We all have traumatic memories of scary childhood movies. There are a lot of movies that absolutely terrify us as children but simply come off as laughable when we rewatch them as adults. (I’ve reviewed The Crawling Eye here earlier).
There are some kids movies, however, that still scare you even AFTER you’ve grown.
I’m an adult. I’m powerful. I can do what I want. But what I absolutely CAN’T do is rewatch these scenes from my childhood movies and not still be scared.
Let’s list them, shall we?
5. “She can’t hear you.”
If you haven’t watched The Witches then you were deprived during your childhood. Sorry, but that’s just facts.
I can’t say enough good things about the 1990 movie The Witches. It had Angelica Huston as the High Witch ffs! It has Rowan Atkinson! It has the criminally-overlooked Mai Zetterling playing the young boy protagonist’s ex-witch hunter grandmother.
The Witches is a horror comedy based on a Roald Dahl book. It is beloved by all millennials everywhere.
And every child who has watched The Witches remembers *that* witch.
It’s the witch played by Anne Lambton.
The scene with *that* witch starts out with Hugo, the young boy main character, playing up in his tree house. He looks down and sees an elegant woman trying to coerce him from the tree.
Hugo sees by her eyes that she’s a witch. He clings to the branches in fear as she tempts him with gifts. It’s really scary. Maybe it’s Lambton’s wide-set eyes or the creepy way she talks to a snake she just happened to have in her purse (yes, a snake).
Or maybe it’s the way she says to Hugo “She can’t hear you” when Hugo calls out to his grandmother.
Either way, Lambton utterly nailed her performance.
That scene from The Witches still creeps me out. Jim Henson’s Grand High Witch puppet hasn’t aged well but Lambton’s wide snake-like eyes and the quiet way she tells Hugo “She can’t hear you” is scary. Period.
4. “I…. I…. am still Emperor!”
The Dark Crystal just weirds me out as a whole. The puppetry, designed by Jim Henson, is a wonderous example of what pre-CGI practical effects can do. I can’t deny that.
However The Dark Crytal just doesn’t really sit right with me. Hard to explain why.
Maybe it’s that scene at the beginning where the Skeksis Emperor dies. The Skeksis puppets were clearly modeled after vultures (a MUCH maligned bird, I must say) and everyone remembers the scene where the grotesque beasts crowd around their hateful dying Emperor. The brittle old turkey tries desperately to hang onto his last breath. “I’m … I’m … I’m still Emperor!” he rattles, grasping his sceptre weakly.
The Emperor dies, and none of his family cares. They’re full of hate and cunning, no grief. But the Emperor had been hateful too. His dusty corpse disintegrates almost immediately because apparently lack of love in life speeds up the decomposition process.
It makes sense in an odd way. The scene creeped me out as a kid and it’s still creepy watching it as an adult.
3. “Oh why did we leave her alone?!”
I was really really scared as a kid of the scene in the Disney animated Sleeping Beauty where Maleficent hypnotizes Aurora.
The music is spooky. In fact, the song was so haunting that I was disappointed to learn that Tchaikovsky (who had composed the original score for his “Sleeping Beauty” ballet) had meant the Hypnosis Score to go to a silly cat dance.
There is no damn way that haunting music evokes silly cats. It’s so bizarre. Even after I saw the ballet I was like…. “Nah.” Sorry Tchaikovsky, but that eerie minor key score is meant for evil. Not kittens.
The whole scene is frightening. We see the room where Aurora is alone, weeping, and then the lights go out. We see the fire suddenly condense into a spinning green orb. We see a ghostly shape of Maleficent. Her yellow eyes stare out from the fireplace and then disappear.
I couldn’t watch that part as a kid, it was too scary.
Another scary aspect of that scene, and I think this was unintentional on Disney’s part, was how Aurora suddenly appeared two-dimensional while walking towards the tower. The shadow was drawn on Aurora in such a way that it appeared that she was like a cardboard figure, not a flesh-and-blood human. Again, I don’t think the animaters drew Aurora like this on purpose. It was just a sort of awkward shadow effect. But it scared me as a kid. Does hypnosis suddenly turn you into cardboard? Do you stop being a human if you’re hypnotized?
Either way, even if you’re an adult while you watch that scene, you’re gonna get creeped out.
2. “Oh here’s a treasure! You’ll want that won’t you my dear?! Yes!”
And back we go to Jim Henson for the cinematic childhood trauma! Man, the guy really did a number on us millennials.
We all know the scene of Sarah and the Junk Lady in Labyrinth. The whole scene is upsetting from start to finish.
The scene starts where Sarah, just wanting to escape her scary adventure but knowing she has to rescue her baby brother, begins to gaslight herself that the whole awful experience is just a dream. Her brother is safe. Her parents are home.
Denial is a very recognizable psychiatric defense against trauma. Hell, it’s the first stage of grief in Kubler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief.
Then Sarah opens the door of her familiar, homey bedroom and is greeted by a horrifying hellscape. A deformed old woman weighed down with junk barges in and admires all the beautiful toys Sarah has in her room. It’s like a scene out of the TLC show Hoarders.
The old junk lady start piling junk on Sarah, telling her how all her beautiful things are so much more precious than her baby brother. It’s all very creepy and sad. We see Sarah start to forget her brother and her family. Sarah slips into a catatonic state as she looks at herself in the mirror, putting on lipstick.
Fortunately Sarah is pulled out of her trance after she reads a book (apt metaphor!). “It’s all junk!” Sarah declares, causing the room to collapse. She suddenly remembers her baby brother and, with the help of her friends, clambers out of the trap.
1. “Mama! MAAA-MAAA!!!”
Here it is folks, the #1 traumatizing scene from a kids’ movie that is somehow even MORE traumatizing when you watch it as an adult.
Oh man, this scene is hard to watch, especially if you’re a mom. Lampwick is a naughty boy who skips school and drink beer. When Lampwick and Pinocchio are enticed to Paradise Island and Lampwick is turned into a donkey, yikes. He transforms in front of a horrified Pinocchio, unable to stop the process. His last words are “Mama! Maaamaaa!” before his cries turn into donkey brays.
It’s really horrifying. I don’t know why I didn’t find that scene scary when I was a kid. Probably because as a little girl I got bullied by older boys like Lampwick so I saw the dude as having it coming.
More upsetting to me is the scene where Jiminy Crickett spies the crates full of donkeys- who are actually children- getting shipped off to Paradise Island. THAT scene is upsetting. You see the kids weeping and saying “I want to go home to my mama,” but instead the kids got their clothes ripped off and whipped naked.
People didn’t play in 1940 my friend. Food was short. Child labor was still common. People were already gearing up for a second World War. A bunch of children in donkey form getting tortured probably seemed like pure escapism at the time.
Or maybe an omen of what was to come. I have heard WWII veterans talk about how they were only 16 years old when they landed on Iwo Jima as marines. How many of them were crying for their mama as they were drafted and sent off to fight?
These movies are all great movies, don’t get me wrong. They’re definitely worth a rewatch. THAT being said, please give yourself some self-care afterwards.
They’re still creepy.