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MIND MELD: More Children’s Movies That Scared the Bejesus Out of Us

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With Halloween right around the corner, it seems everywhere I look are scary movies, scary movie marathons, and general horror fests. Last week’s Mind Meld on scary kid’s movies was such a success, I couldn’t help but ask even more panelists about their favorite (or least favorite!) scary kid’s movies. I asked the following question to our panelists:

Q: What children’s movie scared the holy hell out of you?

John Wiswell
John Wiswell (@Wiswell) has short stories at Fireside, Daily Science Fiction, and Urban Fantasy Magazine. He does not condone the abuse of giant rats. He hopes the rats know that.

My love of Horror blossomed early. Fantasia bored me until Night on Bald Mountain hit, and I remember dancing in my seat as the ghosts poured down the landscape. Similarly, the 1977 Hobbit’s spiders and Disney’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow’s Headless Horsemen seemed cool.

But there was one movie that scared the hell out of me. Most people remember The Princess Bride as cheesy. Billy Crystal, Andre the Giant, “As you wiiiiish!” It’s cute, right?

But the Rodents of Unusual Size were serious business to me at age nine. Fake as they look to adults, them gnawing on Westley made me physically uncomfortable. I shrank into the couch cushions.

There was just enough disgusting fur, and the design had an evil enough tooth-to-mouth ratio, that it played on all my childhoods fears of disease-carrying rats. The R.O.U.S. was big enough to blend that fear with a baser fear of tigers and bears. It felt like something that could both eat you whole and be sick.

It also helped that Princess Bride was live action, so there wasn’t the distance of cartoon fantasy about it. Even a bad puppet was more tangible. For years afterward, whenever my family watched the movie, I would sit in the stairwell until the music calmed down. The movie was funny and exciting, so long as I pretended that scene didn’t exist.

Lisa L. Hannett
Lisa L. Hannett has had over 60 short stories appear in venues including ClarkesworldFantasyWeird TalesApex, the Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror, and Imaginarium: Best Canadian Speculative Writing. She has won four Aurealis Awards, including Best Collection for her first book, Bluegrass Symphony, which was also nominated for a World Fantasy Award. Her first novel, Lament for the Afterlife (CZP) is out now. You can find her online at and on Twitter @LisaLHannett. 

I suppose it’s more a family movie than children’s, per se, but Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom scared the bejeezus out of me as a kid! We went to see it for a friend’s birthday party (I can’t even recall which friend, now, I was so traumatised) and I had nightmares for a month straight. It was the sacrifice scene that turned my seven-year-old brain into a quivering mess: the chanting, the skulls, the fire, the sight of that poor guy getting his heart ripped out of his chest – still beating! – before he was lowered – somehow still alive! – into the lava pit… The way his heart smoked in the priest’s bloody hand… The way it burst into flame as he screamed and burned… *shudder* To this day, I can’t watch that film. (The monkey brains served for dinner were cool, though!)

Devan Sagliani

Devan Sagliani was born and raised in Southern California and graduated from UCLA. He is the author of the Zombie Attack series, The Rising Dead, A Thirst For Fire, the Undead L.A. series, and Saint Death. Devan also wrote the original screenplay for the movie HVZ: Humans Versus Zombies. He writes a bimonthly horror column for Escapist Magazine called Dark Dreams. In 2014 he cofounded the At Hell’s Gates horror anthology series with Shana Festa, which donates all proceeds to The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund to help wounded soldiers and their families.

He currently lives in Venice Beach, California with his wife and dog. Visit Devan on his website, his facebook, or on twitter @devansagliani.

