The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

From Wild Strawberries to Breaking Dawn – musings on film scares for children

with 28 comments

Bella and Edward won a battle in the Swedish court system this week. After two appeals, the court finally ruled in the favour of the movie distributor, setting the age limit for The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn part 1 to 11 years (which means 7 years in company with a parent).

Their decision came less than 24 hours before the opening night, saving that day for thousands and thousands of teenage girls all over the country.

The court went against The Media Council, a government agency who previously had put a 15 year limit at the movie, since they thought that watching a caesarean without any painkilling was too much for the kids to stomach.

Right or wrong? I don’t know. The older I get, the more blurred become my memories of what it was like to be 12 years old. Besides I imagine that the 12 year olds of today are far more jaded than I was at the same age after being exposed to so much in their everyday online life anyway. I honestly find it difficult to draw a line, to make a call on what is too scary or harmful for minors to watch.

Clocks without pointers
As far as I can remember, the movie that scared me most as a child had nothing to do with blood and physical violence.  The movie in question was Wild Strawberries by Ingmar Bergman.

I don’t think I watched the entire film. But I remember getting a glimpse of it as I visited a friend, whose parents were watching it in the background. There was this one scene, one image that got etched into my memory forever: the dream sequence with the clocks without pointers. I can’t explain why, but the image of those clocks belongs in nightmares. It still gives me chills even to recall it in my memory, and I still find watch shops unsettling, like clowns.

Frightening programs for children
But it’s not just movies intended for grownups that can freak you out. Sometimes a program intended for children can be just as scary.

I have particularly bad memories from the series that the Swedish actor Staffan Westerberg did for the Swedish television in the 70s. They were very imaginative and dreamlike, and in retrospect I can see their poetical quality. However – there was arguably something eerie about them.

I especially recall one show where Staffan pictured life as an endless amount of boxes, one in another like Russian nesting dolls. The signature song went: “In a box in a box in a box in a box, there live you, there live I and there lives Mr Nothing”.

Mr Nothing was a very small and invisible creature who lived in a tiny little box at the core of everything. One day Staffan decided to lock Mr Nothing in, putting a lid on his box for a reason I didn’t understand. But this turned out to have a devastating effect, since Staffan all of a sudden found himself trapped in his box. Apparently someone bigger than him had put a lid on it and a tormenting scene followed as he desperately tried to find a way out of the box, crying for help from “The World”, which was a mysterious man who sat outside of all of the boxes, playing sad songs on a cello. It was all in vain though and for a six or seven year old the sense of claustrophobia was on par with Buried.

A few years ago it was popular among people in my age to claim that “Staffan Westerberg ruined my childhood”. While I think this was a little bit exaggerated and unfair, I agree that he gave us some nightmares.

The carwash trauma
As a parent I’ve had surprisingly few conflicts about what my daughters should be allowed to watch. I believe we had a discussion when our youngest was in her 13 or 14s, advising her against some particularly tough horror movies that she and her friends had planned to see on a “film night”. But apart from that most of the time we’ve been pretty much on the same page. This hasn’t prevented my girls from going through some movie induced traumatic experiences though. The worst one, the one that I’m still a bit ashamed that I didn’t foresee and prevent, included a car wash.

My oldest daughter must have been about four or five years old as she witnessed a scene in the Swedish comedy Vi hade i alla fall tur med vädret (In free translation: “At least we were lucky about the weather”).  It showed an incident in an automatic car wash, where the family father somehow gets caught outside the car as he’s trying to adjust the mirrors and gets thoroughly washed, squeezed against the windshield. It’s actually quite hilarious, but for her it was a pure horror movie. We live quite close to a gas station where they also have a car wash, which we used to pass every day. For years she was so terrified at as much as seeing it in a distance from the outside that we took alternative routes in order to avoid it.

I wonder what The Media Council would have made of it. Could they have spotted the hazard, the risk for car wash traumatisation?

You never know what turns out to be harmful to your child. The nightmares can be luring where you least expect them to.

