Caution: Children at Play
On a dark and stormy night out at sea, the earliest use of the yellow raincoat was to provide fishermen protection from the elements and keep them visible to lighthouses. The yellow raincoat is a staple of children’s wardrobes today, though worn most often by children in the horror genre. In movies and horror games, yellow takes on a deadlier meaning. The color of sunshine and innocence is also one of caution, madness and cowardice. But what is the symbolism of the yellow raincoat, and what does it promise the audience?
In the movie “Coraline” (2009), Coraline’s yellow raincoat contrasts against the dreary landscape that she has moved to. In the original book by Neil Gaiman, Coraline’s raincoat is blue. This change provides a loaded visual stimulus, psychologically communicating in the first scene that something unfortunate is going to happen to its wearer. Coraline wears the coat on adventures inside and outside, where her desperately fluorescent clothing choices fail to garner the attention she seeks from her negligent parents. However, the raincoat doesn’t go unnoticed by the “Other Mother '' lurking on the other side of a hole in the wall, who lures Coraline into another world with the intent of stealing her soul.
The opening scene of “It” (2017) starts with seven-year-old Georgie Denbrough playing with a toy sailboat in the street during a storm, clad in a yellow rain slicker. It’s an innocent scene until the sailboat drifts down a sewer, where Pennywise the murderous clown is hiding. Pennywise lures Georgie into reaching for the boat before biting his arm off. In the Stephen King novel, Georgie bleeds to death, the red blood contrasting frighteningly against his raincoat. In the movie adaptation, Georgie, the perfect image of vulnerability, is dragged into the sewer and swallowed by the darkness.
The video game “Little Nightmares” is the best example of the yellow raincoat establishing its wearer in direct opposition to their much darker surroundings. The game follows Six, a seemingly defenseless slicker-clad child who is physically miniscule in comparison to the mutated monsters around her. Color palettes consisting of dark sepias, blacks and desaturated primary colors dominate both the first and second game, making the vivid yellow raincoat a focal point in every frame. Six keeps her face and body shrouded by her hood. However, like a venomous animal, her color-coding deceives the player. She is not at risk. In fact, she is potentially the worst monster of them all. Six subverts the innocent child trope when she murders her way through each level, betrays her ally and succumbs to her severe personality disorder.
Child protagonists are easy devices to show good versus evil and lost or corrupted innocence. At a certain point, the cloak comes off and the children are left to fend for themselves. They are lights threatened to be extinguished by the darkness of their circumstances. One thing is for certain: a fisherman might be protected, but a child in a yellow raincoat is never safe in the horror genre.
Art by Ingrid Jones