Halfway to Halloween Month continues doling out its tricks and treats at Consequence of Sound. Today, Jenn Adams of The Horror Virgin offers a guide for parents looking to unleash their anxieties. Stay tuned on Thursday for a very special interview with the late and grerat Stuart Gordon.
It’s the age of COVID-19 and millions are sheltering in place. With few answers and an endless stream of bad news, everyone’s on edge. While some are using this time to catch up on pop culture or nurture hobbies, those with kids are in an entirely different world.
Parents are now full-time caregivers. This means changing diapers, making snacks, monitoring screen time, or even teaching at home. Couple these activities with navigating a work schedule turned upside down … and it’s understandable that parents feel stressed.
They’re also scared, not only for themselves, but for their children who are now growing up in an unpredictable and ever-changing world. After all, these are terrifying times, filled with anxiety, and like everyone else, parents are looking for any kind of reprieve.
One solution, oddly enough, may be more horror.
Ask any horror fan and they’ll be quick to share how the genre offers a unique way to exorcise one’s fears and demons. By living vicariously through our favorite protagonists, fans are safely able to confront what scares them dead-on. This likely explains why pandemic movies are currently trending.
On that note, we’ve put together a list of fears new stay-at-home parents are likely experiencing right now and paired them with a movie or show. Because by diving in from the safety of our living rooms, we can process what scares us and keep moving along.
“I can’t keep the germs out.”
This ghost story follows Grace Stewart (Nicole Kidman), a World War II-era mother of two young children whose husband is on the front lines. She lives in a creepy British estate and her three new servants may not be who they seem. Grace’s children Anne and Nicholas are photosensitive — they break out into rashes in anything brighter than candlelight — and she must constantly protect them with heavy curtains and locked doors.
The Others takes some twists and turns as we slowly learn more of Grace’s story, but the way she attempts to contain the light is similar to the way so many parents are currently attempting to ward off germs. An invisible enemy surrounding us at all times that can only be vanquished by strict rules and diligent hand-washing? It’s easy to feel like one touch of the face or a shortage of soap could lead to infection and disaster.
Kids are notorious for getting into the dirtiest places and it’s scary to take them outside right now without bathing them in hand sanitizer. Grace’s strict attempt at control is commendable, but ultimately unsustainable as is the inability to keep out all germs. Bottom line: We wash our hands and we hope for the best.
“My children will pay for my mistakes.”
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET
The sins of the parents are visited on their children. That’s the hook of this slasher classic. One by one, Nancy’s (Heather Langenkamp) friends die in their dreams, tormented by a grotesquely burned, reality-bending killer (Robert Englund) with knives for fingers. It’s eventually revealed that Freddy is targeting Nancy and her friends because of the cruel albeit deserved fate he met long ago at the hands of the neighborhood parents.
In other words, it’s the parents’ actions who have endangered who they care about most — a relatable fear. How many of us have gone to the grocery and worried that we’re bringing the virus back to our children? Or taken an in-person meeting knowing we might be exposing ourselves and in turn our families as well? We’re being as careful as we can, but we never know when our past mistakes will harm those we hold most dear.
While A Nightmare On Elm Street helps to exorcise fears of bringing down ruin upon our houses, it has the added benefit of allowing us to feel like good parents by comparison. Whether taking spur-of-the-moment trips, drinking to excess, or using their children as bait in a sting operation, the parents of Elm Street continuously endanger their children. Sure, you forgot to wash your hands, but at least you’re doing a better job than Tina’s mom.
“My child will get sick.”
The top-level fear we’re all most likely experiencing is that our children will get sick and we won’t know how to help them. In this Oscar-nominated classic, actress Chris MacNeil’s (Ellen Burstyn) daughter, Regan (Linda Blair), begins acting strangely and suffering from an unknown condition that eventually leaves her restrained and in need of an exorcism. As Chris takes Regan to see specialist after specialist, putting her through rounds of expensive and upsetting tests to find the cause, we feel Chris’ horror and pain as her daughter devolves into someone she barely recognizes with no idea how to help her.