Effects of Breaking Dawn
Now we’ll have to wait and see what effects the 11 year limit for Breaking Dawn will have. Will we see a raise of anxiety and sleeping difficulties among girls in their lower teens? Will the nativity drop once those girls reach adulthood? Per haps Bella’s suffering will be enough to scare them from ever wanting to have a child of their own. It remains to see.

And now I’d like to hear your views on this. Did the court take the right decision lowering the age limit? What is your scariest movie memory from your childhood? Feel free to discuss and share. Or remain silent and enjoy your drink quietly.

I have only one more thing to say before my weekend kicks in:


Written by Jessica

November 18, 2011 at 5:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

28 Responses

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  1. My friends and me were 16 and wanted to go see a real horror movie. I still remember that we had to show our ids two or three times before we sat in our seats… and it wasn’t a very good movie anyway.

    Of earlier times, I only remember a few scenes that had a deep impact on me. One of them is the starting scene of Blade Runner. The scene where they interviewed the guy with the turtle-in-the-desert question really stuck, it was so suspensefully made.

    As for age restrictions, it’s up to the parents to decide what their children can see and what not, as no two children are the same. Age restrictions should be seen as guidelines, not rules set in stone, just as it is with DVD’s and video games. If you think your kid is ready to play a 18+ game then go ahead and give it to them. Just don’t come complaining later that “games are violent and should be forbidden”.


    November 18, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    • Yeah, I think it’s very much the responsability of a parent. In Sweden the highest limit we have is 15 year but to be honest sometimes that can be a tad low.
      I remember bringing my 15 year old to Pan’s Labyrinth, having to comfort her all the way home since she burst into tears. It was a far too strong movie for her to watch and I felt really bad for having made her gone through it.

      Sometimes I wonder if the age limits aren’t there partly for marketing reasons. I think it makes a movie more interesting to many 15 year olds if they’re barely allowed into it than if it’s “safe for children” with an 11 year limit… Just a thought.


      November 19, 2011 at 9:05 am

      • Age limits and controversy are definitely used as a marketing tool. Games like Postal 2 and Manhunt weren’t well received but thanks to the age limit and controversy they sold… probably mostly to a public of teens who want to try out the more extreme things.

        Big budget titles don’t shy away from it either though. The biggest game of the moment, Call of Duty, had a scene where you could shoot hostages. Enough to cause some controversy with the idea that any promotion is good promotion.

        Controversy is also a great way to get your name known. Just this week there were pictures in the newspaper of the pope kissing someone else. Great publicity for the photographer.


        November 20, 2011 at 1:09 am

        • I haven’t heard of that. The question is if it was great publicity for the pope?


          November 20, 2011 at 8:54 am

  2. I was definitely not sheltered from films as a child. Indeed, we still have to chide my dad to not watch gory cop shows when my nephew is visiting as my brother is much more careful about it than my dad ever was. I remember seeing Predator when I was maybe eight. I remember very little about the film but I still vividly remember the image of one of the soldiers with his chest caved out, having had his heart/insides removed by the Predator. I don’t think I was ever scarred by it but it was something I never forgot.

    Similarly, I actually saw the film Species in the theatre at age 12, though it was rated R so it isn’t the raters fault, I blame my friends as I wanted to see Clueless. Anyway, that’s a film about an alien that looks like a human basically sleeping around with men to try to spawn and then killing them when she decides they aren’t fit parents. Lots of violence, a fair amount of sexuality. Again, I remember the film but I can’t say I was traumatized. At the end of the day I think kids are probably more durable to images on TV and in movies than we act, and sometimes, like your story, it isn’t the things we can anticipate that will cause a problem.

    But is Sweden right to have allowed Breaking Dawn as an 11? I haven’t seen the film and I assume it won’t be as graphic as it was in my mind reading it, but I think they are probably wrong. I’m fine with parents deciding to let their kids see higher rated things at home or even being able to permit them into older rated stuff in the cinema, but given that I would say the state ratings board should be a bit more careful.


