Children’s films are designed to be entertaining, funny, comforting; safe, in a manner of speaking. Heck, the odd sex joke or naughty reference might get thrown in for the parents as they endure the screeching laughter of their children and wonder where it all went wrong, but for the most part it’s just good ol’ fashioned family fun. Perhaps that’s why it’s so traumatising, so pants-shittingly memorable, when a children’s film diverges from this pre-destined path and decides instead to scare the butterscotch pudding out of any unwitting child foolish enough to watch it. So, without further ado, here are the top 10 creepiest film moments that left me crippled with PTSD at the tender age of 7.
- The Halloween Tree: Chew and Swallow, Swallow and Chew
Cartoon Network’s short film The Halloween Tree, based on Ray Bradbury’s short story of the same name, holds a particularly special place in my heart. I remember spending every Halloween sat in front of the television, waiting for the soothing voice of Ray Bradbury himself as he narrated the opening sequence with finesse. The cartoon follows the story of five best friends on Halloween as they prepare to go Trick-or-Treating. Yet as dusk looms over their sleepy town, they notice that their ringleader, Pipkin, is not among them.
They rush to his house, only to find he is being wheeled into an ambulance. In their grief and confusion, they travel deep into the nearby forest and come upon that obligatorily haunted house. You know the one, with an exterior that looks like an angry face and the weathervane that’s inexplicably shaped like a witch. To cut a short story even shorter, the quartet meet Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud, voiced masterfully by Leonard Nimoy, who takes them on a journey across the world and teaches them the meaning of Halloween. Kind of like Santa Claus, but with actual claws.
Together they follow what appears to be a spectral version of Pipkin, clutching a pumpkin that he has stolen from the Halloween Tree. Yet the story takes an unexpectedly dark turn when the viewer realises that this pumpkin is Pipkin’s soul and that, as the candle slowly sputters out, so too does his preciously short life. Unlike most children’s films, Carapace doesn’t just bring the freckly little fella back to life. In an act worthy of the devil himself, he demands that Pipkin’s four friends give up a quarter of their own lifespan to pay Pipkin’s debt. Selling your soul before you’ve even gone through puberty; kids these days.
- Digimon The Movie: It’s Going Viral
The children’s anime Digimon was hardly the most hardcore series on television. It was all about making friends, discovering your inner beauty, and saving an imaginary world from destruction at the hands of the most ridiculous villain known to man. In short, it was all just love and sparkles and rainbows and nowadays it’d probably make you want to throw up. This is why the opening sequence of the movie and the introduction of a horrifying antagonist known as Diaboromon are all the more shocking.
It begins innocuously enough. The main characters open their computer only to find that it is overrun by a “virus” Digimon called Keramon (bear in mind Digimon exist solely in a Digital World). Innocence swiftly switches to vomit-inducing horror when Keramon starts replicating himself all over the screen, infecting the world’s computers and evolving into the near invincible hellspawn that is Diaboromon. As if Keramon wasn’t freaky looking enough, Diaboromon is just plain terrifying and proceeds to hack the Pentagon’s computers in order to launch two nuclear missiles, aimed for Colorado and Tokyo respectively. So yeah, this children’s film about friendship and believing yourself is actually about cyber-terrorism. And, well, just regular terrorism.
- Men in Black: Sugar Water
After watching Men in Black as a child, whenever I hear the terms “sugar” and “water” in the same sentence, I inwardly shudder. I can still hear Edgar the Bug’s guttural voice, see his unnaturally sloping mouth, and feel the same sense of terror I felt when he first shuffles towards the house, bounces off of the screen door, and asks his “wife” for…sugar water. Yet not only is his appearance incredibly creepy, but the implications of his presence are truly horrifying.
Though it is never shown onscreen, the Bug brutally murders Edgar, peels the warm skin from his corpse, and drapes it over his own twisted body, before approaching his widow and demanding a glass of…sugar water. Doesn’t sound so innocent now, does it? Let’s just say, if there was ever any sympathy left in my body for cockroaches, that film firmly squished it out of me.
- Hook: The Boo Box
Hook is a delightful romp about a grown-up Peter Pan returning to Neverland, confronting his old arch nemesis, and rediscovering his sense of childhood wonder. It even has the late Robin Williams in it for goodness sake, what could be more wholesome than that? Yet wholesome the Boo Box certainly was not. In a scene where Dustin Hoffman pushes the mincing creepiness of his Captain Hook to the extreme, our favourite differently-abled villain describes how he lost his hand to the croc. In the process, he reveals the identity of a pirate named Gutless, played by none other than Glenn Close, who was unfortunate enough to bet against Hook surviving his encounter with the croc.
As the ultimate form of twisted punishment, this he-she pirate is then thrust into the Boo Box. So, what is the Boo Box, I hear you cry. Well it’s nothing really. Just a sealed chest filled with scorpions. Yep, this “wholesome” children’s film involves trapping cuddly ol’ Glenn Close in a small trunk and then pouring buckets and buckets of lethally poisonous scorpions in there to join her. Evidently they left out the part about brutal claustrophobic death in the song “A Pirate’s Life for Me”.
- Labyrinth: Don’t Lose Your Head
Like The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth is one of those all-round creepy children’s films. It follows the story of teenager Sarah, who must travel deep into the Labyrinth in order to save her baby stepbrother from the bulgelicious Goblin King, played by the ever enigmatic David Bowie. As if looming shots of Bowie’s pendulous crotch weren’t enough to terrify you, the scene involving a group of creature known as the Fireys is sure to leave you feeling a little spineless…and headless…and all around limbless.
Although the Fireys pose no actual threat to Sarah, these furry little freaks enjoy themselves primarily by removing their body parts and then swapping them with one another. After all, nothing says “winding down” like pulling your arm out of its socket and hurling it at your best friend. The image of one firey swallowing a pair of eyes, only to have them reappear in his previously empty sockets, is still indelibly etched into my memory. He can unsee, but I cannot.
So what do you think of the list so far? What children’s films helped scar you for life? And what do you think will make it into our top 5?