There are those who believe we must guard and protect children from the hurts and traumas of the big bad world for as long as possible. Then there are those people who believe we should toughen kids up by exposing them to and even pummeling them with terror and depravity. Those people become children’s filmmakers. Don’t believe me? Gaze upon the list below and find a hall of horrors to give Wes Craven nightmares.
The Chronicles Of Narnia
The Chronicles of Narnia There are plenty of reasons The Chronicles of Narnia might scare a kid: creepy English children, goat men, ham-fistedly overt Christian themes. But the big one, the one that takes this over the top, is violence rendered upon animals. Kids can watch human beings getting plowed down all day long, but you give one beagle a charley horse and here come the waterworks. The world of Narnia is a talking animal realm, and those chatty beavers and wolves have no qualms stabbing each other like it’s a prison shower.
Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory No, I don’t mean the 2005 version, although that is plenty scary. I’m talking about the original. Look past the singing dwarves with jaundice and the constant child mauling; the fear factor in this one boils down to this scene. The single most frightening sequence in all of ’70s cinema. And we’re talking about a decade that brought us The Exorcist and Alien. In one master stroke, this film says, “Hey kids, this is what dropping acid is like. The first time’s free!”
Dumbo Sometime during his reign, Walt Disney turned to his staff of animators and said, “You know, boys, scientists aren’t going to invent LSD for decades, but kids clamor to trip out NOW! It is our civic duty to blow the minds of American children.” From Disney’s decree came psychedelic head trips like the Pink Elephant scene from Dumbo. The real bummer of Dumbo is the cruelty Dumbo and his mother suffer from their fellow animals. If you see a single tear roll down your child’s cheek as she watches, it’s because Walt just taught her that life is cruel and people suck.
Labyrinth The idea of a Muppet is inherently frightening. Felt and glass eyes lurching about in a folly of life. Ironically, the Muppets aren’t the least human thing in this movie. That honor goes to honorary space alien David Bowie. Androgynous, sparkle eyeliner-wearing, spandexed, coked-up, Ziggy Stardust-mode David Bowie. I love this movie, but watching David Bowie sashay around in an enhanced codpiece for hours has informed (or malformed) my concept of gender types far more than I’d like to admit. Luckily, a young Jennifer Connolly is on hand to straighten things out. Did I mention I love this movie?
Monster House This movie makes no bones about it: It’s a horror movie for kids. As such, it’s supposed to be an entry-level kind of scary — a scary ride with the training wheels. The scares are played for fun and are thankfully not unintentionally creepy/weird/scary like the other movies on this list. One of the best kid movies I’ve seen in a long time. Unfortunately I couldn’t watch it with my child because it would scare the hell out of her. But the man-eating house… pretty cool.
The Never Ending Story
The Never Ending Story The scary thing about this movie is The Nothing. You know, the thing consuming all of Fantasia. And what is The Nothing? A giant lizard? A sentient, radioactive cloud? Worse: The Nothing is nothing. It is oblivion — the great unknown; the cold and lifeless void beyond our realm of understanding. Hey kiddies, wrap your little heads around that meaty chunk of existential crisis. Thank you, Never Ending Story; you are more depressing than reading No Exit. Oh, and that princess? Some say cute, I say creepy.
Bambi Alright everybody, repeat after me: BAMBI’S MOM GETS SHOT.
The Dark Crystal
The Dark Crystal That Jim Henson was one dark dude. Miss Piggy- and Gonzo-loving kids and parents must have thought this J.R.R. Tolkien-like epic would be an adorable Kermit-dressed-as-a-Hobbit romp. What they got were the Skeksis, lizard bird creatures that ate other Muppets and shrieked in such a way, I still can’t get it out of my head. Then there’s the Crypt Keeper-looking Muppet who takes her eyeballs out and throws them at people. Oh, and those gigantic beetle things with their skin-crawling chattering — always with the chattering. And then there’s this (and that’s supposed to be cute):
The Adventures Of Mark Twain
The Adventures of Mark Twain You may have caught this one during your summers as a fat boy holed up inside a darkened house avoiding sunlight like it was poison. Oh wait, that was me. If you haven’t seen it, the movie chugs along amiably enough, until it gets to this part. Claymation apocalypse, anyone?
The Peanut Butter Solution
The Peanut Butter Solution Sure, the movie seems all fine and dandy — until you press play. For starters, a boy wanders into an abandoned house and finds ghosts, who apparently “can be anywhere” (real good for kids to know). Then he goes bald from said ghosts. Then those same ghosts help him mix a special “peanut butter solution” to help his hair grow. And it works, except the hair keeps growing and growing at a rate the Energizer Bunny would admire, to the point where a man kidnaps the kid to make “magical paintbrushes” out of his hair. Lesson to all the dads out there: Stick to Rogaine.
Song Of The South
Song of the South All the ingredients for a happy-go-lucky kid flick are there: The rabbits are cute, the foxes are adorable. You and your kids could watch the whole thing and sleep an undisturbed sleep. But later, maybe days later, it strikes you: “My sweet Jemima, that movie was racist!” I don’t mean kinda offensive, but so racist it will make your eyes sting. Realizing that you and your kids consumed nearly radioactive amounts of antiquated stereotypes hidden in the Trojan Horse of fluffy anthropomorphized Disney animals — now that’s scary.
