Is there a particular movie, show or other piece of media that kept you up at night as a child? Or maybe one that still haunts your nightmares today? For me, that was Michael Jackson’s "Thriller" music video. The ending frame, which some sadistic human chose to zoom in on for a whopping 25 seconds, flashed before the eyes of my 8-year-old self before bedtime for a week straight. In the spirit of Halloween, I racked my brain and asked my peers to do the same to compile a short list of children’s entertainment that scarred its viewers.
I was recently able to rewatch this masterpiece for the first time since its release in 2006. The most harrowing scene occurs early in the movie, when an old man named Nebbercracker has a heart attack and (supposedly) dies during an altercation with the film’s main character DJ. He falls face-first onto the ground and a shot of his lifeless eyes lingers on the frame just long enough to mortify a young audience. Furthermore, the scene in which the main characters stumble upon the body of Nebbercracker’s dead wife cemented into the basement of the house and crack it open to reveal dusty skeletal remains is enough to give anyone the heebie-jeebies.
Coraline is a 2009 film centered around a young girl named Coraline who moves with her family and discovers a parallel world that exists behind a small door in her new home. Though it initially appears too good to be true, the world soon becomes nightmarish. Though the movie is intended to be spooky, it edges on traumatizing. If buttons being sewn onto faces and mouths being sewn shut aren’t scary enough, the “other mother” transforming into her spider-like form will surely petrify you.
Courage the Cowardly Dog
Though all but one episode of “Courage the Cowardly Dog” have been deemed appropriate for children ages 7 and above, it does have some rather dark episodes and scenes. The show, which ran from 1996-2002 centers around a dog named Courage who lives on a farm with an elderly couple and suffers from extreme paranoia. It often employed sinister themes and horror tropes in its episodes. Bizarre characters like Violin Girl (a gorily portrayed violinist who jump scares Courage), Freaky Fred (a character obsessed with removing people's hair) and Kitty (a masked dog-hating woman who abuses Courage and never blinks) frequented the show, leaving its audience frightened and confused.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
Though the The Nightmare Before Christmas, should be celebrated for its duality as a staple in Halloween and Christmas movie catalogs alike, it should also be kept far away from youngins. Though the movie is chock full of ghastly imagery and gory characters, perhaps the most unnerving element of the film is Oogie Boogie and his juvenile henchman: Lock, Shock and Barrel. Perhaps the most chilling scene from the film (though it is hard to pick just one) is the fight scene in which Jack Skellington, the film’s main protagonist, tugs at Boogie’s seam. He unravels, revealing a Boogie-shaped mass of bugs and spiders underneath his burlap exterior.
Scooby-Doo! and the Witch's Ghost
Though any piece of entertainment featuring Scooby-Doo and the rest of Mystery Incorporated is supposed to be spooky, this movie takes the scary cake. Normally, Scooby-Doo storylines follow the same narrative arc, ending with the unmasking of some creepy antagonist who spent the duration of the plot pretending to be a monster, alien, or some other villain. In Scooby-Doo! and the Witch's Ghost, a 1999 film, the villain is a real, not masked, witch named Sarah who is released from a spellbook she was trapped in by wiccans. Sarah’s ghastly appearance, her realness and the film’s choice to stray from the traditional Scooby-Doo story arc make this movie the scariest of all works featuring Mystery Incorporated.
Scary Godmother: Halloween Spooktakular
Scary Godmother: Halloween Spooktakular follows the trick-or-treating adventure of a young girl named Hannah-Marie. There is not much that puts this film on the list aside from its animation style. The film’s elementary animation makes sweet characters tolerable at best and spooky characters difficult to look at. Jimmy’s pencil-thin, arching eyebrows make him look devilish and inhuman. If Voldemort were a Sims 2 character, he would resemble Count Max and Countess Ruby, the kings and queens of the night. The movie wouldn’t be nearly as frightening if it weren’t for the atrocious graphics.
SpongeBob SquarePants (Honorable Mention)
You may be wondering why “SpongeBob SquarePants” has been tacked onto the end of a list of spooky kids entertainment. It is a beloved animated comedy series that was released in 1999 and continues to entertain children of today. However, as I conducted the half-hearted research that led to this article’s creation, it became evident to me that it must be an honorable mention for one reason and one reason only: the “butterfly episode.” Similar to all closeup shots in the show, the closeup shots of a butterfly included in this episode, actually titled “Wormy,” are extremely detailed. In fact, in this episode, the closeups are real videos of a butterfly’s hairy head and thousands of eyes. Some people have gone so far as to deem the episode as the source of their fear of butterflies and moths.
Whether it was Coraline’s button eyes, Oogie Boogie’s bug-filled burlap body or some other character, scene or plot point, we all had restless nights induced by entertainment we consumed as children. Genre and rating have clearly not been the most accurate descriptors of a film or show’s scary factor in the past, so be wary as you engage in Halloween festivities. Whether you plan on spending your holiday watching animated children’s shows, gory horror films or nothing at all, stay vigilant and make good choices.