Confessions of a Film Junkie: The Five Scariest Moments in Children’s Movies That You Probably Never Realized were too Scary for Kids
By: Brian Cotnoir
Kids growing up in the late 80s early 90s had a huge advantage when it came to TV shows compared to other generations. We were a generation that liked to be scared and we had awesome TV shows like Nickelodeon’s “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” and Cartoon Networks “Courage the Cowardly Dog” that were meant to creep out kids, but were still not too scary to the point where you would be up all night having nightmares. Unfortunately children’s films and the late 80s and early 90s didn’t all always fall the same formulas as television shows. In fact there are some films that were made for kids that were just downright terrifying. So for this week’s review I’m counting down the five scariest moments in children’s movies that you probably never realized were too scary for kids.
#5 – The clown scene from “Poltergeist”
|You know? For Kids!|
I listed this scene at the bottom of the list for a number of reasons. Probably the biggest reason why it’s at the bottom is because “Poltergeist” was intentionally made to be a scary movie. Now you’re probably saying to yourself; “If it was intentionally made to be scary than why is it on your list?” The reason why I included the clown scene from “Poltergeist” on this list is because when the film was originally released in 1982 it was marketed as a PG movie for kids. At this time there was no such thing as a PG-13 rating so many younger children saw this movie and it scared the crap scared out of them. Because of films such as “Poltergeist” and “Gremlins” we now have the PG-13 rating for theaters. This film is not only scary for kids but it’s also scary for some adults as well. The clown scene isn’t the only scary part in the film come to think of it the whole film is pretty creepy. I just chose the clown scene because it’s the scene that most people remember as being them most terrifying. This famous scene was later parodied in the film “Scary Movie 2” and you know what I stilled jumped at that clown scene even though they were making fun of it because it was legitimately scary.
#4- The Wildebeest Stampede/The Death of Mufasa from the “Lion King”
|My Thoughts exactly, Simba.|
“The Lion King” is one of Disney’s most successful animated films. This was actually the first movie I ever saw in theaters as a young child and I can remember the scene where Scar has the hyenas cause the wildebeest stampede and chased through the valley and just being absolutely terrified as a child. The second I heard the score from the wildebeest stampede I remember sitting in my chair in the theater and pulling my knees up to my chest in fear. That music combined with the awesome animation of hundreds of wildebeest charging towards the young Simba just made for one awesomely scary moment in film. To add to the scariness of the scene you had Simba’s father, Mufasa, going after him, and risking his own life to save his son, only to be betrayed and killed by his own brother. This wasn’t the first time Disney killed one of its characters in a film but it is definitely one of the most iconic and memorable deaths in Disney history. You may think I’m being a little bit biased sense this is just something that personally scared me as a kid but I’m dead serious go see this movie in theaters if you have the opportunity and you will see the combination of the stereo plus the giant projected animations make for one awesome but scary moment in film.
#3- “The Brave Little Toaster”
This is another one of those films that was just constantly on television throughout my childhood. The story about a toaster and his friends seeking out their master was meant to be a fun children’s animated film but there were still a lot of scary scenes in the film. There’s one scene early on in the film that shows an air conditioner, who is voiced by the late Phil Hartman, having a psychotic break down and blows himself up. There’s another scene where it shows an appliance parts salesman taking apart some of the appliance is so he can sell their parts and it’s really creepy. But the most iconic scary moment from this film has to be the dream that the Brave Little Toaster has where he catches fire and he is chased by a evil clown dressed like a fire man. I don’t know of many children’s films that make multiple references to suicide, murder, and dismemberment. That’s a lot of tragic and graphics stuff to feature in a kids film. However “The Brave Little Toaster” does still remain one of my all-time favorite children’s movies.
#2- “The Dark Crystal”
|WTF, Mr. Henson???|
I can’t even begin to tell you how much this movie scared the crap out of me as a child. I was so freaked out after the first time I saw this film that I to sleep with my closet light on till I was in the fifth grade. Today I still shudder a little bit when I think about this film. In fact when two of my closest friends found out how afraid I was of this film as a child they actually held me down and went “A Clockwork Orange” on my ass and forced me to watch it despite my frantic pleas that I did not want to see it. This is the first feature film created by master puppeteer Jim Henson who also created beloved childhood televisions shows such as Sesame Street and the Muppets. That being said the “Dark Crystal” was certainly not a sunny, happy trip down to Sesame Street; “The Dark Crystal” was dark it was edgy and it featured some of the most freaky and creative puppets I have ever seen. I think the scene that scared me the most is the kid was the death of the Emperor and then the battle that followed with of the General and Chamberlin. Then the part where Chamberlin is exiled was also very scary because I think as a kid I thought the Skesis had torn him to shreds and killed him. I am no longer afraid of this film but I still say it was probably the scariest movie I ever saw as a kid.
