How Horror Movie Analyst and Writer Anya Stanley Introduced Her Kids To Horror

Anya Stanley and her sons

Welcome to my fifth and final post in a series all about introducing kids to horror films. Over the last month, we’ve heard from a variety of personalities from the horror and Halloween community that have shared their experiences with introducing their kids to the horror genre. This week’s parent is one of the first people that came to mind when I started planning this series because she was already documenting her kids’ horror journey, to some degree, through Instagram. Posting photos on occasion of the various films she was introducing her son to, I actually used some of this as a gauge while introducing my own kids to horror.

Our final parent in the series is Anya Stanley, and if you’ve spent any time in the online horror community you’re probably familiar with her name or at least her work. Anya is a writer with bylines at Fangoria, Birth.Movies.Death, Daily Grindhouse, and Dread Central among others. A lifelong horror fan, Anya specializes in horror film analysis with a focus on gender perspectives.

Anya has two sons, Shane, 11 and Levi, 5, both are into horror movies to some degree, but have very different tastes. Shane started his journey into the horror genre around age five with the original “The Twilight Zone” series and expanded from there.

“After ‘The Twilight Zone’ and some goofier stuff like Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, the first legit horror movies I showed Shane were the Universal monster movies: Frankenstein, The Wolfman, etc,” shares Anya. “He was lukewarm towards those, but he really fell in love with the genre when I showed him Poltergeist.

Hand coming out of the TV in 'Poltergeist'

Levi, being five, is just now getting into the genre and only recently started exploring family-friendly horror films and shows. “Levi isn’t quite as intense as his brother,” shares Anya. “He likes lighter, horror-adjacent stuff.” Levi’s journey started out with Ghostbusters and Gremlins.

As Shane’s horror viewing has expanded Anya has let his interests in the genre drive some of the content choices. “Shane is…different,” explains Anya. Adding that he has a naturally morbid sensibility, much like she did at his age. “He is really into gory films, and likes to create his own makeup effects to mimic what he’s seen in his favorite scary movies. As such, I allow him to see a lot of slasher films and stuff that has heavy bloodshed.”

While this detours a bit from what we have seen from past parents in this series, Anya highlights communication as a key to making this work. “Before the film (or sometimes after, I try to let the conversation unfold organically), either I’ll bring up that the movie we’re going to watch has some heavy motifs or themes, or he’ll straight up ask questions about it. If he asks, I answer,” explains Anya. This open communication has created some great learning experiences for Shane.

“In the past, a post-zombie movie discussion inspired Shane to open up my laptop and read up on how real epidemics actually start and spread,” shares Anya. “The Monster Squad prompted a long chat about how Frankenstein’s creature is sympathetic, something he didn’t quite grasp when he saw the Universal film. Torture sequences might be compared to scenes of emotional bullying (which then leads to a talk about toxic relationships and about choosing friends wisely), or comparisons to the ways that oppressors have used and justified the same method of torture in history. There’s always a way to relate these themes to the inconvenient truths of the real world, and that’s what horror is all about.”

Frankenstein's Monster and the kids walk into the sunset in Monster Squad

When it comes to murder and gore, Anya notes that talking about the behind-the-scenes work helps to underline the fact that everything her son is seeing on screen is fiction.

Despite being a bit more laxed with the films Anya lets Shane watch, it’s still not a horror viewing free for all. “I’m fine with most horror films made before the year 2000,” shares Anya, adding that she takes everything on a case-by-case basis. “I’m not going to show my 11-year old son Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer anytime soon.” Nudity also isn’t a sticking point for Anya, but she definitely gauges how much when it comes to what her son can watch.

“Most 80’s horror (especially films that Tom Savini, who my kid worships, worked on) has brief nudity here and there, so I am okay with that in limited amounts,” explains Anya. “A quick skinnydipping scene in Friday the 13th? Alright. The prolonged, full-frontal sex scene in Jason Goes To Hell? We’ll skip over that.”

So what advice does Anya have for parents thinking of introducing their kids to horror? “Only do it if your kid shows an interest,” says Anya. “And keep their sensibilities in mind. If your child loves spooky bedtime stories and enjoys the Halloween episodes of their favorite cartoons, ‘The Twilight Zone’ and classic Universal horror is great for wading into the pool.”

She also shares that you don’t have to use movies or television to start priming your kids for the genre, noting that for a while, Levi’s favorite song was a song called “The Hearse Song,” in which the singer details the physical effects of decay after you die. She also recommends checking out books from the local library in October about the traditions surrounding Samhain. “I’ve never met a kid who wasn’t fascinated as they learned about why we set jack-o-lanterns outside,” says Anya.

But even if you do want to start with the visual mediums, there are a lot of opportunities to expose your kids to the genre. “Netflix has a lot of Halloween specials: Shrek, Disney properties, Alvin and the Chipmunks, etc. We live in a pretty great time for kid-friendly horror stuff, there are entire cartoon shows featuring monsters,” explains Anya.

To get a glimpse into Anya’s body of work head over to AnyaWrites.com, and be sure to catch her monthly column “Gender Bashing” over at Dread Central, where she looks at horror movies from a gendered perspective. In her latest piece, Anya wrote about The Invitation and how it approaches male grief.

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