Just Scary Enough

My son, as I’ve mentioned before, is into scary movies and books in a big way.  Halloween is his favorite time of year, and anything with a spooky story line is right up his alley.  We’ve already started dragging out the decorations, and he’s beginning to put his costume together.  We’ve also been watching the classic Universal monster movies, which he’s been enjoying, but we’re also pulling out the other books and movies he likes to dive into this time of year.

First up is The Halloween Tree, a book I’ve read to him each year in subsequently less edited fashion for the past four years.  In Bradbury’s book, a group of boys see their friend disappear from beneath a tree decorated with Jack O’ Lanterns, and are taken through the history of Halloween by Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud, owner of both the tree and one of the best names in literature.  Their journey is spooky, and ultimately emotional, and touches on why we are so drawn to things that scare us.  Ray Bradbury knows his audience well, and his writing style is perfect for reading aloud.  There’s an irresistible cadence to this book, reinforcing Bradbury as a pied piper storyteller, using the efficiency of poetry to conjure the beautiful darkness of Halloween.  There’s also a pretty decent cartoon of the book made for TV about twenty years ago, with Leonard Nimoy voicing Moundshroud and Bradbury narrating.  The first time I watched it, I most enjoyed how Bradbury’s voice was exactly what I heard in my head when I read this myself.

Then, we also delve into The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving’s classic.  We have the picture book version by Gris Grimly, who uses the full text rather than editing it down for a younger audience.  O has been reading this himself, and the detailed illustrations are a big hit with him.  We’ll also watch the Disney cartoon, narrated by Bing Crosby.  The movie also balances nicely between the ridiculousness of Ichabod Crane and the frightening Horseman.  The animation, like the equally frightening “Night on Bald Mountain” segment of Fantasia, doesn’t try to make the Horseman less frightening than he is in the story.  O loves the story in all forms, but we’re staying far afield of the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp version for at least a couple more Halloweens.

Where we do drift towards the Burton/Depp version is with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  Roald Dahl’s book and the movie adaptations aren’t normally thought of as scary per se, but this children’s take on And Then There Were None has a definite sinister undertone.  That tone runs through many of Dahl’s books, but I notice it more in Charlie.  Here we are presented a series of unpleasant children being led through Wonka’s demented factory, where the rooms selected tempt each according to their biggest faults.  And one by one, each is dispatched.

Going a bit against the grain, I have to say I prefer the Burton version to the Gene Wilder one.  There’s nothing I can point to specifically to defend the Burton one or detract from the Wilder (the songs in that are far better, for one).  If I had to single something out it would be the way Tim Burton, himself a childhood fan of horror movies, plays with the tropes of horror, particularly Hammer style horror.  The Gene Wilder version is sweet and funny, but seems to miss more of the venom present in Dahl’s book.  The boat ride excepted, of course, that section was the most frightening thing I had seen in a movie when I was a kid, and when O was watching it the first time I cringed in expectation he’d be terrified.  On the contrary, that was his favorite part.

These are only the tip of the Iceberg when it comes to the great movies and books to enjoy with kids this Halloween, feel free to comment below with your favorites for this time of year.

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