Junkfood Horror: How All Family Films Grow Up To Be Horror Movies

By  · Published on October 12th, 2012

Welcome back to Junkfood Cinema; the only thing we haunt is casino breakfast buffets. You’ve arrived at the most unsettling of bad movie columns on the perfidious den of wickedness known as the interwebs. Every week we present for your viewing displeasure a particularly ghastly piece of cinematic schlock unearthed from the vaults of unspeakable horror (alias the Rubbermaid trash can full of VHS in the garage). As we force your unsuspecting eyes to behold the nightmarish horrors of the movie’s shortcomings, we cackle with sinister delight. We go so far as to then reveal our morbid appreciation for said filmic abomination. To top off the torture, we will force a fiendishly tasty snack food, themed to the film, down your cowering gullets. This boys and ghouls, is Junkfood Horror.

October is the month that everyone watches horror movies. From the hardcore weirdos to the sissiest of sissy babies, for at least a few weeks, we all enjoy a good scare. As we sit on the front porch of Junkfood Labs, devouring bag after bag of “fun”-sized Snickers because the trick-or-treaters apparently won’t be showing up for several hours, and several days, it occurred to us that there is really no getting away from the horror genre. When November 1st arrives, you can lock away all your copies of The Exoricist and Amityville and Maid in Manhattan, but the irrepressible evil there contained will not relent. “Oh wait,” you say interrupting my column with your smelly internal monologue, “I can just watch family movies for the rest of the year and be safe, right?” Wrong, stupid self-talker. The fact is that if you allow any given family film to grow up, that is to play out beyond “happily ever after,” what you would have on your hands is a jack-o-lotta scary movies. Don’t believe me? Curse you, heretic. Err, I mean, let me illustrate…

Monkey Trouble

What’s that? You just love the adorable story of a girl and her new monkey friend? Yeah, it’s all cute and cuddly until you let that simian mature. And by simian, I only kind of don’t mean Christopher McDonald. Keep in mind that the titular monkey was a trained pickpocket. Leave that taste for mischief to stew for a few years, give the beast an old-timey shaving kit, and suddenly you’ve got Dario Argento’s Phenomena. Suddenly that Ghost World chick will be able to control bugs, because that’s a really useful power, and her poo-flinging pal will be slashing people up in one of cinema’s dopiest twist endings since it was revealed that M. Night Shyamalan was a real person the whole time.


Precocious little Matilda finds that she has the power to move objects, and no one kills her outright? Oh, look, it’s whimsical! She’s conducting the items in her house like a telekinetic symphony! Yeah, except the final movement of that symphony is a bellowing gymnasium full of death. Matilda, like Stephen King’s famous vengeful teen Carrie, lives in a broken home where she is constantly abused by her despicable parents. And yet for some reason she’s allowed to win the day and keep right on growing up. I’ve seen how this story ends, and it’s a deadly high school prom almost as terrifying as a regular high school prom.

The Love Bug

You know what always works out well for everyone always? Inanimate objects possessed of a mind of their own. I can’t think of like forty-seven times that ever came back to haunt humanity. Oh wait, lying and stuff. Everybody cheers when downtrodden race car driver Jim Douglas gets a taste of victory thanks to his self-aware VW bug, but what happens when the race is over? It’s no great stretch to assume that something as categorically unnatural as a living automobile would have the power to change shape into, say, a Lincoln Continental Mark III and stalk pedestrians in Santa Ynez? That’s right, Herbie is just The Car with a fruity decal. One minute he’s squirting oil into an opposing racer’s eye, which seems cute until you realize his intentions to kill that racer in the ensuing crash, and the next he’s flipping himself on end to take out a pursuing cop car. Plus, the tagline for The Car is “what evil drives.” Hitler drove a Volkswagen…just sayin’.

Home Alone

The only thing scarier than being left home alone on Christmas as two burglars try and break into the house, is being the burglars breaking into the house of a complete sociopath. Oh sure, Kevin never meant to seriously injure the Wet Bandits, right? Just to delay them until the cops arrived? The cops he didn’t even call until they had already been subjected to most of his twisted tortures? Make no mistake, Kevin McCallister is a travel-sized Jigsaw. Instead of locking him away in a mental institution like Michael Myers, which I think was the only appropriate course of action after Cat in the Hat, they just let Kevin walk; leaving him free to commit the same heinous acts the next year in New York! Once he hits puberty, and discovers the fine art of leather mask-making, Kevin will be reborn as the sadistic serial killer The Collector. Take one look at the traps in The Collector and tell me you don’t see the Home Alone roots. It’s not a huge jump from blowtorch to the head to floor-covered-in-bear-traps.

