It must be one of the greatest joys as a parent showing your kid a favorite movie for the first time. Being able to introduce your children to Star Wars, Back to the Future or Lord of the Rings, must be an incredible experience. However, whenever showing your kid a movie or TV show of any kind – you always have that fear at the back of your mind that whatever you show your kid will scare the living daylights out of them.
Think back to your childhood and its most traumatic moments. While sometimes you end up watching The Exorcist a few years too early, sometimes it’s something completely innocuous that gives you nightmares for literally years. And vice versa, sometimes as an adult revisiting some of your favorite childhood films can unveil some uncomfortable secrets about them. What you once thought of as wholesome entertainment for the entire family was much creepier than you could have ever imagined.
While some of these films have horrific elements, none of them are actually horror films. These are movies that are usually geared towards kids that are actually way scarier or more unnerving than they may seem on the surface. What unusual film gave you nightmares as a kid? What are we missing?
15. The Dark Crystal
There are some kids that are scared of muppets, period. But that’s not why The Dark Crystal made our list. The story itself is pretty creepy, as some pretty gnarly monster creatures called Skeksis, rule the world and find power in the dark crystals on the planet Thra. They basically terrorize and antagonize the film’s hero Jen, the chosen one, who looks like a porcelain doll come to life. While outwardly monstrous, somehow Jen is actually creepier than any Skeksis — though some jump scares to kind of combat it. The whole story is about a really awful world filled with monsters and is only ranked so low because it’s a children’s movie (only because muppets are involved). I can’t imagine how many children who loved Elmo and whose parents didn’t know better, picked up this movie at a local Blockbuster and were traumatized for life.
14. My Girl
The fact is Home Alone just BARELY missed the list. I mean, sure it’s a movie about setting fun traps and eating candy, but it’s also a movie about being completely abandoned by your parents and family at Christmas. And that’s not even the creepiest movie Macaulay Culkin starred in during this era! Home Alone has a lot of angst, and some pretty uncaring parents, but My Girl is next level horrifying. You think it’s a nice, old-fashioned coming of age film, when suddenly, out of nowhere – poor, cute and innocent Macaulay Culkin is viciously stung to death by BEES. Then we have to sit through the funeral scene where his cold, dead child body stung beyond recognition lies there in an open casket. Dude, we know part of “coming of age” involves accepting mortality – but My Girl went a little too far.
13. The Wizard of Oz
As one of those kids who watched The Wizard of Oz every single day (literally), it’s hard for me to say that The Wizard of Oz is quite as scary as some people think. Sure, it has living scarecrows, flying monkeys, evil witches and flying houses that land and kill people – but there are also some really great tunes and a great message about being totally comfortable with your life and not aspiring to escape the Kansas dustbowl because family is the most important thing of all! That’s right, Poppies! In fact, as a huge fan of The Wizard of Oz, the scariest part was always the weird documentary that played after the film on the VHS tape where they included deleted scenes with trees dancing with giant bugs and the story about the actor cast as Tin Man nearly dying because of lead poisoning. Sure, there are lots of death threats, and the guards are all Third Reichy– and… well, okay The Wizard of Oz is pretty scary. Also, what probably didn’t dawn on you as a kid – that whole poppy field? You DO know where heroin comes from, right?
Kids dig Fantasia; probably because there are dinosaurs (and most kids are not so bright) and there is no story, so it’s easy to follow. But Fantasia is actually pretty scary, especially in light of recent events related to alligators and Disneyland. Even discounting the improbability of some graceful dancing reptiles, the Night on Bald Mountain sequence is pretty horrific. When night finally settles, and people presumably fall asleep, out from the mountain looking over the town, a giant demon suddenly emerges. With glowing eyes and impressive dark wings, he beckons demons and skeletons from the earth who dance and surround him in a nightmarish and sinful dance (how have we not realized how creepy this is?). These are not cute little monsters or ghosts, these are really creepy things from the undead.
