House of Mouse Horror: A Defense for Disney Channel Original Movies

Before The Disney Channel became the network responsible for unleashing Miley Cyrus to the world and driving Shia LaBeouf to lose his damn mind, they were the pinnacle of children’s entertainment.  Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon were great, sure, but were they great enough to run a channel that only showed commercials…for its own channel?  The original programming always drew in a huge audience, but Disney Channel Original Movies were in a league above everything else.  Before HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL came along and set the standard for DCOMS from there on out, The Disney Channel was consistently cranking out made-for-TV movies that completely shaped the childhoods of generation Y.  Despite the family friendly demeanor, DCOMS provided some surprisingly great kid-friendly horror flicks.  Horror fans are breeding their own little ones and while their four-year-old may not be ready for THE EXORCIST, there are plenty of kid-horror flicks at their disposal thanks to The Disney Channel.

enhanced-buzz-28212-1371777171-2If you’re a fan of urban legends, SUZIE Q is a perfect flick to enjoy with your little ones.  After Suzie Quinn dies in a car crash on the way to her Winter Formal in 1955, her ghost is left restless.  40 years later, a family moves into her old home and teenager Zach comes across her bracelet.  Once finding the bracelet, Zach is able to see Suzie Q and has to help her with some unfinished business.  This film deals really well with the guilt we put upon ourselves for things outside of our control, and its beneficial for any child that has experienced a tragedy early in life.  Justin Whalin (CHILD’S PLAY 3, SERIAL MOM) and Amy Jo Johnson (The Pink Power Ranger) star in this endearing ghost story.

tumblr_m8f1zeQ4ej1rt4zn2Puberty is tough for anyone, but THE THIRTEENTH YEAR shows a change far scarier than unwanted body hair.  After his 13th birthday, Cody Griffin starts noticing some unusual changes.  A competitive swimmer, Cody suddenly starts growing scales, fins, and the ability to shatter every swimming record at school.  His adoptive parents are surprisingly understanding and supportive, but after finding his biological mother in the ocean, Cody soon discovers that he’s a merman.  This one is a lot less horror than most of the other DCOMS, but it’s the closest thing to a kid friendly sea-monster movie Disney ever produced.

vlcsnap-2012-07-06-15h28m31s54The first film based on a Disney theme park attraction, TOWER OF TERROR was one of their more effective horror flicks.  Presented by D.J. McHale (the man who created the horror kids’ series, ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK?), this haunted elevator film has some really solid jump-scares.  This film was the first time I ever experienced the creep-factor of “singing little girl voice” and it still remains as one of the moments that continues to creep me out to this day.  The moral of this story deals with forgiving old grudges and the happiness that can be restored once we decide to let the past stay in the past.  Kirsten Dunst, Steve Gutenberg, and John Franklin (Isaac from CHILDREN OF THE CORN) all star.

under-wraps-universal-icons-part-2-the-mummyThere really aren’t enough mummy movies, but the DCOM UNDER WRAPS still has my favorite mummy design, ever.  The WEEKEND AT BERNIE’S style comedy is about a bunch of kids that accidentally wake up a mummy and have to prevent anyone from discovering him.  The film isn’t scary by any means, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun to see Harold the mummy clumsily try to make his way around the 20th century.  If you’re looking to transition your kids to monster flicks, this is definitely a good place to start.

girl-vs-monster-40-new-stills-13The most recent horror DCOM is GIRL VS. MONSTER, which can best be described as BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER for the tween scene of the new millennium.  Dynamite singer (it’s a new DCOM, of course there’s singing) Skylar is a fearless girl that as it turns out, is a 5th generation monster hunter.  For those looking for good examples of female characters in horror films, this is one to add to the list.  Oozing with girl power and some pretty kick-ass monster designs, GIRL VS. MONSTER is one of the better ‘new’ DCOMS.

400full Following the death of Frank Carlyle, the owner of the horror shop in the Halloween obsessed Steeple Falls, Frank’s widower grandson returns with his two children Ian and Claire to to figure out the inheritance.  Shortly upon their arrival, Ian discovers that Grandpa Frank’s house is haunted by the ghost of Zachariah Kull, the historic owner that was burned on the stake.  Luckily, with some help from “The Soul Patrol” (why they didn’t just name the film SOUL PATROL is beside me), Ian and Claire work to defeat the evil Zachariah.  Eric Idle, Tommy Davidson, Kathy Najimy, Kim Coates, and a baby Kat Dennings star in this ghost adventure.
moms-got-a-date-with-a-vampire-e1351719928358Mr. Sheffield is a vampire?! No, really.  MOM’S GOT A DATE WITH A VAMPIRE forced some serious eye-rolls out of 10-year-old me when they first advertised it, but it surprisingly became one of my favorites.  Robert Carradine (REVENGE OF THE NERDS) plays a vampire hunter named Malachai Van Helsing (see why my eyes rolled) and Catherine Rhea plays the titular “Mom.”  This film actually caused quite a controversy after it premiered, because there’s a scene that showed Dimitri (the vampire played by Charles Shaughnessy) looking at the family dog and then licking his lips, implying that he was going to eat the dog.  So many parents complained they actually pulled the scene after its initial premiere.  A Disney movie that had to be edited for TV? That’s pretty hardcore.

