Importance of Gateway Horror
The phrase “Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society…” instantly conjures images of a lurid story title and a burst of flame having an unknown powder thrown into it (we now know was non-dairy creamer). To cap off a week of programming every Saturday night the kid-centric television channel Nickelodeon opted to give their target audience a horror show in the form of Are You Afraid of the Dark. This was far from the only show with spooky elements meant for young audiences as there was also the likes of: Eerie, Indiana, The Real Ghostbusters, The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, Gargoyles and more. Outside of the idiot box, the shelves of libraries and book stores proudly featured the works of Christopher Pike, Alvin Schwartz & Stephen Gammell, and RL Stine who were quite content to give young readers literary-inspired nightmares. For an entire generation these elements served as their introduction to a genre which has been a part of storytelling for millennia, the horror genre.
While kids of the 80’s and 90’s had their own age-oriented horrors, media from the previous generation of young horror fans also came down to them as well. While the Boomer generation is now stereotyped with being greedy monsters looking to trample civil rights and climate change the planet into oblivion many of them were once “Monster Kids”. They came of age when the Universal Monsters and other classic horror flicks were making their debuts on TV often presented by a local horror movie host like Sivad, Vampira, or Zacherly the Cool Ghoul. They were the first generation to be introduced to Scooby-Doo. On the magazine racks the advent of publications centered around monster movies captured youthful readers, most prominently Famous Monsters of Filmland from their beloved “Uncle Forry” Forrest J. Ackerman.
It seems like as long as kids have wanted to be entertained there has been something there to scare them even if it was something as simple as ghost stories around a campfire. “Gateway horror” is a relatively new term thrown around to describe the shows, comics, movies, books, etc intended for a younger audience. While this is not a new phenomena it exploded like many things elements of consumerism in the years following the Second World War. Nowadays there are countless adults who love all things horror and they can happily trace their passion back to the first time they read a Goosebumps book or learned that “Wolf Man has nards” or caught an episode of Courage the Cowardly Dog. No matter what overprotective parents may say, it is good for children to be scared. It teaches them that there are things in the dark worthy of being cautious of instilling them with a smart sense of self-preservation. There have been numerous studies showing that watching horror entertainment is linked with being able to react cleverly and rationally in real scary situations. On the flipside it also gives them way to channel their own fears and see them confronted perhaps inspiring a sense of courage within themselves. But most of all, horror is damn entertaining there is a reason it continuously inspires such passion from a large number or people. It provides something for people that no other genre seemingly can.
It is incredibly important for younger humans to discover horror in all of its grim glory and the way they do that is through gateway horror. Sadly it seems as though this style of storytelling is nowhere near as prevalent as it once was. This may largely have to do with the increasing corporatization of entertainment by only a handful of companies who above all would like to play it safe to appeal to as broad of range of people as possible. There was a time when Disney films was the introduction many youths had to scarier elements in storytelling but that has not been the case in a number of years. In 2011 when Harper Collins rereleased the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books they omitted the iconic and unnerving artwork of Stephen Gammell with more by-the-number illustrations from Brett Helquist. There is still a market out there for kids who want scary things as the success various TV shows can attest. While the House of Mouse may shy away from being scary for kids on the big screen, on the small screen they gave viewers shows like Gravity Falls and Owl House. Stranger Things producer Shawn Levy recently gave an interview with the Hollywood Reporter where he expressed a certain surprise that so many viewers fall into the 9-13 age range. Why that is surprising to him, I am not sure as the wildly popular show shares so much DNA with the many forms of media which introduced the previous generation of horror fans to the genre when they were that age. In rebooting The Munsters, rockstar turned filmmaker Rob Zombie made a point of breaking away his usual trashy vulgar style to get a PG rating with the express purpose of drawing in younger viewers. We know this audience is out there because the recent animated Addams Family films pulled in big box office numbers. Hopefully the decision makers at the top realize that kids do indeed like the spooky and macabre tailored to their age range. They say young people are our tomorrow so we ,must instill them with a healthy sense of today.