I’d have to say that Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory scared the hell out of me as a child. I was born in 1972, about a year after it released theatrically, which means that by the time I was old enough to sit and watch it a billion times in a row it was being played over and over again on television. I didn’t understand that it was largely a morality play so I was really sucked in and enjoying it when the tunnel scene kicked in the first time. All of a sudden I went from being in the land of chocolate waterfalls and candy trees to an over the top bad acid trip with Gene Wilder screaming maniacally at me for no reason at all. Scared the hell out of me the first few times I saw it. It’s genius how they managed to slip that into a kid’s film. Now it’s one of my favorite parts of one of my favorite films of all time. The remake may be far creepier but the original still beats it hands down!

James Frederick Leach
James Frederick Leach is a contributing editor to which celebrates Midwest Snob Horror and which produces an annual anthology of bizarrely typeset, nightmare-based flash fiction called Quick Shivers. JFL also writes disturbing verse, odd dramas and New Weird fiction. A collection of poetry he penned with his partner Janice Leach Til Death: The Horrors and Happy Afters of a Long Relationship is forthcoming on Raw Dog Screaming press.

The Wizard of Oz scared me, then later thrilled me and has become my favorite movie of all time, able to repay the dozens of times I’ve watched it. I first saw it on our family’s black and white TV, and made sure to see it again every year when it was shown again. I recall it being around Easter. I remember the first time I was able to watch it all the way through, without leaving the room or covering my eyes at certain parts.

The Wicked Witch of the West, of course, is terrifying. Unlike the adults in my own childhood, who were vaguely benign, largely inert, immense beings who stifled my will for no particular reason, that green-faced sorceress was a worthy adversary, one who set her magics clearly and precisely against Dorothy. But I found her army of flying monkeys to be the real terror in Oz. Unswervingly obedient, entirely beyond the ability to dissuade through reason, these creatures were pure horror, particularly in that scene where they blacken the skies. “Fly my pretties,” indeed.

The Wizard of Oz produces other delights in me now — hope, wonder, befuddlement at why the heck Dorothy would want to go back to Kansas — but those airborne simians first taught me the joy of being afraid while watching a movie.

Jennifer Brozek
Jennifer Brozek is a Hugo Award-nominated editor and an award-winning author. She has worked in the publishing industry since 2004. With the number of different projects she juggles at one time, Jennifer is often considered a Renaissance woman, but prefers to be known as a wordslinger and optimist. Read more about her at her website: or follow her on Twitter at @JenniferBrozek.

The movies that immediately come to mind don’t strike me as “children’s movies” for the most part. But I don’t remember watching any movies specifically aimed at kids per se. I grew up as a military brat. During some of my most formative years, I didn’t have a TV at all. Still, there are three movies that stand out for me.

Phantasm –  This is the oldest movie on my list and I’m counting it because I can only remember that it had children protagonists. This movie scared me so bad that I wouldn’t look in a mirror for weeks and I covered my mirror at night for months. All I remember of the movie, at this point, is a whirling silver ball of death and a cadaverous man leaning out of a mirror to snatch a boy into it. I suppose it wouldn’t be as scary today—if I watched… which I won’t—but even the thought of watching it creeps me out.

Gremlins – While this movie wasn’t a “kids” movie, it was aimed at a younger audience. It scared me so much that I wouldn’t let anyone feed the dog after midnight. And furbies… especially when they talk to each other… make me flee the room. I’m not sure what it is. I suppose it’s the fact that something so cute could birth something so demonic. It also put me off from ever wanting kids myself.

The Nightmare Before Christmas – I know that while this is a fun movie for kids, I hate it. I hate almost every part of it except for Sally. I really, really hate Oogie Boogie. There is just something so WRONG about him that I can’t watch the movie. Ever. Despite liking Sally and her love for the Pumpkin King.

Matt Betts
During and after college, Ohio native Matt Betts worked in radio as an on-air personality, anchor and reporter. He is the author of the steampunk adventure Odd Men Out and the urban fantasy crime novel, Indelible Ink. Matt’s second collection of speculative poetry, Underwater Fistfight, debuts early in 2016.

