Many of us who write about or think about horror films have noticed that the last several years has produced an increase in the genre’s cultural cache. From Get Out winning best screenplay at the Oscars to a Creature From The Black Lagoon fan-fic taking best picture in the same year, we have seen a dramatic spike in horror’s mainstream acceptance...
But I argue that horror films have enjoyed decades of secret success and acceptance. Films that you would never see on Shudder have taken horror plots and dressed them up as anything from kid’s films to romantic comedies. Consider, for a moment, the following:
Mary Poppins Returns is About a Wishmaster
You may remember this trope from scary short stories, horror films, or 20 different episodes of The Twilight Zone, but let’s see if it sounds familiar to you. A family is in distress. They have no money, their lives are falling apart, they feel alone. The tribulations they face are far too great to ever be solved and they seem quite hopeless. Then there’s a knock at the front door and in walks a mysterious stranger who seems to have all the solutions.
“DO NOT TRUST THEM!” You scream at the book, movie screen, or your mother, but it is too late. The characters have already let the stranger in and your mom has already started dating this person.
Things unfold in pretty much the fashion you might expect. The wishes granted by the monkey’s paw, the genie in the bottle, or the man who was hired to regrout the bathroom, all come true but the results are far from what was intended.
2018’s Mary Poppins Returns also follows this structure. When Mary breezes in on her umbrella and a… um… a breeze, she promises to just take care of the kids so that Daddy Banks can claim to be looking for Bearer Bonds when really he just wants to be sad about being old. Mary does take care of the kids but the cost is great. She opens portals to deep sea worlds, cartoon lands, and a night time world of sick BMX Tricks. All the while, she drives the Banks adults further and further over the edge of sanity by breaking things and revealing that all they care about is meaningless.
The movie makes clear that Mary has the power to fix Daddy Banks’ financial problems if only he knew the exact right words to ask. In any other world, this strict adherence to linguistic rules for wishes is what leads to windfall money generated by life insurance payouts, mangled bodies returning from the dead, or being turned into a painting so that you will always look young.
In the climactic finale, Mary alters time claiming that it is to help the Banks family but I suspect it is just so that she can demonstrate her own power. She could have helped the family any time she wanted but she chose to wait until it was time to screw with the time stream. She’s a dream master and she comes every few years to mess with your reality.
Mary Poppins Returns is not a title, it’s a promise. She’ll be back and she will fuck your life up if you don’t know exactly how to ask for help.
My Best Friend's Wedding is Basically Fatal Attraction But Without Deserving It
Imagine for a moment that you are ready to settle down and get married. You’ve met a wonderful person and it just feels right. So you pop the question and they respond with a big affirmative. Good news, right? Oh, you thought it was good news? Did you consider, for a moment, your friend with whom you have never had a physical relationship decided to ruin your life and get your fiance out of the picture? Well, you should have. Because you are living in 1997’s My Best Friend’s Wedding.
The plot of this film revolves around long time friends, Julianne (Julia Roberts) and Michael (Dermot Mulroney) as Michael tells Julianne that he’s getting married to Kimmy (Cameron Diaz). Julianne doesn’t take this well but pretends to be supportive. What upsets Julianne the most about all of this is that she and Michael agreed to marry each other if neither was married by the age of 28.
Imagine you’re in college and one night you made a bet with a friend that if we aren’t living on the moon in 8 years, you’ll legally change your name to your email address. 8 years later, this person from your past shows up with a bunch of legal documents that say you are now to be known as email@example.com. You’d think this person was crazy for taking that drunken bet seriously. Julianne seems to think everything you promise people in college is gospel.
One scene that the film presents us as evidence that Michael and Julianne are supposed to be together occurs when Julianne is in her underwear and Michael accidentally walks in on her. He tells her she looks great and then leaves. Apparently, every time I’ve told my friend that short sleeves look good on him, I’ve been asking him to end my relationships.
