When we think of children’s movies, “scary” isn’t generally a word that comes to mind. But over the years, there have been quite a few movies that crossed the line from childish and stepped into the territory of scary, bizarre, and sometimes downright disturbing. While these movies weren’t made to be scary (or were they?), they’re sure to give event the most jaded of moviegoers nightmares.
12. Bedknobs and Broomsticks– As a kid, this was one of my favorite movies. My favorite scene in the movie is also the scene that puts it on this list. This is the scene is which Angela Lansbury’s character uses a magic spell to breathe life into suits of armor in a museum. The suits of armor come to life and begin to march across the countryside. As if hundreds of ghostly suits of armor wasn’t scary enough, they are also chanting the words to the spell in an eerie collective voice. It’s a haunting scene to say the least, and even though the rest of the movie is lighthearted, this scene calls for Bedknobs and Broomsticks to have a place on this list.
11. Bridge To Terabithia– This movie, which is based off the 1977 novel by Katherine Paterson, tells the story of two children who create a magical imaginary kingdom called Terabithia to escape from their real lives. Unlike most of the other movies on this list, this one doesn’t actually get scary until the end. For the most part, it’s a happy go lucky, feel good movie. So naturally, it has to end in tragedy. Leslie, one of the two children, is killed when the rope swing she uses to cross a creek breaks. She falls, hits her head on a rock, and drowns in the creek. For anyone who has not previously read the book, it’s a shocking and unexpected ending to an otherwise heartwarming and easy going film. The scene where Jesse, the other main character, finds out that Leslie is dead is even more gut wrenching. The fact that it’s a child makes it all the more disturbing.
10. The Nightmare Before Christmas– Tim Burton films are generally creepy as a rule, and this one is no exception. Set in a world called Halloween Town, it is about a skeleton named Jack (who is the king of Halloween) who discovers Christmas and wants to spread Christmas cheer. He does this by kidnapping Santa Claus and enlisting the many citizens of Halloween Town to make toys for the children of the world. Since being scary is all the good folks of Halloween Town have ever known, the presents they make are a little short of pleasant. A giant snake and a live shrunken head are two of their wonderful gifts. Sounds like the best Christmas ever, right? It’s a spooky and bizarre flick, and one that can be enjoyed at both Halloween and Christmas time.
9. The Witches– Based on the Roald Dahl book of the same name, The Witches tells the story of a young boy who finds out that witches are real. He stumbles across a gathering of witches and learns that they are planning on killing all the children in the world by turning them into mice and stomping on them. It’s a delightfully evil plan, and a delightfully bizarre movie. And, boy are those witches scary. During the gathering it is revealed that all the witches are wearing wigs, and underneath they are almost completely bald, their skin blotchy and discolored. The most terrifying of all the witches is the Grand High Witch, who is played by Angelica Huston. She is utterly demonic, complete with long hook nose, hairy warts, sunken eyes, humped back, and leathery skin. To make matters worse, she literally peals off her human face to reveal her monstrous true form. The Witches always freaked me out, and for good reason. The thought of all those bald ugly witches going around killing children is enough to give anyone nightmares.
8. The Wizard of Oz– The flying monkeys are some of the most terrifying entities to appear in a movie. Ever. I used to have nightmares about them. Looking back, the makeup used for the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion was pretty freaky too. And the talking trees…shudder. There’s also an urban legend about a man who hanged himself on set while filming. The legend says that if you look closely, you can see the shadow of his dead body hanging from a tree limb in one of the scenes. Spooky stuff.
7. Labyrinth– Another Jim Henson movie, this one is about a girl (played by Jennifer Connelly) who lets her baby brother get taken by goblins and must then navigate a giant labyrinth in order to save him. The king of the goblins is played by David Bowie, and he alone is nightmare fuel. More specifically, it’s his tight spandex pants and stuffed crotch that make him so scary. Bowie isn’t the only scary part of this movie, though. It’s full of nightmare inducing moments. The scene in which Jennifer Connelly falls down a hole and is attacked by talking hands comes to mind. So does the Junk Woman. Luckily, it’s got plenty of lighthearted moments to combat the scary ones.
6. Monster House– An interesting take on the haunted house sub genre, this animated film is about a house that is actually alive. Well, alive may not be the right word. It’s actually possessed by the spirit of the former owner’s wife whose body is encased in cement in the basement. The scene where the main characters discover the body is reason enough for this movie to make the list. But the house itself is pretty scary too. When it eventually comes to life, complete with tree trunk arms and floorboard teeth, it looks like something out of your worst nightmares.
5. The Dark Crystal– Jim Henson’s fantasy masterpiece is about an elf-like creature called a gelfling who must find the missing shard of a magical crystal in order to restore balance to his planet. The world this movie takes place in is full of various creatures who are all pretty scary. The scariest of all of them are the vulture-like skeksis, who are the main antagonists of the film. They’re part bird, part monster, part old hag. The skeksis eat intestines and suck the souls of the the poor creatures that they keep as slaves (who are kind of creepy looking as well). They’re the epitome of evil. Gen, the main gelfling is pretty scary too, as he looks eerily like a twisted version of Steven Tyler.
4. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory– The 2005 remake of this movie is kind of frightening in its own right, but nothing compared to the original. Most people would cite the scene on the boat, in which Willy Wonka takes his guests on a terrifying journey down the chocolate river, as the scariest part of the movie. But for me, it’s the oompa loompas that really do the trick. There’s something very unsettling about little orange men that delight in singing about the awful things that happen to the naughty children that visit the chocolate factory.
3. Coraline– A little girl finds herself in an alternate reality with alternate parents who have buttons for eyes. If that doesn’t scream disturbing, then I don’t know what does. To top it off, her “other mother” turns out to be an evil witch who looks more like a spider than a human in her true form. It’s a spooky movie to say the least, full of bizarre characters and haunting music. The stop motion animation is somehow unsettling too.
2. Watership Down– This movie is downright disturbing. It’s about a group of rabbits who must leave their home and find a new one, all the while escaping various perils. Sounds like a fun, family film right? Well, that’s where you’d be wrong. It’s perhaps the most violent and bloody film ever marketed to children. It’s full of animal on animal violence, and it’s usually rabbits ripping other rabbits to shreds. Stomach churning? You bet. Even though it’s a cartoon, it’s not exactly a movie I’d recommend to parents who want to have a nice movie night with their family.
1. The Neverending Story– Why this movie was marketed to children, I’ll never know. As an adult I still find it scary. It’s about a boy who finds a book about the land of Fantasia. Fantasia is falling prey to a mysterious force called the Nothing, and only a young warrior named Atreyu is able to stop it. The Neverending Story is at the top of this list for countless reasons, but I’ll do my best to highlight a few. First of all, there’s Gmork. Gmork is a werewolf that is hunting Atreyu, and although in reality he’s just an animatronic puppet, I always found him especially frightening, particularly his low sinister snarl of a voice. Then there’s the scene where many of the citizens of Fantasia have gathered to discussed the Nothing. This scene is full of unnerving characters. There’s a lady with weird hair and a face on both sides of her head as well as the front. There’s two creatures that are essentially just giant heads with miniscule bodies. Whoever designed the creatures of Fantasia certainly had a flare for the bizarre. I still get chills thinking about the three-faced woman. Also terrifying are the giant sphinxes that shoot lasers from their eyes. Oh, and we can’t forget the scene where Atreyu’s horse Artax basically just gives up on life and drowns in a swamp of sadness. Need I say any more about this movie?