Hello again Brothers and Sisters of the Psychotronic Video World! Let’s talk about Monster Kids for a moment. No, I’m not talking about the Children of the Damned or The Bad Seed, but rather kids who are just crazy about monster movies. I’m one. I’ve loved monsters as far back as I can remember. The original Monster Craze seems to have struck in the early 60s, with the introduction of the Aurora monster models and the packaging of the Universal classics for TV, and then of course the flames would be fanned by Forrest J. Ackerman and Famous Monsters magazine. Interestingly, it’s a craze that, unlike the Hula Hoop or the Pet Rock, has never truly faded away; these days Frankenstein and Dracula have been replaced by Freddy and Leatherface, while Famous Monsters has ceded ground to Fangoria, Horror Hound, and Rue Morgue. As such, it should come as no surprise that “Monster Kids” have periodically cropped up in monster movies, their knowledge of the genre frequently coming into play to save their bacon. Some of these listed will likely come as no surprise, while others may have you arching an eyebrow in my direction, but here’s my list of the Top 5 Monster Kids.
5) Billy (Joe King, CREEPSHOW)
Name not ringing a bell? It damn well ought to. Featured in the prologue and epilogue of George Romero and Stephen King’s love letter to EC Comics, Billy is caught reading a horror comic by his father Stan (an uncredited Tom Atkins), slapped and sent to bed. Billy later uses a voodoo doll, ordered out of the comic, to exact revenge on his father. Between the voodoo vengeance and the fact that his love of horror comics is the lynchpin around which the entire film revolves, I thought Billy more than deserved a place on our list, though maybe not a very high one. So we’re going to put him in at Number Five.
4) Charles Kaznyk (Riley Griffiths, SUPER 8)
Ah, SUPER 8, or as some might call it, “J.J. Abrams’ love letter to Steven Spielberg.” Charles is not the central character of the film, which bumps him down the list, but he gets mad props for being a middle schooler in the process of making a film for a nation-wide film-making contest. The process of filming is what sets the story of SUPER 8 in process, as their shooting of a scene in a railway depot puts them in position to see an alien creature escape from its government handlers during a train-wreck. Charles’ passion and drive cement him in place at Number Four on our list.
THE DEADLY SPAWN is, for my money, the epitome of independent, low-budget DIY horror filmmaking. Shot over several years on a budget of $25,000, it’s a loving ode to the alien invasion B-movies of the 1950s, with a set up distinctly reminiscent of THE BLOB (and which would later be utilized in other such tributes, such as NIGHT OF THE CREEPS and KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE). The special effects are a thing of wonder and beauty, but the high point of the film, for me, is Charles. As far as I’m concerned, Charles is among the best depictions of “monster kids” ever committed to celluloid. His room is plastered with posters for THE VALLEY OF GWANGI and KING KONG, and he brings the latest issue of Famous Monsters to the breakfast table. The film is also careful to show, via a “concerned” aunt and a psychiatrist uncle, that horror nerds like Charles aren’t budding serial killers, but just ordinary people who happen to have a taste for the Macabre. This point is what brings Charles in as our Number Three in the countdown.
2) Mike (Craig Peck, THERE’S NOTHING OUT THERE)
I was a little iffy including Mike on the list, as he is late high-school age or thereabouts, and thus hardly a “kid.” On the other hand, these days I’m old and crotchety enough to look at college students and go, “Sunovabitch, they all look like babies.” Take that as you will, but recognize one essential fact: Mike is the indisputable king of the video store. Five years before SCREAM was released (and almost two decades before CABIN IN THE WOODS made metatextuality cool), Mike recognizes that he and his friends were in a horror movie and took steps, based on his knowledge of every horror movie his local video store stocked, to survive it. While his tendency to nail doors shut and cower in hockey pads irritates his friends, it should be noted that the people who have faith in him don’t get eaten/mind-controlled/alien-impregnated. And if nothing else, the scene where a jump-scare involving a cat is followed by Mike’s exasperated “Where did the cat come from? There’s nothing up there but CEILING!” would be enough to make me put Mike down for our Number Two Monster Kid.
You had to have known this was coming. I mean, seriously. The Monster Squad’s club house is what every monster kid post-1987 has dreamed of living in. Hell, I still dream about living in it, and I’m a grown man. The film, as if it even needed synopsizing, follows a group of 12 year olds who are obsessed with monsters as they discover that Dracula, the Frankenstein’s Monster, the Mummy, Wolfman and Gill-Man are all real, and on the verge of plunging the world into eternal darkness. With the rest of the world too thoroughly-grounded in reality, it’s up to the Monster Squad to save the world from evil. It’s impossible to choose just one of the Squad for the honors of Number One, and I could easily do a Top Six list ranking them. Like pint-sized Avengers, the film gives each member of the Squad their moment to shine and maintains a good balance between them. In a world where Wolfman’s got nards and Dracula tools around in a customized hearse, it falls to the dorky monster kids to save the world, and that’s why the Monster Squad is my Number One pick for best monster kids.
NOTE: You may notice that a certain kid played by Corey Feldman, John Sheperd, and Thom Matthews did not make the list. Quite frankly, while Tommy Jarvis from the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise is interesting in the fact that he’s one of very few “Final Boys,” overall he’s just not an interesting character and his Monster Kid cred isn’t that impressive, even before encountering Jason and putting his fandom behind him. As such, I just cannot in good conscience include him on the list.