For 104 minutes we watch Julianne attempt to destroy a perfectly fine relationship. She humiliates Kimmy when possible, forges an email to Michael’s boss that could get him fired, and then outright lies to Kimmy and Michael in an attempt to drive them further apart. In sexual thrillers like Fatal Attraction, the people have to actually screw in order for the obsession to be sparked but in this film, you just need to know Julianne when she’s in her 20s. The lengths that Julianne goes to in order to ruin the lives of two people and the fact that they have no idea that she’s doing it is an absolute horror plot.
My Best Friend’s Wedding presents itself as a romantic comedy but from the perspective of Cameron Diaz’s character and, to a lesser degree, Dermot Mulroney’s, this is a tale of obsession that goes just a little short of bunny boiling.
In What Way Is Toy Story Not A Child’s Play Film?
Toys, the things you play with and love until the day you don’t care about them anymore are alive and they desperately want something from you. In the Child’s Play series, the thing Chucky wants is his owner’s body. In the Toy Story films, the toys want their owner’s undivided attention.
Toy Story characters desire to be played with and loved. Because toys do not age, grow-up, or die, it is logical to believe that some number of toys would capture human souls so that they could play with them for all time. Another contingent of toys would probably support Chucky’s decision and attempt a body swap so that they can learn what it is to be a callus and careless human. Did any of the four Toy Story films directly state this as a toy’s attention? No, but I also don’t believe that we know the limits of Stinky Pete’s depravity.
In a lot of ways, the reality of the Toy Story films is much scarier than that of the Child’s Play universe. In Child’s Play, it is only the one toy that you need to be scared of (or his Bride, his Seed, or… I suppose, his cult eventually) but in Toy Story, everything you play with is watching you and (most alarmingly) talking about you.
This might not be anything at all but did you ever notice that the child protagonist in both film series is named Andy? No? Yeah, it’s probably just a coincidence.
The Florida Project Reminds Us That The Darkest Fate of All Is To Have Children
In 2017, a dark new vision of terror came into cinemas with The Florida Project. Critics said this was a film about poverty from the naive perspective of a young child but I saw this thing twice and all I could think was that it’s about a woman becoming increasingly unhinged and desperate while her uncaring daughter burns down buildings, terrorizes motorists, and wreaks havoc on electrical systems.
The film follows a 6-year-old demon of a child named Moonee and her woefully unprepared mother as they live in a cheap motel near Walt Disney World. Mom’s got problems. All do. But in following little Moonee I couldn’t help but think that poverty was not the issue here. The issue is that Moonee is terrifying. Having a few more dollars isn’t going to fix Moonee’s delight in the cleansing powers of fire.
You've Got Mail Dooms A Woman To Hell
Remember 1998? Neither do I. But, according to my extensive research of the period (taking the form of watching TNT on Saturday Nights), it was a sweet, gentle time. We were all lamenting the death of independent bookstores as they were put out of business by giant book dealers like Borders and Barnes & Noble. How quaint.
Another cute thing that was starting to happen two years before the dawn of the Millennium was the start of online dating via chatrooms. In these years, people believed that all the silly things they typed online would never come back to haunt them or be used to destroy their lives. So, so quaint.
You’ve Got Mail follows Kathleen (Meg Ryan) and Joe (Tom Hanks) as they antagonize each other in late 90’s Manhattan. Kathleen runs a small bookstore while Joe works for and is heir to a company that has been putting small book sellers out of business around the country. When Joe finds out that he and Kathleen have been talking to each other online long before meeting in person, he decides to do the only responsible thing...He fucks with Kathleen and puts her out of business.
In 1998, part of the appeal of chatrooms was their promise of anonymity. Joe clearly violates this by continuing his digital correspondences with Kathleen while also knowing who she is IRL. Finding out that somebody you’ve been emailing is actually somebody from your life and that you hate that person sucks but it isn’t quite bad enough for this listicle.
No, the true horror that awaits Kathleen comes when she’s out of work. After the poor woman loses her business and some of her friends to the megaseller that is Fox Books, she decides that what she really wants to do with her time is write children’s books.
“Don’t do it!” you scream but it is far too late for her as well. She’s damned just like me and every other struggling writer in the world. See you at the EDD website, Kathleen.
By Mark Gonzales