For the majority of us, childhood is riddled with traumas: events and experiences that stuck with us, haunted us, and perhaps in some way or another, shaped the very person we would eventually grow up to be.
…Unless you’re a Kardashian of course, who suffered nothing, but would nevertheless ensure that you would traumatise the populace in your own right.
The more timid among us may therefore opt for the milquetoast: safer options that will surely be absent of frights. Alas, we can’t always be certain of what is lurking beneath, and many programs created for younger demographics would randomly pull one out of the bag to scare the bejeezus out of you (especially true for those of us who were born in the 80s).
With this in mind, I wanted to assemble a list of scenes in movies that still sit in my gut with a degree of uneasiness. The only rule is that, they cannot be outright horror movies, and should be at least appropriate for kids to watch.
As such, Murphy getting dismantled in RoboCop 2 and writhing on the ground in agony does not qualify. Besides, nowadays the most upsetting notion is that he’s laying supine on a filthy street in Detroit — how unsanitary!
1. A road trip with Large Marge (Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure)
As the header for this article, I kind of had to lead with Large Marge. I already whipped her out in an attempt to garner as many clicks as possible, stashing her halfway down the list would really be burying the large lede.
Tim Burton’s sprawling adventure across America is a darker experience than may have been anticipated from the character of Pee-Wee Herman, rife with frightening symbolism, sinister personalities, and the absolute unit that is Andy. The confusing way he makes me feel on the inside is a little bit scary, in its own way.
Prior to viewing this film, my diet of Pee-Wee (that’s a horrible sentence Anthony, remember to fix this before clicking publish) consisted of his delightfully camp playhouse. He’d sing songs, make wishes to a genie and converse with a sentient armchair — like any solid acid trip.
But now, Mr. Herman stands stranded on a blackened highway in the middle of the night. A truck pulls over, its driver a haggard old woman with a thousand yard stare. He dabbles in pleasantries, but she has no time for his bullshit, cutting right to a memory about the worst accident she ever saw.
At the climax, when they pull the body from the twisted, burning wreck, she unveils what it looked like, morphing into a cackling, bug-eyed ghoul. Pee-Wee shrieks! Little Anthony cries! But Large Marge cares not, for she has achieved her goal. Her story has been told.
Part of me would like to ask her why the body was so incredibly pleased to be there, but perhaps it was laughing out of joy for having been freed from the wreck. It all came down to misunderstood gratitude.
See also: Tim Burton created the monster under my bed by Jeva Lange on The Week
2. King Triton wrecks Ariel’s cool shit (The Little Mermaid)
Pulling back the reins a little, we take a trip to Atlantica, to experience a scene that literally made me hide in the closet. I’ve been in that closet ever since, but I dare not tell my wife.
After a series of stern lectures about the dangers of land dwellers goes unheard, King Triton discovers Ariel’s hidden stash of human goodies. In his eyes, it’s the equivalent of breaking into your kid’s room to find a meth lab, and he is not having any of it.
He pulls out his trident and begins blasting everything to bits while she pleads for mercy. In hindsight, one could understand why a child would find this sudden escalation in tone to be upsetting, what with its lighting and soundscape, but I can’t quite explain why the final battle against the wicked Ursula, in which she becomes gargantuan and takes pot shots at a helpless Ariel, didn’t quite register with me.
Perhaps it comes down to the fact that Ursula had earned this triumph, having fulfilled the conditions set out in their contract. Sure, she may have tampered with the results here and there, but all Ariel had to do was procure one stinkin’ kiss, and she couldn’t even pull that off.
Seriously, like most dudes my age, if a random lady approached me and kissed me out of nowhere, I’d be like ‘oh, that was unexpected’, but I’d probably still be down for it. This could be why I’m riddled with syphillis, but I shan’t dabble in theoreticals.
Sorry, what? Oh yes, Triton sure was scary, wasn’t he?
See also: Disturbing Disney #16: King Triton destroys Ariel’s grotto by Becky O’Brien on Film Music Central
3. Trantor does [various spooky things] (Ernest Scared Stupid)
Cheating a little bit this time, as this entry makes its mark primarily based on its overall body of work, as opposed to one singular sequence. That being said, Trantor has some tentpole moments that definitely stand out as ghoulishly affluential.
Effectively, Ernest Scared Stupid was a children’s movie that took one look at the rules of age appropriate monster design, said ‘fuck them kids’ and assembled a roster of trolls that will inhabit a reasonably sized corner of your psyche forevermore.
Of course, many of these were repurposed models from M-rated schlockfest Killer Klowns from Outer Space, so it makes sense that they were a little on the creepy side. It also validates the mindset of hoarders who insist that ‘this will definitely be useful again someday’.
