?Kids’ movies are not made by kids. That’s pretty obvious, since kids can’t use cameras, editing software, or doctor a script to save their lives. Adults are in charge, as they always have been, and even when they’re ostensibly making films designed for young audiences, they tend to infuse their creations with their adult sensibilities, whether consciously or unconsciously. And sometimes, adults are just sadistic fucks who want to be evil.
Whether intentionally or not, these 14 movies contain weird, twisted, disturbing scenes that scared the pants off of children, usually immediately after they shit them in pure terror. Obviously, this list isn’t meant to be all-inclusive — your list of films that terrified you as a kid is probably very different than mine — and besides, if I included E.T. in the running, it’d probably take up a least a third of the list. Feel free to discuss the scenes that scarred you as a child in the comments.
Daily List suggested by tredlow.
14) Care Bears Movie 2 (1986)
I suspect that the character of Dark Heart was created solely to help some screenwriter overcome his childhood molestation by some older boy. Dark Heart starts out the film as a creepy, creepy red-headed boy whose goal is to trap all the Care Bears in a magic bag and kidnap them. By the end, he’s transformed himself into an evil cloud of smoke with eyes. The transformation from raspy kid to smoke cloud probably caused a few pee-soaked theater seats. You can almost see the background story of a redheaded kid putting the writer into a bag and touching him, then getting away with it. Siiiiick.
13) The Dark Crystal (1982)
One word: Skeksis. While people unfortunately equate Jim Henson with harmless kids’ entertainment, his legions of fans know how dark and adult he could go. The Dark Crystal was Henson’s “ain’t seen nothing yet” moment. The half-vulture/half reptile Skeksis tormented the childlike Gelflings, and the scene where the Skeksis scientist tries to pull the life essence out of one of them preys on children’s fears of confinement and torture just as well as any windowless van.
12) Pinocchio (1940)
Disney’s Pinocchio contains a handful of twisted scenes, most notably where the boys on Pleasure Island become donkeys and when Pinocchio talks to strangers and you know it’s going to turn out badly. Incidentally, it’s the original Pinocchio books that contain the mind-warping stuff. Jiminy Cricket is introduced, sings a little song, and then Pinocchio kills him with a hammer. The magical wood screams as Geppetto carves it. Pinocchio accidentally burns off his own feet. The Blue Fairy is introduced as a suicidal depressive whose family has just died. When he turns into a donkey, he’s sold to a man who tries to drown him and turn his skin into a drum (while being drowned, fish come and eat off all his skin, leaving his wooden puppet body). If your kids want Pinocchio, dear God, give them the video instead of the book.
11) Old Yeller (1957)
A boy loves his dog. The dog gets rabies. The dog gets shot. Disney chose not to sugarcoat anything when they adapted the novel of Old Yeller, only a year after the book was released. There’s nothing more heart-wrenching than watching a boy develop a loving relationship with an animal, only to have the animal killed. Sure, he gets a puppy at the end (spoilers!), but the dog we fell in love with becomes rabid (and develops signs of rabies, unlike the book where they just blast him away immediately after he’s bitten) and then gets a bullet in the head. And Jesus wept.
10) Scruffy (1980)
?If this list was really based on how much these films have scarred me, Scruffy would be #1. Hell, it would be #0. Luckily, most people haven’t been able to track a VHS copy down or remember seeing it as a three-part Saturday morning cartoon. If you want a good description, just think Lady and the Tramp meets Auschwitz. Virtually everyone dies. The mother dog is shown abandoned, tied to a condemned house. She has her puppy, narrowly (and bloodily) escapes a burning building, then is shot by hunters. The puppy, Scruffy, is taken in by a homeless alcoholic street performer, who dies of some disease. After misadventures that involve dog fights and a lot of blood, Scruffy and her lovable stray friends are all taken to the pound where they will all be euthanized. Her boyfriend, Butch, is even shown walking the last mile. Luckily, at the end, all the strays are adopted, even Butch, but FUCK, it’s a lot of blood, and death, and impending lethal injection.
9) Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959)
?If you ask kids to name 10 live-action Disney films, Darby O’Gill probably wouldn’t make the list, but it’s a fine film with delightful performances by Albert Sharpe and a young Sean Connery. And a spectral banshee who is way too scary for any Disney film. Using bizarre visual effects that would later be used to great effect in 1970’s The Dunwich Horror film adaptation, the shrieking specter in a wedding dress flies out of the stormy sky to claim the soul of poor Darby. An entire generation became scared of hooded figures in that one scene.
