Christian Youth Scare Films, Something Weird Video, 1996, 3 vols.
Halloween is just a few weeks away, so it may be a perfect time to take a look at Christian Youth Scare Films, a three-volume collection of religious films for teens produced during the Eisenhower years.
The series is distributed by Something Weird, a Seattle-based video label that specializes in schlocky exploitation flicks like Reefer Madness and I Eat Your Skin. But the short films collected here are not as ‘scary’ as the distributors would have you believe. Each film is presented in a straightforward manner and without commentary, apart from a few sensationalistic blurbs on the cover.
The bulk of these shorts were produced in 1960 by the Southern Baptist Convention and, as far as production values go, they certainly hold their own against more recent and more secular message-driven fare like, say, Degrassi Junior High. (A couple of trust-your-authorities films produced by the Lutherans in the 1950s, including the obligatory anti-Communist flick ‘The Red Trap,’ don’t hold up nearly as well.)
The films are very much a product of their times, catering as they do to a middle-class WASP sensibility; the only person of minority status in sight is an Argentine immigrant who exists primarily to tell us that more American missionaries are needed down south. The occasional film also fosters a myopic, in-your-face approach to evangelism; one film champions a lad who works in his aunt’s malt shop and drives her customers away with his Bible-toting martyr complex.
But there are more thoughtful episodes on hand, too. In ‘A Teenager’s Choice,’ friends of a girl who is planning to elope encourage her to put off her marriage lest it get in the way of her education. And ‘Teenage Challenge,’ about a school that refuses to accept one boy’s essay in a writing competition because he discusses the difficulties of sharing his faith, puts the lie to the myth that Christianity and the public school system were bosom buddies before the liberals took over in 1962.
But despite their good points, there is something fake and preachy about these films, and Rev. Douglas R. Lantz, producer of the Baptist series, lets the cat out of the bag in a trailer that kicks off the first volume.
These films, he claims, were based on interviews with real-life teens. He plays a sample of one such interview, in which a kid with a Jimmy Stewart stammer jokes about disagreeing with his mother, while other teens laugh spontaneously in the background. Lantz then introduces a clip from one of his films, in which a group of furrow-browed teens take turns reciting their lines and wondering, ever so seriously, if perhaps they expect too much of their parents.
This clip, says Lantz, was based on the interview, but it’s hard to see how. An earnest attempt to reach out to kids has become, instead, an unintentionally hilarious example of how adults tend to ignore the very voices they claim to hear.
These tapes are available for rent at Videomatica, or you can order them directly from Something Weird Video, Box 33664, Seattle,WA 98133.