Lady Lazarus’s 2011 Halloween Party Movie Night: Scary Films for Kids.

OK, I admit it. It’s not even October, and I’m already planning out Halloween costumes for myself and my kids in eager anticipation of our favourite festive occasion. For the little ones, it’s all about spooky ‘make-believe’ and a prolonged sugar buzz. For the adults — those with and without children — it’s a culturally-acceptable opportunity to play masquerade and temporarily assume a different persona. And for those of us who revel in the macabre on a regular, year-round basis, it’s a chance to geek-out and make our ‘expert’ horror film recommendations for Halloween-themed movie nights.

Much like adults, children can vary widely in their tastes for, and tolerance of, scariness in films. Their reaction to such material can sometimes be unpredictable, but below I’ve listed a few spooky classics that should be age-appropriate for most children.

Scary films for kids:

1. Scooby-Doo And The… (series of DVDs, dating from the 2000’s-present). There are a number of direct-to-DVD, 90-minute movies featuring that super-sleuth canine Scooby-Doo and the Mystery Gang that even the youngest child in your family will enjoy. Some of the better spooky capers include Scooby-Doo And The Samurai Sword, Scooby-Doo and the Cyberchase, Scooby-Doo Camp Scare and Aloha Scooby-Doo! You can find most of these at your local DVD rental store or for purchase on Amazon. Recommended for age 4+

2. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. A Halloween classic that’s appropriate for small kids. Recommended for age 3+

The Library Ghost (aka The Grey Lady) from "Ghostbusters" (1984). Could freak out very small kids, but a not-so-scary film for most.

3. Ghostbusters (1984). A couple of scenes might prove too frightening for very little ones, but on the whole a spooky-fun family film. Recommended for age 6+

4. Not too surprisingly, the gorgeously gothic creative efforts of Tim Burton features large on this list. Family-friendly Burton films include Beetlejuice (1988), and the animated feature-length films The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) and The Corpse Bride (2005). I’ve shown the latter two films to my 4 and 6-year-old kids, and they reported that these were “a little too creepy” in parts. Use your own parental discretion, but I’d recommend these films for age 8+

The alternate-reality "spider Mom" from Coraline (2009).

5. Coraline (2009) has a very similar look-and-feel to the aforementioned Tim Burton animated films, and shares with these a creepiness that’s probably more appropriate for the 8+ crowd. All the same, a visually-stunning masterpiece of stop-motion animation that’s worthwhile for adults as well as children.

Quite frankly, I can’t wait until my kids are old enough to accompany their mother through a viewing of The Exorcist or a George A. Romero zombie gore-feast. Perhaps when they are around the age of 10…?

My next post will offer up suggestions for some adult-sized scares.

Nightmarish visions at 24 frames per second.

The startling fantasy world of Jan Lenica’s “Labyrinth” (1963) owes a stylistic debt to the earlier Surrealist colleges of Max Ernst.

Like the majority of moviegoers, I’m often bedazzled by the computer-generated worlds created by Pixar and Dreamworks. While it would be difficult to dispute the technical virtuosity of these animation mega-giants, I must admit to having a soft spot for the low-fi underdog that is stop-motion animation. Perhaps because it involves a fully manual approach that relies more heavily on materials than pixels, I feel a greater affinity for it. One of the most basic and “low-fi” of stop-motion techniques is the paper cutout which, as the name suggests, involves drawings or prints on paper that are cut out and manipulated to simulate movement. The high degree of artifice and theatricality associated with the paper cutout makes this technique particularly well suited to animations which are fantastic, dreamlike and surreal. Its relative simplicity enabled many visual artists not typically known as animators to use this technique to create time-based work. Polish filmmaker Walerian Borowczyk, who had received a very classical training in painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków, used paper cutouts to great effect in his animated short films Les Astronautes (1959) and Les jeux des anges (1964). Borowczyk capitalized on the anti-realism of the cutout to produce his surreal and frequently nightmarish worlds.

Borowczyk’s compatriot and sometimes collaborator Jan Lenica used paper cutouts for his masterful Labyrinth (1963), an animation that, through its incorporation of 19th-century illustrations, closely recalls the eerie beauty and surrealism of a Max Ernst college novel. Eastern European animators such as Borowczyk, Lenica, and the Czech stop-motion master Jan Švankmajer, were highly influential on the work of contemporary animators/filmmakers Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam.