The movie that scared me as a child wasn’t a Halloween or horror story, it was a Christmas film. It was known by the titles Babes in Toyland, or March of the Wooden Soldiers. I had to look up the details for this film, since it has been so long since I’ve seen it. I kept finding sites that called it a classic and one that kids have loved for generations. Was I looking at the right film? Also, it shows the movie is from 1934. I’m not that old, honest. You see, my elementary school showed this movie every year. And it freaked me out every time.

I don’t remember that much about it, but the parts that scared me, stuck with me for a long time. It features a cavalcade of characters from children’s literature. In Toyland, Bo Peep is about to be forced to marry the evil Barnaby unless she can come up with the money for the mortgage on her mother’s house (a shoe). Ollie Dee (Oliver Hardy) and Stanley Dum (Stan Laurel) help out and all is well in the end. It’s a Hal Roach movie and it stars comic duo Laurel and Hardy, so it had to be funny, I suppose.

But it’s the villains that made it a creepy experience. When things go bad for Barnaby, he gets a villainous horde of boogeymen to attack the realm. It’s a children’s movie featuring an army of boogeymen. Uh huh. The monsters had bulging eyes, giant ears and were covered in mangy hair. By today’s standards, the costumes the actors wore as the creatures are pretty laughable. I suppose even when I was a kid in the 1970s, the effects weren’t that great, but it still scared the crap out of me. These monsters hopped around and viciously attacked beloved characters from nursery rhymes. At some point, these creatures attack six-foot tall wooden toy soldiers which the viewer saw created in the toy shop by Laurel and Hardy. As the fight between good and evil rages on, we see some of these soldiers (which are obviously just men in makeup) torn apart by the boogeymen. It was all a little more that I was prepared to handle at that tender age from a “beloved children’s classic”.

Even the turning point, where Laurel and Hardy and the other inhabitants of Toyland begin defeating the evil army, it isn’t pretty. They start launching huge darts into the boogeymen, and at one point, force some into the swamp (there are swamps in Toyland, I guess) where they are attacked by alligators. Don’t worry, it’s a children’s classic.

It all added up to a pretty bad experience for me. I pieced together the preceding synopsis through memories and articles on the web, so I don’t know how reliable the narrative is. I suppose if I wanted to confirm it, I could rewatch the film, it’s available free online. But no thank you. I think the Saw movies are streaming somewhere.

Yolanda Sfetsos
Wife. Mother. Writer. Bibliophile. Dreamer. Animal lover. Intrigued by the supernatural. Horror freak. Zombie enthusiast. Movie & music fan. Slave to her muse. Yolanda Sfetsos lives in Sydney, Australia with her awesome husband, lovely daughter, and cheeky cat.

I was a kid in the early 1980’s, and like most kids of that time, I watched a bunch of scary movies that weren’t targeted to kids my age. I mean, I was about 10 when I watched The Evil Dead and The Exorcist over at a family friend’s place during movie night. Yeah, when VHS was all the rage we used to have movie nights a lot.

I also remember watching my first Creepshow on TV and going to school the next day (I was in primary) to find out I wasn’t the only one who got a kick out of how creepy and gross it was.

Scary movies didn’t really scare me. In fact, I loved them.

So, what was the movie that scared the holy hell out of me? It was one of my all-time favorites: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Yep. You read that right. E.T. scared the hell out of me not because I was filled with terror and suffered from nightmares afterwards, but because it left me traumatized. There weren’t any demons ready to possess people, or psychopaths wielding sharp blades, but I felt as connected to E.T. as Elliot did. I fell in love with E.T. and he nearly died in the most frightening way possible! Seriously, what Elliot and E.T. go through when government men storm in and transform their house into a plastic-bag maze broke my heart. I was in tears the whole time.

We went to the movies to watch it, but I was still bawling. I think some older kids might have pointed and laughed, but little me didn’t care. All I could think about was how could anyone do this to my lovable Extra Terrestrial? I never got over it, and still cringe at that scene. The same way I do at the horse dying in The Neverending Story. 🙁

See, when I was a kid, monsters and slasher killers didn’t scare me, the loss of beloved characters did. The only other movies I considered scarywere some of Disney’s older animation movies, like Peter Pan and Dumbo. How the hell are kids supposed to watch them without being terrified?