As for hairy, two-nosed Trantor himself, he would have a starring role in at least one childhood nightmare that I can recall, complete with his ability to turn his victims into tiny wooden dolls. My version was somewhat mashed up with Warwick Davis’ Lubdan of Leprechaun fame, albeit without the charming Irish limericks.
I wrote a story about this nightmare in Grade 1, and my teacher cracked the shits that I infringed on someone else’s intellectual property. Jesus Christ, Maureen, I wasn’t intending to license this concept, but thank you for teaching me the nuances of copyright law at such a tender age.
Despite being built like a brick shithouse, Trantor is best known for his deception: imitating Ernest’s voice to convince a fallen child to take hold of his hand, or appearing suddenly in the bedroom of a little girl. If you know his current whereabouts, please contact your local authorities.
See also: Ernest Scared Stupid: A Look Back at the Campy Kiddie Horror (That Traumatized Me as a Child) by Nat Brehmer on Wicked Horror
4. Judge Doom is a TOON (Who Framed Roger Rabbit?)
Christopher Lloyd is one of those actors who consistently delights in whatever role he is cast in, from Merlock the warlock in the DuckTales movie to that inappropriate creeper in the Richie Rich film. For some reason, I think of those two roles a lot, and would someday like to discuss them directly with Christopher Lloyd, no doubt to his dismay.
But his turn as the brooding Judge Doom in Who Framed Roger Rabbit probably takes the cake for me. After spending the majority of its runtime as the toon-hating foil hot on the trail of the titular Roger, he seemingly meets his demise in gruesome fashion: slowly crushed underneath a steamroller.
After a few moments of guilt for having literally murdered a member of the judicial system, our heroes are horrified to see his flattened frame peel itself off the floor. He proceeds to re-inflate, revealing his true identity in the process.
Remember him, Eddie (Valiant, the protagonist played by Bob Hoskins, who also starred in such roles as Mr. Smee in Hook, or J. Edgar Hoover in Nixon)? When he killed his brother (Theodore “Teddy” Valiant, who was for the most part unseen due to his untimely demise but briefly appeared in photographs, portrayed by Eugene Gutierrez though his credited name was incorrectly spelled as Guirterrez)? He talked just… like… this (in a distressing, high pitched tone that is difficult to express accurately through text though I would equate to a person consuming a vast quantity of helium, accompanied by a sense of unhinged malice that is appropriate to his character)!
…That joke paragraph was funny for about two seconds, I’m sorry I decided to commit to it for as long as I did.
With animated eyes bulging out of his skull, he then lurched towards Bob Hoskins like the aforementioned J. Edgar Hoover would approach a particularly saucy pair of knickers. Despite having watched the movie multiple times, this would be the point where I would check out, fleeing from the room and letting the VHS continue playing unattended.
I remember thinking this to be the ultimate taboo, as if the tape would snap in two without someone there to press stop on the VCR in time.
“How did you enjoy the movie?” My father asked me. I merely gazed through him with a look of intense guilt, for I knew I had wronged him on this day. Someday, I intend to repent for this injustice.
See also: Traumafession:: Anonymous on Roger Rabbit’s Judge Doom! by Anonymous on Kindertrauma
5. Michael Keaton’s come for your daughter, Chuck (Beetlejuice)
It’s truly fitting that I bookend this piece with a pair of Burton films, and doubly so as this one was absolutely the one that impacted me the most.
Though the trickster Betelguese displayed a few dastardly, perverted tricks in an effort to evict the Deetz family and/or bang their daughter, he upped the ante to dizzying heights the moment he morphed into a massive, razor-toothed serpent.
Why the fuck does it look so scary, other than the fact that that is its literal intention for the purpose of the plot?
Snake Betelgeuse would fling the hapless mortals around with reckless abandon before setting his sights on Lydia. He leers at her, perhaps in an attempt to seduce her (needless to say, this does not have the desired effect), and is only reined in when Barbara Maitland banishes him to the shadow realm.
The whole segment lasts for a little over a minute, but a quick glance at the comments section on YouTube would reveal that it left an indelible mark on a generation.
In my case, the Betelgeuse snake nightmare was a rather abstract one: taking place at the Egyptian wing of some kind of museum. I had discovered that uttering a forbidden word would summon a gust of wind (was the word ‘Betelgeuse’? Or was it ‘fuck’? Either was equally forbidden at that age).
After tempting fate with this trick a few times, the Betelgeuse snake emerged, coiling its tail around my ankle and lifting me into the air. I shrieked out for help, but alas, my mother was too preoccupied admiring the nearby hieroglyphics.
And yes, that is exactly how the childhood nightmare played out, without exaggeration. I can’t remember the names of people I just met, but scary dreams from thirty years ago? Stuck in there like glue.
See also: The evolutionary science and phobic interplay on display in Tim Burton’s ‘Beetlejuice’ by Frederick Leonard on Introspection Psychology Digest