Terror: Clowns vs Children

When you think of the creepiest horror films of all time you probably don’t think ghosts, vampires or witches. Well, maybe you do. But you probably don’t think sweet little children or silly harmless clowns. Or maybe you do. Sometimes the least scary things make the most disturbing nightmares. In horror film, it is not the story or the idea that makes the film scary but the execution of an idea. I am convinced that anything can be scary  if you know how horror works.

Evil children are the stuff of adult nightmares. Whole villages of creepy children make horrifying films but one brilliant child-acting performance can make a film unforgettably chilling. Maybe this is what makes a film particularly disturbing; we know that the child of the film is a real child-actor who is capable of this terrifying performance, and we are not used to children demonstrating such dark behaviour, even if it is pretend.

Terrifying children as antagonists go back decades in cinema. The telepathic children of Village of the damned (1960) may have had evil powers but what made them particularly scary was their unchildlike behaviour. You can depict a sweet innocent child as the spawn of the devil, an alien/monster in disguise or possessed by a demon, you can give them mind-reading powers, unnatural strength or invulnerability, but what makes them creepy is the sense of uncanniness.

Like a creepy china doll, which offers no threat but is unexplainably disturbing, a child-villain is simultaneously familiar and seemingly unthreatening whilst also slightly eerie and unnatural. When a child acts like an adult or threatening or demonic it’s uncanny because the two concepts clash and it’s disturbing because it occupies a space between irrational fear and fear of the irrational.

Frightening clowns make a strange but popular choice for villains. Although an irrational fear of clowns is common among children, you would think that clowns who have a job of making people laugh, would make very poor villains. You don’t usually associate funny entertainment and gags with fear. Even if you find clowns daft, silly or pointless, you don’t find them scary. Again, this may have something to with the uncanny nature of scary clowns. Or it might be the make-up and strange behaviour of clowns that play to our fear of the odd and irrational.

Children Clowns
Every parent knows the stress of bedtime that leaves them sleep deprived

 

Horror at bedtime But creepy clowns are the stuff of nightmares. The enemy of good sleep

 

 Is there anything more scary than a child left loose with lipstick and eyeshadow? Every dad for himself

 

Make-up Sure they apply it a bit thick but compared with the cougars out on the town on a Saturday night, clown makeup is quite subtle
Once they start talking kids are comedy gold. But don’t put them on Youtube. They won’t thank you when their older. 2-1

 

Funny or die Clowns on the other hand are rarely funny.
Village of the damned and the Omen spring to mind. But the best example is undoubtedly the twin girls in The Shining. Chilling

 

Scary films I don’t need to say it but I just have. Undoubtedly the most famous horror clown but how about killer klowns from outer space?

 

Run for your life. Or get showered in snot. Sniff

 

Red noses Squeaky round noses are a bit unsettling but raising money for charity is good.

 

Whether you want them to or not, kids eventually grow up and become normal adults…

 

 Growing up Unless they become clowns. Or just Dads really. Some can’t stop clowning around.

 

Children outdo clowns 4-2 

The clown zombie has become a cliche of sorts, an effective but unoriginal Halloween costume. Is there anything left for the horror clown but parody? Creepy children will always be scary as long as there are great child actors.

Monsters: Kong vs Godzilla

The most famous ape in the world has returned to the big screen just 12 years after the last cgi effort. But Kong: Skull island is no sequel to the 2005 film featuring Jack Black but takes place in the same universe as Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla. The two monsters will square up against each other once again in 2020 after first sharing a feature film in 1962. But as both cinema giants have endured through multiple reboots and adaptations, there’s more than one way to sort a king from a god.

King Kong Godzilla
Megaprimatus Kong. Supposedly the last of his kind, he dies at the end of most versions but still returns for a sequel.

 

Species Species unknown but some sort of dinosaur like reptile. Komodo dragons can reproduce without males so Godzilla could start a species by itself. First of your kind just pips last

 

Possibly a prehistoric species surviving along with dinosaurs on a small island. Scientific accuracy was never an issue.

 

Origin Something to do with a nuclear blast. Not exactly science, but a strong warning about something

 

The ability to constantly change size depending on whether fighting a dinosaur or holding an actress. Pretty useful for continuity editors.