megaplex_resize_406487Oh man, did I love this one.  PHANTOM OF THE MEGAPLEX was exactly what it sounds like.  PHANTOM OF THE OPERA but in a movie theater.  Pete Riley, the 17-year-old assistant manager is having a hell of a night.  Malfunctioning equipment, disappearing staff, and a broken popcorn machine all seem destined to ruin the big premiere of the feature film MIDNIGHT MAYHEM.   Are these problems a coincidence or the result of sabotage by the rumored phantom?  This is a perfect film for any movie lover, and showcases one of the last roles from the legendary Mickey Rooney as “The Movie Mason.”

TIA MOWRY, TAMERA MOWRY, KRISTEN WILSONDid you ever watch an episode of SISTER, SISTER and think to yourself, “Damn, this show could use more witchcraft?”  Well, thanks to the DCOMs TWITCHES and TWITCHES TOO, that dream can be a reality.  Tia and Tamara Mowry play two twin witches (Twitches…get it!?) separated at birth and adopted by separate families.  After the two are reunited by chance, the two discover that they are needed to help save their homeland, and all its inhabitants.  Based on the popular book series, The Disney Channel took a risk by casting two actresses of color (the book covers show white girls, and this was a mild controversy) and it paid off.  TWITCHES was one of the most successful DCOMS of all time and sparked a sequel.

sh6Technology is scary and films like THE TERMINATOR. 2001: A SPACE ODDESSY, and I, ROBOT might be a little too much for younger audiences.  The last thing we need is kids believing their iPads are going to go rogue and try to kill them…wait, maybe that’ll get them to go outside. Nevermind.  Moving on. SMART HOUSE was a film about a boy and his family that win a state-of-the-art “smart home.”  Much like a smart phone, this house can do anything.  It spontaneously provides breakfast, the carpet absorbs messes, and the walls can play you the hottest music videos from the band 5ive. One problem…the smart house computer (played by the fabulous Katey Segal) becomes self-aware and goes rogue, demanding to be the ‘mother’ of this family. SMART HOUSE is a lot of futuristic fun, but it carries a pretty heavy message about the dangers of technology.  User beware.

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 4.48.03 PMI’m not afraid to admit this, but DON’T LOOK UNDER THE BED was pure nightmare fuel.  The only DCOM to be rated higher than G got its rating for being too scary.  This is one of the heavier DCOMS that didn’t deal with a social issue, and it was a hell of a convincing argument to never grow up.  All kids are given imaginary friends to help them deal with the struggles of growing up, but if you grow up too fast and forget about your imaginary friend before you’re ready…your imaginary friend will turn into a boogeyman.  That mythos already is some next-level shit for a kids’ movie, but the character design of the boogeyman is downright terrifying.  This is THE best transition film for kids looking to move onto legitimate horror, and it still holds up today.

TOPTEN_KidsMovies10I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be who I am today if it wasn’t for HALLOWEENTOWN.  Everything that we love about horror and Halloween can be found in this film.  On Halloween, while 12-year-old Marnie is arguing with her mother Gwen about celebrating the holiday, grandmother Aggie comes to visit, bringing tons of creepy goodies along with her. Once the kids go to bed, Marnie overhears Aggie trying to convince Gwen to start Marnie’s witch training before her 13th birthday or Marnie will lose her powers forever. Aggie (and her family) are from a long line of Cromwell witches that reside in a place called Halloweentown, a safe haven for all things creepy, spooky, and magical.  As it turns out, something dark & evil is growing in Halloweentown & Aggie needs help to defeat it. After Aggie leaves to return to Halloweentown, Marnie and her siblings Dylan and Sophie follow her onto bus home.  Soon afterwards, Gwen follows the children to Halloweentown. While there, Aggie & Gwen are attacked by the dark force in a movie theater. Marnie, Dylan & Sophie race to get the ingredients to activate Merlin’s Wand to stop the evil.  The monster designs are out of this world, the villain is effectively scary, but the message of the film is what makes me love it so much.  Growing up, I always felt like a total weirdo for liking scary movies, and HALLOWEENTOWN made me feel like I was cool.  This is the ultimate acceptance film for outcasts, and the sequels HALLOWEENTOWN II, HALOWEENTOWN HIGH, and RETURN TO HALLOWEENTOWN (with genre darling Sara Paxton replacing as the lead) are all wonderful installments as well.

*****

NOTE: STEPSISTER FROM PLANET WEIRD and CAN OF WORMS are two alien themed DCOMs, but I quite frankly never really enjoyed either of them.  Neither of them are bad, they just didn’t really have the charm of the other DCOMs.  CAN OF WORMS has some pretty cool monsters (and an alien voiced by Malcom McDowell) and STEPSISTER FROM PLANET WEIRD is a good one for any children of divorced parents that dislike their step-parents.  

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