It’s fair to say that since I the day I started writing a book, a lot has changed. And almost certainly the biggest life change I’ve gone through is becoming a dad for the first time. Now, I know what you’re thinking. You didn’t come here to read another bad rendition of a track from the ‘new parent songbook’, a cliche-filled verse preaching the renewed sense of purpose one feels when holding your newborn child in your arms for the first time. But there is a point to be made here – and it strikes me as one many people will have faced.
My book, Adventures in VHS is the story of how a young boy with a hunger for film discovered a wealth of treasures on the shelves of his local video store. It’s an insight into how that suggestible child was exposed to all sorts of delights that would ultimately shape his taste in later life. In the book, I discuss being in the privileged position of having relatively liberal parents who trusted in an unwritten agreement with the man who ran that independent store. An unspoken contract that gave me access to the kind of films I wanted to see, but only within certain, somehow predetermined, parameters.
Contrary to the paranoia of the day, I’ve come out the other side of that period of my life relatively unscathed. I’ve yet to don a clown mask and murder a house full of teenage girls, summon demons from another realm or douse myself in radioactive waste in the hope it gives me super powers. What I did take away from those experiences though, is a healthy imagination and a clear understanding of the difference between fantasy and reality. And while I happen to think that’s a good thing, I have started to think about what this means for the the curious little man now stumbling around my living room who occasionally stops to stare at the giant talking box in the corner of the room.
I’m not a massive Star Wars fan, but I know there are thousands of men my age who grew up obsessed with those films and can’t wait to experience them all over again through the wide, uncynical eyes of their kids. And despite not having much interest in that particular franchise, I love the idea that all over the world there are fathers who already have that one magical day planned out in their head – that one rainy Sunday afternoon where they finally know the time is right to respond to those child’s cries of boredom by reaching for the (original) trilogy Blu-ray box set. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely I’ll be able to do the same by blowing the dust off my VHS copy of A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. You can see my conundrum.
It’s not that I don’t have kid-friendly blockbusters I can call upon, I do. As a big fan of Marvel Comics, I have a whole universe of characters and movies to introduce Charlie to in the future, but I do worry about how some of the more important films of my childhood will fit into his film education. Even if we ignore horror and violent action films to focus on the bigger ‘family’ films of the 1980s I loved, there are issues to consider. There’s Ghostbusters, the story of three foul-mouthed, chain-smoking occult enthusiasts who are finally kicked out of University in their mid-30s only to find themselves up against a malevolent, ancient evil that wants to destroy humanity. Then there’s Back to the Future, the tale of a teenager who witnesses the brutal murder of his best friend at the hands of international terrorists following a plutonium deal gone wrong – then spends the rest of the film trying to fend of the sexual advances of his mother?
Of course, I’m being a little facetious. I know I could just as easily diffuse A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors by describing it as ‘a group of friends with special powers who join forces to send the boogeyman back to dream land’. My point, if i have one, is that while I won’t be showing my baby boy The Evil Dead or I Spit on Your Grave anytime soon, I can’t help but wonder where all the edgier family films have gone, the films that acted as kind of a gateway drug for kids like me who wanted to watch scary movies but had yet to build up their defences. Where once there was Labyrinth, there is now only Lego. Where once we had Gremlins, now only Boxtrolls.
The sad truth is, Hollywood is just too scared to upset your kids. It’s happy to turn out easy-to-swallow animated films featuring animated squirrels and cuddly dragons, leaving nightmarish visions like Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal and Don Coscarelli’s The Beastmaster back in the early 80s. No longer will they see an innocent baby deer orphaned at the hand of an evil hunter, or watch a young hero helplessly look on as his trusted steed is swallowed alive by the the Swamps of Sadness in The Neverending Story. So I suppose what I’m saying is, if the big studios aren’t man enough to traumatise our children for us… I guess we’ve no choice but to do it ourselves.