We all remember the movies that scarred us for life. From killer clowns to ghost tales to Willy Wonka’s trippy tunnel of terror, these sinister villains and monstrous creatures sprang from television sets and theater screens to wreak havoc in our nightmares. Some of them still do. Face your dormant childhood fears by revisiting ten of our favorite scary kidcentric flicks, and tell us if they still keep you up at night.
As if clowns weren’t scary enough on their own, Stephen King had to go and make them even worse. Enter Pennywise the Dancing Clown, a shape-shifting, ubiquitous and all-powerful being that dwells in the sewers and devours children by feeding on their greatest fears. This two-part miniseries scared the bejeezus out of the children (and adults) of the ‘90s. Let us remind you why:
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
As the Golden Ticket-holding winners of the Wonka Bars contest go further into the home of their eccentric host (Gene Wilder), their candy-coated tour turns into a bad acid trip, after which a nightmare vision of Wonka’s frizzy hair and wild eyes took root in our prepubescent subconscious. By the time the deranged candy man started to sing, “There’s no earthly way of kno-wing…which direction we are goo-ing,” we were sure of one thing: no one would be getting out of there alive.
The Watcher in the Woods (1980)
You’re a cute teenage girl, Bette Davis is your landlady, and thirty years ago a girl who looks a lot like you disappeared in the middle of a séance. Now you’ve started to see her when you look in the mirror, but to add to your problems something is hiding in the woods -- and it is watching you. Combining eerie atmospherics, the hint of witchcraft, the chick from “Ice Castles” and an excessive amount of theatrical fog, The Watcher in the Woods is still one of the creepiest films ever put out by Walt Disney Pictures.
The Lady in White (1988)
It’s Halloween 1962, and nine-year-old Frankie Scarlatti (Lukas Haas) is about to stumble into some seriously heavy stuff. First, he’s locked in the school cloakroom one night by pranksters. Then, he’s visited by his own dead mother and the ghost of a murdered girl who proceeds to reenact her death -- right before the real killer arrives and tries to strangle young Frankie. Even creepier: the killer may also have been a child molester. Chew on that, young moviegoers.
Child’s Play (1988)
It’s 1988 and there’s nothing a six-year-old wants for his birthday more than a Good Guy doll. It’s too bad for young Andy Barclay, then, that his doll has been possessed by the soul of a serial killer -- and that killer wants his body next. The fodder for night terrors in Child’s Play is as intense as it is violent, starting with the very idea that your toys could come to life. This was one traumatic tale that had us looking twice at our Barbies.
Flowers in the Attic (1987)
Even if you were too young to understand the icky Dollanganger family secret (Spoiler alert: it was incest!), the very idea of four blonde siblings locked in the attic of their own home for years was scary enough. Throw in a religious nut of a grandmother, the last-act mother’s betrayal, and that deliciously vile V.C. Andrews veneer, and this melodramatic horror flick still leaves us in need of a hot shower.
Ghoulies II (1987)
This PG-13 horror-comedy sequel had everything a kid could want: slimy barfing ghoulies, gory amusement park deaths, even a midget carnival barker. But it also had the kill to top all silly kills -- a scene we’ll call 'Death by Toilet' -- scary enough to terrify even the bravest adolescents back into potty training.
Jim Henson made his share of creepy movies for kids, including this, the film that made David Bowie the androgynous goblin king of our adolescent dreams. But it wasn’t just Bowie’s mulleted and slightly lecherous Jareth that made its way into our childhood nightmares; even the goblins, dwarves, and Labyrinth’s other grotesque creatures gave us the willies -- especially that rabbit’s hole of wrinkled, disembodied human hands.
The Dark Crystal (1982)
On the world of Thra, the gentle Gelfling race has been all but eradicated in a genocide perpetrated by the evil, vulture-like Skeksis. The young Gelfling Jen must reunite the Dark Crystal with its missing shard, but his mission takes him on a perilous journey filled with war, murder, and sacrifice. Did we mention the terrifying Skeksis (and the film’s PG rating)?
The Witches (1990)
A young boy is trapped in a room full of older women who reveal themselves to be evil witches. What’s more, they want to kill all the children of the world. Even worse, they plan to poison us with what we love most: candy! Taking the cake with the most hideous witchy face in movie history is Anjelica Huston’s Grand High Witch, whose lumpy flesh and hairy-yet-bald pate is vomit-worthy given the fact that she’s still wearing her low-cut cocktail dress and jewels.