Last week, Sadie compiled an excellent list of "the best horror movies ever," focusing on films that aren't of the slasher/maniac/zombie variety. But what of those films that scared us as children...without really meaning to?
Return To Oz: Years before Fairuza Balk showed up in The Craft, screaming "These are my gifts!" on the beach as deranged witch, Nancy, she starred as Dorothy Gale in this 1985 sequel to The Wizard of Oz, wherein Dorothy returns to the magical land over the rainbow and all hell breaks loose. I have to be honest with you guys: I don't remember much about this movie. The things I do, remember, however, come to me in nightmares every 6-8 months; the yellow brick road, destroyed; the creepiness of Jack Pumpkinhead, and the Tin Man and Cowardly Lion, turned to stone. Imagine, if you will, being 5 years old and thinking you were going back to a happy Oz, post-Wicked Witch, only to find the entire Emerald City effed up beyond repair! It was horribly traumatizing. For years I chose to believe that the movie wasn't real, and that I had made it up somehow. In college, I learned that many of my peers had done the same thing. We were all forced to admit that yes, Return to Oz was real, and yes, it scared the crap out of us.
The Neverending Story: I had nightmares for YEARS because of G'mork, the werewolf in the film, whose mission was to kill the brave Atreyu. I'm not going to lie to you guys; I'm still scared of G'mork. I can't even handle this picture. Look at him! THIS IS A WEREWOLF, CHILDREN! Don't be fooled by the lovable Professor Lupin or the shirtless Jacob Black; they all have a G'mork within!
The Snowman: When I was compiling this list, I asked my boyfriend if he had anything to add. Without hesitation, he said, "The Snowman." The Snowman is an animated short (based on the book by Raymond Briggs) that my elementary school teachers would show us every year, and my boyfriend is right: it scared the bejeezus out of me when I was younger. I attribute this mostly to the haunting soundtrack, sung by choirboys, that accompanied a young man and his snowman friend as they flew to the land of snowmen and then back home—where (spoiler alert) the snowman MELTS AWAY in the end. And he doesn't melt away in the "Well, kids! See ya next year!" Frosty kind of way, he melts away in the "here is an introduction to sadness and death" way that completely traumatized me as a child. I couldn't bring myself to build snowmen after that. Yes, he leaves his magical scarf behind, but the mood is significantly less joyful than finding Frosty's corncob pipe and magic hat in a puddle and thinking, "Oh, well, there's always next year!"
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: I always had a mixed reaction when Willy Wonka pushed open the door to the Imagination Room, as I knew it meant two things: one, that we were just about to go through a delightful sequence in which children and adults would eat chocolate and sweets in a giant room of amazingness, and two: that the super-scary acid trip boat ride was just around the bend. As soon as Willy Wonka's Wonkatania shows up on the chocolate river, things start to get creepy. Suddenly Wonka becomes possessed as the walls spin out around him, showing snakes and scorpions and god knows what else as he sings that legendary song: "There's no earthly way of knowing...in which direction we are going..." It's a completely insane sequence in an already insane film, and it ends as abruptly as it begins, with the boat docking and everyone rushing in to get a glimpse of the Everlasting Gobstoppers. Add in the overall creepiness of the Oompa-Loompas, the claustrophobia-inducing moment where Augustus Gloop gets stuck in the pipe, and the scene where Wonka calmly explains that Veruca and her father may or may not be incinerated with the garbage, and you have the stuff of nightmares.
The Sword In The Stone: If you haven't guessed by now, I had a lot of nightmares as a kid. I was pretty easily influenced by whatever I watched on television (or what I read right before bed). One of the films that gave me nightmares was Disney's Sword In The Stone, though I didn't remember it until years later, when I watched it with my then-5 year old niece. There's a scene where the main characters, Wart (King Arthur) and Merlin go underwater to learn about the sea, and they are subsequently chased by a giant, terrifying fish. As soon as the fish came on screen, I remembered how scared the scene had made me as a kid; the yellow eyes of the fish showed up in many of my nightmares. The next day, my sister called my mother to tell her that my niece had been up all night with bad dreams. "Something about a monster in the ocean," my sister said. Oh, tradition!
Of course, there are a ton of other movies that technically could be on this list, namely Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal, though I consider those films to be somewhat intentionally scary, which is why I left them off. However, you are more than welcome to add your own traumatizing children's movie memories in the comments. Happy Halloween!