Garfield, Odie, monster trucks & freaky Friday

Nothing makes parents happier than teaching their children to love Horror. Just visit any Horror convention and you’ll see toddlers dressed as Freddy Krueger holding hands with their father and his Art The Clown forearm tat. No longer the genre of just loser metalheads and incel sociopaths, Horror is wholesome now ~ a part of family traditions. This has led to yearly articles in nearly every Horror blog on what films are best for introducing kids to scary movies. Everything from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1949) and Beetlejuice (1988) to The Gate (1987) and House II: The Second Story (1987) earn recommendations for teaching kids to eventually love the cinema of trauma and scantily clad ladies getting tortured and slaughtered by monsters. But Horror isn’t the only outlier form of filmmaking that kids need an early introduction to. Those who love Extreme Cinema need a way to indoctrinate young ones to the absolute atrocities of the imagination. Otherwise, parents may suffer the fate of having kids who don’t have twisted, depraved minds. From the more common Body Horror sub-genre to straight-up Tentacle Porn, here are three fantastic kids’ films that will create irreversible pathways in tender, impressionable minds.


Nickelodeon’s Monster Trucks is the story of a teen boy who’d rather spend time with a giant amorphous land squid than the cute girl who throws herself at him. While wrestling with the squid in the mud of a junkyard, said girl shows up and the boy tells her “seriously now is a really bad time” and “can you just go home?” Functioning with a similar narrative subtext as A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge‘s (1985) handling of homosexual themes, Monster Trucks only sees the boy and girl end up together thanks to both her inexplicable persistence and pure dumb accidents. It’s true, the squishy squid monster doesn’t quite groom the teen boy like Freddy does, yet these are both stories of unrequited love from a certain angle (one of the sweetest moments is when the boy takes a selfie with the squid of them kissing). In the end though, the squid monster needs to go back with his kind, and the boy is relinquished to an antiquated straight relationship; teaching the harsh reality that in many communities we must choose between our important, unique individual desires and the conservative status quo that allows neighbors to accept us. Then again, that is what cinema is for: taking us to fantastic places beyond the imprisonment of reality, to where our hearts can soar free ~ even if that means the freedom of a tentacle’s embrace.


If the strangest your Garfield experience gets is a pirate ghost at Halloween or the lack of Garfield himself, then it is time to discover the unhinged and completely authorized world of his CGI era. The move away from a hand-drawn touch is matched by diving deep into inhuman themes in Garfield’s Pet Force. The setup alone is disturbing enough, presenting the viewer with an alternate dimension where Garfield is just Garfield’s head on a very human-looking He-Man size muscular body. Odie and other pals exist in this grotesque form as well. Yet, this is nothing compared to where things end up, with all the inhabitants of the city merged into a sort of Society (1989) style “shunting” ball of flesh that will prepare any child for loving Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) in the future. Despite the days of considering the Body Horror sub-genre a part of Extreme Cinema quickly ending, as Horror in general becomes more mainstream, this film remains one of the most nauseating entries into the legacy. Absolute “No Gods No Monsters” territory being tread here. It doesn’t help that Garfield’s owner Jon is at his most explicitly horny in the film either. If the popcorn flick is designed to make one scream and throw things to overcome the discomfort of what is on the screen, this is exactly what kid-packed matinees were made for.


Leave it to Disney to popularize a disturbing sub-genre in such a way that most of the civilized world just considers it quaint, overlooking its extreme aspects entirely. Freaky Friday was not the first Body Swap narrative, but it brought the idea so fully to the mainstream that the sub-genre is often referred to as “a Freaky Friday.” David Lynch applies a foreboding tone to his extensive use of Body Swap plot-lines, but the lighthearted touch Disney uses is arguably even more twisted since it brushes over sexual themes equally as titillating as Lost Highway (1997) or Mulholland Drive (2001). When mother and daughter swap bodies in Freaky Friday the first gag of all is the daughter feeling up her mother’s breasts. This is mere foreshadowing though to the ongoing storyline of the father constantly trying to commit (unknowing) incest with his daughter. Meanwhile, an age play/statutory rape subplot unfolds with the teen boy neighbor who frequently confesses to the daughter-mind/mother-body character that he is attracted to the mom and not the girl his own age; a confession that does not send the daughter running but rather makes her take advantage of being in the mom’s body to get closer to this boy. Even in the final act of the film, which makes a hard pivot to just being a slapstick comedy, the father gets one last inappropriate comment in, telling all his coworkers how pretty his wife/daughter is as she flies through the air in peril towards possible horrific death. When stripped of the jovial music and brightly lit cinematography, Freaky Friday uses the Body Swap sub-genre to make a family-friendly version of genuinely extreme filmmaking: Incest Porn and Age-play Porn. If there was ever an argument that art exists to be the safe space for dangerous, taboo ideas, Disney is the one to make it. Why else would they expect 4-year-olds to be sat down in front of this G-rated film and watch an hour and a half of relentless inappropriate, even illegal, family behavior?


Unless you groom your children to like the strange films you enjoy as an adult, how can you be sure that their innocence won’t get in the way of appreciating the wide, wonderful world of art? It is fantastic that so many Horror journalists are making sure that kids have an education in Horror in general, but there are plenty of films to pave the way for the more extreme forms of storytelling. There is nothing wrong with showing a child a Nickelodeon or Disney film, right? These are the institutions established on being trustworthy viewing for the underaged. Sure, as individuals we may go wrong sometimes, but parents can count on studio corporations and genre communities to help them raise children in an ethical way that prepares them to love the entertainment that is more than art; that is a part of growing family traditions to be passed on from generation to generation ~ just like the trauma many of these films are about.


  • Brian Miller

    Brian is the founder of the Deathbomb Arc record label and writes film essays at various sites under the guise Neon Zen. Miller Brian