    November 18, 2011 at 6:31 pm

    • I don’t know to be honest if they’re right or wrong. But I think that many in the target audience are between 11 and 15, so I certainly can understand why the distribution company made such a big deal of it, appealing several times until the court decided in their favor.
      In the end I guess it didn’t matter all that matter what they decided. Those girls would have watched the movie anyway – in their homes, leagally or unleagally if they couldn’t wait.
      I think the efforts that are made to shut out youngsters from films are pretty much in vain those days. As Carra said – it’s very much a parent responsability to put up the guidelines and limits for their kids.


      November 19, 2011 at 9:10 am

  3. My childhood scary is about on par with your daughter’s carwash one. When I was around 5 or 6 I saw the movie “Oh, God. You Devil”. This is a very tame and sweet light comedy starring George Burns. He plays the roles of both God and the Devil. Nothing that bad happens, but there was one scene early in the film. Burns (as the Devil) is at a tropical resort and either a hurricane is coming in or he is making one (can’t remember which). In the process his eyes glow red. Nothing gory or awful, nobody is tortured by it. For some reason this set me off as a kid. I had seen much worse on late night cable to no effect, but George Burns with red eyes just did something to me. Avoided anything with him in it for years afterwords.

    A little question. How does the ratings system work in Sweden? Do they do a breakdown by exact ages people can see films or are there general categories? I mean would they be able to say this movie is for 11+ while this one is for 12+ and this one is for 17+ or are there less specific general groupings like we have in America with the G, PG, PG-13 (Breaking Dawn got that), R, NC-17?


    November 19, 2011 at 12:32 am

    • Hehe, what a sweet story about those red eyes! It sounds just like something that can scare you quite a bit when you’re a child. Something that probably won’t be caught by any council deciding about age limits.

      The rating system has exact age limits and non higher than 15.

      I’ll make it easy for myself and quote a chunk from the media council’s website:

      “Films do not have to be submitted for classification if they are screened for audiences over the age of 15.

      The age ratings are “all ages”, 7, 11 and “not rated”, the latter resulting in an automatic 15 rating.

      Children under the age of 7, who are accompanied by an adult (a person aged 18 or over), are admitted to films that have been passed for children from the age of 7; and children from the age of 7, who are accompanied by an adult, are admitted to films that have been passed for children from the age of 11.”


      November 19, 2011 at 9:14 am

  4. “You never know what turns out to be harmful to your child. The nightmares can be lurking where you least expect them to.” This is so true! I can see why the small scene – those handless clocks – from Wild Strawberries frightened you so much. I didn’t see it when I was young, but there is something about the irrational, random nature of the scene – the ordinary turned surreal – that is deeply disturbing.

    My parents were quite strict with me when I was young, and most of my friends’ parents were with their own children, so I was never really exposed to any sort of horror films – none of the obvious horror anyway – when I was too young.

    But two films stick out in my mind, films that haunted me for years. When we were young, my mother often took out movies from the library and showed them to my brother and me on a reel-to-reel projector. Sweet, children’s films, most of them, generally, animated versions of familiar picture books, like Where the Wild Things Are. But she ventured into new territory sometimes, and she once brought home an informational movie about the Heimlich maneuver and another one (I discovered later) that most film buffs know, the French film The Red Balloon. The scene in the informational movie in which a young boy is choking on his hot dog, stayed with me for weeks; I didn’t learn anything about how to save people, but I was terrified that I would be in a room where someone might begin choking – I’d known of choking before that, of course, but somehow the images turned the knowledge into a terror. And The Red Balloon is the story of a friendless young boy who meets a red balloon that takes a fancy to the boy; the two wander over the city, delighting in each other’s company – until, of course, the balloon is stoned to death by a bullying group of boys. The image of the red balloon shrinking in size and floating slowly to the ground, dead, stayed with me, somewhere in the pit of my stomach, all through my childhood. I wanted to vomit whenever I thought about it – it seemed that real to me, the death of that balloon.

    My mother could never have known how much those films would impact me, and so, with my own young children, I am reasonably careful about what they see, but I know, still, that I cannot really predict what my children’s red balloons will be – something I will think completely innocuous at the time, most likely.