Wizard Of Oz
Wizard of Oz Okay, I do not think anything about this movie is scary, but a lot of people do. Guess it’s the flying monkeys. Now to be fair, back in the 1930s when this movie came out, I’ll bet those flying monkeys were scary as hell. Then again, in 1939 Americans were also afraid the country would collapse into ruin because of a scandalous new dance called the “jitterbug.”
Return To Oz
Return to Oz In the unofficial ’80s sequel to those fearsome flying monkeys, Dorothy is called back to Oz to save the land from the Nome King. Oh, wait, let’s backtrack: First a strange blonde girl saves Dorothy from ELECTROSHOCK THERAPY (thanks a lot, Auntie Em), then she goes to Oz, where she’s chased by Wheelers, who have wheels for hands and feet (how the hell do you outrun those babies?!), and gets trapped by Princess Mombi, a witch who collects heads. As in, heads. See below. Then clack your ruby slippers and repeat after me: There’s no place like my happy place…
The Polar Express
The Polar Express Realistically animated flesh with cold, dead eyes must be Robert Zemeckis’ idea of family entertainment. And by realistic flesh, I mean realistic for a burn victim. This thing is horrifying from top to bottom. A holiday film by the star of Forrest Gump? Tom Hanks playing Santa Claus as well as thirty-seven other roles? What a delightfu — “OH GOD! WHAT IS HAPPENING UP ON SCREEN?! I CLOSE MY EYES AND I CAN STILL SEE IT!”
Speed Racer Haven’t seen this one yet. Too afraid of having a seizure.
Moonwalker If I had to choose the most frightening element of Moonwalker, I would have to say it’s the overall message that if you are a child and you spend lots of time with Michael Jackson, the weirdest thing that could happen is he’ll turn into a 100-foot tall screaming robot. That’s just dangerously misleading.
Old Yeller Yes, shooting a dog is traumatizing, but let’s break down what is so emotionally scarring about this particular one. From the death of Old Yeller we learn three things: 1. New friends will always turn on you. 2. If you ever open your heart to love something, it will contract rabies and try to kill you. 3. Shooting Old Yeller represents Travis’s metaphorical entrance into manhood.
The Secret Of Nimh
The Secret of Nimh You know you are in for a less-than-cheerful ride within the first minute when we learn that dad mouse is dead and baby mouse is dying. Hmmm, an inauspicious start for fun family entertainment, if I may say so. What strikes me even now about this movie is how very real the peril these mice get into feels. My young brain was not prepared for a cartoon that was so gritty. Oh, and let’s not forget the cat with one eye and the freaky Great Owl.
Watership Down I don’t want to talk about this any further.
The Care Bears Movie
The Care Bears Movie Not an obvious choice. My daughter claimed this one to be scary, but she could get spooked by a stiff wind. And yet, as I polled adults for their scary kid movie picks, this one popped up. Why? Because a little boy turns into an evil magician, with red glowing eyes and everything. But who needs those limp attempts at scary when you have this:
Little Monsters Hey kids, let’s validate your universal fear of monsters living under the bed. Not scary enough? What if said monsters looked and sounded just like schtick-master Howie Mandel? AAAAHHHHHHH!
The Witches Roald Dahl hits the list again, aided and abetted by Anjelica Huston vamping the wallpaper right off the walls. Dahl’s original is pretty graphic, detailing a foul boy being transformed into a foul mouse. The film did that description justice. (By the way, this isn’t the actual trailer for the movie, but we think it captures its essence quite well.)
E.T. Steven Spielberg made his good guy the most terrifying thing you could imagine. A generation of children learned that aliens can be friendly — once you get past all the ear-splitting shrieking and the fact they look like lions after being dipped in lava and having their head flattened with a lead pipe. That screeching little alien tap-danced his way into our hearts and wallets. It’s hard to find a grown-up who doesn’t have fond memories of E.T. — and also remember it scaring the crap out of them.
Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom With Temple, you’d think George Lucas and Steven Spielberg had a pitch session just to dream up all the potential gross-out/freak-out factors: “Alright Steve. One word: bugs.” “Mmm hmm. And let me add this, George: more bugs.” ” We’re both wrong. What is needed here is a CRAPLOAD of bugs!” (Both) “Hear! Hear!” “Ooh, and monkeys brains.” “Eyeball soup.” “Grotesquely caricatured ethnic stereotypes. Like a cute Asian kid with an accent so thick you could choke on it.” “How about a guy who tears your heart out?” “And the heart bursts into flames.” “You’re a mad genius.” “Did I mention bugs?”
The Garbage Pail Kids Movie
The Garbage Pail Kids Movie Speaking of gross-outs, know what’s gross? An hour-and-a-half long ’80s product tie-in. Thank you, The Garbage Pail Kids Movie. First of all, I was a kid when the cards were popular, and I never got the appeal, thought others went gaga for them. Maybe Garbage Pail Kids are before your time, or it’s been so long you have a hazy recollection. Let me jog that memory. Who wanted to see THIS brought to walking, talking life? This is what it looks like. And guess what? They still sell the cards.