 

Surprising
powers
Atomic breath not being enough, this monster has been given laser eyes, magnetism, super-speed and even flight by various imaginings. Someone should have told them less is more.

 

Pretty blonde actresses.  Or is that just male audiences

 

Loves Tons of fish. And general destruction.

 

Fire, chains and aeroplanes. We can all relate to at least one of these. Kong fights back 3-2

 

Hates Buildings. The creature very rarely eats humans but has an unrivalled hatred for our architecture.

 

A god on Skull Island, a star in New York and a hero on the screen. Everyone loves apes, even giant ones. Kong is king 

 

Worshipers Hated more often than loved in the movies but the monster has a fair few fans in the real world.

 

King Kong wins this battle 4-2

Both monsters suffer from a few too many remakes, too much reliance on CGI and not enough creativity. Hopes for the MonsterVerse franchise start low.

Curses: Vampires vs Werewolves

spoiler-free

Long before Edward vs Jacob the two biggest beasts in horror were fighting it out to be number one monster. The myths themselves have evolved over millennia but it is their depiction in popular culture that has really developed their characters. Of course, even in cinema their characteristics are constantly evolving, each representation inspired by the last, each film picking on the parts of the myth that suits their story and ignoring the elements that don’t fit.

Vampires in recent years have moved on from pure evil. They’ve stepped out of the shadow of the villain to become the hero in their own stories. But more importantly they’ve modernised. Most vampire films these days are set in the present or the future and like every other pensioner they are keeping up with all the latest science and technology. The days (or nights) of old castles and coffins are long gone and the age of entrepreneurial mega-rich vampires is here. Vampires have literally stepped into the light, and that is insane because vamps should not survive in daylight. And most definitely not sparkle.

Werewolves haven’t had it so easy. More often than not they are the sideshow in a vampire film or even the villain to the vampire hero. True werewolf films have been relatively thin on the ground and those that do exist haven’t been particularly original. The depiction of this famous curse has very few hard rules and a few fresh ideas could make a recognisable werewolf story into one hell of a film. One thing is a must though; you are not born a werewolf. Jacob from Twilight, as much as it suited me to use him for the opening line of this blog post, is not a werewolf. He is a shapeshifter, born that way rather than cursed, and not at the mercy of the full moon.

Vampire Werewolf
It starts with a bite. But why do some victims rise from the dead and others just die. There’s no definitive answer.

 

Passing it
on
A bite again, or sometimes a scratch. If you manage to survive an attack, your cursed. For simplicity, this one goes team wolf

 

Sunlight, garlic, holy water, wooden crosses, mirrors, silver, churches, rosaries, not being invited.

 

Allergies Silver bullets. In short supply I imagine…

 

A bit pasty, but if you like the older lover. A bit naughty, lots of experience, powerful and often kinky. If you still need convincing… two words… Kate Beckinsale

 

Sexy time If you had to choose between necrophilia and zoophilia. If you had to…

 

Bats are pretty amazing. They can fly, in the dark, without bumping into anything.

 

Animal
extinct
But wolves are majestic. Who doesn’t have a soft spot for these undomesticated pooches? 3-1 to Werewolves

 

The name Dracula and vampire are pretty much synonymous. Yes, not all Dracula adaptions have been a success. But the most famous monster in the world without doubt

 

The no 1. Name me one famous werewolf, a proper one, go on. Just one.. No. Thought not.

 

So you have to stay out of the sun and drink a little blood. It’s no worse than a badly bullied ginger kid. You get to live forever and have superpowers.

 

Worse curse Getting really irritable once a month, losing control of your senses, enduring a painful process. Thank god, this doesn’t happen for real. Howwwwl…

 

Werewolves beat Vampires 4-2 

It’s time we got over vampires and made a good werewolf flick.

Legends: Hercules vs Tarzan

careful-may-contain-spoliers

One is a god raised by men, one is a man raised by apes, both legends of the screen who have been reincarnated many times, their stories usually deviating considerably from their source. They both made pretty decent Disney films in the 1990s as their empowered but isolated heroes make great lead characters, even if they were not entirely true to the Greek myth and the early 20th century novel. But let’s pass over the animations and compare two recent big budget blockbusters, which were both relative flops.

