Should your kids be watching Alfred Hitchcock movies? I’m sure your gut reaction says no. I mean, just filming Psycho left Janet Leigh unable to shower for the rest of her life. But as I was sitting in the theater with my dad last year watching Vertigo for the umpteenth time at one of those retro movie nights, it occurred to me that since my film buff father insisted I grow up on movies like The Godfather, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and The Birds, my whole life has been richer for it. And no, I haven’t killed anyone and never had a single nightmare involving a shower or a guy dressed in his mom’s clothes.
Of course, you know your kids better than anyone. You know if they can handle violence and psychological horror, and you know if they’ll get anything out of watching the old greats. The pacing, cinematography and narrative twists and turns of a Hitchcock film are life-changing for some kids and straight up boring for others. For me, it ended up being the latter. If you kids grow up on Hitchcock movies (and the like), they are sure to have a nuanced, perceptive eye (and impeccable taste) when it comes to film. Isn’t that one of the best gifts you can give your kids?
Check out this shot from Hitchcock’s Vertigo. It’s one of my favorites in all of the films I’ve ever seen; I could look at it over and over.
Before I watched Vertigo for the first time, my dad had shown me Psycho among many other films made during the 50’s and 60’s, a time when filmmakers experimented a lot with showing and not telling. As we watched, he would point things out to me like a costume, camera angle, or lighting choice that made the film especially masterful. In the shot above, he didn’t say anything. I got it all on my own, and felt very proud of myself. I understood that every element including her outfit and hair, the composition of the shot, and our position as someone watching her watch that painting were essential to the narrative of the movie.
In short, don’t miss the opportunity to watch an older classic with kids and critically analyze it with them. Point out things you notice about dialog and camera angles, and ask them what they see and how they feel. Don’t be scared of the violence in Hitchcock films, either. Hitchcock isn’t Tarantino. If your kids are young and you feel like a scene in a film that’s coming up is too gory, just ask them to close their eyes (like my dad used to do with the propeller scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark). Typically, though, Hitchcock films aren’t gory. If you remember them being so, it’s because he did a really good job of implying violence that’s not actually ever shown in detail. That’s another conversation to have with your kids: what makes something scary?
It would seem that the powers that be might agree with me that watching Hitchcock movies has a place in a rich, healthy childhood. Who can argue with Matel, the authority on pop kid culture? The Birds Barbie doll celebrates the film’s 45th anniversary. The normal Barbie controversy of the impossible blonde even enhances the whole thing, since Hitchcock sort of had a thing for blondes.
If your kids get really into the Hitchcock thing, you can start collecting dolls like these from the Living Dead collection. Oh, Norman. We previously featured these disturbingly cute black and white dolls in our classic horror toy article.
To foster your family’s newfound horror fandom, bond with your kids (and teach them a little something about the nuances of graphic arts) by bringing in something special to remind them of the films you both love. For some kid-appropriate Hitchcock decor, class up the place with a great retro print like these from Claudia Varosio.
Whether you’d like to make light of classic horror with collectables or you’re a serious film buff, sharing your love of Hitchcock with your kids can foster a lifelong appreciation of film and a keen eye for mastery behind the camera. If nothing else, they’ll enjoy catching the things they missed with each viewing. In a film like Vertigo, North by Northwest or Rear Window, there’s a different layer for every stage of life.