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Favorites: 13 Moments in Children’s Films that Traumatised Me (and still do)

Here at 25YLSite, we handle a lot of heavy lifting. Analysis, interpretation, deep discussion, introspective interviews…you name it, we’ve got it. “Favorites” takes a lighter approach to the material we normally cover. Each week, we will take you through a list of favorites—whether its moments, scenes, episodes, characters, lines of dialogue, whatever!—in bite-sized articles perfect for your lunch break, a dull commute, or anywhere you need to take a Moment of Zen. So, sit back and enjoy this week’s offering: Laura’s 13 Moments in Film that traumatised her as a child (and still do).

I was a child of the ’80s. It was a glorious time to be a child really, with the invention of computer games, huge developments in animation and CGI; what had only been held in the imagination before really came to life—especially in the movies. What came with that though were some truly terrifying moments in film—more terrifying than most of the actual horror movies I sneakily watched at sleepovers.

So in no particular order, here are some of the moments in Film that have stayed with me into adulthood, that in some cases I still can’t bear to watch now.

Perhaps an obvious choice this one. The Child Catcher was one of the first ‘baddies’ I saw on TV as a child. The ’80s was the era where kids were being warned not to talk to or accept sweets from strangers; it was drummed into us (and rightly so). The Child Catcher became the image of what that stranger may look like if I was ever to come across him, and that I’d be taken away from my parents and locked in a cage. Not distressing at all.

The Grand High Witch reveals her true identity, The Witches (1990)

The second Roald Dahl story on the list already! The author really did know how to make the creepiest characters that will haunt and amaze the minds of children forever. I was a little bit older when this film came out in 1990—bearing in mind I was already watching Twin Peaks at this point—nevertheless, the moment The Grand High Witch (Anjelica Huston) peels the skin from her face is truly horrific and pretty damn shocking for a kids’ film! Brilliant direction here from the sadly no longer with us Nicolas Roeg.

Princess Mombi’s collection of heads, Return to Oz (1985)

I still find this whole movie incredibly creepy. English National Treasure Jean Hunt plays Mombi the Princess/Witch, who has taken over the Emerald City under the orders of the Nome King. She’s pretty terrifying just as herself (she actually reminded me a lot of my infant school teacher, Miss Dunne—both were bullies, which probably didn’t help matters). There’s just something really unpleasant about the thought of having your head removed but still being alive and aware that you’re being kept in a glass cabinet for all of eternity. This is just one of many horrible moments from Return to Oz.

Judge Doom is steamrollered, Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd), the villain of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, really doesn’t like Toons, and threatens to execute our hero Roger when he catches him by submerging him in a chemical vat of turpentine, acetone and benzene (paint thinners), which he dubs “The Dip”. To show off just what The Dip can do, he drops a poor defenceless little cartoon shoe into the vat, and it melts into oblivion. That was the day my heart broke. But that wasn’t even the most traumatising moment of the film. Noir-ish Detective Eddie (Bob Hoskins) and Doom fight ACME style, and during this battle Doom is run over by a steamroller, but he does not die as expected. As the steamroller crushes him, Doom’s body is flattened into a flimsy paper-thin shape, revealing himself to be a Toon wearing fake eyeballs, false teeth and a rubber mask in order to disguise his Toon body. For me as a 9 year old, seeing that for the first time, not knowing he was a Toon as he was crushed alive—it was the stuff of nightmares. Eddie later manages to dissolve Doom in his own concoction and Toontown is saved. Yay!

Medusa’s glowing eyes and head of snakes, Clash of the Titans (1981)

Clash of the Titans is a 1981 British-American heroic fantasy adventure film which retells the Greek mythological story of Perseus. The stop-motion visual effects somehow make it even weirder and more uncomfortable to watch, and also pretty silly. I’m not sure many children had a clue what was going on really. It seemed more like a film for Dads. Perseus faces many obstacles on his quest to save his beloved Andromeda, and learns that the only way to defeat the sea monster, Kraken, is to take the head of Medusa. So off he trots to her Gorgon cave and tricks her using the reflection of his face in his shield. He decapitates her, but her snake-like body writhes around for quite some time before spilling thick gooey blood all over the floor, destroying his shield with its acidity. Nevertheless, he takes Medusa’s head (without ever looking at it of course) and eventually arrives at the beach where he holds up the (somehow still alive and snake-squirming) head up to the beast Kraken, who is petrified by her glowing green gaze. It turns him into to stone, and he crumbles into the sea. Nice one Perseus! Still freaking terrifying.

