Kids love to be scared. The endorphin rush that accompanies fear is super-potent, and even as children, we can become addicted to it. That’s why we jump off roofs into swimming pools, launch ourselves off too-steep bike ramps and engage in a host of other activities that skirt the edge of common sense and jeopardize our personal safety.
And it’s why we love monsters. Somewhere in the gray matter of our lizard brains, we connect with the survival instinct that triggers fear. It’s familiar and purposeful, and it’s kept us alive for millennia. But in our conscious minds, we somehow know that we are – in most cases, anyway – safe from harm. So we find new ways to scare ourselves, new monsters for us to fear in the most playful and adventurous ways.
Most of the monsters geared at kids are lame, just south of scary and innocuous beyond reason. Some are too scary, and young kids with a low fear threshold end up having nightmares (which I always enjoyed as a kid – little horror movies while you sleep). But there are many monsters that offer the perfect balance of fear and comfort, monsters that we come to find out are actually totally cool and the people who are trying to do away with them are the real assholes. Here are five totally awesome monsters that should win your kids’ hearts while scaring the crap out of them.
1. Sloth (from The Goonies)
When Sloth first makes his visage known, with a horrifying yelp-and-scream routine, it’s truly disturbing. This bit of chaos, of course, quickly turns into a comedy bit, with Sloth and soon-to-be-friend Chunk, attempting to retrieve a dropped candy bar. As the movie progresses, Sloth and Chunk realize they have much in common, both outcasts, both belittled by the very people who love them. Much more menacing are the gangsters chasing them, a trio of hoods that Sloth helps the Goonies defeat.
2. The Zombie Pilgrims (from ParaNorman)
Norman has a lot to think about: He can see and talk to the dead, his dad thinks he’s a loon, he’s being pursued by a gaggle of zombies and a little but very powerful witch wants to destroy him and his town. So Norman must confront all of these problems head-on, without the fear that his friends and family exhibit. In so doing, he discovers that the zombies that the torch-wielding townsfolk want to kill (again) are trying to help save his town. A little naïve, and quite noisome, the zombies admit to having made a horrible mistake when alive – one that doomed the town – but they want to make it right. Not only are their Claymation, stop-action selves superbly rendered, but they provide some of the film’s most comedic and revealing moments.
3. The Wild Things (from Where the Wild Things Are)
A monster list wound not be complete without Maurice Sendak’s Wild Things. When first cast in the magnificent children’s book, The Wild Things help Max deal with his anger issues, stuff every normal kid goes through. In the film adaptation, those “monsters” take on a whole new level of importance. Max’s life is far more troubled than the book leads us to believe. Director Spike Jones wisely chose to create costumes (mixed with CGI) to create the beasts, and they are beautiful and strange and wonderful to watch. The subject matter is actually the scary stuff in this film, and may be too mature for some younger viewers. But the monsters? Just gorgeous.
4. Just About Every Monster in Hotel Transylvania
This clever film, along with ParaNorman, is a favorite of my 6-year-old daughter. Maybe because she relates to Dracula’s teenage girl, Mavis, who is trying to be her own person despite intervention from over-protective dad. Maybe because she just loves the variety of monsters and the humor they brought with them to this monster getaway. Though the number of monsters is hard to keep track of, each has their own personality, paying homage to their classic monster movie predecessors. It’s a great conversation starter for parents who loved monsters as kids and want to share that appreciation with their children.
5. Iron Giant (from The Iron Giant)
Though not a monster in the traditional sense, the Iron Giant has all of those classic monstery qualities. He’s huge, menacing, destructive and misunderstood. And he’s befriended by a boy who sees the real “him.” If you haven’t watched The Iron Giant with your children, you need to – right now. Though the Giant gets a little crazy smashing things up and shooting lasers out of his eyes, which may scare the youngest viewers, the story is touching and deep, and we learn that the real monster, once again, is not him, but us.