As a parent, I fiercely filter what my children take in on the television. I might have slipped a bit recently when I let my three-year-old watch Disney’s Snow White. Mind you, I fast-forwarded through the parts where Snow White’s evil stepmother transforms herself into a Dark Crystal-esque hag, complete with raspy smoker’s cackle. And you should know that Margot remains blissfully unaware of why Snow White ends up in a secluded dark forest in the first place. (As a side note, I’m a bit baffled by the lesson here, Grimm Brothers. The Queen’s hired henchman is all set to croak her with an axe but realizes he cannot kill such a beauty and let’s her escape. In other words, had she looked like Eleanor Roosevelt, she’d be screwed. But then, had she looked like Eleanor Roosevelt, she wouldn’t have been in that pickle in the first place.)
Unfortunately, a few minutes into the movie I realized how terrifying Snow White is in her own right. With “skin as white as snow,” “hair as black as ebony” and “lips as red as blood”, Snow White is one piercing away from the gothic waifs that hang out in the Gas‘N’Shop parking lot. (Middle-aged me thinks that is scary.) And then Snow White opens her mouth and it’s the voice of a 98-year-old woman in an underwater crypt.
Admittedly, I’m a tad more protective than your garden variety parent, likely due to my own unfiltered movie-watching as a kid. You might be thinking, Old Yeller? Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? Meatballs? The aforementioned Dark Crystal? Yes, yes, all of the above. But then, thrown into that mix, Poltergeist. And I was six. Nope, not a typo. I was six.
Let me put this into perspective. At six, I had just learned to ride my Sunflower Girl banana-seat bicycle complete with virgin-white wicker basket. I spent Saturday mornings with The Smurfs. I believed my ears dispensed shiny quarters at my grandfather’s pleasure. Then, suddenly I was watching corpses emerge from a family’s unfinished swimming pool. A child sucked into a television set by demons. A man’s face melting into blobs of meat-colored playdough.
Since the mother will always take the heat for bad parenting choices, I’ll point out that my mom’s Claire Huxtable track record is nearly pristine. So I would like to for a minute carry on an exercise where I will argue the defense of Marcia and explain what she might’ve been thinking when she dropped off a six-year-old at the mall to watch Poltergeist. For starters, it was 1982. Times were different, and you Baby Boomer parents didn’t know any better. You might’ve still thought that whole child psychology stuff was bunk and mental trauma fleeting. After all, you survived the emotional stress of performing weekly bomb drills under your grade school desks. What long-term damage could a mere 114 minutes of gruesome carnage possibly do to a child? Also worth mentioning, the movie was rated PG. (Not kidding.) And, this is noteworthy, my older brother and his friend were in fact with me at the time. But wait, that actually might be cause to detract “good parenting” points. The two aforementioned hooligans just so happened to be the forces behind my early introduction to human torture. And truth be known, they were the ones who selected Poltergeist over a charming tale about a lovable extra-terrestrial that moves to the suburbs.
On the other hand, the previews did show mostly just a cherub-faced blond girl looking into a television set – harmless family fun. Happy Days buffs may recall that little Carol Anne even played an adorable sidekick to the Fonz on a few episodes. Cute! And also, Mom, you probably didn’t even know what movie you were dropping us off to see. I’m sure it went something like, “Here, just take the five dollars, buy some tickets and a box of Milk Duds, and I’ll see you after my aerobics class.” Um… You aren’t looking so good here, Mom.
At any rate, if you’ve ever wondered why clowns get such a bad rap, Poltergeist did nothing to advance their public image. Thanks to the scene where the young boy’s clown doll comes to life, grabs him from under the bed (validation to children everywhere why we must always check down there) and attempts to strangle him, my beloved china doll never again saw the light of day. After Poltergeist, poor, innocent but truly creepy-eyed Phoebe lived out her days shut-up in my closet with a windbreaker thrown over her face. Meanwhile the always trusted and dependable Hello Kitty kept watch to prevent Phoebe from escaping into the night to slash my jugular.
With all this being said, my hope is that my daughter will live out her childhood with her innocent mind in tact. I hope one day a freaky-voiced goth girl – clearly tripping on mescaline – who shacks-up with old men will be the scariest movie-watching memory clinging to the recesses of my daughter’s mind. And let’s face it, she’ll soon run across a dozen of those girls in high school anyway, so what’s the harm done here?