Childhood fears: Everyone had them. Something about being so small and unaware of a gigantic world around you sure can be scary, especially if you end up watching a "children's movie" that is anything but. As a kid, there was nothing scarier than being completely comfortable watching a harmless family flick, and then be terrified by upsetting animation, scary costuming, or just a creepy character overall. Sure these are growing moments for us as kids, but were you really thinking about that the first time you watched "The Never Ending Story?" Take a trip down memory lane as I recall 10 movies and television episodes that scared the sh@t out of me as a kid.
10. Courage the Cowardly Dog, "Spirit of the Harvest Moon"
Can someone please explain to me how this show was EVER greenlit by Cartoon Network Studios? The Courage the Cowardly Dog Show was incredibly culturally important due to its creative storytelling, existence in the golden age of early 2000s CN, and introduction of children to classic horror stories and tropes in both scary and funny ways, but goddamn was it creepy. While most people remember the “Rameses” episode for its terrifying imagery and the grating voice of the protagonist, I remember “You’re No Farmer,” an episode where a disembodied human head in black and white haunts Courage, intent on punishing farmer Eustace for his poor crop tending skills. Something about the real human face juxtaposed to the animation is unsettling, and the voice of the head is even scarier. Basically, child me was not having it.
9. Thomas the Tank Engine: "The Sad Story of Henry"
There is an excellent case someone online made once that Thomas the Tank Engine is actually a dystopian world where trains are stripped as scrap metal outside the island, and that the island kind of holds all the trains prisoner with the threat of gangs of murderous train-killers waiting outside the island. An excellent piece of evidence for this theory is “The Sad Story of Henry,” where a very vain train who does not want his paint rained on is sealed in a tunnel for basically ALL ETERNITY, considering that the trains never seem to need coal or anything else to keep them alive. If the thought of a sentient and human-like train trapped in eternal darkness doesn’t upset you, you are an animal.
8. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: The Tunnel Sequence
The original 1971 movie version of “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” is one of my favorite films. It’s full of wonder, music and… a nightmarish tunnel sequence? With flashing lights, disturbing and grotesque imagery, and a bizarre rhyme by Wonka himself, this scene gave a generation fo children nightmares. It’s also important to note that many of the reactions from the actors in the scene were real, as they had all thought that Gene Wilder, the actor who played Wonka, had actually had a mental breakdown from the tunnel. That is one boat ride you can count me out of.
7. Who Framed Roger Rabbit: The Villain Reveal
“REMEMBER ME EDDIE?” Words that will be forever ingrained in my psyche. Christopher Lloyd (how could you do this to me Doc?) as a demented toon with glowing red eyes and a high-pitched voice is horrifying, but it perhaps his death, where we are left hearing his creams of agony as he dissolves, that is the most terrifying. Judge Doom’s reveal as a murderous and evil cartoon character is one of the ebst twists in Hollywood, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t also one of the scariest.
6. Jimmy Neutron: Flippy the Dummy
WHAT. THE. F@#K. WAS. THIS. EPISODE.
I never thought an episode of Jimmy Neutron would scare me, but there was Flippy. When Jimmy makes Flippy 2.0 after the harmless original is destroyed, he includes a chip which connects to his dad’s brain to make his jokes funnier. Unfortunately, Flippy becomes sentient and feeds off of dad’s brain, turning him into a mindless zombie. Flippy is also a murderous, jealous psychopath, an obvious nod to the “Chucky” horror series. What makes this so frightening though is that it is so out-of-place in the nonsensical and humorous world of Jimmy Neutron, as well as the fact that it is a wooden dummy and therefore is by default creepy. Not to mention the weird “IS HE ACTUALLY STILL ALIVE?” scene at the end of the episode. All in all, childhood me could have used a memory erasure.
5. Old-School Muppets
Many of the original Muppets from Jim Henson’s “Sesame Street,” “The Dark Crystal,” and “Labyrinth” are downright disturbing. Looking at the Sesame Street Wikipedia page, OG characters like “Flute Snatcher” are very scary to kids, mostly due to the poor quality of video for the episode, and the fact that the monsters are made with large teeth and big, creepy eyes also do no us no favors. The Skeksis from “The Dark Crystal” are notable for their creepy, fleshy bodies and voices, and pretty everyone has nightmares about the monsters in “Labyrinth,” or at least about David Bowie coming to steal you in the night.
A show about a series of horror books for kids, what could go wrong? EVERYTHING. Stories about sentient scarecrows, monsters that hid amongst you, and disgusting slime and worms terrified the children of the 90’s, the most famous episodes being “The Haunted Mask,” “Night of the Living Dummy Saga,” and “Say Cheese and Die,” featuring a young Ryan Gosling. Hey Ryan Gosling, would you mind not scaring the bejezus out of me as a kid so I can enjoy “The Notebook?”
3. "We’re Back: A Dinosaur Story:" Professor Screweyes's Death
The premise of the villain Professor Screweyes of “We’re Back: A Dinosaur Story” is deeply disturbing. He is basically an evil slaver who forces people into servitude with magic contracts to work in his circus of freaks. The shift in this movie from the bright NYC streets to the dark and foreboding circus tents of Screweyes's show is completely from left field, and his death, where he literally consumed by crows, leaving only his hypnotic screw eye, is also horrifying, the only sound being the fluttering of wings and the screw hitting the floor. The tone of this scene just does not match the carefree nature of the rest of the film, but John Goodman is in it, so it’s forgivable.
2. Disney’s Tarzan and The Hunchback of Notre Dame: The Villains Dying in Horrible Ways
I grouped these two scenes together because they are about similar things: A villain biting the bullet in visually and thematically disturbing ways. For “Hunchback” protagonist Frollo, there is an added song of him crooning about his unbridled lust for Esmerelda juxtaposed to a chorus of faceless priests ready to send him to hell, but falling to your death from the top of the Notre Dame Cathedral into lava seems like a pretty bad way to go.
Clayton’s death in “Tarzan” is disturbing because of how brutal and unexpected it is in comparison to the rest of the movie: He is literally undone by his rage and accidentally hangs himself while Tarzan looks on unable to help, his body left dangling. Both scenes are from a darker, more daring age of Disney, and both are equally frightening. But then again, 80’s Disney was pretty scary too.
1. The Mask
Whoever thought this movie was a good idea, fuck you. The film, inspired by the graphically violent and disturbing comic series, was a childish romp with Jim Carrey at the helm, in a bright green face and wild smile that scared the life out of me. Perhaps it was the garishness of the disproportional features of his face, but damn did I not like it. Don’t even get me started on “Son of the Mask,” where you have to factor in disturbing CGI imagery too. Seeing a trailer would get me going. In summary, kids shows need to lighten up, or maybe kids need to get tougher