GARY STEEL finds himself bonding with his 4-year-old daughter over fright nights.
Raising kids can sometimes seem like one long nightmare; a struggle that never ends. Chronic lack of sleep and its residual after-effects often make it much less fun than it might otherwise be. But one of the most gratifying things I’ve encountered is my daughter’s burgeoning interest in horror.
No, we’re not talking about R18 splatter movies here, folks. She’s only four, after all! But she does have a palpable interest in the macabre, and things that scare her, whether it’s someone jumping out from behind the couch saying “Boo!” or developing an incessant need to have a Thomas The Tank Engine book with a ghost in it (bogus, as it turns out) read to her over and over again.
From about the age of three she started showing a real interest in ghosts and ghouls and ferocious dinosaurs and dragons, although it has to be said that there have been a few occasions when things got just a bit too scary for her. For instance, when she watched the old Pinocchio movie and got to the bit where the wooden one ends up in the belly of a whale, she demanded that I turn the TV off because it was just a bit too much for the poor mite.
But generally, she laps up the scary stuff, in stark contrast to a couple of Japanese pre-schoolers who started watching a Miyazaki animated movie at our house a few years before Minay was born, and wept and howled with fear! (Hey, don’t blame me, they’re supposed to be children’s movies and their father was keen for them to see the film).
The great thing about being a Dad who also loves a good scare is that we can share the scares and have fun with it all. At the moment, Minay is obsessed with a minor Dr Seuss story at the back of The Sneetches book about encounters with a pair of pants with nobody inside them. Eeek! Like most Dr Seuss stories, it’s a kind of lesson in life, as it’s really saying that what appears to be terribly scary is often not scary at all, and it’s even called What Was I Scared Of?
Despite being rather minor in the annals of Dr Seuss, this story is rather compelling and I remember loving it as a boy, too. It’s got all the elements of a scary story: dark nights in the forest where everything is already a bit trippy and unknown, and suddenly the appearance of a pair of pants, standing in the air, moving, or riding a bike, or rowing a boat. It’s worthy of one of those Rod Searle-hosted fright night programmes like Night Gallery or Outer Limits.
Because the background of the book is a dark green I found the print hard to read so I started shining Minay’s bedside torch on the pages while I read, and that inevitably led to turning off the main lights altogether and scary shadow puppetry on the walls and ceiling and lots of screaming and laughing at bedtime. This is the joy of fatherhood, and I know I’m really getting something out of it when living vicariously through Minay’s joy eclipses that dreadful deep exhaustion that lingers for years after your kids are born.
And this primal need to be frightened… what the heck is that all about? I’m sure Freud would have had his theories but as a lifelong fan of the horror genre I’ve always found that having a fright was somehow cathartic; an expulsion of genuine deep-set fears buried in my psyche, whether they’re specifically about something scary or painful or life-threatening.
I have met a few people over the years who can’t handle scary movies at all and really don’t see the point of them, and that’s fine, it takes all types. But to me, getting a good fright or being scared through art (or a crappy b-movie) is a little bit like listening to a really depressing song. It doesn’t mean that you’re always scared or depressed but somehow it can help you face the probability that sometime in your life you’re going to have to face those demons.
The funny thing is that Minay is prone to waking up with nightmares, but it’s seldom when she’s been watching or reading something scary. After the frightening empty pants and the scary shadow puppetry in the dark tonight, I bet she’ll sleep as soundly as a little lamb.
Postscript: She woke up screaming at 4am. A dragon was gobbling up her Daddy.