We all love a good scary story from time to time. Whether it’s a good book, TV show, or movie, a few thrills and scares keep us compelled and entertained as we want to know the fate of our heroes and their journeys. Even as children, seeing something dark and scary felt exciting somehow, as if we were seeing something we weren’t supposed to and that in itself made us feel more grown up and even brave.
However, when we’re settling down to watch a nice family friendly movie we don’t expected to be scared, let alone terrified. Family movies these days may be packed with CGI and ground-breaking special effects, the language and action scenes maybe a lot more advanced and grown up than the films of the past, but modern family movies don’t make us want to cower behind the couch and stay there. For those of us that were children in the 70s, 80s, and early 90s, then there would have been a few movies that did just that. Here we look at 15 movies from our childhoods that have left us with some serious scares!
We start our list with a movie that has passed into the realms of a cult classic, particularly since the genius that is David Bowie is sadly no longer with us. Labyrinth tells the tale of a teenage babysitter that is left in charge of her baby brother, who just won’t stop crying. In a moment of madness she wishes the baby would be taken away. To her horror, her wish has been granted and the baby is now with the Goblin King.
Regretting her actions, the babysitter has to try and rescue the baby and she has to do it before midnight, and of course get through the labyrinth that surrounds the Goblin King’s castle. The movie is a piece of 80s magic and deserves its “classic” status. But let’s not forget this movie involves kidnapping, freakish muppets, and a grown man who takes pleasure over torturing children. For a child of the time watching this for the first time, it’s pretty out there.
14. Teen Wolf
The next entry on our list comes from the king of 80s family friendly movies. Michael J Fox owned TV and the movies in the 80s, starring in Family Ties, Back to the Future and Teen Wolf, Fox was the eternal high school kid that we all wanted to be. You may well be surprised to see any of Fox’s movies on a list of scary moments, however, this movie came out at just the right time to scare us!
During the 80s, special effects and some serious makeup were starting to creep into our movies. A few years before Teen Wolf, we had the truly terrifying American Werewolf in London, not to mention Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” which could actually be on this list by itself! With all that terror in the air, seeing a teenage boy slowly transforming into a werewolf and freaking out over it resonated with a lot of us kids.
If we were to ask people honestly what is the trippiest and freakiest film that they’ve ever been forced to watch, most people would say Disney’s Fantasia. Many people may also argue that Fantasia is a masterpiece. Having visually stunning animated scenes set to the backdrop of classical music is something that had never been done before and truly is something different and special.
However, being a child and watching this two hour movie with its daunting, loud, and often sinister music, with no dialogue or logical story is freaky enough for us. But when you also have a scene with a big fanged, winged devil looking creature that appears to be screaming at us and all the while the imposing music is getting louder and louder, we’ll all be forgiven if we rush to hide behind the couch and never come out. Even seeing Mickey Mouse himself dancing with some mops and brooms couldn’t make this light and fun.
12. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Next we come to an entry that all of us were made to watch as children. For the most part, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a whimsical colorful family romp with a flying car. However, there are also moments of pure terror, and no, we’re not talking about Dick Van Dyke singing lullabies or the crazy dance routines at the fairground. We’re actually talking about one of the most sinister characters ever created: The Child Catcher.
The movie is actually based on a story by James Bond writer Ian Fleming, however, the books were fun and silly and The Child Catcher was nowhere to be seen. The Child Catcher was written purely for the screen and came from the warped mind of Roald Dahl, but more on him later! Is there anything scarier than a freakish looking man with a high pitched voice running around the town offering candy and ice cream? No, we don’t think so either. The silly kids fall for The Child Catcher’s plan and were locked in a cage and taken away. If parents want to warn their children about “stranger danger” then have them watch this scene and they’ll never trust anyone ever!
11. The Neverending Story
It was a huge trend in the 70s and 80s to have magical, whimsical stories that transported us to different worlds with the promise of excitement and wonder. However, this was always a lie and the real intention of these movies was to scare us, terrify us, and to shove as much death in our faces as the censor would allow.
