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News Article

Nightmares for Life: Ten of the Most Disturbing Children's Movie Moments


Horror fans often reminisce over the magical moments in their childhood when they were lured to the dark side. For many of us, that happened at the movies – or when our father let us watch The Exorcist at an all-too-young age. (Hi, Dad!) Recently we had the pleasure of digging into a few of our favorite scary PG and PG-13 horror films, which got us thinking about the darkest moments in childhood cinema. Some of these sinister scenes were created to cause irreparable emotional trauma, and others were unintentionally horrifying. Regardless, these images have curled up inside a deep, dark spot of our subconscious and have refused to leave ever since. Check out ten of our favorite freaky moments in children's movies that have scarred us for life (in no particular order). Let us know what your picks are in the comments below.

Escape to Witch Mountain (1975)
This isn't the only Disney flick that made the list, and interestingly enough, it's not the only Mickey Mouse movie about spooky alien kids. While this fact is juicy fodder for those obsessed with the studio's supposedly satanic, conspiracy-rich history, it also makes for one seriously bizarre movie. The Escape to Witch Mountain twins have definitely contributed to childhood night terrors everywhere. The casting of Ray Milland and Donald Pleasence also helps up the ante. Orphaned siblings are taken to a Neverland-esque mansion by an evil millionaire who is obsessed with the paranormal. He wants to use their creepy mind powers for personal gain. The little weirdos demonstrate those abilities in a scene where Tony telekinetically makes marionettes dance by playing his harmonica. Cue hysterical sobbing when the clown hops onto sis for a lap dance. The whole scene is capped off with a voyeuristic moment that will make you feel dirty. In case you're wondering about Escape to Witch Mountain's 1995 remake, fear not – Disney wouldn't let you down. The film maintains that Witchfinder spirit with a Twin Peaks vibe and a dose of awkward brother/sister flirtation.

Lady in White
In today's world, kids have cell phones and can call their parents to let them know, "Hey Mom, some jerks locked me inside school, and a serial killer is about to choke me to death." Lady in White's Frankie (Lucas Haas) was born in the ‘60s and wasn't able to make that call when the same thing happened to him. It's Halloween too, and a little girl ghost decides to make an appearance. Her murder is eerily replayed while a terrified Frankie watches on. You can't help but feel terrible for the mousy, sweet kid – who we learn recently lost his mother – when the killer sets his sights on the young boy next. When the murder mystery starts to unravel, a local nutjob starts stalking Frankie. Her chilling appearance on the staircase and outside his bedroom window – à la Salem's Lot –  both rival for a spot on our list. Lady in White was marketed as a horror/mystery tale, but there are several violent moments that push the boundaries of its PG-13 rating. People get beaten, shot in the head, set on fire, and the racial slurs flow freely. It's an honest portrayal of the times that sets the perfect tone for a series of old-fashioned scares.

Watership Down
Bunnies are cute and fuzzy. They eat carrots and lay jellybean eggs. The bunnies in Martin Rosen's 1978 animated classic, Watership Down, will make you bleed. The British film is based on Richard Adams' bleak novel about a group of rabbits trying to make their way out of enemy territory – enemy being man, of course – into a safe haven where they can roam free. The mythology surrounding a totalitarian breed of bunnies – who dwell in warrens that feel more like the underworld – showcases some brutally violent scenes. Above ground, it's survival of the fittest, and the movie doesn't try to placate you. Rabbits are killed, hunted, and mutilated with no reprieve from Mother Nature. In this scene, Captain Holly tells the other bunnies in his colony about narrowly escaping an attack by man. It's a nightmarish montage of disembodied bunny heads with glowing red eyes that has surely haunted the childhood memories of people everywhere.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Disney's first animated feature, Snow White, is very much a horror tale. There's murder, witchcraft, and dwarfs who are always vying for kisses from the fair princess who wanders into their miniature cottage. Dario Argento and cinematographer Luciano Tovoli turned to Snow White while crafting Suspiria's overall look, and it's easy to see why. One of the film's spookier moments is when Snow White escapes the Huntsman – who has been ordered to kill her – and races through the forest. The dark, woodland world springs menacingly to life when tree limbs turn into gnarled hands that try to capture the princess in their clutches. Animators designed the scene with European silent film and German Expressionist cinema in mind (particularly Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), which adds an unexpected, sinister touch to the Disney film favorite.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Johnny Depp's impersonation of Michael Jackson in the 2005 version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is disturbing, but the original 1971 film can certainly hold its own. Aside from the child murder and creepy, singing dwarfs is a psychedelic boat trip that will float in your mind grapes for days. That twinkle in candyman Gene Wilder's eyes is not the start of a diabetic coma from all the chocolate bars. It's because he's gleefully dragging a boat full of children through their first horrifying acid trip. His little rowing ditty is the gooey icing on the cake.

The Dark Crystal
There were two superbly puppet-savvy movies released in 1982. Spielberg's E.T. has a few scary scenes, but The Dark Crystal – puppeteered by Jim Henson and Frank Oz – was darker than dark. The ring of the Skeksis's shrieking cry is a sound you'll never forget. The vulture-like creatures have a major beef with the elfin Gelflings, but need their "life essence" to stay young. Most of the Gelflings have been wiped off the planet, so the Skeksis have been forced to live off of the forest-dwelling Podlings. The tiny pod people are kept as slaves, tortured, and drained by the vampiric monsters. Not even a dancing frog or a sassy pig can remove the scars that The Dark Crystal inflicted upon young eyeballs.

The Adventures of Mark Twain
The same year director Will Vinton made the California Raisins commercial, he made another animated work about Mark Twain that featured Satan in a starring role. The vignette called, The Mysterious Stranger, shows a shape-shifting claymation figure leading a group of children through a lesson on the "worthless, greedy" nature of mankind. That's Satan for you – always pissing in someone's Cheerios.

Return to Oz
Before Fairuza Balk was making you regret befriending the witchy chick at school in The Craft, she was navigating her way through the frightening Land of Oz. The gang known simply as The Wheelers – because their hands and feet are squeaky wheels that make spine-tingling noises – terrorize Dorothy on her journey. The talking and pointing chicken adds another surreal layer to the scene where Dorothy encounters the cackling gang of goons for the first time.

The NeverEnding Story
The embodiment of hopelessness, cynicism, and despair in The NeverEnding Story takes the form of a storm-like entity known as The Nothing. Gmork is a wolfen beast that serves The Nothing and is ordered to hunt the young warrior Atreyu and kill him. This was basically every kid's first philosophy lesson on what an existential void was, and damn that thing has sharp teeth.

The Brave Little Toaster
A film about an animated toaster seems innocuous, but leave it to Disney to make it utterly depressing. At first the quirky, talking appliances that venture out into the great, wide world to find their owner seem cute. Then, a nightmarish sequence featuring a demonic clown – whose troubling antics lead the titular toaster to electrocute himself in a bathtub full of water – reminds you that this 1987 movie is dire. If that doesn't convince you, songs about being "worthless" heaps of junk and cars committing suicide should do the trick.