The Legend of Hercules (2014) probably doesn’t deserve quite as much bile as it gets though it doesn’t offer much originality after a battering of 300 films and titans films and isn’t particularly memorable. It came out just months before another Hercules film starring Dwayne Johnson and both are high-budget action films made for 3D and not for academy awards.

And yet Renny Harlin’s effort is watchable and in my mind it has some redeeming features. Plot, acting and originality are not included among them. However, this is the first Hercules film I know of that depicts a demi-god conception, I mean the actual moment Hercules is conceived. Now I know you may snigger and think it’s rather vulgar to think of a god impregnating a woman but when you think about it, the ideas of motherhood, sexual consent and a mother’s sacrifice are the most interesting parts of the Hercules myth. Although different takes on the myth suggest alternative reasons for Hercules birth, the idea that God is able to commandeer a human woman’s body for whatever his will, is quite provoking, especially in the light of Christianity.

In this film, whether it was intentional or not, I saw many parallels between Hercules and Jesus, which you would think would be obvious in any incarnation but for the most part Christian mythology is played down in action films. In this film, faith and mythology play a central role from the very beginning and that is interesting if not wholly exciting.

The Legend of Tarzan (2016) has come under criticism for being slow, a bit generic and a bit silly. Actually, I think it does very well to stop the action-drama from turning into what could easily be a camp farse. That’s not the fault of the filmmakers. Tarzan is usually a wild-man in a loincloth who can talk to animals and yodels. The character lends itself to comedy far more easily than action and it’s hard not to make a parody in the vein of the live-action George of the Jungle (1997).

But with a few changes to that iconography, this film keeps a serious tone throughout, and it’s pretty clear that it wants to be taken seriously. Despite this, Tarzan has several unexplained abilities and the representation of the Congo and its animals are not entirely realistic. As it turns out, not just Tarzan but other native people can easily use jungle vines to board a fast-moving train, hurtling through the forest. Still, I guess some of the iconography has to remain in a Tarzan film. This film is actually much truer to the original novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

As with Hercules, the story of Tarzan lends itself to exploring ideas of identity, nature and nurture, heritage, duty and courage. Legend of Tarzan begins somewhat unusually with a civilised Tarzan living in London who for reasons that aren’t delved into deeply enough, does not wish to ever return to Africa. The opportunity to explain Tarzan’s reluctance to return home, which could be a fear of confronting his past or a rejection of what he now sees as uncivilised behaviour, is in my view sadly missed. The rest of the film explores the theme of colonial exploitation and our shameful history in the slave trade. However, when you dig further into Tarzan ideology you see that Tarzan symbolises much of Africa. Painted as exotic and other worldly by Europe and as a continent, which has been civilised by our more modern world, Africa continues to struggle to find its identity, stuck between emulating ‘the West’ and shedding its colonial past. A Tarzan film can spread African stereotypes or potentially enlighten our culture about Africa.

Tarzan Hercules
Biologically the child of a British Lord and Lady but you can’t get much cooler than raised by Apes

 

Parents Except being the son of an actual god. 1-0 to Hercules

 

Swinging through trees, communicating with animals, strong, agile and athletic. I give this one to Tarzan

 

Powers It’s just strength basically

 

Loincloth wearing, heavily tanned, screaming, jungle swinger

 

Campness Beefcake with a big sword who likes to wrestle nearly naked Greek men. Hercules just about wins this one

 

The jungle isn’t particularly known for its comforts

 

Home Ancient Greece, the birthplace of democracy, and it’s still Greece so it’s gotta be quite nice right? 3-1 to Hercules

 

Plenty of silent movies, some famous iconic films and three animations

 

Depictions Some cult television and nine films including the debut of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Who knows, without Hercules, there might have been no terminator. Hail Hercules

 

Teaching kids the fastest way to die in the jungle… but then again most kids these days never see wild animals so it’s good for them to see the jungle whilst it still exists.

 

Education It’s history ain’t it. Sort of. Greek names and classic mythology. It’s got to be Hercules

 

Hercules beats Tarzan 5-1

Both legend films are passable entertainment but there are better versions of both stories. There is certainly more potential with these characters.