The January 25 NEW YORKER has a long profile of Neil Gaiman. I was struck in particular by one observation by the author, Dana Goodyear, that Gaiman's children's books bring back the genuine horror that was a part of Victorian kid lit, but had largely been watered down in the decades since.
Certainly CORALINE is horrific; the alternate "parents" of the little-girl protagonist seek to gouge out her eyes and replace them with sewn-on buttons. When I saw the movie version of CORALINE, I thought, Parents will take little kids to this? It will traumatize them! I was wrong. The kids, Gaiman points out, handle CORALINE just fine; "it's the parents who are frightened."
I think he's right. Since then, at least three sets of parents have told me that their small children loved CORALINE. And when I think back to my own childhood (in the early Triassic), I remember being darkly thrilled by reading GRIMM'S FAIRY TALES. Not the sanitized version, but the original in which Cinderella's wicked stepsisters are punished in a way too gruesome to relate here. Well, too gruesome now -- I'm an adult.
I see the same thing with teens, who watch the most blood-soaked movies without flinching or, apparently, turning into sociopathic monsters. After seeing KILL WITH ME with a sixteen-year-old, I was appalled. She said gently, "Nancy, it's okay, it's just a movie."
Perhaps we get less tough as we age. Perhaps that's a good thing, since tenderness is needed to raise the next generation. Perhaps that relish for horror and blood that seems to exist in even the nicest child serves some psychological purpose. Whatever it is, Neil Gaiman knows how to tap into it.