Some kids cling to security blankets. Others clutch a well-loved stuffed animal or good luck charm to feel safe and confident.
Kayla Lopez’s kids, meanwhile, just need to pull on their Michael Myers masks to feel invincible.
“I don’t really know of anybody that likes horror as much as them, honestly,” she said.
Dominic, 6, and his 8-year-old sister Aubriella are hooked on horror, running around their home in the mask Myers dons in the “Halloween” series to discreetly dispatch his victims. It’s a sight that’s extra hilarious when juxtaposed against their short stature, delightful giggles and footie pajamas.
Lopez documents their scary shenanigans on TikTok: Sometimes Dominic will hide under beds dressed like Pennywise the Dancing Clown from “It” or reveal a hockey mask à la Jason of “Friday the 13th” beneath his beloved Myers facade. Oftentimes, Aubriella and her little brother will just stare at their mother from underneath their creepy rubber masks. Attempting to scare each other has become a treasured family pastime.
The Lopez kids aren’t the only youngins interested in the macabre: Briar Rose Beard, a cherubic 3-year-old from Florida, recently enchanted the internet by falling in love with a Halloween prop baby doll named Creepy Chloe and toting the demonic-looking doll everywhere. The Sumner family of Idaho, whose matriarch Kailee posts on TikTok as @sumcowkids, recently went viral when their youngest member, still in the babbling stages of babyhood, was filmed growling at his older sister in a decrepit witch mask.
Adorable kids and horror paraphernalia seem like an incongruous pairing. But a child’s interest in horror is “almost always a harmless fascination,” said Coltan Scrivner, a research scientist at the Recreational Fear Lab at Denmark’s Aarhus University.
“It’s normal for children to want to explore the boundaries of their own fears and what society deems as acceptable,” said Scrivner, who studies horror media and fear, among other “scary” subjects. “This is one way for them to learn about those boundaries.”
Scary can be fun when it’s fake
Just as some children play dress-up with princess gowns or Jedi robes, Dominic and Aubriella get a kick out of dressing up like horror characters – usually Myers. It’s a daily activity for the siblings, safe within the confines of their home.
“Scary experiences are only fun if they are couched in the context of play,” Scrivner said. “That is, we have to be scared but also be sure we are safe.”
Getting into scary stuff at a young age isn’t usually cause for alarm, Scrivner said – young horror fans are braver than most children their age, to be sure, but they’re really just exploring the complexities of their world, which is scary enough in real life.
“By exploring scary things from a safe place, children can also learn more about how they respond to feelings of fear and anxiety,” he said.
Child horror buffs aren’t that different from us older folks, either: Frank Farley, former president of the American Psychological Association and professor emeritus at Temple University, said that humans are naturally fascinated with horror, both real and fictional. Hence the true crime boom, the horror genre’s continued success and the popularity of authors like Stephen King.
“It’s pretty amazing that we have Halloween,” he said, referring to the holiday as a “national day of horror.” “It bespeaks, in my view, the deep human interest in the dark side of life. There’s no doubt we’re interested in that.”
The Lopez kids have what Farley calls “type-T personalities” – the “T” stands for thrill-seeking. While most of us are at least slightly interested in the scary, only “T” types will actively engage with it, whether it’s riding a mammoth roller coaster or marathoning horror films. “White-bread behavior,” as Farley puts it, isn’t interesting to the “T” types, who seek adventure and aren’t afraid to take risks, he said.
Another reason some kids might prefer the company of vampires and zombies to, say, the animated cast of “Paw Patrol” or the Muppet neighbors on “Sesame Street,” is so they earn a badge of bravery among their peers, said Glenn Sparks, a Purdue University professor who studies the social impact of mass media, including scary movies.
When a young child overhears friends, parents or other loved ones discuss how terrifying a film was, they might try to brave it themselves to prove their courage.
“Some children may be more willing to expose themselves to potentially scary things, perhaps because of the gratification they think they will experience from being able to conquer those things,” Sparks said.
Being a horror buff can build resilience, says one dad
For as long as her kids have loved him, Myers has been an irreplaceable member of the Lopez family, so much so that the kids watch his films regularly – on Wednesday, they had a living room matinee screening of “Halloween Kills.”
Of course, now that her children’s love of all things “Halloween” is documented online, some parents have accused her of exposing her children to horror too young.
But introducing kids to horror at a young age doesn’t have to traumatize them – it can even make them more resilient people, said Stephen Graham Jones, a bestselling horror author of books including “The Only Good Indians” and “My Heart is a Chainsaw,” as well as a professor of distinction at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
When Jones’ children expressed an interest in the genre, he started them on the family-friendly “Monster House” and Tim Burton’s twisted fairytale, “Edward Scissorhands,” movies that aren’t necessarily scary but nod to the horror genre. Eventually, they worked their way up to horror comedies and gorier fare. But the point he imparts on his children, he said, isn’t to take away negative messages from slasher flicks in which the villain wins – it’s to emulate the heroes.
“I don’t want to teach them that cruelty is to be lauded,” Jones told CNN. “What I want them to learn instead is that if you’re vigilant, if you fight, if you stand up for your crew, then you can make it through whatever this ordeal might be.”
Even the most dedicated cosplaying kids have limits: Coral DeGraves, a 9-year-old horror fan, makes regular appearances at fan conventions in impressive costumes inspired by the fearsome Pinhead of “Hellraiser” or a demented version of Ronald McDonald, among other scary icons. But her mother, Cheyenne, says that Coral still isn’t ready to see some of the gorier films she nods to. Her parents screen films before sharing them with her, and for some of the more intense films, they’ll at most share clips of characters for inspiration rather than the entire, blood-soaked feature.
Horror doesn’t define DeGraves’ child’s life, either: When Coral isn’t playing an adorably frightening Pennywise or possessed doll, she enjoys learning about backyard critters or meeting with her Girl Scout troop.
“I never found it difficult to support her interest in horror,” Cheyenne DeGraves told CNN. “In fact, the more she learns and creates on her own, I’m even more happy to support her.”
Halloween is the best time of year for young horror buffs
It can be isolating for Dominic and Aubriella Lopez to feel like the only horror fans among their young friends, their mother said. (Lopez recalled Dominic’s third birthday, when he shocked his friends by excitedly unwrapping a Chucky doll, his favorite gift.) They’ve learned to filter themselves around their pals so as not to scare the other kids and save it for when they’re home, where their horror habits aren’t questioned.
But now that it’s October, and the rest of the US seems to embrace the same fanaticism for scary stuff that the Lopez kids celebrate year-round, Dominic and Aubriella are excited to share their fandom without freaking out their fellow children, Lopez said.
“They know that around Halloween is the time that Michael (Myers) and Chucky and all things horror come out – that means it’s all okay to be ourselves, go all out,” Lopez said.
For Halloween this year, the Lopez family is still narrowing down a potential list of costumes. Aubriella is thinking of dressing like Anabelle, the haunted (and haunting!) doll introduced in “The Conjuring.” As for Dominic, well, you can guess – he’s already asked his mother for a new Myers mask to add to their growing collection.