During Halloween, we say forget your Hitchcock collection. If you truly want to scare yourself, think back to the days before you were even allowed to watch horror movies. It’s childhood trauma time.
Halloween is always a time for great horror films to hit theaters. It becomes the season for Scream masks, Halloween marathons and double-checking under your bed. But Freddy and Jason are weaksauce compared to what develops in nightmares of an irrational child. How about that movie that truly scarred you for life?
Everyone’s got one. We’re not talking about the likes of The Shining, The Ring or Paranormal Activity. You know the one — it still haunts you. Whenever you tell people about it, you use phrases like “to this very day.” It’s an innocuous, family-friendly film, not intended to traumatize, but you see it at the wrong age, or in the wrong setting, and something about it sticks. It forever becomes lodged in your psyche as the movie that you were most afraid of. You’ll never truly get over it, even if it turns out to be ridiculous upon reflection.
Here are seven totally PG tales that horrify our Hypable writers… to this very day.
‘The Last Unicorn’ — Donya Abramo
The Last Unicorn was pure, unadulterated nightmare fuel for me, which was unfortunate, seeing as my parents had taped the movie on the same VHS as one of my favorite episodes of The Little Mermaid television series (“Stormy the Wild Seahorse,” in case you were wondering.) Thus, whenever I needed to get to said episode, I had to fast-forward through The Last Unicorn, and it was almost guaranteed that I’d land on at least one terrifying thing each time I stopped to check if I’d reached what I’d been searching for. The Red Bull materializing from nowhere, trailing fire and baring its dripping fangs is an image that will never leave me, and ensured many a sleepless night that my parents had to endure. Nevermind the opening sequence of the witch embracing her death-by-harpy. True, they may not have explicitly shown her being ripped apart by the creature, but I had an overactive imagination. I substituted. I’ve since watched it as an adult, and still find my heartbeat picking up and skin prickling whenever the Red Bull is on screen. You can never quite shake the association of fear, sometimes.
‘The Jungle Book’ — Michal Schick
It seems like everyone is getting excited about Disney’s live-action version of The Jungle Book coming next year, but for me, the very idea conjures up bad (bad, very bad) memories. For those of you lucky enough not to know, another live-action version of Rudyard Kipling’s bizarro tale was released in 1994, and — alas! — I was brought along to see it with a friend. Seven-year-old me had no idea this twisted incarnation of The Jungle Book starred actors like Cary Elwes, John Cleese, and Lena Headey. But seven-year-old me was paying lots and lots of attention when characters started dropping like suicidal flies — and the movie gave me plenty to observe. Tent fires take out swathes of the cast. Weird stuff with sarcophagi goes down later, killing someone else. And in one truly appalling scene that remains with me to this very day, a man drowns — inch by excruciating, real-time inch — in a treacherous pool of quicksand. But hey, it wasn’t that bad. It was only about two years (I have verified this with parental authority) before I agreed to set foot back in a movie theater.
‘James and the Giant Peach’ — Karen Rought
James and the Giant Peach may look like a fun and quaint cartoon at first glance, but I have two words for you: mechanical sharks. What twisted adult looked at a bunch of sharks and thought, “You know, these are scary, but I bet we can go a step further and make them MINDLESS EATING MACHINES OF METAL AND DEATH.” I watched James and the Giant Peach maybe once or twice when I was younger, but to this day, I still refuse to see it again. The aunts look like corpses, the sharks shoot mini shark-dogs out of their nostrils, and the clouds turn into a man-eating rhinoceros. I’ll face Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees any day; James is on his own.
‘The Wizard of Oz’ — Laura Byrne Cristiano
Believe it or not, I always got scared during The Wizard of Oz. I know, I know, how scary could a movie made in 1939 before the CGI and SFX of today be? Specifically, I was terrified of the flying monkeys and the Winkie guards. Giant monkeys that can come from nowhere and scoop you up hundreds of feet in the air — who wouldn’t be scared! I was petrified by their whole look: costumes, make-up, everything. Now, if the monkeys weren’t bad enough, the Winkie guards practically had me in tears. The part where they march into the Wicked Witch of the West’s castle had me behind the couch or under a blanket. What was even more terrifying was their chant. Oh-we-oh-we-oh-um. I must have seen the movie the first time when I was around 4 years old and I was scared pretty much from that point up until I was about 9 or so. Honestly, I still don’t really like that part.
‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ — Brittany Lovely
Any second grader would cheer if their teacher decided to put on a Halloween movie before dismissal. This writer did not. The classic Disney cartoon, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, is the most terrifying film ever created. The sight of the stick-looking man, Ichabod Crane is enough to send shivers down my spine. The premise of the movie — a headless man roaming the town of Sleepy Hollow and cutting off people’s heads — is easy to swallow. However, when Ichabod Crane heads into town in the dead of night to attend a party thrown by the charming Katrina, that is when everything begins to fall apart. A charming Disney movie turns into a nightmarish tale where a dead man living under the stairs chimes into the tale of the Headless Horseman. The music is haunting, the characters are wildly drawn, and I truly believe that Ichabod pouring too much pepper on his hard boiled egg is why I will to this day not go near them. Ichabod’s ride home from the party is perhaps the worst part of the entire movie. From the frog croaking his name, to the plants that sound like hoofbeats, when Ichabod’s laugh finally matches with the Headless Horseman I am either out of the room or behind the couch with my ears plugged. Give me the Johnny Depp version with heads falling out of a tree any day.
‘Labyrinth’ — Natalie Fisher
Labyrinth came into this world the same year I did. It was a box office flop, but has gone on to become a cult classic – unsurprising, given that it combines the creative visions of Jim Henson and George Lucas with the ridiculous star-power of David Bowie as Jareth, the Goblin King. I’m too young to remember the movie’s initial release, but I have older female cousins, and while I must have annoyed them by insisting on renting The Land Before Time over and over whenever I came to their house, they got their own back via repeated viewings of their own favorite movie. Labyrinth is a tongue-in-cheek fantasy adventure flick with deeply sexual connotations, but it’s only got a PG rating and I’m pretty sure was never intended to terrify.
However, I was four, and all I can remember about seeing this movie on VHS is crying. A lot. I have no idea what freaked me out so much. Was it the baby-stealing aspect? Was it Bowie’s aggressively displayed package? He does, I’m told, knock over a small dwarf at one point with his vigorous thrusting. Maybe it was the puppets. I’m still not the world’s biggest fan of puppets, especially the Henson kind. Ironically — or perhaps due to a twisted subconscious memory — when I grew up I fell deeply in love with David Bowie, and I actually have pictures of him all over my house. Just not as Jareth. I still haven’t been able to face Labyrinth as an adult.
‘FernGully: The Last Rainforest’ — Kristen Kranz
There are a lot of things in Ferngully: The Last Rainforest that are cute and adorable and did not cause me childhood nightmares. I was 7 years old when it was released, and anytime someone mentions it to me I have fond memories of Batty and all the magic. Then I remember Hexxus. The baddie in FernGully is seriously gross. He’s not exactly human, let alone solid, liquid, or gas, which is only part of what makes him absolutely terrifying. His villain song, “Toxic Love” features one of the scariest animated sequences I can ever remember seeing. The seeping oil morphing into dripping skeletons is just freaking terrifying. Add to that Hexxus’ gaseous state, and, Ta da! Instant nightmares. The only cure? Making my brother fast forward through the scary parts so I could just see Batty, who was voiced by the incomparable Robin Williams, rap. Oh, and if you don’t believe me about Hexxus, see for yourself. *shudders*