Tomorrow, J.J. Abrams reaches back to a simpler time and ruins the lives of yet another group of precocious children with Super 8. He hearkens back to a simpler time, when kids cruised around to the accompaniment of flapping baseball cards in the spokes of their Schwinns and government-based aliens escaped and terrorized the countryside, only to possibly be thwarted by a rag-tag bunch of youngsters and their camera equipment. (I haven’t seen the movie yet, I’m just speculating.)
The gang of children battling some sort of devious childhood menace — be that hoods who may or may not be responsible for a dead body up to and including invasion by Russian military forces — is a popular one in cinema. Increasing in severity, I’ve listed 8 of some of my favorite films about groups of innocent children who are forced to face demons and how they came out either unscathed or majestically scathed. In the spirit of Super 8, my list only includes groups of four or more kids who undergo the shenanigans. I hemmed and hawwed about either of the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory films, because I do love the fact that when studied carefully, a serial killer essentially picks off a series of spoiled children, and then passes the knife over to his unwitting protege. I also left off Elephant, because even I’m not tacky enough to make light of the Columbine massacre.
Here’s something interesting for those feminists among to you noodle: there’s only really two movies predominantly about girls and their childhood experiences — Now and Then and Foxfire. Taking away my requirement for four or more, the three most popular films I can think of that feature a female protagonist and her childhood are My Girl (where her best friend tragically dies), The Legend of Billie Jean (where she’s on the run from the law), and Bridge to Terabithia (again, where she dies). Apparently, nobody believes that girls just wanna have fun. So female screenwriters — get on that shit.
To fit in with a new group of friends, a young boy follows the local neighborhood kids to a sandlot, where he finds them playing baseball. Initially he sucks, to the amusement of the gang, but the best player takes him under his ripping Latino wings and makes him less sucks. Which goes to show, children must be taunted in order to grow. Take that, homeschoolers.
Major Childhood Trauma: They hit the ball into the yard of….the B-B-B-Beast! A massive 300-pound English Mastiff who reportedly eats small children.
Permanent Scarring: None. The Beast is a beaut, and they all meet with kindly Darth Vader Voice, James Earl Jones, who is only second to Kevin Costner in being in the Greatest Baseball Films of All Time. Plus, all the kids end up going on to happy adulthood, albeit terrible, terrible sequels.
Facing foreclosure by awful rich people, the residents of the Goondocks head off to search for the treasure of famed pirate One-Eyed Willie. Instead of ending up the subject of vile Polaroids, raped and mutilated in shallow graves — as one would expect seeking the pillage of a man named One-Eyed Willie — they end up sliding down flumes and going through a series of bonkers traps while evading The Fratellis.
Major Childhood Trauma: Almost being murdered by Anne Ramsey, Robert Davi, and Joe Pantoliano. Nearly dying due to “booty traps.”
Permanent Scarring: None. No pen, no sign, no ink! Despite the harmless racial stereotyping, the Spanish maid saves the day by finding a marble sack full of jewelry and everyone gets to keep their homes, and keep us hoping that a viable Goonies non-suck sequel will be in the mix. I’ve written mine, has you?
Stand By Me
Four young men set off a trip down the traintracks to see a dead body. Along they way, they have a lot of wonderfully nostalgic conversations, find leeches on their dicks, and we learn about Lardass and the great vomitting pie-eating revenge story.
Major Childhood Trauma: After almost getting killed by a train and the aforementioned dickleech, the boys are faced down by Ace and his gang of toughs. Gordie pulls a gun, which in 1950’s math is the equivalent of a nuclear bomb, and so apparently nobody gets killed in the future.
Permanent Scarring: Some. The kids do find the corpse, and it causes emotional damage. But eventually, everyone ends up okay. With the exception of River Phoenix, who dies both in real life and in the end voiceover.
The Monster Squad
Universal’s Big Five Monsters — The Wolfman, Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, and the Swamp Monster — all terrorize a small town group of monster experts in the efforts to reclaim some kind of amulet before the “virshin” can whisper the spell fed to her by “Scary German Guy.” So the ragtag bunch of youths arm themselves with shotguns and silver bullets and lay waste to the baddies.
Major Childhood Trauma: Getting mauled by creatures from old school horror films is pretty rough. Today’s equivalent would probably be Freddie Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Leatherface, Michael Myers, and probably Chucky. But all those egos in the same film? Forget it. Also, the knowledge that Wolfman’s got nards.
Permanent Scarring: Some. They are forced to gun down and murderize several of the baddies. Dracula nearly crushes the skull of the little girl. But since they eventually save the day, and they still have the naked photo of the one kid’s sister, it’s probably a wash.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
A young boy, Elliott, discovers an alien in his backyard and lures it home with product placement to impress his older brother and his friends, and to terrorize Drew Barrymore to a life of pretty crime and pyrokinesis. He quickly befriends him, and they develop a spiritual link, which causes Elliott to make out with the future stripper in a Steven Seagal movie, unleash a bunch of frogs on an unsuspecting populace, and get blind stinking drunk in school (also future Drew Barrymore crimes).
Massive Childhood Trauma: E.T. uses product placement to hit up his intergalactic homies for a ride, only to be captured and quarantined by the federal government.
Permanent Scarring: Little to none. E.T. finds home, and presumably everyone ends up okay, with decent careers and lil’ Drew gets a successful production company.
The Soviets invade America, and group of high school students use guerilla warfare to fight back and resist. It’s an alternate 1980’s, one in which Tiger Blood cannot save Charlie Sheen, nor can staying golden save most of The Outsiders, especially C. Thomas Howell. This one actually has some girls, and they fight and stuff! WOLVERINES!
Massive Childhood Trauma: Considered the most violent film of the time by the Guinness Book of World Records, most of these acts of violence come at the hands of the execution of most of their friends, family, and loved ones.
Permanent Scarring: Loads. Many of the Wolverines don’t make it to the end credits. On top of that, most of their families are killed. However, America does win, so fuck yeah and all that.
Attack The Block
Aliens terrorize a group of British hooligans and their apartment complex after the little thugs murder an alien when interrupted while mugging a nurse. Consisting mostly of day-glo fangs and solid darkness, the wolfbearpig demons proceed to murderize everyone up in the estate.
Massive Childhood Trauma: Most of these kids are already street rats, reduced to peddling drugs and petty crime, but aside from that, it’s probably worse that interstellar horrors have taken it upon themselves to butcher them pretty violently and handily.
Permanent Scarring: Loads. Some of their cohorts do die in rather nasty ways. Also, despite saving the day, the kids are probably looking at serious jail time. Respect.
Goddamn you, Stephen King, and your menacing of innocent kidren. This one concerns “The Losers Club,” a group of seven children who are menaced by a creature lurking in the shadows that can adopt their greatest fears and use it against them. IT is most commonly seen in the form of Pennywise, a creepy clown made creepier by being Tim Curry.
Massive Childhood Trauma: It’s a fucking clown. And a spider. And a clown spider. We all float down here, kiddos. Except when we tear off a little kid’s arm and eat it. These kids are so fucked up they actually leave town. And even after they grow up, they still get traumatized.
Permanent Scarring: All of it. Can’t sleep. Clown will eat me. Can’t sleep. Clown will eat me. Can’t sleep. Clown will eat me.