Horror for Kids

Terrence Rafferty calls filmmaker Guillermo del Toro the “Master of Highbrow Horror” (The Atlantic). He traces del Toro’s aesthetic to a childlike mix of fear and fascination: “Toro’s work isn’t simply the something’s-out-to-get-you feeling of conventional scare pictures. It’s fear mixed with fascination, a childlike wonder at the strange shapes reality can take. In the poem ‘Children Selecting Books in a Library,’ Randall Jarrell writes, ‘Their tales are full of sorcerers and ogres / Because their lives are: the capricious infinite.’ That’s where the best moments of del Toro’s films always seem to be taking place—in the capricious infinite as it is apprehended, warily, in the mind’s eye of a child.”

Rafferty thinks that horror enthusiasts are also childlike: “Horror is for those whose sense of dread is more primitive, or less mundane. It’s for people who never outgrew their belief that the world is infinitely mysterious, and that its unknowability is the source of both terror and pleasure. It’s for people like Guillermo del Toro.”

Along the way, Rafferty offers this intriguing analysis of Robert Eggers’s The Witch (2015): “the children here belong to a family of devout 17th-century Puritans settled on a sere, ungiving patch of land. Their brand of religion, which lacks devotional imagery, and their spare and dutiful way of life leave them oddly defenseless when bad things start to happen and the world (or God) seems to turn against them. In the absence of art and play, their belief in evil becomes something unendurable, a pure torment. . . . If only this unfortunate family had pictures to look at, effigies, shrines to what they fear, they might be able to survive the evil around them. That’s how frightened kids survive their childhoods, and how a master of horror can help us all, at any age, get through our scary days.”

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