This is the time of year every movie lover worth his salt pops out their annual list of “best horror films” and such. I decided to put a twist on the list this year by offering up a smattering of films that will make any parent cower in the corner. Thankfully, this is not inspired by my own domestic plight. For reasons beyond my comprehension, my husband and I have managed to spawn two well-adjusted and happy daughters. I assure you, it is sheer luck, not inherent parenting skill that has afforded me this luxury.
To ask what instigated such a list would be a fair question. I have been deeply traumatized by a book I am reading: We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. The book tells the tale of a mom whose only son grew up and committed a Columbine-like massacre. I was drawn to the book because it was made into a movie (appropriately starring Tilda Swinton), but also because I found the concept utterly fascinating. What would you do (as a parent) if your child were born evil, pure and simple? How would you cope with the aftermath of what your own flesh and blood has done? It’s beyond my comprehension. Without further ado, here is a list of ten movies that caused me great duress as a parent. I know there are hundreds more out there, but these are the ones that scared me to death.
Oddly enough, this film was directed by Friends doofus David Schwimmer. It’s a somewhat heavy-handed cautionary tale about the perils of the internet and naïve children. The film unfolds with the viewer made privy to the sheer volume of texts and social media interactions pre-teen Annie (Liana Liberato) partakes in on a given day via pop up texts that run across the screen so they can be read in real time. Naturally, Annie becomes involved with an internet predator, and her Dad wants to get all vigilante on his ass. A strong supporting cast includes Clive Owen and Catherine Keener. My girls are not getting cell phones until they are 30, thanks to this film.
Megan Is Missing (2011)
A much darker, twisted take on Trust. Things don’t quite end as well for Megan, when she falls for someone posing as skateboarding teen “Josh” in a chat room. I can’t really say this was a great movie by any means. It seems ultra-low budget, but it is very disturbing. I felt ill after I saw it. Little gore, but when it pops up, it is quite horrifying. The film has been bashed as being exploitative or even titillating for would-be pedophiles, but director Michael Goi maintains that he is trying to raise awareness about the dangers of the internet. Your call. Cast of unknowns provide decent performances. Supposedly, this sadistic tale is inspired by true events. That’s truly scary.
The Children (2008)
Nifty British horror flick about a group of pompous parents who take a Christmas holiday with their kids and find themselves battling for their lives against said offspring.
The Omen (1976)
Everyone has seen it. The cultural touchstone for evil kid movies. I haven’t seen it for decades, but I still remember it like yesterday. Damn that little kid was scary. Starring Lee Remick and Gregory Peck as the unlucky parents of the son of Satan.
Them (Ils) 2006 and The Strangers (2008)
I suppose even putting these on the list is spoiler-ish, but so be it. These films have a lot of similarities – both involve home invasions by miscreant youths. I saw these in quick succession (rented Them after seeing The Strangers in a theater) and I can’t remember which I liked more, but I thought they were both chilling.
Now, this is the stuff of nightmares, if you are a parent of girls. Director Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight) made a splash with this film starring Nikki Reed (who also co-wrote) and Evan Rachel Wood as thirteen year olds who skank it up with boys, booze, drugs and petty crime. Also starring Holly Hunter. I hope to Christ that this doesn’t have an iota of truth to it, but I fear it probably does. Expect me to be on heavy medications in about four years.
A precursor of sorts to Thirteen, Kids was a nasty film about disaffected youths in New York City. What made it truly nauseating was that central character Telly (Leo Fitzpatrick) finds out that he is HIV positive, but continues to deflower as many virgins as possible, despite the consequences. Large cast of unknowns, save for Chloe Sevigny, who made her acting debut in the movie. The film was controversial, as many thought it was gratuitous, but many teenagers hailed the film as a realistic portrayal of teenage life in America.
Pet Semetary (1989)
No, I wasn’t creeped out by the angelic-looking son coming back to life as a murderous psycho. I simply have not ever been able to unsee that horrific scene where the son meets an unfortunate demise by semi-truck. It seriously gave me a huge complex about cars and kids. I completely freak out if one of my brood steps within forty feet of a moving car, making for an interesting daily walk home from school.
Home Movie (2008)
I just watched this for the first time a few nights ago. Good lord. This film did the film festival circuit, but is largely unknown to most. I can’t remember how I heard about it, bit I am glad I saw it. This is an entry in the recently popular “found footage” genre. Pastor father (Heroes’ Adrian Pasdar) and psychologist wife (Cady McClain) have recently moved their family to a rural wooded area from the city. Their twins (real life brother and sister team Austin and Amber Joy Williams) are sullen, withdrawn and antisocial. The family has a new video camera, and dad joyfully tapes every major holiday and event in the family’s life. Pasdar plays the type of Dad every kid would love-he hams it up every chance he gets, gleefully dons dorky holiday-appropriate attire, and tries to make everything memorable for his kids. In return, they crucify the family cat, behead the family dog, and dismember any critter they can get their hands on. In short, they are deeply disturbed, evil kids. Mom (the thinker) tries to come to grips with her plight by psychoanalyzing and medicating the kids (isn’t that unethical?) and dad tries to seek a spiritual path out of their nightmare. Really, really, chilling. Not a great movie, but very effective.
Eden Lake (UK 2008)
Try as I might, I can never shake this movie. I always throw this out as an undiscovered gem when people want a horror recommendation. A terrific Kelly Reilly and Michael Fassbender play a couple that has gone to get some rest, romance, and relaxation at Eden Lake. A gang of unruly teenagers thwarts their tranquil getaway, and violence escalates when the couple politely asks them to leave them alone. A suspenseful game of cat and mouse ensues, with bodies piling up all over the wooded retreat. The utter lack of motive is what makes the film frightening, and the couple find out that the teenagers are much more dangerous than any adult could ever be. Bleak as hell, with several shocking images forever burned in my brain. Not for the squeamish.
Honorable mentions: The Bad Seed, The Good Son, Orphan, Village of the Damned, and Children of the Corn.