    • Oh, don’t get me started on informational movies! As I grew up we didn’t have any real commercials in the Swedish television. (we only had public television, ad-free.) But we did have something instead: a small five-minute long section called Anslagstavlan (“the note board”) where governmental administrations and such could get out their message in short films. We watched them hungerly, how weird as it sounds. The lack of advertising made the little there was more interesting. (For the same reason you really didn’t want to miss out the commercials before the film at the theatres, the only place where real commercials were allowed.)

      Anyway: there were some themes in those informational films that kept coming back and had a huge impact on me, not necessarily in a good way. One was the films that were about how important it is that you have proper gear if you’re out walking or skating on natural ices or else you’ll drown as the ice bursts and you’re falling into the cold water. Until this very day I’m very, very uncomfortable at natural ices. It has prevented me from trying long distance skating, which many other people where I live enjoy doing in the winters.

      The other theme was about… hm… don’t know the English term, but you know when there’s water on the road and you’re not supposed to drive too fast or you’ll lose control over your car. Watching people losing control over their cars was enough for me to panic if I was a passenger in a car and there was even the smallest pool of water on the road.

      Those films didn’t have any age limit and I certainly don’t think anyone thought about how scary they could be for children. Again: you never know what will stuck.

      The death of the balloon sounds like a real horror story! Brrr.


      November 19, 2011 at 2:01 pm

      • I can imagine how those info films on TV would have been traumatizing! I had an unhealthy fear of drowning by falling through ice when I was young anyway – the TV short film would have wrecked me for life.

        I really should re-watch The Red Balloon. Everyone who knows something about film says it’s beautiful and amazing, noting things about it I would not have thought about when I was young. But if I do see it, it will not be with my children!

  5. Scariest thing I saw as a child was from an episode of a documentary (In Search of the Trojan War, Episode 3 iirc) concerning the sacrifice of Iphigenia. In fact that little bit still scares me today. No blood at all, no acting, just the narrators voice, a drumbeat, a scream, and the image of a piece of bronze-age pottery “falling” into the tv image.

    Sometimes though I think classifications are strange. Watership Down has a U rating here in the UK – and there is absolutely no way I think it could get such a rating today. My wife thinks this is a very scary film – and I can see her point. Not just in blood and violence (which of course it has in abundance) but in psychological matters too.

    Lewis Maskell

    November 19, 2011 at 10:28 am

    • Oh, the part with that final place, the evil monster rabbit, was scary even in the books. I agree that it’s scary. It sounds as if someone has thought “rabbits can’t be that scary, can they?” without reflecting too much over it.

      I can totall understand why that sacrifice was scary too.


      November 19, 2011 at 2:03 pm

  6. I think you are quite right in that different things scare or upset different children. In this, It must be up to the parents to judge how much or how little their kid can stomach. Perhaps it is a guy burned alive, perhaps it is a carwash. Still, I think that there must be some guidelines if nothing else to help movie theatre employees to at least a scham of a standard. They shouldn’t have to take the word of an unaccompanied seven year old that he or she “really, really” can handle Wolf Creek.


    November 19, 2011 at 1:15 pm

    • Yes, I guess the guidelines need to be there for practical reasons. Even if we say that the employees are not to be blamed, that you watch everything on your own risk, in reality they’re the one who could be put into the situation of taking care of a hysterical child who has tried to watch something he/she wasn’t ready for.


      November 19, 2011 at 2:05 pm

  7. In my house my dad was pretty lax on what i could and couldn’t watched as long as i watched it with me. he doesn’t really insist on that anymore as i think he understands i know the difference between reality and fantasy. I never felt the urge to see something rated R to be rebellious or anything like that, and from what my dad has told me when i was younger there were a few films i refused to watch(My memory of my childhood is hazy, but i don’t think my dad would lie about this).

    Anyways, people mature at different ages and the parental ratings shouldn’t be seen as absolute. I think the parents should have a good idea of what there children can handle, and go by that when deciding what there children and and can’t watch.


    November 19, 2011 at 10:11 pm

    • The problem kicks in when parents start to use movies as babysitters, especially if they’re not that much into movies themselves, thus knowing very little about what they’re exposing their kids to.


      November 20, 2011 at 9:16 am

      • True. My dad has pretty much always been a film buff so he had a pretty good idea of what i was watching. Actually recently he saw A Serbian Film and when i asked how bad it was he told me i would probably cover my eyes at least once.