The biggest culprit of this is The Neverending Story. At first glance, The Neverending Story is a magical tale in which a boy reads a book and then gets transported into a magical world. But that’s where the magic ends. This fanciful world is dark, bleak, and the characters constantly question their existence. The monsters are terrifying and our hero is constantly battered by everything. If that wasn’t bad enough then the swamp scene truly scared us as our hero and his horse had to cross the swamp, only the horse got stuck and the pleading and begging form the young boy to his horse still haunts us now.
10. Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory
Back into the warped and disturbed mind of Roald Dahl with this entry. Although, to be fair, Mr. Dahl isn’t actually to blame for this freaky interpretation of his story. The story itself is about a poor boy who gets the chance to visit a chocolate factory and to meet his hero chocolate maker Willy Wonka. Not only does he have a great day out but at the end he actually leaves with the keys to the factory.
Forgetting the true creepiness of an older man who has shut himself off from the world and can only connect with children when they come to his factory, that’s bad enough, but this musical version is on another level. Involving music in most movies adds a certain amount of silliness to it and therefor softens the story. Not in this case. Having Gene Wilder constantly singing to himself in a weird and whispered tone, plus the psychedelic images that surround the factory are truly terrifying. Nowadays we can all look back at this movie and be in complete awe at the genius performance of Wilder, but at the time it was as freaky as they come.
Yes, yes we know, Ghostbusters is arguably one of the best family comedy movies of all time and we completely agree. Having the best comedic actors of the era, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis all coming together to save the world from ghosts is brilliant comedy gold. Not only that, but the supporting cast of Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis only help to strengthen the movie.
Three failed scientists embark on a quest to rid New York from ghosts once they encounter a real spirit. The movie has everything but lets not forget that if you’re a child watching this for the first time then it also has plenty of scares. There’s Slimer, a giant Marshmallow Man, and of course the scene of the woman in the library. Her quiet demeanour quickly changing into that freaky face still gives us nightmares.
8. Something Wicked This Way Comes
The next entry on our list doesn’t come from the dark depth of The Twilight Zone or Tales From The Crypt, which you might expect, but comes from the giants of family entertainment, Disney. As if Fantasia wasn’t freaky enough, Disney also gave us Something Wicked This Way Comes.
Telling the tale of two boys who hear of a carnival coming to town, they quickly want to see what all the fuss is about for themselves. In steps the scary and mysterious Mr. Dark, who is in charge of the carnival. The carnival itself is pretty freaky, having rides that can age you depending on which way you go, as well as having plenty of freaks and oddities on display. On top of that, Mr. Dark comes into town to steal innocent souls. The whole movie is dark, edgy and came at a time when family movies, and Disney themselves, wanted nothing more than to terrorize children.
7. The Witches
Back into the mind of Roald Dahl one final time with this entry. The Witches is a story about real witches living in our world who want nothing more than to rid the world of children. They come up with some truly awful schemes, which include not just killing children but poisoning them, having them eating by snakes, and turning them into mice!
The story itself is pretty dark and scary for kids. However, the movie version of the novel goes even further to make kids run and hide in fear. All the terrible elements of the book are there but it’s made even scarier by Anjelica Huston‘s brilliant performance as the head witch. Not only is she evil, scary, and turns the hero of the story into a mouse, but in one scene she peels her face off to reveal the warty and disgusting face of her witch self. It’s a disturbing scene for an adult let alone a child!
6. Return To Oz
Pretty much everyone out there at some point or another was forced to watch The Wizard of Oz, the colorful and magical tale of a girl transported to a different land in which she makes friends, meets witches, both good and bad, and has to finish a quest in order to go home. It had music, laughs, and was pure fun for the whole family. So when a sequel to the much loved classic came along in the 80s, we all expected much of the same. How wrong we were.
