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Taking childhood dreams and turning them into adult nightmares is a recipe for great horror for those willing to enter the dark carnival.

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The dark carnival is a concept I use to explain horror movies in which childhood is used as a weapon against adults for horror audiences. It uses things that could be found at any carnival: dolls, clowns, carnival foods, etc., childhood incarnate. However, in dark carnival movies, all of these things are somehow evil and could kill you for the sake of the genre.

If you think about maladaptive daydreaming and how kids are basically told to descend into those dream worlds, then at the ripe old age of whatever (it’s different for everyone), they’re abruptly told to grow up. Sew up your imagination and be an adult, we are all told.

What if those characters weren’t just pretend? What if they were something other than what the innocence of childhood interpreted them as?

That’s why I love the dark carnival; it unabashedly takes those things you remember and asks the real crazy questions, entertaining all demented possibilities.

Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey (2023)

In this iteration, Christopher Robin returns to where he met his “fictional” friends as an adult, encroaching on his childhood friends’ territory after abandoning them, and they immediately kill his fiancee. Pooh & co., some kind of hybrid monsters, weren’t feeling very forgiving because they starved when Christopher Robin left. They ate their friend, Eeyore, which messed them up. A group of girlfriends come to stay in a cabin nearby and are picked off one by one; Christopher Robin is kept as a hostage.

Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey is a movie I personally loved as an idea. Many people hated the execution of it, but I enjoyed it for what it was: a new take on an old story. Several people expressed horror at Rhys Frake-Waterfield’s thinking as if it robbed adults of their childhoods. Still, I was excited to see someone play with the dark carnival, especially featuring a beloved character.

It was insane but in a fun way, and it really leaned into what it was: what if your friends from childhood turned on you? What if they went hungry because of you? Would they really still love you if you were the reason they suffered?

The creatures one played with as a child do not translate well into adulthood. In this type of universe, they aren’t stuffed animals coming to life in Christopher Robin’s imagination; they are some type of hybrid monsters that depend on their new friend for everything, including food.

This movie had terror in spades: very tall characters, as if they aged right with us into adulthood (THEY SHOULD STAY SMALL, OKAY), and backwoods cannibalism.

Though rejecting human contact, these creatures have made their own world out of the things they stole from humans, even producing their own electricity.

Then we’re shown the faces themselves; Pooh looks demented, and Piglet is like a wild boar. The music was amazing, the characters were believable, and Pooh wouldn’t die, giving total Michael Myers vibes and the possibility of sequels. I loved it.

These nightmarish creatures aren’t truly feral or fully animalistic; they occupy a liminal space between humanity and animals, though they believe they reject it. We see this in how they wear clothes and have a campsite complete with trailers like they turned humanity against itself or possibly as a form of reclamation to make humanity theirs now.

Also, these creatures have had to deal with human pain and consciousness within the hybridity. Not knowing how to process that, turning it off for them was easier than facing it.

This film doesn’t interfere with my memories of the Hundred Acre Wood because I’m an adult. I know the difference between A.A. Milne’s world and Frake-Waterfield’s. Y’all need to sit down and learn to have fun with childhood’s weirdness.

This twisted fairy tale delivers, and I’m personally excited to see what happens in the sequel.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)

On a date looking at the stars, a young couple, Mike and Debbie, witness a meteor hit Earth, but it’s in the shape of a big-top tent. They wander inside and see aliens that look like clowns killing humans. Now, it’s up to Mike, Debbie, and her cop ex-boyfriend, Dave, to figure out how to defeat these monsters before they destroy the entire town.

The dark carnival term applies so well to Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988) (or KKOS for short) since all the things in the movie could be found at any carnival: there are references to the big top tent, cotton candy, popcorn, balloon animals, puppet shows, crazy straws all twisted up, though all now have horrifying connotations.

If you saw these clowns, would you be thinking “DANGER”? No. That’s how they get you. Because every single thing they have is a literal weaponization of our childhood memories to make it easier to catch us, cotton candy-imprison us, and suck our blood out of our bodies with those crazy straws.

It’s fun, it’s demented, and their tricks really run the gamut.

Though their motive is unclear, they are malicious in their behavior towards people, possibly because humans suck a bit (no pun originally intended).

Even their deaths are fun: shoot them in the nose, and they turn into a twirly diamond of destruction — the prize is you walking away with your life.

Then, one looks closer: the clowns are gross-looking and deformed as their unnaturalness has simply been painted over. They’re also big as hell, and their teeth are menacingly predatory. Though rotted and distorted, they seem aware of how to blend into the human world, which implies they’ve been here before.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space wasn’t seen as a work of genius when it first came out in the 1980s, either. It took years to become the cult classic it is today because people have embraced the dark carnival aspect.

Hopefully, Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood & Honey will be reevaluated in the future. Such subjects draw in some people (like me) but repulse others; people with clown phobias wouldn’t be caught dead watching KKFOS. But those who enjoy a walk on the dark side truly appreciate these twisted subversions of childhood innocence. 

This same idea has led to the Terrifier series in recent years. Clowns are creepy, and so is childhood itself.

Embrace the weird, celebrate the demented, and welcome to the dark carnival.

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