25 Years Later: 'Ice Cream Man' is the Perfect Taste of R-Horror for Young Fans Ready for More Blood
Horror movies often fall into certain categories (or subgenres) and each category holds certain tropes which help drive familiar storylines and create characters appropriate for whatever carnage or spookiness occurs on screen...
...For example, haunted house movies have doors slowly opening, an object (usually a toy) creepily moving or playing music, and usually a strange employee or townsperson appearing who knows the entire history of the house. In another category, zombie films often have someone waking up completely unaware of what happened, random survivors meet up to form a group, and of course, it only takes one bite to turn you. However, the tropes I want to focus on are what makes a good slasher movie. Obviously, a killer picking off youths one-by-one ranks at the top of the requirements, but what allows for the murders to occur so rampantly stems from the parents/adults ignoring their kids. The slash-ees of the genre fall into the age group of late teens to young adults (usually played by an older age group), but what if we went even younger? What if instead of high school/college students, the film focused on middle schoolers played by actual kids? Does an R-rated kid’s movie actually exist? Can we find a film with so many of the familiar slasher tropes, but the main cast comes in at half the age? Yes, such a film does exist, and I hear the melodious sounds of his truck now. So, empty your change jar and let’s get a delicious frozen treat from the Ice Cream Man (1995). Just stay away from the Rocky Road.
Now, when I express the glee in the existence of an R-rated kid’s movie, that does not mean to gather the tiniest of tots around the screen to bask in the delightful killings of the Ice Cream Man. Use some discretion here. The little-uns probably should ease into the horror genre, but pre-teens and up will embrace the characters and themes of the film. Some people might complain the R stands for severely restricted and not appropriate for young minds, but several films such as Almost Famous, The Breakfast Club, and Stand By Me earned an R-rating and most kids see at least one of these films before they start high school. In fact, Ice Cream Man holds a smaller degree of offense than all three of these popular films. The frozen-dessert-focused movie depicts no drug use, minimal cursing, and only the briefest glimpse of nudity (and it’s pretty easy to miss). The rating most likely derives from the gore, but any inclusion of blood or dismemberment usually comes with a comedic twist. Yeah, the squishing of the eyeball is a bit gross, but when the ice cream-peddling Gregory (Clint Howard) uses the heads of the cops to put on a puppet show, even adolescent horror fans will recognize the humor.
Now that your minds are put at ease with the R-rating, let us explore why the film can simultaneously exists as a horror film and a kid’s movie. Starting with the cast, the youthful protagonists of the film walk the line between the genres. Like most slasher films the movie focuses on a small group of friends. The quartet all know each other from school and formed quite the loveable click. However, here the genre labeling switches from slasher to children’s movie because the archetypes common in horror (ex: virgin, promiscuous girl, stoner, etc) give way to more youthful characteristics. Each member of the Rocketeers (as they call themselves) fits a particular type of character usually found in 80s or 90s kid’s movies: Johnny the cool kid (Justin Isfeld), Tuna the fat kid (JoJo Adams), Heather the tomboy (Anndi McAfee), and Small Paul the sick/dorky kid (Mikey LeBeau). These character types exist in numerous PG films from My Girl to The Goonies, but instead of simple coming of age discoveries or a plot to help their parents, this fearsome foursome stumbles across a much more sinister plot.
After a few disappearances and a breaking of curfew, one of the kids witnesses the not-so-innocent ice cream man kidnapping (possibly killing) Small Paul. However, despite all attempts to make the adults follow-up on the case, cops and parents try to simply shush their kids into submission. Here another trope appears which overlaps heavily between slasher and kid’s films: the uselessness of the parents. “Jason’s just a myth” and “Freddy isn’t real” have both been said numerous times and by numerous parents and often shortly before a kid lost their life to the supposedly imaginary killer. Children’s movies follow a similar plotline as frequently the kids witness an event a la Rear Window or devise a plan to save the house/youth center/etc. because all the adults gave up. The separation of the generations creates a sense of helplessness, but also propels the youth into the role of hero. Since the cops and parents continue to dismiss the kid’s cries for help, the remaining Rocketeers create a cunning plan filled with espionage and danger. Putting the young characters in the spotlight for herodom further attracts young horror fans because the actors range in age from 12 to 17. Providing relatable young characters gives pre-teen fans a hero they can cheer for, which can sometimes be scarce in horror movies.
As the Rocketeers plot to stop the ice cream man, the adults conveniently occupy themselves with the number one killer in slasher films: sin. Whereas the kids turn to the familiar innocent themes customary to children’s movies such as friendship, loyalty, and being yourself, the grown-ups partake in more immoral affairs. Tuna’s father fills his time with his mistress while away and when at home he has heated arguments with his wife. Racer’s brother expresses rage for any topic not related to himself and unleashes an unnecessary amount of anger towards his little brother’s friend. Heather’s father plays the role of the pompous preacher who becomes so obsessed with the success of his sermons he willfully ignores the well being of his daughter and wife. And even though the vast majority of the adults all give into their sins, their children remain innocent and therefore successfully survive Gregory’s killing spree. And really the conclusion of Ice Cream Man mirrors all the traits of a happy ending in a kid’s movie: elaborate plans are pulled off, the kids get the bad guy, and nobody important gets killed.
Strong leads played by kids, an evil villain, oblivious grown-ups, and in the end friendship saves the day. What more could you want from a kid’s movie? Ice Cream Man actually serves up a great introduction to R-rated horror, so if your half-grown horrorling wants to move past PG-13 and Goosebumps, then buy them some ice cream and everyday will be a happy happy happy day.
By Amylou Ahava
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