So, there you have it. Scary horror movies have never scared me as much as the loss of adorable, lovable characters.

Marty Young
Marty Young is an award-winning writer and editor, and sometimes ghost hunter. His debut novel, 809 Jacob Street, won the Australian Shadows Award for best horror novel in 2013. Marty was the founding president of the Australian Horror Writers Association from 2005-2010, and one of the creative minds behind the internationally acclaimed Midnight Echo magazine, for which he also served as executive editor until mid-2013. His short horror fiction has been nominated for numerous awards, reprinted in a year’s best anthology and repeatedly included in year’s best recommended reading lists, while his essays on horror literature have been published in journals and university textbooks in Australia and India. Marty’s website is 

The one children’s ‘movie’ that scared the holy hell out of me when I was a kid wasn’t a movie but a TV miniseries. It was Under the Mountain, and first screened in 1981 in New Zealand. I was about ten at the time, and was captivated when I watched it, especially when I saw those giant slug-like monsters! This (along with an inappropriately young viewing of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre when I was about the same age – I was hiding behind the sofa, watching it when I shouldn’t have) is more than likely to blame for my love of horror.

 For those not familiar with Under the Mountain, the miniseries (and later a 2009 movie starring Sam Neill) was based on a novel by one of New Zealand’s best writers, Maurice Gee. The novel was published in 1979 and centered on two twins who had to use their psychic abilities to save the world from destruction at the hands of the Wilberforce’s, creepy humans but even more terrifying monsters when they revealed their true form, that of the giant slug-like monsters I mentioned before. They were gross and terrifying, and to make matters worse, there were no adults with laser guns or cool spaceships fighting them off, but kids! That was something else altogether.
I haven’t seen the miniseries since, and don’t think I’ve seen the 2009 movie. I’d also bet there are large parts of the story that I can’t remember, but those giant slugs have stuck with me through the decades ever since. I’m tempted as I write this to buy the book and read it again, perhaps even jump online and hunt down the miniseries, but a part of me treasures these memories far too much to dare ruin them with an adult viewing.
Jason Sizemore
Jason Sizemore is the editor-in-chief of Apex Magazine. His latest book, For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Editor is available now. For more information, visit

My early years coincided with the early and mid 1980s, an awkward time in the annals of horror film culture. The Motion Picture Association of America rated films as G, PG, R, and X. A large gap existed between PG and R where smart filmmakers such as Stephen Spielberg, Tobe Hooper, and Joe Dante found plenty of elbow room to add intense scenes of terror and gore in movies marketed as family-friendly events. Because of these guys, PG-13 became a thing.

Poltergeist, considered by many horror fans as one of the most unsettling and scary movies made, is rated PG. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom with its depiction of a man having his heart torn from his chest while alive earned itself a PG rating.

I was ten years old when Gremlins came out in 1984. When it played at the local drive-in theater, my dad loaded up the family (including my six-year-old little brother) to see the adorable Gizmo.


Everything is copacetic until Stripe comes along. Stripe chases our hero Billy with a chainsaw in a department store. Most of the gremlins are trapped in theater and allowed to become crispy critters. The most horrifying moment was the gremlin in a microwave scene. Look it up on YouTube for a fun watch!

Gremlins is a great horror gateway film to show to kids.Sit them down this Halloween and let them have the Gremlins experience!E

Sandy DeLuca

Sandy DeLuca has written and published numerous novels, several poetry and fiction collections, an art chapbook and several novellas. As an author she is known for dark and surreal prose; often visceral and shocking. She is best known for her work in the horror genre. However, she has written noir fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy and mainstream fiction as well.

