And so the quest continues through the nebulous world of childhood trauma and repressed memories with the top 5 movie moments in our list. You may have thought the film’s in Part I were unpleasant, perhaps even a little scary, but these five are probably the reason why you lie awake at night, wondering how you made it past childhood and hoping one day the screaming in your head will stop. Without further ado, welcome to the top 5 creepiest sequences from movies that were meant to be for children, but somehow only managed to devastate them emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
- Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: The Child Catcher
When most people reminisce about the musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, they think of Dick Van Dyke’s cheeky grin, riveting songs about a particularly noisy magical car, and a childhood adventure unrivalled for its time. When I think of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the looming face of the Child Catcher peers out from the darkest recesses of my mind and threatens to have me carted back to the asylum. In an uncharacteristically dark turn for this otherwise innocuous musical romp, Jeremy and Jemima, our alliteratively named child protagonists, are lured in by every parents’ worst nightmare; a creepy looking man offering free candy.
Yet apparently “stranger danger” didn’t exist in the 70s so, rather than spray the guy with a litre of bear mace, our hapless kidlets actually approach him and honestly kind of deserve to get kidnapped. The thought of that big-nosed freak mincing around his colourful carriage, brandishing lollipops and ringing his bell, fills me with the kind of terror that I’d imagine most children would feel when confronted by a candy-wielding stranger with a suspiciously empty van. In short, it’s just not worth it. Not even for free treacle tarts.
- The Witches: A Picture’s Worth A Thousand Screams
Oh The Witches, that delightful Roald Dahl classic that pioneered research into how to make children soil themselves. From Bruno’s frantic and visceral transformation into a mouse to the reveal of the Grand High Witch in all her horrific glory, the film has so many iconic, “well-I’m-gonna-need-to-throw-out-these-pants” moments that it’s hard to choose just one. Yet, above all others, one sticks out most prominently in my memory; the story of Erica.
When Helga is explaining to her grandson Luke what to look out for when it comes to our broom-riding counterparts, she recounts the disappearance of her childhood friend Erica. This painfully adorable, perfectly blonde, cherubic young girl was on her way to pick up a litre of milk for her father when she encountered a witch and, rather suddenly, went missing. Her father and the local villagers search doggedly but, in the end, they never recovered her body. That is, until her father looks up at a painting in their living room and notices the figure of a girl staring wistfully from one of the windows of the farmhouse. As time goes on, he watches her move through the painting, aging rapidly in the process, until one day she too vanishes. So, if you ever needed a legitimate excuse to get rid of that awful thrift store painting your aunt gave you for Christmas, I’d say this is the best you’re gonna get.
- The Last Unicorn: Mommy Fortuna’s Carnival of Woe
The Last Unicorn is essentially what it says on the tin; an animated film from the 80s about the last unicorn on earth that was clearly fuelled by an LSD-induced haze. As if it wasn’t bad enough to find out your species is on the brink of extinction, the unicorn soon discovers that a demonic entity known as the Red Bull is doggedly hunting her down and will, like her brethren, force her to a grim death at the edge of the earth. The haunting figure of the Red Bull as it charges through the sky is pretty scary, but nowhere near as terrifying as wrinkly ol’ Mommy Fortuna and her carnival of horrors.
When this witch-turned-zookeeper captures the unicorn and condemns her to a miserable existence in her Midnight Carnival, she is horrified by the monsters that surround her. That is, until she realises that Mommy Fortuna has placed a spell of illusion on all the “exhibits” in her freakshow. The Manticore is simply a toothless lion; the Satyr a crippled chimpanzee; and the Midgard Snake a lowly regular snake. She feels somewhat comforted until she lays eyes on the mighty Harpy. Holding her awkward stare for far longer than is socially acceptable, even in the mythical animal world, she still can’t discover the Harpy’s true form. She finally comes to the horrible realisation that it is in fact a real harpy and, on its release, it swiftly and brutally dispatches its captor Mommy Fortuna. If only all cases of animal cruelty carried the penalty of disembowelment.
- Return to Oz: Wheelers of Misfortune
Return to Oz proved, for no particular reason, that it was totally acceptable to have a cabinet full of dismembered heads and a stone forest made of the corpses of dead animals in a children’s film, at least in the 80s. Amongst these horrors, the Wheelers definitely set the standard for “things that will haunt your nightmares”. On her eponymous return to Oz, Dorothy is pursued and confronted by the guards of Emerald City, known as the Wheelers. They’re basically just like regular people, except their hands and feet have been replaced by wheels. Let’s let that sink in for a second.
If that wasn’t weird enough, each one of them has a horrifying mask on top of its head which is only visible when they drop down to freakishly wheel towards you. Imagine Hell’s Angels meets the Cloverfield monster and you’re pretty much on the right track. Not only do they chase Dorothy down, they threaten to take her apart piece by piece and throw her dismembered corpse into the Deadly Desert. I think perhaps, just perhaps, filmmakers of the 80s just plain hated children.
- Who Framed Roger Rabbit: We’re Doomed
And so the number one spot goes, rather unsurprisingly, to yet another film from the 80s. Who Framed Roger Rabbit is set in the fictional Toontown, a place where human beings and cartoons live in harmony. Eddie, played by the loveable rogue Bob Hoskins, is a private detective who’s hired to investigate Jessica Rabbit, aka every boy’s weird first cartoon crush, and see whether she’s having an extramarital affair. In the process, he comes head to head with the film’s villain, Judge Doom, who’s played by the significantly less cuddly than usual Christopher Lloyd.
Like many of the films on this list, Who Framed Roger Rabbit lulls you into a false sense of security by maintaining its innocent nature right up until the closing scenes of the movie. It’s the final showdown, and Judge Doom is planning to murder Roger and Jessica Rabbit by plunging them into an acidic liquid known simply as “Dip”. After Eddie runs Judge Doom over with a steamroller, one would think the film was essentially over. That is until Doom peels himself off the floor, re-inflates himself, admits he’s the toon who murdered Eddie’s brother, and pops his own eyes out to reveal two cartoon eyes that morph into blood-soaked daggers. So yeah, a wholesome film about cartoons living in harmony with humanity. In the end, Judge Doom escapes, only to leave behind the desiccated human skin that he’d been wearing the entire time. Viewers are left with just three questions: whose skin is that; what does Judge Doom really look like; and how do I wash my own eyes?
So what do you think of our list? And what horrific childhood films do you think we missed out?