While the coronavirus is mostly affecting older people, our children are still at risk for catching a mysterious illness with no known cure. And with scarce resources in hospitals, if they do get sick it’s likely we’ll be caring for them ourselves. They probably won’t spit pea soup and Latin obscenities at us, but it might get scary. We can take comfort in Chris’ resolve to care for her child even in her lowest moments and hopefully find a little of that strength in ourselves.
“I won’t be able to protect my children.”
A QUIET PLACE
In this 2018 blockbuster, Leigh (John Krasinski) and Evelyn Abbot (Emily Blunt) are resilient, having survived seemingly unstoppable monsters for almost a year by redesigning their lives to remain silent at all times. But how long can they maintain this with three young children? An early tragedy involving their four-year-old reveals the futility of their situation.
Some questions to consider: How do you explain to your young child the importance of their choices? More specifically, how do you explain why they can’t touch their face? You can’t. You can try, but children are uncontrollable and we’re currently raising them in a world where small decisions, like not washing hands, can have life or death consequences.
Adding to the stress of A Quiet Place is Evelyn’s pregnancy, particularly in a world where the slightest sound can be a death sentence. While maintaining rules with kindergartners is difficult, any agency over a newborn is flat-out impossible. In a sense, they’re ticking clocks without a care for the world outside the womb — at least not yet.
Right now, managing the vulnerability of childbirth for both a mother and baby is quite a task, especially for mothers without their partners and expecting to deliver their children at a hospital likely filled with Covid-19 patients. A Quiet Place preys upon that anxiety, but it’s admittedly a cathartic and empowering watch.
“I can’t do everything.”
Parenting is hard in the best of circumstances and adding in extra stress makes it so much harder. The Babadook is a nefarious character from a book that mysteriously appears on Samuel’s (Noah Wiseman) bookshelf. When his mother Amelia (Essie Davis) reads it to him before bed one night, it unleashes havoc into their already strained life. A depressed, single mother, Amelia is pushed to her limits while dealing with a difficult child.
My husband is on the essentials list and must still go into work, but both my children are home with me. I’m lucky to be able to work from home, but it means I’m homeschooling two children, maintaining my house, and working a full-time job. There’s a lot on my plate. So, watching Amelia slowly descend into depression … it’s palpable. I feel her pain. I see the shame she feels and the way she isolates herself.
Right now, there are so many more expectations of parents, and the help available to us is extremely limited. If we don’t manage our pain, it’s easy to feel like it might consume us, no different than the way grief nearly drowns Amelia. While The Babadook is a difficult and anxious experience, the ending — without spoiling too much — rewards with feelings of self-acceptance and hope.
“What if my kids drive me crazy?”
MOM AND DAD
I’ve definitely yelled at my kids a lot more in the last few weeks. I’ve also said the words, “I love my kids, but they’re driving me crazy!” more than I care to admit. Mom and Dad tells the story of a family of four caught in the midst of a strange pandemic that turns parents into single-minded killers, seeking only to murder their own children. This bloody and bonkers film is fun to watch, but it touches on a darker fear. What if we regret becoming parents? What if the thing we claimed to want more than anything (to love and be loved by a child) turns out to be less than the fulfilling miracle we expected it to be?
We can’t go back. A friend once said to me, “Parenting is like getting a tattoo on your face. Be damned sure you want to do it.” Because it’s hard and it takes over your entire life. How many parents are jealous of those quarantined without kids? Those who are binging horror franchises with lives not ruled by bedtime routines and monitored screen time? Of course we love our children, but it’s hard not to long for the days when we were free of this immense responsibility. We can indulge in this feeling while watching Mom and Dad, then go hug our kids after the credits.
“Things will never be the same again.”