She was a Bram Stoker finalist for the for poetry award in 2001, with Burial Plot in Sagittarius; accompanied by her cover art and interior illustrations. A copy is maintained in the Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays (Brown University) Poetry, 1976-2000. She was also nominated once more in 2014, with Marge Simon, for Dangerous Dreams.

I was brought up in an unorthodox household. My mother’s family migrated from Italy, bringing with them an array of superstition and belief in the supernatural. Dreams and omens colored my childhood, and hauntings were not to be taken lightly. My aunt supposedly could cast demons away by mixing oil and water; and my uncle hid from ghosts he saw in the forest. And there was the Strega who lived in town. That lady gave me the chills. My mother told me not to look her in the eye.

My father was more rational, but he had a predilection for horror movies. And it was natural to accompany him to a theater where reruns of classic horror films played. I was immune to shock and fear within movies, and other forms of art, at a young age — at least I thought so – until I saw The Wizard of Oz! – and saw the Wicked Witch of the West’s horrid face and heard that shrill laugh.

It wasn’t immediate. I never thought about her during waking hours, but she crept into my subconscious, and into my dreams as she stared back at me from a mirror, or ambled across the living room floor while pointing a crooked finger at me — while laughing that laugh.

She was the Strega witch my mother whispered about — the one who could curse you by merely looking your way — and she scared the heck out of me.

Rich Duncan
Rich Duncan is a lifelong horror fan from Central New York and first fell in love with horror through R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series and Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell In The Dark. He is the founder of The Horror Bookshelf, a blog dedicated to dark fiction and can be reached on Twitter at @horrorbookshelf.

The first horror themed movie I remember watching was Ernest Scared Stupid (1991) and while I can’t remember exactly how old I was, I know that I was in elementary school. Generally, the films in the Ernest series are generally considered family friendly movies, but I think the writers didn’t get that memo when they created Ernest Scared Stupid.  The movie features Ernest and a trio of middle school friends battling the downright terrifying troll named Trantor, who is hell-bent on revenge after a 200 year imprisonment by the residents of Briarville, Missouri.

I loved the movie and watched it so often I wore out my VHS copy, but I would be lying if I said this movie didn’t give me nightmares for weeks. What about Ernest Scared Stupid scared the hell out of me? It is almost impossible to pinpoint one definitive reason. First, let’s start with Trantor. Trantor’s appearance was downright terrifying and incredibly life-like to me at the time and his lowly, gravelly voice seemed ripped straight from my nightmares. The scene that really stuck with me was when he shows up at Elizabeth’s house. She swears Trantor is under her bed and when she finally looks under the bed, she is relieved to find it is only her teddy bear Snuffy. She rolls over to fall asleep and comes face to face with a snarling Trantor. That scene is one of the many reasons why I slept with the covers pulled over my head every night for a week after the first time I watched it.

Then there is the unsettling scene where the other trolls burst from the earth after dropping from the cursed tree in the form of these disgusting gelatinous pods. While none of these other trolls are quite as scary as Trantor, there is one who emerges looking like a troll version of Pinhead that has large nails driven in a straight line down the center of its face.

Despite there being some incredibly silly moments in Ernest Scared Stupid, there is actually some pretty dark stuff in that movie. Think about it, this is supposed to be movie for kids. The story revolves around a troll who rips kids from their homes, turns them into wooden dolls that he stores in a creepy shelf in his lair, and feeds off their souls for nourishment. What young kid wouldn’t be terrified of that?!

I know this movie got destroyed by critics and a lot of people can’t stand the Ernest character, but was one of my favorite movies growing up and is a personal Halloween classic. R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps and Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark served as my introduction to horror fiction and I credit this movie as being the one that kickstarted my love of horror movies.

About Andrea Johnson (99 Articles)
Andrea Johnson also blogs over at where she reviews science fiction and fantasy novels and talks about other nerdy stuff. She's also an interviewer at Apex Magazine. Her apartment looks like a library exploded, and that is how it should be.
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