Category Archives: Childhood trauma

They mostly come at night. Mostly.

So let’s talk about Newt.

I recently rewatched the first two Alien films after quite a few years. Living in internet nerd culture as I do, I felt deeply familiar with these movies despite my relative lack of that familiarity. Game over, man! Get away from her, you bitch! There are aspects of the films that have settled deeply into pop culture. And one of the things that everyone knows, so much so that it makes people defend Alien 3 (ugh), is that Newt is apparently really annoying.

So sitting down to watch, I was expecting the kid to be shrill, or whiny, or badly-acted. Any of the things that can happen to make children irritating in film. And I was completely surprised. She’s well-acted, she’s amusing, she’s about the only rational actor in the whole film and she’s certainly less whiny than Hudson, brilliantly played by Bill Paxton as a combat veteran so completely unmanned by the failure of firepower that all he can do is cry about how they’re all going to die this time, really guys, he means it.

If the Sulaco’s marines had taken Newt aside and asked her how she survived for weeks without getting caught, maybe they would have been luckier. All I can suppose is that the ‘nerd narrative’ on Newt was written by people who, when they saw Aliens, were little boys. And there’s not much that reads as annoying to little boys as little girls. Would the child be so disliked if it had been the brother who survived instead of the sister? I doubt it, even if the girl does have a scream that can shatter glass.

Also, considering how powerfully feminist Aliens is, I’m amazed nerds like it as much as they do. The finale is two women fighting over a little girl, the men rendered helpless. You don’t see a lot of that.

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Video Nasty: Playground nightmare fuel

When I was very young, a trip to the video shop was like a trip to Narnia. A somewhat dingy Narnia with no snow, no fauns and a strong smell of plastic, but an exciting place to visit all the same.

I’d peruse the children’s films, looking for some Disney or a compilation of Bugs Bunny cartoons. When I’d picked out something suitable and whichever parent I was with queued up to take it out (along with their own choice) I liked to sneak over into the grown-ups’ section and examine the covers of films that I’d never be allowed to watch.

The horror films had an appalling fascination. I’d look at the covers of films such as Children of the Corn (an artsy cover rather than an icky one, but I knew it involved decapitation and thanks to Alice in Wonderland and various junior history books the idea was very much in my mind. And nightmares.), Creepshow (a campy looking skeleton), Vamp (glamourous lips with vampire fangs) and Basket Case (Eww). I’d look at those, feel a bit weird and then go home and wash my brain out by going home, eating fishfingers and watching Disney’s Robin Hood for the fifth time.

Long before I ever saw any scary movies, I formed some clear ideas in my mind of what such films would be like based a mixture of the video covers, descriptions in film reviews in the newspapers and playground hearsay.

As I’ m sure was the case for a lot of children back in the 80s, my Primary School class contained several kids who liked to claim that they’d seen films on holidays to America that were a long way off being released in the UK. They’d claim to have seen ‘Jaws 6’, thus implying that we were so behind in our cinematic releases that ‘Jaws 5’ hadn’t even made it over yet. And what did the shark in ‘Jaws 6’ get up to? Horrible things, involving heads and guts and eyes. Things that made events in the original Jaws (which most of us hadn’t been allowed to watch yet) seem fluffy and innocent.

There was also one boy in my class who claimed to have seen all of the big horror films because his parents were happy to let him. I’m not sure if this was actually the case or if he’d just done the same as the rest of us and made up his own versions of these films. Certainly, his version of A Nightmare on Elm Street sounded far more frightening than the actual film possibly could be. His versions would go something along the lines of, ‘And then Freddie rips out this girl’s eyes and there’s ALL BLOOD and then he turns into a tongue and comes out of the phone and squashes someone’s guts and then he eats a dog and turns into a robot and eats another girl and there’s ALL BLOOD everywhere.’

Years later, when I saw A Nightmare on Elm Street, I wasn’t too surprised to find that nothing in it was quite as icky as it had seemed when it was described (and embellished) by an over-imaginative eight year old.  

There were some supposed grown-up films that kids were drawn to despite the ominous circled ‘18’ on the covers. In 1988, Robocop became a classic example of this. One lunchtime, one of my classmates proclaimed, ‘If I was Prime Minister, I’d have Robocop as my bodyguard.’

This prompted me to write a ‘satirical’ newspaper story describing the shock appointment of  Robocop as the PM’s personal security. Strangely, it didn’t really go on to explain why a ten year old lad from Hertfordshire came to be the Prime Minister. I think I was assuming that all of this was happening in a world in which the appointment of children to public office was fairly commonplace.

I don’t remember too much of what I wrote, aside from the quote from The Blob (a remake had recently been released) who in the world of the story was Chancellor of the Exchequer (his comment was something insightful along the lines of, ‘Blobba blobba blob blob’. The inventors of Mr Blobby must owe me a lot of money in royalties.) was the final sentence, which was as follows: ‘The Home Secretary Freddie Krueger was unavailable for comment, as he had to go and kill Kylie and Jason.’

I showed the story to our would-be PM and he told me to ‘Shut Up.’ So he must have liked it.

E.M.

‘Is E.T. dead, Daddy?’ – My first ever trip to the cinema

The first film I saw in the cinema was E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial*. E.T. was the ‘my first movie’ for a lot of people my age.

I distinctly remember my parents preparing me for the experience by sitting me down in front of our TV set and my Mum saying, ‘It’ll be like this, only the screen will be much much bigger. It’ll be dark, there will be lots of other people there and you musn’t talk.’ Of course, as the title of this post indicates, I broke the ‘no talking’ rule when I became distressed at the alien’s onscreen suffering. My Dad’s response to my question was ‘I hope not’.

A friend of mine went even further in her E.T. related distress. Her concern wasn’t with the ‘going all flaky and nearly dying’ bit but with the end of the film in which Elliott and E.T. have to part. As the spaceship took flight onscreen she stood up and ran through the cinema yelling, ‘Come back!’

Aside from the trauma of alien Jesus resurrection, I loved going to the cinema. I liked the darkness. I loved the darkness. And the sense of sharing a story with strangers. During the Reece’s Pieces scene, I looked down and noticed that someone had split some Smarties on the floor. I considered the possibility that the careless confectionary eater had done this for my benefit.

Of course, I wasn’t tempted to eat the dropped sweets off the floor. It was true that it might lead me to having an adventure with an alien friend. But then I might also get swept off to a lab by scary grown-ups with guns (these being the guns that Spielberg removed via CGI in the 2000s Special Edition) or wearing protective suits. I left the Smarties alone and enjoyed the film.

Emerging from the darkened Odeon into daylight, I proclaimed the film to be ‘excellent’. And when I got home, I stared at my toys for a long time, just in case I caught anything moving amongst them. To this day, I keep an eye out for cross-dressing alien beings whenever I open a cupboard.

*Interesting E.T. trivia: E.T.’s voice was partly done by an elderly lady who smoked a lot of ciggies. Some of the other sounds he made were based on recordings of various animals, including sea otters. To my knowledge, sea otters are not in the habit of telling children to ‘be good’. Which makes them rubbish babysitters.

E.M.