Catherine LesterSep 23, 2022
Horror Films for Children
Fear and Pleasure in American Cinema
Children and horror are often thought to be an incompatible meeting of audience and genre, beset by concerns that children will be corrupted or harmed through exposure to horror media. Nowhere is this tension more clear than in horror films for adults, where the demonic child villain is one of the genre's most enduring tropes. However, horror for children is a unique category of contemporary Hollywood cinema in which children are addressed as an audience with specific needs, fears and desires, and where child characters are represented as sympathetic protagonists whose encounters with the horrific lead to cathartic, subversive and productive outcomes.
Horror Films for Children: Fear and Pleasure in American Cinema (Bloomsbury, 2021) examines the history, aesthetics and generic characteristics of children's horror films, and identifies the 'horrific child' as one of the defining features of the genre, where it is as much a staple as it is in adult horror but with vastly different representational, interpretative and affective possibilities. Through analysis of case studies including blockbuster hits (Gremlins), cult favourites (The Monster Squad) and indie darlings (Coraline), Catherine Lester asks, what happens to the horror genre, and the horrific children it represents, when children are the target audience?
Peter C. Kunze is a visiting assistant professor of communication at Tulane University.