The films that gave us childhood nightmares

Luke digs back into this childhood at the films he thought were his friends, but instead managed to scare the life out of him...

On a crisp, clear March morning I strolled down the street, whistling a jaunty tune and doffing my cap to passersby and the jolly neighbourhood bobby, warmly content with the agreeable hand life had dealt me.

A robin, twee and delicate as the twig on which it perched, glowed crimson in the hanging sun, dew flecked the grasstops like millions of flawless diamonds and danced across the tranquil vistas rolling lazily the road. The sky, eternal and ethereal, an azure canvas against which whisps of chalky aeroplane plumes crossed their cotton signatures upon the heavens. It was a good day to be alive. And then, out of nowhere, a slobbering man-sized lemur tackled me to the ground, knawed rabidly at my perineum and then shat fire all over my face and head.

Made up nonsense this may be, but this would be a pretty accurate modern-day equivalent to the casual horror inflicted upon us as children in instances in which films, for no good reason other than their own amusement, decided to ease in their gormless viewer with promises of jocular singsongs, asexual japes and fluffy metaphors all wrapped up in a saccharine false sense of security, before blindsiding our young minds with hitherto unforseen instances of utter terror.

Cue childhood trauma, recurring nightmares, urea-starched bedsheets and the death of a little piece of the wonder and innocence of childhood.

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So, join me in taking some of the power back by naming and shaming some of these purveyors of  nightmares as the anti-BFG’s they truly are.

Were you ever traumatised by anything in the list below, or do you have other demons you wish to share? If so, fret not, my friend, for you are not alone, and we shall get through this together. By confronting and discussing the rotten seeds of our latent fears we’ll finally be rid of them once and for all.

Judge Doom’s crazy eyes demise:Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Holy Jesus and crap in a bag, this was scary. Having successfully negotiated a plot comprised of the brutal murder of cartoons, Who Framed Roger Rabbit unleashed on us it’s piece de resistance: Christopher Lloyd – previously a whimsical, avuncular presence in Back To The Future – seemingly perishes in cries of frenzied agony beneath the pitiless certainty of a steamroller’s wheel, only to peel himself sickeningly from the floor and re-inflate his body, at which point his eyes casually fall out, leaving behind a pair of peepers straight from the bowels of Hell. And when it surely can’t get any worse, he melts amid yet more howls of harrowing despair. Any successful toilet training undertaken until this point is rendered instantly irrelevant.

Ice road fucker:The Empire Strikes Back

As the saying goes: a sneaky monster is a scary monster, and this particular monster certainly qualifies as such. Leaping out of nowhere and clubbing Luke upside the head with a fluffy mitt is just plain uncalled for, as is dragging him off to a fully-fitted death lair complete with the discarded carcasses of previous victims, and sticking him to the roof to ‘save him until later’. The wampa was the part of Empire Strikes Back at which I’d glance idly around the room at nothing in particular while trying to maintain a facade of normalcy, despite the creeping dread of the impending attack creeping into my belly box. Will he reach the lightsaber in time? The monster’s coming! For God’s sake, man, hurry it up, you cock! In hindsight, the beast looks about as frightening as a medium sized bag of hair, but that mattered not to an easily fooled young mind who much preferred the non-threatening idiocy of an Ewok.

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Vermicious knidded in my pants:Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory

Deliberately juxtaposed with the carefree wonder of a room where everything is edible and the delicious schadenfreude of seeing a greedy fat ‘un getting sucked up through a chocolate tube of shame, Wonka’s quaint little boat takes a turn straight into an LSD nightmare with abstract images of millipedes on faces, birds being decapitated, lizards feeding on creepy crawlies and that unsettlingly prim chap in a black hat. As if that wasn’t enough, Wonka sings a song so creepy it could curdle milk, eyes darting like rats, until he reaches a frothy crescendo of worrying madness. Never take sweets from eccentric strangers with purple coats was possibly the underlying message here, although what I personally took from it was the knowledge that, in a similar situation, I would create a chocolate river all of my own.

More dead fur than Brian May’s plughole: Watership Down

This film should have been prefixed at all times with a giant warning which flashed on the screen for at least ten minutes at a time to allow the enormity of the nastiness within to sink in: “This is not a nice cartoon about rabbits!’ it should say, despite the fact this is clearly something of a lie, ‘This is a film where all those fuzzy creatures you like so much get maimed and die! One bunny gets eaten by a bird! One by a dog! Ha! One bunny is shot, another gets mutilated by a snare trap! Mwahahahaa! One cute little bunny, feeling the other bunnies don’t adequately appreciate the precious gift of life, concocts a ruthless series of torture devices into which the other little bunnies are bundled so they can all be ripped ear from ear to tail to teach them all a lesson! You like that do you, kids?! You want to watch the bunnies die, do you?!” Alas, this warning never appeared, so we all watched it with blissful naivety. This has gone down in recorded history as the worst mistake made by anyone, ever.

