“I don’t even like that goat-thing,” said my friend Carrie as our conversation turned to Pan’s Labyrinth. As it often does. It is one of my all-time favorite films. But that movie—particularly, the hairless, kid-eating, eye-in-hands monster—has scarred her for life. It probably doesn’t help that I frequently send her a picture of the creature as an email attachment innocuously titled, “Weekend Fun” or “Bradley Cooper Knows Who You Are.” Or that I keep threatening to get us front row seats for the musical version.
As much as I tease, she is not alone. Whether it was something we experienced as a child or an adult, there are creatures and movies and books that are seared in our minds, haunting us for life. Many are scary in nature, but some are from “kid-friendly” films or movies. To this day, they make us scan the bottom of the swimming pool, put the clown doll in the closet, or avoid blueberries (more on that later). They even made us reevaluate our use of everyday objects like mirrors (Candyman), swimming pools (Jaws), and Jiffy Pop (Scream).
So after conducting a very scientific poll among friends, as well as some personal introspection, here is a small list of some of the most scarring movies and TV shows of all time. In the comments section, let me know yours.
Growing up we weren’t allowed to listen to Madonna, own anything Calvin Klein, or read Stephen King. So, of course, all I wanted to read was King. What better way to thumb my nose than starting with his 1,100+ page It which focused on the individual terrors of children? I learned my lesson. After seeing the TV movie, I hated using my parent’s shower. A tiled floor and a round drain in the center, the moment I turned my back Pennywise would come out.
As kids, my older sister had to come home early from a sleepover because she became too scared after they watched Poltergeist. In a house where the branches of an old crabapple tree knocked on her second floor window, this probably wasn’t the best idea. But it was that clown doll, reaching out from under the bed to grab the son’s legs, that was and is stupid scary. (For a truly hilarious read, check out this old piece in SF Gate.
The Wizard of Oz and The Return to Oz
If it wasn’t flying monkeys or tornadoes, it was Wheelers and headless witches. Really messed up.
Lauren B.: “I always have to look in the toilet prior to using it. Even at 2 am, I have to turn on the lights first.”
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Most were freaked about the random, acid-trippy tunnel scene. Not Jeffrey R.: “I stopped eating blueberries. I thought I’d blow up like a balloon.” Amazing.
Pee Wee Herman’s Big Adventure
“Tell ‘em Large Marge sent ya!”
The NeverEnding Story
Whoever thought a German-American film adaptation of a German book directed by the guy who just did Das Boot would be kid appropriate was on something. Seriously. The Nothing, the gates that would fry you with their eyes, the horrible quicksand, the wolf… it’s like a cornucopia of nightmares.
The Watcher in the Woods
Perhaps it’s time to watch it again, as several friends pointed to this Disney film as being one of the most traumatizing movies of all time. From Annie D.: “[It] scared the crap out of me so badly that I wouldn’t look in a mirror for years. Five or six years after I saw it, I went to CONFESSION about it. Apparently I felt a representative of God was the only person who could help me.” Another movie that ruined mirrors? Candyman.
We are supposed to feel love for the sweet alien, but for many of us, the binocular head, telescope neck, and crumpled body was just too much.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Another kid’s movie featuring a scary-as-hell bad guy, the Child Catcher.
Appearing from 2004 to 2007, this kid’s show featured live actors, brightly colored sets, and horrific puppets—not scary in the same way as the ’80s DC Follies or the Wiggles. Probably forced to watch by parents who thought Sportacus was hot, a whole generation will spend many therapy sessions talking about the constant smiles and lifeless, unmoving eyes.
I never felt comfortable being in the same room with my friend’s My Buddy doll. I just knew it was planning on bludgeoning us to death with our Trapper Keepers. After Child’s Play was released, my fears were proven correct.