The Wheelers, Return to Oz (1985)

Yep, it’s the second mention for Return to Oz now with The Wheelers. They are a very rare species who only live in the enchanted Land of Ev and are introduced in L. Frank Baum’s third Oz book titled Ozma of Oz, published in 1907. In the film, they are psychotic steam-punk human-esque creatures with wheels for hands and feet. Quite like the Flying Monkeys from The Wizard of Oz, they stalk Dorothy at the request of the Witch of the North, Mombi, but Dorothy is always one step ahead—with the help of her chicken. Half of The Wheelers die in the Deadly Desert by being turned to sand, which is pleasant.  Every scene of Return to Oz is unnerving—even the good guys like Jack Pumpkinhead and Tik-Tok are odd. I had a nightmare as a child about Jack Pumpkinhead and He-Man that I can still remember clearly to this day. It’s not a fond memory.

Ear Slugs, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

AAaaargh!! Ear slugs! I have never been a particular fan of Star Trek, and this may be why. Set in the year 2285, Reliant officers Commander Pavel Chekov and Captain Clark Terrell beam down to the surface of a planet, which they believe to be Ceti Alpha VI. Once there, they are captured by genetically engineered tyrant, Khan Noonien Singh. He implants Chekov and Terrell with indigenous creatures that enter the ears of their victims and render them susceptible to mind control. He then uses the officers as spies to capture the Reliant. I can’t even tell you how traumatic I found this scene as a child. Having lost the hearing in my right ear aged three (due to measles), I was truly convinced that I had a slug living in my head and that’s why I couldn’t hear anymore, and that eventually it would eat my brain. It took quite a while for me to believe this wasn’t actually going to happen.

The quiet and harmless Library Ghost, Ghostbusters (1984)

Ah, an absolute classic. The beginning of the original Ghostbusters movie is probably one of my favourites of all time. We’re just getting to know Ray (Dan Ackroyd), Peter (Bill Murray) and Egon (Harold Ramis) when they’re called to deal with a ghost haunting the New York City Library. This is the first ghost we get to see, and she seems like such a sweet old lady really; she just wants to read in peace; that is, until Peter pisses her off. I don’t think I know anyone in the world who wasn’t scared stiff when she transformed from placid spectre to raging skeletal ghoul—including the Ghostbusters themselves, who leg it out of there as fast as they can. As far as we know she’s never been captured.

Spiders: lots of them, Arachnophobia (1990)

Nope. Nope, nope, nope. Anyone who knows me knows I’m terrified of spiders. So why on earth would I watch this film? Still no clue really. It was one of my first cinema experiences with my friends (and no parents), I know that much, and I vaguely remember having to pretend not to be totally terrified to save face in front of the boys, but I was internally screaming throughout. Nothing’s changed there. There isn’t a part of this film that isn’t excruciating to me. The story is enjoyable I just cannot handle the almost paralysing fear I have—it physically hurts to watch it. Yep, I think I’ve made my point.

Monkey Brains, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

Still endlessly entertaining and thrilling, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom never ages due to the fact that there was little CGI or visual effects used other than really convincing props. None more so than in Mayapore (a fictional Northern Indian village) when Indy (Harrison Ford), Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw) and Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan) are invited to attend a lavish but grotesque banquet given by the young Maharaja, Zalim Singh. The boys do their best not to offend their hosts at the dinner table, but it all proves too much for Willie—the eyeball soup was bad enough, but monkey brains, eaten directly from the skull is just too much.  Honestly, this isn’t the most traumatic moment of the film—that honour goes to the bit where the high priest Mola Ram chains a terrified human sacrifice in a cage and, after removing his heart with his bare hands, slowly lowers him into a ceremonial lava pit, burning him alive. How was this ever suitable for children?

