their counterparts. But there’s not an ounce of blood spilt. You’re reading too much into it, hun. It’s not like others are trying to turn us into automatons. Come on, it’s still a great film.
Oh, yeah, the woman I married who screams and jumps back whenever she catches even a hint of glance of a house arachnid is going to approve this. Wish I was paid a bounty for every spider I’ve been called to kill in our home over the years. But it is really the most fake thing you’ve seen, scarcely the size of a small building. Besides, a young Clint Eastwood is in it. That’s gotta count for something.
Okay, poking this gluey monstrosity with a stick was not the brightest thing a movie character ever did in a scary tale. I attempted to persuade my better half that it would be a good object lesson for the kids. A teaching moment of what not to do when a meteorite comes crashing down near you. Fine, but Steve McQueen is in it…how’d you guess he tried suppress that fact later in his career?
Never looked at ants the same way ever again after viewing this fast-moving sci-fi film. One that epitomized what was great about this 50s era for movies. While not deep [except for our extensive storm drains, here in L.A.], Them! still is one of the great and essential adventures. The legacy of the atom bomb our kids gotta see…care of truck-sized ants, mind you…whether they get a nightmare or not.
I never understood why no one believed this guy when he said he saw a dinosaur in an Arctic snow storm! Plus, how can you not love more Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion effects, once more married with nuclear fallout. Became my second favorite oversized creature (behind Godzilla) when it came ashore and attacked Coney Island amusement park!
This classic was the beauty and the beast of monster movies during the 50s. No kidding, dear, the kids will get a kick out of it as it’s essentially a love story. An intrinsic creature feature even Stephen King admitted chilled him as a child. Wait a minute…strike that. The film has another guy in a rubber suit. Come on, our kids are too sophisticated to be frightened by such a thing. Moving on…
Almost forgot to mention this quintessential genre flick. Easily the most sophisticated from this golden age of monsters. One that rose up right along with the Cold War’s Red Scare. Remains so because it’s a memorable sci-fi thriller. A fast rollercoaster of a ride, which includes Howard Hawks’ trademark snappy dialogue, a Hawksian Woman, along with its killer vegetable!
Roger Corman’s most profitable drive-in flick to that time. Famously low-budget and underrated in my book. Another that marked the aftermath of the Bikini Atoll atomic tests. Okay, I have to admit this austere little production was a true “creeper” with its freaky looking crab monsters. Gave me nightmares after I watched it — not my fault, they let me see it!. What am I saying?!?
As my colleague Kevin expressed a short while ago, “Still one of the best “Bang For The Buck!” Science Fiction films available.” The classic B-movie that surpassed expectations. The early inspiration and precursor for the original shocker by Ridley Scott, Alien, by a full two decades. Atmospheric and foreboding, while it’s a great example of 50s monster-movie glory, might be too intense for little ones.
One more of the unusual gems of the late 50s, and scant budget, which frightened many of those at the drive-in movie theaters back in the day. Never knew what a mollusk was till this crawled out of my grandmother’s Admiral TV set one Saturday afternoon. Haven’t looked upon such things the same since. This another movie I’d fail getting past you-who-know-who, but it’s still menacing fun.
It’s no surprise reading up on this film that the movie idea for this came to filmmakers care of a dream recounted by a writer’s wife. Wonder if she woke up screaming? Chiefly, a child’s view of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (see above), and even predated it. I know I’ll never get this one past She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed, but I really enjoyed getting scared silly care of this flick.
[wife applauds in background]
Okay, this one left a mark, now that I think on it. May have blocked the memory as I screened the movie on Saturday late-night TV. Admittedly, this was one great, messed up tale done with thought, originality, and tragedy. While I was enthralled by it, the film was a supreme downer that haunted me for days afterward. So, it was never really up for any consideration by my better-half when I initially mentioned it.
Her look made that clear.
Disclaimer: all of this was based upon one demented childhood/adult experience. Your mileage may vary regarding any nighttime ordeals, or spousal reaction to such. You’ve been warned.