21 Scariest Examples Of Childhood Nightmare Fuel

In movies, TV shows and books aimed at kids, the creators will often times throw in something a little scary in order to keep the kids on their feet. However, sometimes they really underestimate just how creepy and terrifying these creations are, and end up crafting a scene that permanently scars the fragile young psyches. Often well intentioned, these 21 offerings have all permanently fucked up kids for years.

21. Heffalumps and Woozles

For a very long time, Disney had this policy of putting in at least one drug induced scene of craziness in all their animated films, possibly because children deserve to know the downside of psychedelia. Alice in Wonderland was pretty bad, but nothing compares to the terror inducing musical number of “Heffalumps and Woozles” in Winnie the Pooh. Those oddly colored and patterned, shapeshifting monstrosities that were out to steal your honey sent many a child running in terror.

20. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

I was working at a cinema when this movie debuted, and I swear to god, we had so many screaming children dragged out of this one, it’s not even funny. All the Harry Potter movies are dark, but this one was particularly bad. Why? Two reasons: Aragog and the Basilisk. An enormous man-eating spider that hangs out in the deep dark woods, waiting to eat people and controlling his smaller siblings, and an enormous snake creature that can paralyze with a stare. Yeah, that’s bound to give kids nightmares.

19. The Evil Grimace

The giant purple retarded gumdrop that we all know and fear due to his horrible mutation wasn’t always a friendly character. When he debuted in 1971, he was Evil Grimace, a four-armed monstrosity obsessed with stealing drinks — a liquid companion to Hamburgler’s hamburger obsession. It wasn’t long before the McDonald’s management realized that he was terrifying all the children, leaving them with the impression that a giant purple multi-limbed creature was set to steal their delicious shakes, so they cut off two of his arms and made him into the village idiot.

18. Hook Boo Box

Looking back at Hook, the pirates really were much cooler than the lost boys. A huge amount of credit has to be given to Dustin Hoffman and Bob Hoskins for bringing Hook and Smee to life in such an utterly amazing way, where Williams’ Pan is just annoying in retrospect. There’s a scene early in the film which terrified the everliving hell out of me as a child: the Boo Box. A long, man sized chest, with a single opening, large enough to drop scorpions on a captive. Oh yeah, that one gave me some sleepless nights.

17. Superman III Cyborg Transformation

Okay, I admit, this one looks incredibly lame these days, and is probably fetish fuel for all those transformation obsessed freaks who trawl YouTube looking for people getting turned into robots to get their rocks off. Regardless, when Superman III came out, the transformation of Vera Webster into a killer robot was all kinds of scary. There was something about a sentient computer dragging her in with giant electrical cables, and transforming her into this white-eyed, silver-skinned killer that horrified me.

16. Droid torture from Return of the Jedi

About 55 seconds into the clip above, you’ll see the bit I’m talking about. The original trilogy had a fair few creepy bits all throughout — the trash compacter monster, Luke’s fall in Cloud City, Han being frozen, but for some reason, the torture of the droids always stuck out at me. That horrible sound the one makes as its feet get scorched, or ripping some limb from limb. Throughout the trilogy, R2-D2 and C-3PO are portrayed as almost human, real characters with personalities, and we infer from this that other droids are similar. And here they are being tortured and killed with sadistic abandon.

15. Helping hands in Labyrinth

Labyrinth was creepy for a lot of reasons: the head-swapping red things, the bog of eternal stench, the recreated bedroom on top of a garbage heap, but one scene stood above all of those when I saw it as a kid: the helping hands. All gnarled and twisted, like normal hands covered in mud, shaped into those weird faces, coming out of the wall and grabbing you. I just realized there’s probably rule 34 of the helping hands and a 15 year old Jennifer Connelly, but I’m really not going to Google that. Still incredibly creepy after all these years.

14. Garthim from Dark Crystal

The other Jim Henson flick on this list (and one I’m still waiting on the sequel for), there was plenty to terrify unwary kids in this one. The Skeksis, with their screeching and backstabbing and faces like vultures would put any sane child into a terror, but for my money, none were worse than their giant armored soldiers, the garthim. Immense crosses between a crab and an insect they terrorize the peaceful creatures of that odd fantasy land. Somehow, even as dark and terrifying as they were, it was even worse when they were defeated and revealed to be completely hollow suits of armor.

13. Mirrormask version of Close To You

Mirrormask perfectly showed that just because you shoot a movie on green screen doesn’t mean it has to be crap — in fact in can be brilliant. Helmed by Dave McKean and a dedicated team of animators, it was a beautiful and terrifying world of nightmares and dreams. There were plenty of moments and creatures that felt dirty and wrong, like the little sphinxes or darkling eyeball things, but by far the worst was the transformation sequence with the dolls singing Close To You. Transposed onto a minor key, it becomes haunting and…just…off. Gah, creepy!

12. The Hallucinations in Young Sherlock Holmes

Young Sherlock Holmes holds the rather considerable honor of having the first fully CG character in any movie. Even though a technical breakthrough, it and the other hallucinations in the film are uniquely scary and offputting. A key part of the movie was a drug used to induce terrifying hallucinations in those hit with it, usually leading to them dying while attempting to escape the horrors that their mind conjured. There was the aforementioned CG character, a knight that descended from a stained glass window, and then later when the young Watson fell prey to those horribly creepy baked goods that forced their way down his mouth.

11. Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Judge Doom

Judge Doom. Just everything about him. Tall, pale, garbed in black, and wanting to rid the world of toons. Zemeckis and co. did an amazing job turning him into an utterly, utterly horrible villain, who would stalk the nightmare of children forever. His introduction involves him dunking a harmless cartoon shoe into a giant tub of paint thinner, horribly killing him. When we eventually find out Doom is a toon, rather than making him funnier or less frightening, it instead kicks up his unrealness and weirdness even further, making him scarier.

10. ROUSs from Princess Bride

One of the three dangers of the Fire Swamp: the flame spurt, the lightning sand, and the rodents of unusual size. More than the torture, more than the stabbing, these giant rats terrified me as a child. Hideous drooling creatures that scurried around the swamps, attacking people. Watching them as an adult, they’re ludicrously funny, obviously small people in a fuzzy costume, but through the eyes of a child, they were creatures of terror and darkness, with teeth designed to rip you asunder.

9. The Mysterious Stranger for Adventures of Mark Twain

Hey kids, look! It’s claymation Satan! The Adventures of Mark Twain was an odd movie, collecting a number of stories and essays by Twain and portraying them as a claymation story about Twain in a magical ship, dragging along Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn and Becky Thatcher. Somehow, the producers decided that a scene where Satan — a faceless noble, holding an animated theater mask — created a race of tiny people then destroyed them through war and pestilence, sounded like a bang up idea. If you saw this movie as a kid, and that scene didn’t creep the fuck out of you, then something is kind of wrong with your head.

8. Willy Wonka Boat Scene

The original version, not the recent shitty remake. That intensely bad-trip psychedelic part of the boat ride was always intensely uncomfortable to watch, an incredibly dark interlude into an otherwise relatively cheerful children’s movie. Wonka’s creepy chant song as they go just makes it even worse. The flashing, twirling lights, really it wasn’t as fun as Charlie’s grandfather made it out to be.

7. LoTR Bakshi edition

Long before Peter Jackson got his mitts on the Lord of the Rings trilogy, there was an animated film covering the first half of the trilogy. It was crafted by master animator Ralph Bakshi, the man behind much of the cartoons for grown-ups of the 70s and 80s. The second half of the story was never made, but what was created was unique. Bakshi made heavy use of a process called rotoscoping, where actors were filmed, and then individual frames drawn over to make the cartoons move as realistically as possible. However, interspersed with these bits were some terrifying, terrifying creatures. The Ringwraiths in particular were normal people, sort of painted over, and they were hideously different from anything else on screen. Yeah, they were creepy.

6. Watership Down

I have no idea how many parents took their kids to Watership Down expecting a happy film about cute little rabbits getting into adventures. Instead they got a bleak and bloody terror of a film, as a small group of rabbits struggles to escape impending disasters, horrible disease, attacking animals, totalitarian rulership. There’s a surprising amount of blood and horror throughout, especially the fight scenes between various rabbits, which are enough to terrify adults, let alone children.

5. Plague Dogs

The same guys behind Watership Down somehow got together enough funding to make a second film. What was it that W said? “Fool me once, shame on me, fool me twice, won’t get fooled again.” Two dogs escape from an animal lab, leading to a major hunt by the lab to track them down. They steal food, slowly starving as they struggle to survive in the wild, hunted due to rumors they’re mad animals which kill humans and sheep. It’s dark and bloody, bordering on apocalyptic. And then there’s the very end of the film, which strongly suggests the pair drown trying to swim to an island.

4. Return to Oz

You definitely knew this one was coming, there’s not five minutes in this movie which is terrifying in one way or another. We start with a little girl about to get electroshock, and it only gets worse. The wheelers, the Nome King, a witch who changes heads, all the previous characters being turned to stone. It’s such a dark, dark story, it’s not surprising that it flopped in the theaters. People were expecting something along the lines of the Judy Garland version (though the woods terrified plenty of kids in that too) but were instead greeted by pure nightmare fuel.

3. Are You Afraid of the Dark?

There’s a certain delicacy when doing horror stories aimed at a younger audience. Too light, and you end up with Goosebumps, which won’t scare anyone at all. Too dark, and you get the #1 entry on this list (I won’t spoil the surprise). Are You Afraid of the Dark? found that line, and gleefully danced all around it, alternating between lighter fare, and some much darker and scarier. It was always a gamble if you’d be able to sleep after watching an episode, or if it would be scary enough to keep you up all night long, mind turning over the horrors presented to you.

2. Gmork from The Neverending Story — and much, much more.

The Neverending Story is one of my favorite childhood movies, though all the sequels sucked like nobody’s business. It was both magical and dark, and gave enough joy to counteract the terror. At least that’s how you felt until you were awoken by a storm battering your windows, and you started to remember the Nothingness, the complete dissolving of reality into the void. And then you remembered the death of Artax. And the eyes of the Sphinx. But worst, worst of all, was Gmork. No other movie character was so much pure terror, such evil in a giant wolf form. To this day I still get short of breath watching the scenes with him in it.

1. Scary Stories to Tell In The Dark

Fuck everything about this book. I hope it burns, and is never seen again. Fuck the stories. Fuck those horrible, terrifying illustrations, and fuck the sequels. Fuck every well-meaning relative who gave it to you for your birthday. Fuck not being able to sleep for weeks because of it. Fuck the stories that were pure liquid horror, and the stuff of which the world’s worst nightmares were made. This thing should never have been published, it’s like a goddamn grade school Necronomicon, a book of madness and knowledge. That’s bad fucking joojoo, right there.