8) Alice in Wonderland (1985)
There’s always an element of disturbing surrealism to any Alice adaptation. The 1951 Disney film had the dark Tulgey Wood scene where a lost Alice is constantly confronted with animals that make no sense as she goes deeper and deeper into the scary woods. The 1966 television adaptation was a stark tour through a Victorian home set to endless Ravi Shankar music. And all kids should be kept far away from puppeteer Jan Svankmajer’s animated version. But the really disturbing one was the 1985 television version with a dragon-like Jabberwocky that leapt out of nowhere to scare poor Alice and ruin the final party at the end.
7) The Black Cauldron (1985)
The rule in filmmaking should be “if you have a cute character that audiences like, DON’T KILL IT.” Disney didn’t follow this rule, and killed off Gurgi, the cute little bear-type thing that acted as a sidekick through the first parts of the film. That’s the kind of shit that scars kids, even if you bring him back through magic at the end (they did the same thing in that goddam Dungeons & Dragons movie, but no one had been really sad to see Marlon Wayans kick the bucket). Additionally, the film also has plenty of scenes with demon-looking things and a skull-faced bad guy with horns to fuel those preteen nightmares.
6) Ferngully: The Last Rainforest (1992)
As if Robin Williams’s performance as a fruit bat wasn’t horrific enough, Fergully gave us a creepy villain with the creepy voice of creepy actor Tim Curry, Hexxus. He was the living embodiment of pollution, and although the end where he turns into a black, fire-breathing skeleton rules (this is a kids’ movie, ostensibly), his real shining creepster moment is his song “Toxic Love.” An inky puddle of sludge with the voice of The Worst Witch‘s Curry threatens to take over the world through eerie cabaret music. By the end of it, you’re pretty sure he’s going to jump off the screen and abuse you.
5) Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)
1985 certainly was a year for disturbing movies. Any little kid who has seen Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure knows the two frightful scenes that keep kids up at night. The first is Large Marge. Say it with me now, “There was this sound, like a garbage truck dropped off the Empire State Building. And when they pulled the driver’s body from the twisted, burning wreck…it looked like THIS!” Cue scary face, cue crying kids. The second is Pee-Wee’s dream sequence in the hospital, where clowns are alternately fixing and taking his precious bike apart. In a moment of pure Tim Burton, one of the surgeons turns to the camera, pulls off his mask to reveal a hideous clown grin. Then the devil burns his bike.
4) Bambi (1942)
Everyone knows that Disney’s Bambi is one of the most scarring movies for kids of all-time, but imagine how much worse it would have been if Disney had gone through with his original idea of shooting it in live-action. Despite its depictions of adorable forest life, and a beautiful musical score, it will forever be known as that movie where Bambi’s mom dies. Even people who haven’t seen it know how traumatizing it is.
3) Fantasia (1940)
Making Fantasia as Disney’s third full-length film was probably a bad idea, since there’s no narrative and the thing goes on forever. But the final segment, “Night on Bald Mountain,” ranks as one of Disney’s more purely grotesque sequences. To the music of Mussorgsky’s fantastic instrumental, the demon Chernabog (originally based on Bela Lugosi) summons hordes of demons, skeletons, zombies, witches, and goblins who perform at his whim. When he tires of these macabre servants he sends them down to be destroyed in a pit of lava. For all the little kids who fell asleep to the previous segment, “The Dance of the Hours,” “Bald Mountain” woke you up and kept you scared as shit.
2) Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)
If you choose to watch any of the films on this list, just for curiosity’s sake, DO NOT watch Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It’s unbearably dull with all the action taking place after about and hour and a half of fluff drags by. The only highlight is the sequences that put it on this list: The Child Catcher. In a world where children are hunted and imprisoned, the Child Catcher is equipped with a long nose for sniffing them out, lollipops as bait, and large black nets for snatching. Actor Robert Helpmann’s portrayal is both sinister and captivating, as he oozes with evil in every line. That part of the film is so memorable that Marilyn Manson honored it with the title and cover art of his second album Smells Like Children, as well as sampling some of the Child Catcher’s lines for his the songs.
1) Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
Almost every aspect of Willy Wonka has some off-putting element about it, from the fates of the naughty children to the unexplained background props like the office full of half-made items and the massive, illegible contract. Gene Wilder’s omnipotent, eerily calm demeanor only added fuel to the fire. And while we’re introduced to Wonka fairly late in the film, the boat trip scene immediately alerts us that shit just got real. Disturbing images like a chicken’s head being chopped off and a giant millipede crawling over a woman’s face are mixed with dazzling psychedelic colors and a droning dirge sung by Wilder. If you want to freak out your friends, I suggest reciting it for them when they’re least expecting it.