If your parents have ever had questions about why you needed a nightlight to sleep for so long, these 10 childhood movies could help answer that. Either the MPAA film rating system really dropped the ball on these next 10 films, or it was just all a sick joke.
Here’s our round-up 10 Children’s Films That Are Unintentionally Terrifying
10. Mickey Mouse: The Haunted House (1929)
It could be the black and white, the 89-year-old animation, but the craftsmanship of The Haunted House lends scares that do the job more than some newer and bigger budged horror films.
This eerie 1929 Walt Disney short film was Mickey’s 14th film and introduction to the horror genre. Walt Disney directed, produced, and voiced Mickey in this nearly 7 minute film. Mickey finds shelter from a storm and becomes trapped in a haunted house where he is forced to play the organ by the Grim Reaper and dancing skeletons.
The restoration for the nearly 7 minute film is incredible and worth checking out. The animation and story telling in The Haunted House is truly impressive. You can find the full film on YouTube. Be aware, however, there are a couple depictions in the film that are offensive and unfortunately, not uncommon to the times.
Grim Reaper, the black and white animation, the haunted house
9. The Last Unicorn (1982)
This is an oddly star-studded cast. Jeff Bridges, Mia Farrow, Christopher Lee, just to name a few. Even the animation style is creepy. This is a kid’s movie a lot of people I’ve come across haven’t seen, and they’re less traumatized for it.
The evil King Haggard (Christopher Lee) plans to wipe the Earth of unicorns. When a unicorn (Mia Farrow) learns the rest of her kind have been taken by the king’s evil bull, she sets off to find them.
Injury cat, Prince Lir gives Amalthea a severed head, King Haggard’s Red Bull, seeing Mommy Fortuna (Angela Lansbury) get eaten
8. Matilda (1996)
One of my most watched films as a kid, and one that will make you look at candy dishes differently. Directed, starring, produced, and narrated by beloved Danny DeVito, this film is the first of two Roald Dahl adaptations on the list (trust me, The Witches would be on here had the filmmakers not had every intention of making sure no child ever slept again).
Matilda (Mara Wilson) is a very gifted child, with a passion for reading. She finds learning and reading as a way to escape her abusive parents (Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman). When she starts school, she is given another challenging adult to put up with: the steroid wielding principal, Agatha Trunchbull. It is at this point in Matilda’s life she discovers she has telekinesis and is able to stand up to the bullies in her life.
For a PG rating, there are some pretty brutal aspects to this story (ahem, the chokey?!). Miss Trunchbull was married to Miss Honey’s father, who passed away during their marriage. There is some reason to believe her father’s death was no accident, and that Miss Trunchbull had involvement. Yikes.
The Chokey, Miss Trunchbull’s “Who’s in my house?!” scene
7. The Secret of NIMH (1982)
A newly widowed mouse (Mrs. Brisby) has to move her and her children out of the cinderblock they live in, as it is about to be destroyed by a farmer. She seeks help from lab rats that have escaped from horrible torture from N.I.M.H. (National Institute of Mental Health) which left them with human intelligence.
The story of The Secret of NIMH is dark in itself, but it is the imagery in scenes including animals in danger and a sword fight between rats ends in one death. We also see a flashback of the animated rats being imprisoned and injected with needles.
Written and directed by Don Bluth, who also directed Anastasia, An American Tail, and All Dog’s Go To Heaven makes it known that he respects children as audience members, and isn’t interested in watering down the story.
The Great Owl, all the glowing eyes
6. Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)
In Tim Burton’s directoral debut, Pee Wee’s beloved bike is stolen and we follow him on his cross-country journey to the basement of the Alamo, where a fortune teller say it is.
Upon discussing this movie with multiple people over the years, the mystery of what happened to Pee Wee’s bike isn’t what scared kids, it was Large Marge. This scare came out of absolutely no where.
5. The Brave Little Toaster (1987)
I can vaguely remember seeing the trailer for The Brave Little Toaster play before one of my countless VHS movies. Think Toy Story but with household appliances.
Blanky (a small yellow blanket), in one scene, almost gets eaten alive by rats. Initially, it was portrayed as a sweet moment. The character of Blanky is extremely childlike, and it seems as if when the rats meet him, they really like him. It didn’t occur to me until I re-watched this film as an adult that duh, of course the mice like Blanky. That’s what they do. Eat through blankets.
In this same forest, Toaster has a dream. Ok, a nightmare. This is absolutely the part of the movie that made my stomach sink. At one point in the nightmare, the evil fire fighter clown leans down to Toaster and whispers, “Run.”
The Nightmare Clown, the air conditioner, appliance chop shop, Magnet
4. The Peanut Butter Solution (1985)
This film is very difficult to explain without people thinking you’re making it up. For the longest time I could only remember bits and pieces of this movie, and even had myself convinced I imagined it.
When our protagonist Michael and his friend go exploring a local haunted house, a ghost scares Michael so badly he loses all of his hair. When 2 ghosts offer him a hair growing potion, he uses too much peanut butter in the concoction which causes his hair to not stop growing.
Art teacher, haunted house, kidnapped paint brush workers
3. The Neverending Story (1984)
Being chased by bullies on his way to school, Bastian ducks into the local library where he finds and takes a book that has caught his eye, much against the librarian’s wishes. He hides in his school’s attic with the book and begins to read it. This book tells the story of a place called Fantasia, which is slowly being consumed by The Nothing. It is Atreyu, a boy of Fantasia who is given the task of finding the cure for Fantasia’s ruler, The Childlike Empress, who is ill.
I think everyone knows the crowning moment with this one: Artax the horse’s death scene in the swamp. While it is arguably one of the saddest death scenes, it is also probably the most upsetting and disturbing. The scene is close to 2 minutes long and occurs when Atrail and his horse Atrax are crossing the Swamp of Sadness.
Production design, creatures of Fantasia, Swamp of Sadness
2. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
“Nobody ever goes in, and nobody ever comes out.”
A famous chocolate factory invites 5 children to tour his factory, where one by one, each child leaves.
I’ve researched high and low for theories on the meaning of the dark tunnel ride scene. What was Wonka trying to convey with the poem/song? Was is just another way to call out the faults of the parents and children? If someone knows what it means or has an idea please let me know in the comments!
In fact, the other actors in the boat had no idea what Gene Wilder was doing, so the reactions we see from them are authentic. Either way, that scene along would scare me out of trying to steal Wonka’s candy secrets.
Tunnel scene, Slugworth, Fizzy Lifting Room
1. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Dorothy and her dog Toto are picked up by a tornado in their home where they land in the magical land of Oz. On her journey to Emerald City she meets Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion.
The group continues on the Yellow Brick Road to Emerald City to meet The Wizard of Oz to get Dorothy back home. The Wizard asks them to bring him the broom of the Wicked Witch of the West for him to help them.
It’s not hard to break down the scares The Wizard of Oz gives. There’s something in it for everyone. Tornadoes are a source of fear for many people, but if that’s not quite you’re speed, try an aggressive talking apple tree. We can all agree on one thing however, the flying monkeys.
The 1985 sequel Return to Oz is also worth a watch for nonstop terror.
The Wicked Witch, Miss Gulch, Witch’s castle guards, the flying monkeys
What film from your childhood scared you the most? Let us know in the comments below or let us know in our Horror Group on Facebook!