Daddy Film School #7: Special Bonus 80s Horror Double Feature: GREMLINS (1984) & POLTERGEIST (1982)

My sister runs a horror fan podcast and website. I have been guest-hosting through a March-Madness-style tournament these past few weeks. Check us out here.

Charlie came to a recording, and his already budding love for scary movies became borderline obsessive.

To be fair, he has been attending Comic Cons and other nerd-fests with me for quite some time. Here he is at Philly’s Wizard Comic Con at age eight, compliments of Uncle Sean Bergin.

431842_578691192161207_1211717870_nMost certified nerds will tell you that super heroes are a gate-way drug to horror. Han Solo is only a parsec away from Ash Williams.


This “monster magazine” from the 80s–in which Jason Voorhees & ET share the cover–proves the steepness of the slippery slope from children’s sci-fi to all out horror.


I, like many American young men, found horror through comics. My parents didn’t bat an eyelash at my Amazing Spiderman subscription, but at the comic book shop, I stumbled into my first Tales from the Crypt. That led to Vault of Horror. Then Weird magazine. Then Famous Monsters of Filmland. And before I knew it, Fangorias were stashed under my bed with the…um…well, you know…board games. *COUGH*


I was ten when I hung the above picture, possibly from this very magazine, on my wall (next to Rowdy Roddy Piper).

My son and I are from very, very different generations. He catches fake monsters on walks through the neighborhood and has already (by 6th grade) had a relationship with a girl that lived and subsequently died, all through text messaging.

But Charlie and I share many interests, and the other day when he changed his cell phone wallpaper to the cover art for Poltergeist, it felt like a rite of passage I could relate to.  



I put together a starter double feature:


Charlie asks, “If they can’t get it wet, why does the mom want to serve it chicken soup?”

And, “isn’t it always technically after midnight somewhere?”

This is my beta test. I decide that our foray into horror will stop here if Charlie is even a little freaked out.

He’s not. In fact, he is most disturbed by all the smoking. The adults smoke. The gremlins smoke. Everyone smokes.

Me: “That’s the 80s.”

Charlie: “Really?”

Me: “Yeah, most adults I knew smoked. You could smoke on an airplane.”

C: “Yeah, right.”

Me: “No. I’m 100% serious.”

C: “Stop. I’m not stupid. Where would the smoke go? That’s so dangerous. Stop.”

But he is entertained, and Gremlins magic holds up.

For the record, this is barely a horror movie. I mean, how many horror movies do you know of had their own picture book series? Happy Meal toys?



Still, Gremlins has monsters, and people die. Well, presumably, only the teacher is a confirmed death, and no one seems too shaken up about that in the end. Maybe it’s because he’s the kind of guy who keeps kids in class on Christmas Eve then stays behind and uses public funds to do experiments on critters.

I worry over the Phoebe Cates creepy dead Santa dad story. I even consider fast-forwarding it, since it has no relevance to the plot whatsoever. I don’t, but Charlie is unphased. He just says, “What? Seriously?” And sort of scoffs.

For weeks, he walks around saying, “They’re watching Snow White, and they love it.”


Finn joins us for this one, then starts playing video games in the middle. He never makes it to either worrisome scene:

  1. Mr. Peeley Face (now THAT would’ve been a bad ass Happy Meal toy)
  2. skeletons in the pool (again)


Charlie: I loved it. I love Spielberg movies. This twas a perfect balance. A little tiny bit gory, but mostly just really cool. I loved Zelda.

Finn: “Who? The little grandma?”

C: “She was so cool. Like Yoda, but real.”

F: “Who? The little grandma? She was scary Charlie Brown opera for sure.” (Note: Finn once used the term “scary Charlie Brown opera” to describe Nights on Broadway by the Bee Gees.)

C: “She’s not a grandma, Finn. Not all old ladies are grandmas.

F: “How do you know she isn’t a grandma?”

C: (moving on) “She and Nosferatu would be the perfect couple. Him…tall, vampire guy. She…tiny ghost exterminating lady.”

F: “Steven Spielberg is a scary man.”

C: “Steven Spielberg is the man.”

Me: “Why do you think Steven Spielberg is scary, Finn?”

F: “This, Jaws, that creepy alien guy with the wrinkly neck…”

Me: “E.T.? He’s not supposed to be scary.”

F: “He’s definitely a grandma.”

C: “E.T. is the scariest of them all. Finn’s got a point, there.”

F: “This movie wasn’t scary like Jaws, Dee Dee (me).”

Me: “What do you mean?”

F: “You know, when the angry fisherman guy was eaten, I cheered. He went down a little slide (editor’s note: boat shrapnel), and *GULP* (Finn makes a series of chomping noises to denote his satisfaction with man-eating sharks). I didn’t care about those guys. They were angry. They were grumpy. They were bad employers.”

Me: “Bad employers? Ok. So why was Poltergeist scarier? Because it was about a family?”

F: “Yea. These were kids! Kids dying? C’mon, Steve Spielberg.”

Me: “But the kids don’t die, Finn. Nobody dies in Poltergeist. Isn’t that weird? You still found it scarier.”

F: “Because I don’t care when fisherman guys die.”

Noted that I know more than just “fisherman guys” die in Jaws. In fact, a kid DOES die in Jaws. Still I understand Finn’s point. I go on to explain the profound truths he has uncovered. How we are all more frightened by relevant ideas. How Finn is explaining the dynamics of character development, the psychology of bonding that fiction writers exploit when developing horror. But before I can finish, they digress.

C: “Wow, Finn. You see? You know more about this than you think you do.”

F: “Dee Dee, there’s a kid in class who keeps farting.”

C: “Finn, you’re not even listening.”

F: “Charlie, I’m gonna push you into a trashcan. And then let the closet eat you. It’ll be the best day of my life.”

And…bed time.

No more horror for a while. Back to Westerns? I have High Noon on the DVR.



  1. George says:

    A good read, when will H and T be in the mix?


  2. Joe Costal says:

    Are you kidding? Do you know how long it took Shannon to consent to Charlie and Finn?


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