The Oms take down a giant Draag in Laloux’s surreal animated feature “Fantastic Planet” (1973). A joint production between France and the former Czechoslovakia, it’s Cold War politics are neatly embedded in the science fiction tale.

One of my earliest exposures to the technique of paper cutout animation was the feature-length science fiction film La Planète Sauvage, (“Fantastic Planet”, 1973), a collaboration between the French director René Laloux, writer/artist Roland Topor and a team of Czech animators at Jiří Trnka Studio. The sophistication of the paper cutout technique is astounding, and the visual style unique and thoroughly memorable. There’s quite a good synopsis of this film, accompanied by several screen shots, at the Twitchfilm blog which I would recommend. The author of this blog ends her/his post with a paragraph about the “adult” content of this film. It is, most assuredly, aimed at an adult audience, and I particularly enjoyed this author’s summary of the many and varied deaths the Oms faced in Laloux’s La Planète Sauvage:

In case you didn’t suspect it yet: this is not exactly a children’s film. Eureka (or rather the BBFC) rates this DVD “PG” but the film was clearly made with adults in mind. Some Draags wear very revealing outfits while the humans are naked, half-naked or wearing rags. Mating rituals of both humans and Draags are shown, but far more disturbing is the seemingly unending variety in which the tiny humans keep getting eaten, squashed, shredded, poisoned, radiated and stomped on by both Draags and the local flora and fauna. — Twitchfilm blog

Horror Films 101: Movie moments that traumatized my childhood.

A still from the animated film version of “Watership Down,” showing the last, terrified moments of a rabbit’s life.

1. The destruction of the rabbit warren and wholesale slaughter of its occupants in the 1978 film adaptation of the Richard Adams novel Watership Down. The filmmakers did not shy away from the darker shadings of Adams’s novel,  and the violence contained in the source material appears, quite graphically at times, on screen. The scene of the warren destruction is rendered in an abstracted fashion, but is nonetheless effective in conveying the horror of the rabbit massacre. Walt Disney, this ain’t.

The ‘demon face’ was that of Eileen Dietz, who also starred in Happy Days and General Hospital. Oh, what a little make-up and effective editing can do.

2. The freaky demon face that flashes on-screen in William Friedkin’s 1973 horror classic The Exorcist. In the (far superior) original theatrical release of the film, this ‘demon face’ only appears twice: once, during the nightmare sequence of Father Karras, where he envisions his elderly mother standing at the top of a stairway leading down to the NYC subway; and lastly, during Regan’s exorcism. Each time, the face only flashes on-screen for mere seconds — just enough time to burn onto your retina and torment you for the rest of your days. According to the trivia section of, the ‘demon face’ was supplied by the actress Eileen Dietz, who also stood in as a body-double for Linda Blair in a couple of scenes. In the  director’s cut of the film (released in 2000), the face appears with considerably greater frequency, diluting its impact.

“Let me in, Mark…screeeetch….screeeetch…let me in…”

3. The vampire kid scratching on his friend’s bedroom window from the 1979 made-for-TV adaptation of Stephen King’s novel Salem’s Lot. Director Tobe Hooper, best known for his masterpiece of the macabre The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, fully understands the dark, seedy underbelly that lies just beneath the surface of small town, white-picket-fence America. Few directors — other than, perhaps, David Lynch — have as great an insight into the ‘suburban Gothic’. The vampire of Hooper’s film is not a romantic seducer but, in keeping with the German Expressionist tradition of F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, he’s a ghoulish, hideous monster with a taste for the blood of children. This scene with the undead child paying a nighttime visit to his former playmate scared the bejeezus out of me when I was a kid. It was, in part, the awful sound that his fingernails made as he scratched the glass, beckoning to his friend to open the window.

4. Ben Gardners’s head suddenly appearing through the smashed hull of his sunken boat in Steven Spielberg’s 1975 masterpiece Jaws. Even though, as an audience member, you know exactly what Richard Dreyfuss is about to stumble across, I betcha it’ll still make you jump.

5. The terrifying tale of Large Marge from Tim Burton’s 1985 Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. No, seriously. It’s a creepy — and classically Tim Burton — moment. Just tell ’em Large Marge sent ya.