Not only had the music gone but the color too, as everything was dark. We should have known something was wrong when the movie opens with Dorothy being committed for being crazy and then borderline tortured. Once back in Oz, however, we thought the magic and color would be back, but it wasn’t. Oz had become a bleak and hopeless place which was bad enough but then enter the freakish “Wheelers” and then you have a movie that we still can’t believe was made for children.
5. The Watcher In The Woods
Another entry for Disney and another movie in which they tried to scare the pants off of us! The movie starts off in a bit of a cliched way by standards these days, with a normal family moving into a new home in a new town where spooky things have happened. That’s where the cliches end and the horror begins. With creepy woods, people going into trances, names spelled backwards, and a chilling twist that comes from nowhere, everything about this movie is there for suspense and to freak the kids out.
The movie was supposed to be a magical tale of kids being involved in a supernatural mystery. However, what we get is a cross between The Omen, The Exorcist, and the terrifying suspense of Jaws, but the movie was made by Disney! They wouldn’t do this nowadays.
4. Watership Down
“Bright eyes burning like fire.” We should have known from Art Garfunkel’s song that something wasn’t right with this movie. On the surface, Watership Down should be a classic children’s romp. After all, it’s an animated film about rabbits living in the forest, a perfect movie to settle the kids down to, especially at this time of year when Easter and spring are in the air, having a movie about bunny rabbits is perfect.
Oh dear, how wrong we all were. Firstly, the little bunny rabbits were not happy and friendly, in fact their world is about to be torn down and everyone’s going to die. That is until one rabbit has a vision about all the blood shed and warns her fellow rabbits to leave immediately. What follows is a series of dangerous horrors in which the rabbits are constantly at risk of being eaten and just from dying in general, and in the bloodiest way possible. This cute bunny rabbit movie has become the stuff of children’s nightmares.
Okay, so the 80s classic movie Gremlins wasn’t technically a kid’s movie or even meant for the family, but let’s be honest, when the trailer came out about some fluffy and cute little creatures that caused mayhem, and of course having the family man of the 80s Steven Spielberg’s name attached to it, which parent didn’t think it would be perfect for their little ones to curl up to? We all sat down to watch this one.
Starting off with a man getting a small furry creature called a Mogwai. It’s basically a stuffed animal that’s come to life, who wouldn’t want that? That’s where the fun and cuteness stops. After ignoring the basic rules – like don’t get it wet and don’t feed it after midnight – the Mogwai, named Gizmo, spawns what can only be described as creatures from hell. The Gremlins terrorize everything and everyone.
Incidentally, because of the scares, violence, and nature of this movie,the MMPA looked into the PG rating and deemed movies like this too much for younger audiences and came up with the PG-13 rating.
The number two entry on our list comes in the form of Legend. At the time, this movie wasn’t actually a success, which is weird when you think that it launched a certain Tom Cruise onto the big screen. Following on from other classic (and scary) 80s fantasy movies such as Labyrinth, Willow, and The Neverending Story, Legend was a dark fairytale about love, magic, and that all important quest.
When a demon wants to create eternal night, he must do this by killing the last of the unicorns and by marrying the princess. In steps Cruise’s humble character, and his band of magical creatures, to stop the Demon and save the princess. The movie itself is pretty good and not as scary as others in this genre except for one thing. Tim Curry’s portrayal of the Demon is truly terrifying, in a way that only Tim Curry could do.
1. The Dark Crystal
The number one entry on our list of childhood movies that scared us stupid is the still terrifying The Dark Crystal. As with many entries on this list, Dark Crystal is set in a magical land filled with all manner of creature and beings. The quest in this movie is that the world is seriously out of balance and the only way to save it is to find the missing crystal shard that will save the world.
That’s where the magic and whimsy stop as everything about this movie is designed to scare both children and adults alike. The genius Jim Henson wanted his puppetry to be more than just silly and zany, like the Muppets for example. So he went out his way to make them more grown up and scary, which worked better than he could have thought. Through all the dark themes, moments of terror, and shocks in this movie, one thing is clear: puppets are freaky as hell and will give you nightmares for a long time!