Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Horror of Teens

I saw my first horror movie when I was about my teenage daughter's age. 

I'm not counting Jaws, although it was certainly "horrific." In fact, I was so terrified that I had an irrational fear of showers for many days afterwards. I was somehow convinced that a twenty-foot great white shark would make its way from New York City's (fresh water) reservoir to my high rise apartment building, shimmy up ten flights of pipe and squeeze itself out our shower head in order to dismember and eat me. 

Hey, I said it was "irrational."

The movie I'm talking about is When A Stranger Calls. In it, innocent teen babysitter Carol Kane gets repeated creepy calls: "Have you checked the children?" "Have you checked the children?" "Have you checked the children?" She finally contacts the police and they tell her they'll trace the next one. They do and — OMG! — it's coming from inside the house. Had she actually gone upstairs and checked the children, she would have found them — OMG!!! — hacked to pieces.

This was 1979. At the time, I was earning a rather handsome living as a babysitter myself. Luckily, most of my clients had small, modern apartments without second floors or as many nooks and crannies for psychopaths to hide in. This did not stop one of my close friends (a talented young man who later went off to Hollywood and appeared in such teen classics as Private School for Girls and High School USA) from calling and asking "Have you checked the children?"

Needless to say, I did check them, many many (many many) times. They were fine.

The next psychological thriller I remember is Halloween. A bunch of teenagers are stalked and brutally murdered by a lunatic in a Captain Kirk mask. The tingling piano music, while simple and repetitive, is one of the most terrifying elements of the movie. We hear it again and again as, again and again, the teens awkwardly grope each other and die. There seems to be an underlying conservative message: don't have sex or you'll be next. (Not to worry though, a spunky (and wisely abstinent) teenage Jamie Lee Curtis survives to appear in many Halloween sequels and equally horrifying Activia ads.)

This focus on teenagers was repeated in countless movies afterwards: Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer. Basically, if you're a teenager and you use these films as a guide, you should never ever:

• Explore a haunted house
• Hang out after prom
• Go camping
• Be a counselor at a sleepaway camp
• Take a nap
• Join a sorority
• Watch a videotape
• Celebrate Christmas
• Have sex
• Own a chainsaw
• Visit a cemetery
• Or an attic
• Or a basement

While teenagers are often targeted in these movies, there are a few in which a teen is actually the monster. We'll give Carrie a pass here (after what those girls — and her mother — did to her, you kinda sorta hafta). But, how about Jennifer's Body? In it, the bodacious Megan Fox has been turned into a cannibalistic demon and she decides to go after a particularly tasty target. When her best friend, the mousy Needy Lesnicky, accuses her "You're killing people," Jennifer shrugs and corrects her.

"No. I'm killing boys."

The teen as monster is a theme that many of us parents can relate to. After all, our real lives follow a familiar cinematic formula: the other among us. At times, my own daughter, who is pretty, slim and blonde on the outside certainly behaves as if she is possessed by some dark unearthly being on the inside. Here are just a handful of the movies I could make:

Scream and Scream (Until the Homework Gets Done) 
The Thing that Ate All the Cheezits
Midnight Madness at the Mall
Friend Me on Facebook ... If You Dare
One Text Too Many

And, this past week after more than the usual girlfriend drama, homework, tests and horse shows, I could audition and win a key (if doomed) role in ...

The Teenager Who Ate My Brain.

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