The under-sevens need toughening up when it comes to scary trailers

Donald Clarke: Who are the weedy children collapsing at the merest glimpse of blood?

‘My generation didn’t fight world wars, but, when barely old enough to cycle a bike, we endured the uncanny horror of the dubbed sub-Wagnerian TV series The Singing Ringing Tree.’ Photograph:  Ghislain & Marie David de Lossy/Getty

‘My generation didn’t fight world wars, but, when barely old enough to cycle a bike, we endured the uncanny horror of the dubbed sub-Wagnerian TV series The Singing Ringing Tree.’ Photograph: Ghislain & Marie David de Lossy/Getty

 

Barely a week goes past without a party of children – eager for the latest talking-ferret entertainment – being sent screaming when the cinema accidentally screens bits of a horror film.

Last year, kids in Australia were left traumatised by the experience of hearing the reliably horrifying James Corden voicing Peter Rabbit . . . Hang on, I’ve read that wrong.

It seems the anguish was caused by the inadvertent screening of a trailer for existential horror Hereditary. “A lot of the kids were upset,” an audience member said. “If you think back to your own childhood you remember things that scared you when you saw them for the first time. I still remember the first time I saw a robber on TV.” (We’ll come back to that.)

In April, children in Ipswich were left “confused and crying” after a trailer for incoming shocker, MA, was shown before Peppa Pig: Festival of Fun. “I tried to cover her eyes during the trailers and told her they were silly films for mummies and daddies,” an observer, visiting with his daughter, told the Evening Standard.

The brothers Grimm knew that children thrived on horror and, in their famous tales, piled it on

“But there were lots of kids crying and she was very confused and started crying too.” It would be inappropriate to note that “films for mummies and daddies” suggests something more lubricious than another Blumhouse Productions fright-fest. So we won’t do that.

There’s more to come in our globe-trotting saga of ruined young lives. Earlier this month, in Montreal, infants were propelled towards mental breakdown when, eagerly expecting Detective Pikachu, they were, instead, presented with the opening scenes of weep-monster horror The Curse of La Llorona.

Lazy journalists failed to accumulate any heart-rending quotes from distressed parents, but there were the usual reports of kiddies weeping into their Enormo-Colas.

Weedy children

As a serious newspaper, it is our role to wonder why these outrages are happening so often. We should talk about the demise of the traditional projectionist and note that, with the day’s programme controlled remotely and centrally, these sorts of errors are bound to happen.

We are minded to observe that no professional of the old school – certainly none who trained before the digital era – would spool-up a horror film when the audience was expecting porcine larks.

That’s what we should be writing about.

There is, however, another question that interests me more. Who are these weedy children collapsing into blubby puddles at the merest glimpse of a bloodied stump?

The parents quoted above don’t get to repel sabre-toothed tigers like their distant antecedent, but they do get to shout at errant cinema staff

The brothers Grimm knew that children thrived on horror and, in their famous tales, piled it on with demented pipers, duplicitous talking wolves and carnivorous senior citizens. Horror primes young people for the realities of a wretched world and fires their imaginations.

My generation didn’t fight world wars, but, when barely old enough to cycle a bike, we endured the uncanny horror of the dubbed sub-Wagnerian TV series The Singing Ringing Tree. Nothing in Hereditary equals the terrors of that East German entertainment.

I lived for the Friday night ITV screening of horrors from the golden eras of Hammer and Universal. I was brilliant. These under-sevens need toughening up.

In a tizzy

As ever, I blame the parents. It is part of the parental condition to pile fears on offspring that those young people might not really feel. It gives mum or dad an impression of great worth to fight off imaginary threats.

The parents quoted above don’t get to repel sabre-toothed tigers like their distant antecedent, but they do get to shout at errant cinema staff. This cosseting can do no good. Consider the Peter Rabbit incident. “I still remember the first time I saw a robber on TV,” dad says.

This guy lives in Australia. He lives in a country teeming with snakes, crocodiles, venomous spiders and other things that will kill you as soon as look at you.

Yet he’s still in a tizzy about seeing Hamburglar when a pale, quivering infant. This isn’t the Australia I learned about in Mad Max 2 and Wolf Creek. Send your kids round to me and I’ll toughen them up with a training regime that begins with Brides of Dracula and leads towards Blood on Satan’s Claw.

Yes, yes, yes. I am being a tad facetious. Children can get genuinely upset by horror and no decent parent (I’m told) wants to see their little ones sobbing. It really is a shame that cinemas are no longer able to effectively control what is shown on their screens.

All this is true. But some part of me yearns to explain that, while little Donald was genuinely upset by the end of Kurt Neumann’s The Fly (“Help me! Help me!”), that experience did me no bloody harm whatsoever.

It helped make me the man I am today. Do with that what you will.

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