The Parent Trap

Let’s examine the plot here. Two twin sisters with absolutely no knowledge of one another meet accidentally at a summer camp? So the psychotic divorced parents who have gone to such despicable lengths to estrange these siblings out of petty resentment toward one another didn’t even bother to check the camp registry to make sure the other sister wasn’t going to be there? No, I don’t buy it. Those lunatics are up to something. We theorize that the title of the movie actually alludes to a trap set by these “parents” who are in fact aliens from another world. Their mission was simple, transform every human being on Earth into an identical pod person in order to conquer the planet in an…Invasion of the Body Snatchers! No one was even wise to their scheme until that fateful day at camp. Don’t sing a charming song for your parents alien overlords, girls, find their pod stash and destroy it!

Ghost Dad

No, we promise, it’s not a horror film. It’s a touching, light-hearted comedy romp that helps kids deal with the loss of a parent. That’s a bunch of bippity-zipp-zopity-doo doo if you ask us. Fine, maybe it started out that way; the family relieved to have the spirit of their recently-deceased father back. But after a few weeks of his sound-vomiting (like Michael Winslow on the threshold of a stroke) and long-winded, moldier-than-usual jokes, even his own kids would run screaming from the house like the Lutz family. Years later, a young couple, Katie and Micah moves into the house. Cosby, who is not totally invisible and inaudible to any but his estranged children, becomes increasingly frustrated the couple can’t hear his hilarious antics. He also mistakenly thinks the video camera in their room, designed to capture all this Paranormal Activity, is set up so he can record a followup to Billy Cosby Himself, by which we mean an exact re-enactment of Bill Cosby Himself. The rage reaches a boiling point one night when, after raiding the kitchen, he drags Katie out of bed and toward the grocery store to pick up some Jell-O Puddin’ Pops. And you thought Leonard Part 6 was horrifying. It is.

Short Circuit

Aww, a cute little robot becomes sentient, isn’t that heart-warming? I don’t know, idiot, why don’t we ask Skynet? Johnny Five, the creation Dr. Steve Guttenstein, is granted life by a bolt of lightning and goes on a rampage to feed his insatiable urge for knowledge (input); co-starring Breakfast Club alum Ally Wollstonecraft Shelley. What we don’t see is how Johnny Five’s incident forces the military to scrap the rest of the weaponized automaton project. Desperate to recover the financial loss, Nova robotics sells the remaining units to a local shopping mall for use as security. The mall’s in-house robotics team, because that’s totally a thing malls have, redesigns them and removes a few unnecessary components, like civilian recognition software and the off switch. Suddenly these newly outfitted Killbots (aka Chopping Mall), instead of serving as a deterrent for the Cold War threats as they were designed, are dealing with the much more dangerous aggressors like Barbara Crampton and the little sister from Night of the Comet.

The AbsentMinded Professor

When are people going to learn that scientific discovery is the key…to our annihilation. Sure, we have fancy new phones and, you know, nobody plays Polio anymore, but at what cost? Take for example Prof. Ned Brainard and his “whacky” discovery flubber. It’s a substance that defines the laws of science. Really? I wonder what would happen if it burst out of its beaker, defying its maker, and decided to run amok. Oh wait, I already know what would happen because The Blob is a thing. I think absentminded is a deceptively quaint moniker for the man who unleashes this gelatinous devil upon the world. This blob eats kids, absorbs a whole town, and very nearly kills one of cinema’s greatest leading men: Kevin Dillon. Did no one get suspicious when Brainard built a flying car? It’s a fail-safe, people! It’s the only way he could escape the terror of the gooey beast he wrought upon the Earth. He also ruined the credibility of professional basketball long before professional basketball ruined the credibility of professional basketball.

Jack Frost

Like Ghost Dad, Jack Frost seems an uplifting story about a father’s love extending beyond the grave. Because if there’s one thing you can count on to not end in screaming and blood, it’s things coming back from the grave. So yeah, Michael Keaton plays a musician who dies in an automobile accident and comes back a lovable zombie snowman; a corncob pipe, a button nose, and two dead eyes bereft of soul. At the end of the movie, it appears Jack, see that’s his name cause snowmen and Jack Frost and gentle comedy, has shed his snowy form and ascended to heaven. Music swells, everyone cries. The problem is that Jack didn’t ascend anywhere, his spirit was merely transferred into another snowman somewhere else. The shock of this revelation infuriates Jack and goes on a killing spree as that other, more eviler Jack Frost. If you thought the sight of a CG snowman riding a snowboard was silly, well, you were right.

Junkfood Pairing: Candy Corn Oreos

Oreos are the family film of the junk food world. They’re sweet, they’re light, and they just make you happy. Seems harmless right? But peel back the obscuring cookie lid on this particular breed of Oreo and what do you find? Candy Corn. A little taste of Halloween, of abject horror, hiding within your precious family treat. Echoing evil laughter…LOUDER ECHOING EVIL LAUGHTER!

Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.