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The Dreams and Nightmares of Watching Horror Unsupervised

There's a well known advert featuring a child who watches a movie in a home before going to sleep only for the images from the film to be projected on his face. This smart and provocative advert plays like a movie and delivers a powerful message about the importance of age restrictions with finesse. Having been in these situations as a child with similar repercussions, there's an even stronger connection and resonance with the advert.

Raised at a time when M-Net was in its infancy, delivering a slew of programming, sitcoms and films throughout the day, it was also an age where unattended kids could access inappropriate programming. As much as an age restriction warning can be displayed before a film plays, it's only as good as the parental presence or self-policing at play. To the young viewer who's actively wanting to test boundaries, the promise of watching what you're not meant to see is more of a thrill than anything else.

horror movie posters

Having been raised in a home that worked to rule, we were allowed to watch programmes that were at the right age restriction. While some conservative households took exception to things like He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and even Gummi Bears, our line was in accordance with age restrictions. I can remember being fascinated with the cover art for the movie Alive, a dramatisation of the football team who were forced to go beyond the beyond in their attempts to survive icy do-or-die conditions after their plane went down over the Andes. This film's age restriction was 16, forcing me to wait a few years in order to be old enough to watch. It seemed reasonable given the low-level cannibalism.

Other movies that captured my attention in our local 'Top Vid' video rental store were It, Fright Night and a film called House. The 1980s was a decade for horror classics but also conjured up a number of iconic posters for films like The Evil Dead, Poltergeist, A Nightmare on Elm Street, April Fool's Day and many more. All featuring captivating cover artwork that was as scary if not scarier than the films themselves, they effectively planted intrigue.

It's poster of a clown with alien looking fingers protruding was simple but frighteningly effective, enough to give kids nightmares just by looking at it. After eventually watching this classic horror mini-series at the age of 10, it's easy to see why the film's age restriction ratcheted up by 2 years with each reappearance in the M-Net movie guide. The nightmarish visuals were iconic enough to be indelible in a child's mind, haunting dreams better than the ultimate dream-hopper, Freddy Krueger. Fright Night was more misleading, not quite conveying the comedic undercurrent of the film with a massive Dracula type apparition dwarfing a haunted mansion. Then, lastly House featured a severed and decayed hand ringing a doorbell in mid-air. A beautifully grotesque artwork, it spoke of untold horror arousing a number of intriguing story elements.

Watching horror movies at a friend's, shall we say more "open-minded" home, there were fewer constraints. A latchkey kid, we were often left to our own devices, making this home memorable for all the hijinks. Getting to have a real childhood, this environment of relative freedom invoked many of the best memories of being naughty. From ringing doorbells and running away in the neighbourhood to making prank calls, watching age restricted horror movies was just one of the benefits of a more laisse-faire upbringing. Part of sleepovers would involve watching movies on M-Net, some of which left traces from Child's Play to When a Stranger Calls.

The nuttiness of a possessed toy had it's obvious charms for kids who may be a degree closer to coming into contact with an evil man's spirit as transplanted into a Chucky doll. While darkly humourous in its own way, the iconic horror had some truly scary moments tapping into the same dimension as Annabelle. Then, the classic and original When a Stranger Calls wasn't so graphic as it was situationally scary. For kids who have even less power than the babysitter, this nightmarish scenario had an extra layer of fear... being one of the kids who were meant to be sound asleep upstairs. This powerful horror leveraged one's imagination as suspense builds around the notion that there may be a shadowy watcher in the house.

Growing up in the heydays of Hollywood horror had its perks in being scared to the point of inspiration but just like that kid with images being rebroadcast by night, the effect was disturbingly haunting. A recurring dream, sorry nightmare, of being propelled down a dark hallway only for a sickle to come out from one of the dark rooms may not easily be attributable to any one horror movie. Yet, these disturbing images and being exposed to these darkly imaginings surely couldn't have been a good thing for a young and impressionable mind.