Pet Sematary has long been the alpha-dog of Parent Horror. The 1989 adaptation of Stephen King’s terrifying novel (and the 2019 remake) follows doctor and family man Lewis Creed (Dale Midkiff) as he moves to a new house on a busy road, but adjacent to a mysterious wilderness. What lies beyond the titular Pet Sematary is the catalyst for one of the darkest and most terrifying stories I’ve ever encountered (and the only one of King’s novels I couldn’t re-read after having children). Following the tragic death of his child, Louis does the unthinkable in a misguided attempt to resurrect what was lost.
The obvious connection here is the fear that our children will contract the virus and die, but so much of Louis’ journey revolves around trying to restore a life that has been forever changed. We don’t know how long this virus will last, nor what our lives will look like when it’s over. Some have lost jobs, missed irreplaceable life events, and that’s if we manage to avoid getting sick. We are experiencing a sorrow and grief that is hard to understand. It’s tempting to hide our heads in the sand and go about our normal routines even though life is anything but. Pet Sematary offers us the chance to follow that mental trail into the “what if” and watch the disastrous consequences from the safety of our couches.
“I can’t fight the virus and take care of my child at the same time.”
TRAIN TO BUSAN
Surviving the apocalypse is hard. We must be prepared and ready to act on a moment’s notice; skills that are made so much harder when we are also charged with taking care of a child. In Train to Busan, young father Seok-woo (Yoo Gong) is on a South Korean train with his daughter, Soo-an (Su-an Kim) when zombies strike. He must not only defend himself against the attack, but must do so while caring for her.
Every time I cough, I worry that I may be developing symptoms of the coronavirus. It’s a reasonable fear that quickly leads me to wonder who will take care of my children if I do catch it. How will I keep them from becoming infected? How on earth can I provide the kind of care they need if I’m sick in bed? Or worse, hospitalized? And if I die, who can I trust to raise them? It’s enough to make you scrub your hands for five happy birthdays.
Like A Quiet Place, Train to Busan confronts us with the challenges of caring for children in an uncontrollable world. It also provides one of horror’s best “good cries” and a chance to release the pressure created by the constant fear.
“I am screwing my kids up for life.”
THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE
Mike Flanagan’s adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s novel, The Haunting of Hill House follows the Crain family as they attempt to flip the titular house. Weaving between timelines, we see the way Hill House preys upon mother, Olivia (Carla Gugino), and the way the resulting tragedy has affected each Crain child in adulthood. The family is fractured and the children are plagued by repressed memories, addiction, and unhealthy coping mechanisms. Father Hugh (Timothy Hutton/Henry Thomas) closes himself off emotionally from his children to try to protect them.
We are living in extraordinarily stressful times. It’s natural to want to focus all of our energy on keeping our children safe at the expense of keeping them happy. I try to explain to my kids that even though I’m home with them, I can’t stop what I’m doing to play. They may understand that I have to work in order for us to have food to eat, but the look of disappointment on their faces breaks my heart. How do we show them our love when our time is limited? What if this isn’t over in a couple of weeks and this social distancing leads to emotional isolation down the road? Hill House ends on a compassionate note and reminds us that, while everything may be falling apart, our love will carry us through. The rest, as they say, is confetti.
It’s hard to raise children. It’s hard to survive a global pandemic. So, of course, it’s extremely difficult to do both at the same time. For the last month, I’ve felt that my day is divided into 18 hours of feeling like a bad mother and 6 hours of sleep. It’s human nature to judge ourselves, but it doesn’t help. And this is where horror becomes essential. By watching these fictional characters struggle to do what’s right by their children, we can relate and cut ourselves a bit of slack. We can cry with them when they struggle, rejoice when they succeed, and by safely confronting our most overwhelming fears, we can mentally prepare ourselves for the next day. We’re going to struggle until this is over. But we love our children, we do the best we can, and rest assured, you’re doing a good job.