11. Alice in Wonderland
There are a lot of things about Alice in Wonderland that are explicitly creepy. The overtones about psychedelic drugs and the overall confusing topsy-turvy tone make it ripe for some pretty trippy nightmares. What makes the whole thing even creepier is the fact that the book, and therefore the film, is all based on some pedophiliac urges by author Lewis Carroll. It’s pretty well documented that Alice is based on a real young girl named Alice, who Carroll was pretty unhealthily obsessed with. He took many photos of her that are a bit racy for a ten-year-old, and some even speculate he wanted to marry her. While little evidence overtly suggests he either sustained an abusive relationship with the child or desired one, some biographers point to the fact that Carroll had destroyed most of his diary during the period in which he knew her, and very abruptly what seemed to be a friendly relationship between himself and the family was completely shut down when she was around 11 years old.
10. Casper (1995)
For a movie about a really friendly, white ghost, it seems like everyone is avoiding the elephant (maybe because it is rather transparent?) in the room… Casper is actually a dead kid. Sure, the filmmakers and animators have done nearly everything in their power to distance him from anything resembling a human (excluding Caillou), but at the end of the day, the truth is that Casper was a kid who died and now lives forever as a ghost. He will never grow up, he will never see his family again, and he will never be alive again. Simply, Casper is dead. Casper is a ghost. And he’s not a charming old ghost like in Harry Potter, he is the ghost of a child that can’t be older than ten years old. This is what passes as entertainment.
In 2016, it is pretty obvious that Gremlins is a horror film that is tangibly directed towards young teens. When it was released, however, it was advertised as a full-on children’s film. The trailers at the time really overplayed the cutesy (pre-feeding Gremlins at midnight) puppets, and did little to hint to the much darker and even gorier elements. The film was rated PG and many parents brought their kids for a fun family film and walked away feeling pretty disturbed and confused. Along with Poltergeist, released around the same time, which also somehow had a PG rating, these two films contributed greatly to the introduction of the PG 13 rating being added to the MPAA. And we understand why.
Labyrinth is pretty scary on the surface, with babies being kidnapped and weird scary muppets. The whole thing is a bit of a white-washed nightmare, something kids will kind of relate to, without being too much of a horror film. A lot has, obviously, been made of David Bowie‘s (impressive) bulge as reason enough for this film to be re-evaluated, but that bulge is at the other heart of why this is so creepy (and also, partially, why the film is so great). As this film is fundamentally about growing up and taking on responsibility, it’s pretty unsurprising that it is somehow tied to sexual awakening as well. As The Goblin King, Bowie is presented as extremely virile due to both the bulge and the fact he is David Bowie, and his demand from the young Jennifer Connelly, is that she becomes his bride. A lot of girls credit this as their “a-ha” moment regarding s*x, awakening new, exciting and unfamiliar feelings.
If you think bats are scary, Anastasia already made your short list. Without a doubt, Rasputin is also pretty creepy — not only because he’s apparently unkillable (his assassination story is the most batsh*t crazy thing you’ll ever read), but also due to the fact that he infamously has a giant dong. But, the real reason why Anastasia is far creepier than you might have realized is that it is all a lie. While over the course of the twentieth century there was this persistent myth that the young princess Anastasia had somehow survived the assassination of her family, that has long been disproven. In fact, while there is evidence that one of the young princesses DNA has never been recovered, it was one of Anastasia’s sisters, not her. The movie is a completely fabricated invention built on the lies of some pretty sneaky con artists who wanted to inherit the Czar’s fortune. Great subject matter for a kid’s film!
6. The Polar Express
This movie is creepy, not necessarily due to its content but rather due to some pretty primitive technology. Even when it was first released in theaters, taunting some “cutting edge” motion capture technology, The Polar Express was extremely creepy. One of cinema’s worst unintentional offenders of the uncanny valley, a decade later, we are still haunted by a computer generated Tom Hanks. If you don’t know, the uncanny valley refers to the aesthetics of recreating reality. When you recreate something that seems to be from nature, but not quite, it creates a sensation of revulsion. Some believe this is a biological impulse that humans have developed to recognize members of their species and possibly to protect us against body snatcher aliens. Okay, maybe we made up the last part – but it sounds pretty good. Much less well known, we could have easily included A Christmas Carol starring an equally creepy Jim Carrey, but it was far less seen and is more or less just a creepy retreat of this (stylistically at least).
