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Rated R for RAD

The forbidden areas tread only by “grown-ups” were a constant source of adventure and exploration as a kid. Think back to how often you heard the phrase, “That’s for adults, maybe when you’re older” and the way it filled you with the desire to instantly become 35 like in the Tom Hanks movie BIG (and to a lesser extent, Vice Versa starring Judge Reinhold). Though magical scenarios like those presented their own set of problems, it seemed for a moment like a world of freedom would be opened to you. One of the golden medals of adulthood I was constantly competing for was watching Rated R movies.

My parents were definitely vocal about the fact that Rated R didn’t stand for “Rad”, but rather “Restricted” and that as a result, I was not going to be enjoying the excitement of Predator any time soon. My friend’s parents were not as strict, so I was constantly asking for a schoolyard synopsis of movies like Aliens, A Nightmare On Elm Street 6 or Die Hard. Meanwhile I had to settle for PG-13 garbage like  K-9, Curly Sue and Mr. Destiny (That’s more Jim Belushi than any child should have to endure). These second-hand stories of violence and swearing fueled the fire, as I could only imagine the awesomeness I was missing on VHS.

I tried to satiate myself during trips to Blockbuster Video by perusing the Action and Horror aisles. That way I could at least see pictures of scenes from the movies on the back of the boxes. The box art for Arena starring…well, not really “STARRING” anybody, was always at the top of my list. Set-up like a boxing promo poster with the words "Man vs. Monster" in bright red letters, I was sure this would satisfy my pre-pubescent blood lust. As it turns out, this movie wasn’t even rated R, but being next to The Abyss and Abraxas, Guardian of the Universe on the shelf, I just assumed it was off limits. To this day I have not seen Arena because I don’t want to spoil the Mortal Kombat like battles I imagined in my head.

On one rental excursion with my buddy, Chris, we somehow managed to sneak a copy of Psycho III past my Mom. It wasn’t hard, I mean Blockbuster rental cases were just text, so all she had to do was not read the back. Still I couldn’t believe it, I actually managed to get a rated R movie into our house. Why I chose a snoozer like Psycho III is hard to say, but the triumph was no less glorious as we popped the tape into the VCR. “Here we go…”, I thought, “…this is going to be great.” About 10 minutes in my excitement turned to apathy as I realized there would be no exploding heads or disgusting monsters in this film. But I was determined to enjoy this moment somehow.

At the 15 minute mark my Mom started hovering around, probably wondering why two 10 year olds were so interested in what amounted to a big budget episode of Murder, She Wrote. Shortly thereafter a scene started with Norman Bates spying on a woman in the shower as a callback to the first film. Suddenly we heard a shocked exclamation from my mother, “What are you boys watching?!” It wasn’t long before the tape was back in the box and we were forced to watch Home Alone for the 27th time.

Later that year, I started campaigning for my Mom to take me to see Terminator 2: Judgement Day in theaters. This may seem bold for a kid who just got caught “sneaking” a Rated R movie past the gates of morality, but I figured I could have more success with the direct approach. Of course she said, “No” but then I began laying the evidence at her feet. If it wasn’t meant for kids, how come they had action figures, trading cards and even a knock-off Play-Doh set? She still wasn’t convinced, but I had an ace up my sleeve.

The movie was the summer blockbuster event of 1991, so I was out of school and hanging around my Mom’s office where she worked as a graphic designer. They happened to have a newspaper, so I was checking movie times and came up on the ad for T2 which listed a showing around the corner at 4pm. “Mom, can we go see this, please?” Again the answer was negative. “But all the kids at school have already seen it”. At that moment her boss walked by and asked what we were discussing. Mom told him I was trying to convince her to let me see “that Terminator movie”, to which he responded. “Oh yeah, that’s a great one. It’s really not that bad.” After a few more minutes of getting the plot details and confirmation that the film had no nudity (well, no female nudity) she finally gave in and we bought our tickets for Terminator 2.

Don’t get me wrong, T2 is an awesome movie for many reasons, but even the liquid metal computer magic of the T-1000 couldn’t compare to the feeling of having won the battle. I was watching a grown-up movie with robots killing people and damaged synthetic flesh revealing metallic endo-skeletons beneath. This was the pinnacle of my existence. My Mom sat through the whole thing, though I’m sure she wasn’t thrilled about the loss of innocence I experienced seeing metal finger spikes jammed through people’s heads.

As a parent myself now, I feel bad for putting my Mom in that situation. She basically got pressured into compromising her view of what was right for her child. I should be clear that this was the one and only R-Rated movie that was ever “approved” in a “no way will this ever happen again” situation, so it wasn’t as though she condoned my total corruption through the world of cinema. Even today, R-Rated movies are not a part of my movie watching experience, PG-13 seems to get the job done just fine. But this single “free pass” did allow me to be part of a cultural event of the 90’s that stands the test of time.

So how about you? What was your moment of crossing over into the realms inhabited by adults? Did you ever weasel your way into an R-Rated movie experience? 

Tweet at me @hojukoolander

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echidna64 Posted on Nov 04, 2015 at 06:38 AM

My parents weren't very strict on R-Rated movies. I would actually leave the room on my own if the movie was too "sick" or scary.

When I was ten, my dad took us to the movies to see Flubber but it was sold out so we saw Starship Troopers instead, my first R-Rated theater experience and by gawd it was awesome!

Vaporman87 Posted on Nov 02, 2015 at 04:44 PM

My parents were not concerned with what I watched growing up, so long as they knew it didn't contain nudity. And even so, I still somehow managed to see the occasional slip of some skin in some major film releases. And today, I don't see that as a good thing. In fact, it's pretty disappointing to me that my parents didn't care enough to restrict what I was seeing.

Maybe some think that they really had it made if they shared a similar childhood stripped of too many restrictions on movies. But I don't feel that way. I feel like my parents neglected to attempt to teach me some very important lessons that arise from watching certain things. In short, I didn't (and in some ways, still don't) feel like I was important enough to them to make an effort.

Now that I'm a father, I make every attempt to avoid watching rated R movies. The only exposure to questionable content that I have allowed myself to experience has been in the form of games, like Watchdogs and Fallout 3. And even then, I hate that I have to see and hear certain things in order to enjoy the games as a whole.

I want my kids to grow up knowing that I cared enough to restrict what they saw, because I wanted them protected and wanted them to make adult choices when it comes to what they see. There are certain things that kids are responsible enough to make choices with, but film choice is not among them. Given too much freedom, bad choices will eventually be made and their mental and emotional health can suffer. I know mine did. I was more frightened and confused as a child than I could have been, many times because of things I watched. Had I not seen certain things, I know that I would have felt less nervous and concerned about death and sexuality. I'm not going to allow that to happen to my own children.

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