        And i meant to put “watched it with him.” Just saw that typo now.


        November 23, 2011 at 8:03 am

  8. hehehe WILD STRAWBERRIES… what a great film. I think that dream sequence with the handless clocks scares everyone. That whole scene certainly gave me goosebumps.

    A big scare for me as a kid was when my brother snuck a video of THE EVIL DEAD out of my Dad’s library and showed it to me. I was very young and didn’t sleep for nights.


    November 20, 2011 at 1:33 am

    • Sounds like a brotherly thing to do! And I bet you couldn’t tell on him since you’d done something you weren’t supposed to.


      November 20, 2011 at 9:25 am

  9. The earliest scare that I can remember was completely accidental. My step-brother and his girlfriend took me to see one of the Star Wars movies at a drive-in. I was maybe four years old and sitting alone in the back seat of the car. It must have been my first time at a drive-in because Star Wars was not nearly as interesting as what was playing on the other screens around us. I remember turning to one and seeing a floating knife chasing people. That may not have been what I actually saw, but that’s what I remember. I was scared to get up to use the bathroom in the middle of the nigh for weeks. Even wet the bed a few times. But I didn’t tell anyone why I wasn’t getting up, I thought that I would be in trouble for watching the knife movie.

    Then, when I was about six years-old, maybe seven, I was sitting on the floor while my parents sat on a couch behind me. On the t.v. was The Shining. I don’t think any part of that movie was anything less than frightening. I’ve seen it a few times since then but mostly had some distractions around me. But just a couple of weeks ago I watched it by myself while my wife and kids were asleep and it completely terrified me, couldn’t even finish it. But yeah, my parents seemed to think that was an ok movie for a six-seven year old boy to watch, even the seen with the naked woman rising from the bathtub and turning old…

    Then it was Cujo and Texas Chainsaw Massacre when I was between eight and ten…

    I think something was wrong with my parents, to be honest…


    November 20, 2011 at 8:08 pm

    • Ewww. Floating knives! Sounds scary. It probably was something different but it sounds like an idea that could come up in the mind of a four-year-old.

      And I do agree that it seems as if your parents were a bit overoptimistc about what a child should be able to cope with.


      November 20, 2011 at 8:46 pm

  10. For me and for many Americans about my age, the scariest thing we ever saw wasn’t a film, but was the Rod Serling show, Night Gallery. If I talk to someone my age, most everyone has got an episode of that show that they still remember as particularly horrifying for a kid.

    For me, it was the episode about a spider that a man washed down the drain and it returned… a little bigger. There were many similar repeats of this until the spider met him at his front door and ate him.

    This prevented me from easily taking showers or observing a spider for decades.

    Steve Kimes

    November 20, 2011 at 8:10 pm

    • Growing spiders! That would have terrified me for sure. I haven’t watched that show, but I’m scared of spiders anyway. When the children were very young I did an effort to control my fear not to influence them to go the same way as I did. But nowadays I can scream and run away, asking someone else to take care of it. They’re big enough to just roll eyes at their silly mother. 😉


      November 20, 2011 at 8:49 pm

  11. Interesting discussion. I love Staffan Westerberg but i can understand that he sometimes makes people feel uneasy.
    As for The Twilight dabate. Its not the first time this happends, wasn´t this the case with the last movie about Harry Potter? First fifteen then a last minute change to 11.
    Im convinced that its the money issue that determines the outcome.


    November 23, 2011 at 1:18 am

    • The change comes from a court though. Are they bribed or what? I heard an interview with the chairman of the court at the radio news “Kulturnytt” earlier this week. She sounded incredibly uncomfortable and was unable to explain why they had changed the decision.


      November 23, 2011 at 7:52 am

  12. Well mayby not bribed but i´m pretty sure that the money is the main argument not the eventual welfare of the kids.


    November 23, 2011 at 8:10 am

  13. […] wrote insightfully as usual about growing up with movies it got me inspired and made me think about my own perception when growing […]

    Merry Christmas!

    December 24, 2011 at 1:24 am

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