Top 10 traumatizing childhood movie moments

It’s that time of year where we relish in the television programming of numerous month-long horror moviethons. It’s also that time of year when children’s fears are formed by inadvertently catching a glimpse of daddy’s favorite slasher flick. We’ve all been scarred by witnessing something we shouldn’t in movies and television at a young age. It shapes us. It’s the basis for our fear of commitment… public speaking… clowns.

Being a child of the eighties I inevitably share in the list of unavoidable traumatic experiences: the entirety of the Thriller music video, Large Marge from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, the creepy-ass ferry ride in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (it’s the worm! it’s the chickenhead!) Despite the across-the-board scares, every kid has been traumatized by a number of unique moments in film that have shaped who they’ve become. These, my friends, are candidly mine:

#10. The Sentinel (1977)

In this bizarrely entertaining supernatural horror flick, a young model finds a new apartment in New York City. Little does she know it not only houses her, but the gateway to Hell. This film is filled with a plethora of truly strange moments, but the scene that firmly left a terrifying impression finds the woman awoken in the middle of the night by strange sounds in her apartment. As she investigates an empty room, a demonic figure materializes behind a door and power walks across the room without acknowledging her. That alone gave me horrific paranoia that something would materialize at the foot of my bed and walk out of the room. I’m just happy I didn’t see the remainder of the scene as a child where she stabs the corpse repeatedly and chops off its nose – blech!

#09. Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)

“What’re ya gonna do, knock my block off?”

The famous last words of the street tough that breaks the little Klown’s bike have seared their way into my childhood memories. Shown on as a Saturday afternoon flick on some random local channel, my cousin and I found the concept of wacky Killer Klowns irresistible. However, when this scene showed I quickly lost my bravery and spent the rest of the movie staring at the back of a couch pillow. It’s all fun and games until someone loses a head.

#08. Dr. Giggles (1992)

As children, sleepovers often tend to manifest as odd games of chicken. Your friend has scored a copy of some R-rated film you aren’t supposed to see, and it becomes a game to see who freaks out first. For me, it was Dr. Giggles, and I lost. Big time. As a woman struggles for life, she calls for a doctor. Dr. Giggles arrives on the scene to inspect the problem… The poor woman is already in an immense amount of pain when the doctor pulls out an instrument to peek up her nose: a spike that stabs through to her brain. I can’t quite say the extent that this scene had on me, despite its cheesiness, but It’s still been over a decade since my last check-up.

#07. The Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)

This film is the epitome of what children shouldn’t see. The opening scene is scary enough—Dan Aykroyd scared the hell out of me as a kid (he still does, but now it’s for more creepy-old-man-holding-onto-the-past reasons), but that’s far from what kept me (and subsequently my parents) up for night after night. Joe Dante’s segment involving a kid who can manipulate his surroundings to suit his every whim seemed fun enough… but it’s the reveal of his sister who is forced to endlessly watch cartoons that ripped my stomach to shreds. Those strained eyes! That mouthless face!!! I’ve never been the same. Even The Matrix brought back terrified feelings.

#06.  Hellraiser (1988)

This is an interesting scare for me as it’s not even a scene from the film, but one single image of a man without skin lounging around an apartment. I haven’t seen this film, but I caught this horrific image while staying the night in a family friend’s house for the first time. The unfamiliar setting mixed with such unnatural and gross imagery made for an utterly unpleasant night. If memory serves me right, I forced my parents to leave in the middle of the night and get a hotel. But then, I was only six, so I doubt I had that sort of power over my parents.

#05. The Wizard of Oz (1939)

I think from birth until around five years old this was my favorite movie. But then as my fragile little brain developed “comprehension” and I began to understand the concepts of “intention” and “consequences.” The Wicked Witch sending her evil monkeys to attack Dorothy and her friends was enough to send me into fits of rage as a child. Specifically the shot of the Scarecrow getting torn apart was too much for my delicate little mind. To this day I refuse to watch Johnny Got His Gun, and I blame it on the thought of the Scarecrow’s torso crawling around.

#04. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)

I’m not sure what traumatized me more, seeing Christopher Lloyd’s terrifying transformation at the end of this film or finding out that the insane maniac Judge Doom was also Doc Brown! This was a double whammy for me. After his psychotic outbreak at the end of Roger Rabbit, (particularly the unbearable squealing as he was run over by a steamroller,) I wasn’t able to watch Back to the Future for years. The sight of Doc Brown scared me as at any second I expected red devil cartoon eyes to appear. And don’t even get me started on Angels in the Outfield.

#03. The Exorcist (1973)

I realize that this is rather a cliché choice, but after seeing The Exorcist, I was unable to even close my eyes for fear that I would see that demonic face—not the grotesque make-up effects on poor Reagan, but the chilling ghostly face that appears throughout the film. I saw this film at eighteen-years-old too young an age to deal with the idea of a demon consuming my mind and body. I had to fall asleep to Three’s Company Looney Tunes for at least a week afterwards.

#02. Fire in the Sky (1993)

Once upon a time on a lovely Saturday afternoon HBO changed my life forever. Unaware that a twelve-year-old boy baby might be watching the film, they decided to program Fire in the Sky. The twelve-minute abduction sequence is by far one of the most traumatizing scenes I’ve ever endured. The fear of those Don Rickles lookin’ aliens has never left me. Searching for the following clip was torture, even at nearly thirty-years-old:

#01. Robocop (1987)

While Fire in the Sky is certainly the strongest and most lingering traumatizing film from my childhood, the number one spot goes to the earliest memory I have that set the stage for all fears of film to come. First let me say, this is no film for a child to watch—it makes me nauseous even today. In a way I was lucky that the only part I witnessed was this scene near the beginning of the film where the evil ED-209 prototype is being demonstrated for a number of investors. “I’m sure it’s only a glitch,” he says… the sheer lack of humanity and the amount of gore those bullets produce was entirely and completely mortifying.  I blame this film for my later fear of war movies. It wasn’t the Nazis that made me afraid of Schindler’s List, it was Robocop!

So there it is. The late eighties were a rough time for me, but every fear helped shape who I am. For the most part I’ve gone back and conquered most of these films. These days there aren’t many films that linger with me, but I always enjoy the few that do. I don’t mind losing a little sleep if it reminds me that I’m still alive! Hopefully none of you use this revealing information to torture me in the future—but at least I didn’t reveal my fear of Harpo Marx. Shit!

3 Responses to “Top 10 traumatizing childhood movie moments”
  1. Jill says:

    I love that these aren’t your traditional “horror” movies–I’m someone who didn’t see her first horror movie until 8th grade, and was traumatized (by I Know What You Did Last Summer). Sometimes shows like Ghost Hunters or Unsolved Mysteries freak me out. My friends convinced me to watch Killer Klowns, and even though I recognized how ridiculous it was, I still had to leave the room.

    Thanks for the read!

  2. Kevin Mattison says:

    I’m going to have to check out this “The Sentinel” flick. Looks fun. Plus, I am extremely uncomfortable with not being familiar with EVERY FILM IN THE WORLD!

  3. Thanks! I was freaked out by a massive amount of television shows as well… Are You Afraid of the Dark, Unsolved Mysteries, the Halloween episode of Empty Nest… I was a huge baby for the longest time. I don’t think it was until Scream that I actually sought out a horror film for myself – and that was a couple years after it came out.

    And Kevin, you should check out The Sentinel. It has the most amount of stars in the smallest of roles – look for Richard Dreyfuss in his memorable role: “Man on sidewalk talking to girl in red sweater”

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