#1- The Jack-ass transformation from “Pinocchio”
Alright so this one isn’t from the late 80s or early 90s but it is a children’s film and it is a terrifying scene that is often overlooked. This scene is so scary that I’ve even seen people in documentaries about horror movies reference as one of the iconic horror moments in early films. I know what some of you are already thinking; “Dude, it’s a freaking Disney film! How can anything Disney film be scary?”. For the most part Pinocchio is a harmless kid story about a puppet that just years to be a real boy but the scene where Pinocchio is taken by Honest John and Gideon to Pleasure Island leads up to the scariest moment in children’s film. On Pleasure Island Pinocchio and the other boys indulge in many vices such as drinking, smoking, gambling, and vandalism, but Pleasure Island has a dark and terrifying secret. The man who runs the island (a man who is simply known as “The Coachmen”) lures young boys there so they can be transformed into donkey’s to be sold to Salt Mines and Circuses. Once the young boys are turned into donkeys there is no way for them to turn back.
|You, son, are screwed!|
There are a number of reasons why this scene is terrifying. 1.) Not all the boys completely transform. Some of them still have the ability to speak to humans, but all that means is that the Coachmen can’t sell them to the mines, and it still doesn’t stop him from locking them up in a pen, and whenever any of the boys beg him to change them back he strikes them with a whip. 2.) It’s scary to see these boys transform into donkeys and cry for their mothers to come and save them. Nothing quite says you’re in trouble like crying out for your mother. 3.) And I would say the most often overlooked reason as to why this is so terrifying is that the bad guy wins. Pinocchio is only boy on Pleasure Island who manages to escape the Coachmen’s evil clutches, but the other boys are not as fortunate. We never get any scenes of Pinocchio going back to the Island to rescue the other boys, or the boys transforming back into humans, or the Coachmen’s heinous secret being uncovered,. His actions go unpunished, and we are left to believe that all those poor boys are doomed to spend the rest of their lives as donkeys performing hard-manual labor. This scene still sends a cold shiver through my body every time I see it. It was scary when I was a kid and it’s still scary as an adult.
So I had two other choices that I could have put on this list, but I decided not to include them in the Top 5 solely because they were T.V. movies and were never released in Theatres, but still I feel they deserve an honorable mention to because they were movies that were marketed towards children and they were scary.
Honorable Mention #1- Danny Phantom: “The Ultimate Enemy”
“The Ultimate Enemy” was a TV movie (though some claim it was a two-part episode) made for the Nickelodeon Show “Danny Phantom”. In the “Ultimate Enemy”, Danny learns that in the future he becomes the most powerful ghost in the world and destroys the Ghost Zone and the Human world. With the aid of a Time-Travel ghost named “Clockwork” (voiced by the late David Carradine) Danny is able to travel into the future and finds out from his arch-enemy Vlad Masters (aka Plasmius) that his family and best friends were killed in a freak explosion. Vlad takes in the orphan Danny because he believes he is the only one who can understand him now and help him. Danny blames himself and his ghost powers for not being able to rescue his friends and family and asks Vlad to remove his ghost half so that he can no longer feel any more emotional pain and guilt. Vlad tries to separate Danny’s two-halves with a pair of experimental ghost gauntlets, but something goes horribly wrong and Danny’s ghost-half fuses with Vlad’s ghost-half to create a super ghost. The part’s that most terrifying is when Danny asks future Vlad: “What ever happened to my human side?”, we then see human Danny cowering in the corner with the new ghost-hybrid Danny’s shadow maliciously hovering over him, to which Vlad replies “Some things are best left unsaid”; implying that Danny’s new ghost side killed human Danny. It’s actually a pretty intense scene, and it came from a Nickelodeon cartoon, which was pretty unexpected.
Honorable Mention #2- “Cry Baby Lane”
|It does exist.|
I swear I’m one of the few people in the world that actually remember this movie. This was a low-budget made for TV Halloween movie made by Nickelodeon in 2000, and it was only aired once because many parents called and claimed that it was far too scary for young children. The film does show and talk about certain things that you wouldn’t typically associate with a children’s movie or Nickelodeon. Most of the story revolves around an urban legend about a farmer whose wife gave birth to conjoined twins and he kept them hidden in an attic until the day they died at a very young, and how he had the twins separated and buried the “Good One” in the cemetery and how he buried the “Evil One” off an old dirt road called “Cry Baby Lane”, and how one day two brothers summon the evil twins spirit and he begins to possess the residents of the town. Things like summoning dead spirits, demonic possessions, and being buried alive was quite unexpected for a Nickelodeon TV movie. The film was assumed lost until 2011 when a copy of it re-emerged and it was shown on Nickelodeon for the first time in 10 years at Midnight around Halloween! When I found this out, I gathered as many of my friends as I could and we all watched it on TV and they all agreed that it wasn’t “Super Scary”, but for a kids movie it was “very creepy”. I hope that Nickelodeon releases this film on DVD soon or continues to air it around Halloween because it was a good movie, and I was one of those kids who got scared the first—and at the time—the only time they ever aired it on TV.