Cheeky happy rollerskating child murderers: Return To Oz

Parents clearly saw the word ‘Oz’ in the title and assumed – reasonably, considering the original – that this was a magical tale of whimsy set in a technicolour wonderland populated by affable idiots and harmless cardboard cutout baddies, with the odd frilly musical number thrown in for a bit of that vanilla camp flavour. How wrong they were. The villain wished to decapitate our young protagonist with the express intention of adding her head to an already ample head collection, and to do so, dispatched hordes of  rolling smackhead demons to mercilessly chase her down. This could be construed by some as unsuitable fare for kids but, screw it, they thought, it’ll give us a laugh when twenty years down the line parents receive a cataclysmic psychiatrist’s bill after years of intensive shock therapy to purge all memory of these terrible events from the drug-woollen minds of their now mature, yet still hopelessly incontinent, children. Utter bastards.

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Women’s institute now regarded with extreme caution:The Witches

Hate it, hate it, hate it. Psychologically astute in its grim insinuation to children that beneath their mother’s benign veneer lurks a pointy-eared, hook-nosed hell-bitch harbouring a fatal ignominy of youngsters and can smell their distinctive odour (‘distinctive’ = ‘shit of a dog’) from fifty paces. Having revealed their hideous visages to us and each other, we see in horror that the witches have a plan, as a feckless lookey-likey of boob-faced uber-gonk Tom Chaplain from preposterously insipid turd makers Keane discovers to his wobbly dismay in another traumatically nasty transformation.  Also, by way of a spot of collateral damage, The Witches also managed to instil a healthy irrational fear of recreational residential Cornish retreats. Though this may, be, in hindsight, just me.

David Bowie’s inexplicable crotch arrangement:Labyrinth

Not only was Jereth’s monolithic pant-python terrifying to behold, it delivered its belated one-two sucker punch years later as we chaps realised that Bowie was ‘the man’ for reasons besides Aladdin Sane. As a child, no freaky, decapitating, fire-dancing hippy goons or hugely sinister hand-face abominations could ever compare to the sheer edifice that was Jereth’s completely unneccessary, if anatomically educational, display of junk. Was it stipulated in his contract? Didn’t any member of the cast or crew ever stop to say “Hang on, everyone, I’ve just had a thought. This is a kid’s film, isn’t it? I don’t think it’s appropriate for David to wear trousers so tight you can count his pubes…”

Michael Jackson’s chrome nose job:Moonwalker

Fresh off the back of the zombie/werewolf/PVC suit deathfest of Thriller in 1983, M. Jizzle was no stranger to scaring the bejesus out of the kiddies (now, now…). In his bizarre cinematic outing of the late eighties, he spends roughly half of the running time taking a mighty kicking at the fists and feet of Joe Pesci’s despicable hoodlums, before spending the other half of the film in a really rather time consuming robotic transformation. Again, it’s the eyes that initially unsettled, then his face splits asunder like Terry’s Chocolate Orange and the metallic screams begin to finish the job of turning young Michael Jackson fans into snotty, blubbering wrecks strewn haphazardly across the shoulders of parents rapidly departing the cinema. Special mention also goes to Joe Pesci’s hair, which only became frightening when I was old enough to know what the word ‘phallic’ meant.

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Scary castles never house pleasant people:Beauty And The Beast

Walt Disney’s assault on youngsters everywhere continues unabated, countless (okay, 43) years after his death. Disney’s frozen head, entombed in suspended animation,  feeds despotic mirth and malevolent dread into a series of cutting edge supercomputers which, in turn, through a complex network of electrodes, trigger twitch reflexes in the arms of an army of restrained animators who have no conscious choice but continue to assent to the whim of the Almighty Disney and create these foul tales of trauma and terror.

Throughout the decades – from Bambi’s mum, Dumbo’s acid trip, Snow White’s hag, Sheer Khan’s Baloo battering, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Mufasa’s demise, Pinnocchio’s donkeys and countless others – Walt Disney’s head has fed greedily on the misery it has inflicted on the immature populace. Loads of examples to choose from but, risking ridicule, the scene in Beauty And The Beast where the father stumbles into the castle of the titular hound and finds himself on the receiving end of a nasty dose of imprisonment hit all the right werewolfy buttons back in the day, and shit me up something chronic.

Val Kilmer pigs out:Willow

Lovable dwarves! Cheeky quipping heroes! Funny little borrower things! Swordfights! Sorcery! What’s not to like?! Quite a lot, as it happens. The demon dogs at the beginning weren’t really scary (they were clearly just black labs in fancy headgear, overdressed showoffs, all woof and no wow), so, unless stricken with a cynophobic malaise, many a child would happily make it through to the castle siege, whereby the weirdly-hot-because-she’s-older-and-powerful-a-bit-like-Helen-Mirren-in-her-more-recent-years Queen Bavmorda bellows down a gruesome spell from atop her castle to the crowd assembled below who, in what must be one of the most poorly received Royal speeches in history, promptly turn into snuffling swine. But it’s the way they turn: clutching the stomachs in shock and pain, dropping to the ground screaming as their teeth expand and their limbs swell into clammy clubs, transforming our heroes into hideous The Hills Have Eyes pig-man hybrids, their wails becoming the high pitched screeches of a herd of snorting poo-dwellers. Harrowing.

Did anything left out of the list give you the heebie jeebies? Do any of these films still scare you today? Then please share your own childhood nightmares in the comments section below, for the world needs to know what we endured and why, even now, we still check in the wardrobe and under the bed before we go to sleep.

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