5. Old Yeller
Old Yeller might be one of those movies (for kids) whose reputation outweighs the amount of people who’ve actually seen it. Just the whisper of Old Yeller inspires dry heaves in some people who don’t even know what kind of dog Yeller even was. That does little to nothing to undermine how absolutely terrifying it is – and how, for a Disney live-action, it goes far off the deep end. For the uninitiated you gotta think of Old Yeller as a kind of Lassie, except instead of a collie, Yeller is a yellow lab. Yes, a yellow labrador (aka the most loveable and adorable dog of all time). Watching it you’re like, “man, dogs are great! I love dogs! I want a dog like Old Yeller!” And Old Yeller is cute and super brave and he saves the family from a damn rabid wolf. And you’re thinking, “wow, Old Yeller is even braver than my dog! What an awesome dog. What a good boy! Oh wait, the wolf still bit Old Yeller. Old Yeller has rabies. Old Yeller has to be shot. Old Yeller is shot”. Yup. This is a kid’s film made by Disney.
With every passing year, Dumbo gets a little more uncomfortable. At some point during the Civil Rights Movement, people started to squirm a little because of the racist depiction of black people as crows. Long before that the idea of a drunk elephant fantasizing about demonic pink elephants probably turned a few people off, now, in 2016 – with movies like Blackfish and Gorillas being shot, the whole circus angle leaves a really bad taste in your mouth. Dumbo is not just a movie about learning to believe in yourself, it features some really awful animal abuse. Rewatching it as an adult, the sequence of Dumbo’s mom freaking out and attacking everyone is scarier for a much different reason: when you were young, it was because you know Elephants are big and powerful, now you know that the elephant was really pushed to that place due to blatant abuse. Seeing her chained up was already pretty traumatic for a kid to handle.
3. Beauty and the Beast
Still the only animated film ever nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, Beauty and the Beast might be an absolutely beautifully animated film with some of the best songs in all of Disney’s oeuvre, but it’s also super disturbing. You might be asking, why exactly? Well, Beast is super abusive. Look, we get it, this is a story of redemption: Beast has to learn some lessons so he can turn into a handsome prince. But what kind of lessons is this passing down to your kids, especially your daughters? Beast is abusive, plain and simple. And in real life, you would do anything in your power to get your friend or daughter out of this relationship. You’ve probably seen your friends be with a partner who undermines them, and threatens violence and generally holds them as prisoners – now add into the mix an isolated castle and the fact that abusive partner is also holding their significant other’s sick, elderly father hostage in their dungeon. Ya, when your friend keeps telling you: “But I can change him!” You can’t tell me you don’t have the police on speed dial and you haven’t done everything in your power to save them from an incredibly unhappy life.
2. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Oompa Loompas are creepy, so is the fact that they are apparently enslaved. That weird psychedelic journey down that delicious chocolate river, is also terrifying. This might be enough for the film to get a pretty high ranking to be honest, and a lot of little details in color and style make this a pretty creepy film for most kids. The specific shade of orange used on the Oompa Loompa faces screams 1970s serial killer basement, and a girl turning into a giant purple ball gives us some pretty traumatic flashbacks to our grade school experience with the “allergies girl” being exposed to some peanuts. The fundamental issue with Willy Wonka though, comes straight from Roald Dahl’s pages: kids are awful and deserve to be punished. Sure there are plenty of hints to the fact that the parents or authority figures are pretty heavily to blame for the bad behavior of most of the children here, but the fact is by the time most of these kids are 7, Dahl and the film seem to have decided they are utterly irredeemable and deserve to suffer some pretty awful and potentially fatal fates. While Willy Wonka keeps insisting none of them die or suffer long term damage, let’s be real, he’s pretty unhinged and any normal adult would be punished for even thinking what he puts into action.
Even without going “deep” into Pinocchio, it is obvious that it’s pretty creepy. Whales are eating people, kids are being turned into donkeys and dolls are just creepy. Even deeper than that though, we never fully bought the whole “lonely old man narrative who builds a wooden boy” — well we DID, but not quite in the way that the film presents. Why is this old man, who is alone, fantasizing about having a little boy as his friend? Why does this little boy have a giant nose that grows when he lies? As much as you can insist that whole thing was innocent, if he really cared about kids, why didn’t he volunteer at an orphanage or hang out with his nephews or something. Creating a creepy wooden doll that doubles as a primitive s*x toy is not a good look.