Large Marge, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)

I often forget that Pee-wee’s Big Adventure was Tim Burton’s directorial debut. Looking back it’s easy to see his gothic style already emerging on the screen, and the undeniable score by Danny Elfman always adds magic to any film. But I must admit I am not a fan of the Pee-wee franchise at all. I have always had an aversion to ventriloquist dummies and also men-children, so it was never going to sit quite right with me. Yet somehow, it seemed to be on a lot in my house. Back in the days of only 3 or 4 channels max, you had no choice but to watch whatever movies they played on TV at Christmas and Easter. Big Adventure was often it (and Herbie Goes Banana’s, which I adore!) so I unenthusiastically watched.

There is one scene I loved though: Pee-wee hitches a ride on a foggy evening. A kindly female trucker pulls up to give him a lift and tells him that it was on a foggy night like this, 10 years ago, that she came across the worst accident she’d ever seen. And when they pulled the body from the wreckage, the face looked like this! (see above). The scene with Large Marge didn’t really scare me as such, not until she drops him off at the roadside diner and tells him to tell the patrons that, “Large Marge sent him” and laughs hysterically. He does exactly that—much to their horror. It turns out that Marge had herself been in the accident 10 years prior and had been horrible squished to death. Pee-wee had been riding with her ghost!

Artax sinks to his death in the Swamp of Sadness, The Neverending Story (1984)

Oh man, this still hurts so bad. The Neverending Story deals with tragedy throughout. While pegged as a fantasy film, it’s much more than that.

Bastian has just lost his mother, his father is unsympathetic and harsh, and he’s being bullied at school. It doesn’t get much worse than that for a little kid. To escape from all this, he loses himself in a magical book—a story that he can shape as its being told. Bastian applies himself to helping the stories protagonist, Atreyu.  The book becomes a safe, instructional place for Bastian to explore his own fears about loss as everyone else seems to look on with indifference. As he defeats enemies alongside Atreyu, Bastian is learning to overcome and cope with anxieties and trauma. In a very meta-sense, the children watching the film also experienced similar emotions. I know I did. And nothing could ever hurt as much as the moment Atreyu’s trusted steed, Artax, begins to sink as they try to plough through the Swamp of Sadness. I really thought he’d be magically saved, but no, this was us basically being told that terrible things do happen and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. My first cat, Ginny, died around the same time as this film was released and it hit hard, but it made me the empathetic person I am today, so it’s all turned out OK in the end. Don’t ever stop dreaming despite the obstacles and heartbreak.

Johnny 5 is very nearly beaten to death, Short Circuit 2 (1988)

Short Circuit 2 isn’t a patch on the first movie admittedly, but I was such a fan of Johnny 5 I had to see it. It was fairly enjoyable until Johnny 5 manages to get himself in all sorts of trouble in New York City, naively getting in with the wrong crowds, even becoming an accomplice in a diamond heist. Then the thieves decide they need to do away with the evidence. This leads to the above scene where they attempt to kill our beloved robot hero in the most gruesome fashion possible. One guy uses an axe to hack away at his circuitry. Another rips him apart component-by-component using a crowbar. The entire time Johnny is screaming for his life in his robot voice while blood-like oil splatters everywhere. The only reason he manages to escape death is by taking control of a nearby model airplane and flying it directly in to the anal cavity of one of the robbers. No, seriously. They really don’t make kids films like this anymore. Of course, it all turns out OK in the end; he’s fixed up—even gold-plated! The film concludes with Johnny taking the Oath of Allegiance and becoming a full U.S. Citizen. “Johnny 5 is alive!”

So these were the moments in film that traumatised me as a child (and still do). Did they have the same effect on you? What moments still give you nightmares? Let us know in the comments or on social media.


Written by Laura Stewart

Laura is the Assistant Editor-In-Chief, a Writer and Assistant to the Webmaster at 25YL. She has been part of the team since May 2017 when she began writing about her favourite TV show of all time: Twin Peaks. She currently oversees the Film, Music and Gaming Departments. 25YL is her passion project and is constantly delighted at how big and beautiful it has grown.

Laura lives by the sea in Gower, Wales, with her husband and very special little boy.

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