Was there a film(s) that completely traumatized you as a child? I’ll go first, Cujo. I have no idea what my mother was thinking, allowing that film to play in the background of her chores, but I watched it and had nightmares for months. After someone polled an entertainment forum for other traumatic experiences, here is what scared the youth.
1. Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)
Several people confess Willy Wonka was terrifying as children. Agreed! This movie creeped me out. Like, is this chocolate guy just out here murdering kids? Also, Slugsworth was scary: “Nobody goes in….nobody comes out.” The tunnel scene, chocolate river, shrinking., blueberry, all of it. It hits differently watching it through the eyes of a child.
2. It (1990)
“I was four, and my babysitter watched it on VHS. For years, I was afraid of sinks, toilets, gutters, drains, balloons, clowns, and Tim Curry.” Who is out here letting young ones watch Pennywise the Dancing Clown? It is, to this day, one of the creepiest films from my tween years. Tim Curry was a convincing nightmare that still outshines the remake regarding lifelong fear!
3. Pinocchio (1940)
Did anyone not freak out at the scene in Pinocchio when they turn into donkeys? There are several dark undertones that are creepy in this film. The noises used for the whale in Pinocchio remain terrifying! Also, that shot that is facing it head-on while it charges with its mouth open! Freaky!
4. Psycho (1960)
Psycho did for showers what Jaws did for the ocean. We are talking about lifetime trauma, as one admits: “The shower scene hit every weak spot. You’re blind, deaf, and naked. To this day, I have a shower curtain with a see-through at the top. The shower scene and when he came out dressed as his mother in the end scared me.”
5. The Brave Little Toaster (1987)
My sister and I loved The Brave Little Toaster. Admittedly, it has multiple scenes that are scary. The scene where the AC unit catches fire and dies is horrifying. Almost drowning in the river was bad. But, for many, “There is a song in a junkyard with cars singing about how fantastic life used to be but how they are worthless now.
Then, each car is crushed to death. One mentions, “But there is one truck that always sticks with me. Just as the magnet is about to get him….he drives himself onto the belt to the crusher. He wanted to die on his own terms.”
6. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
E.T. didn’t phone home for countless individuals in the thread who confess the little alien scared them as kids. The scene where he is lying in the river and in the tent with all the people in hazmat suits was the most traumatic to these viewers. When Elliot first sees E.T. in the field, he starts screaming; one says, “I could never watch it.”
7. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
Who Framed Roger Rabbit tops the list of childhood trauma. One viewer notes the scene where Judge Doom is melting and that poor red shoe. Another confesses, “My brothers are identical twins, and my mum had to skip that bit because we’d all get so upset. The thought of one half of the pair being left without the other was just devastating.”
8. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is full of nightmare fuel. From the scene where they are eating bugs, live snakes, and eyeball soup to the chanting scene where they drink blood and rip a man’s beating heart from his chest, the film is terrifying for young viewers. It’s also the movie responsible for the PG-13 rating. Steven Speilberg siggested it.
9. Gremlins (1984)
Never mind that these cute little Mogwai creatures turn into nasty, murderous Gremlins who wreak havoc on an entire town after multiplying and escaping. The story Kate (Phoebe Cates) tells about her dad going missing on Christmas Eve, only to be found several days later dressed as Santa, dead in the chimney, is horrifying.
10. All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989)
All Dogs Go to Heaven was another favorite that made me cry and had explicitly frightening scenes. There is a part where they go to hell, which is scary for anyone, let alone kids. Someone suggests, “Yeah, that hellhound dragon thing can bugger off. Nightmares for days.”
11. Poltergeist (1982)
Poltergeist is packed with images that stay with you when you close your eyes. From swimming with what turned out to be real human skeletons in a muddy pool to the scene where the clown disappears from the chair in the kid’s bedroom, what were our parents thinking? Oh, that’s right. It was only rated PG! “They’re here.”
12. Return to Oz (1985)
Return to Oz follows Dorothy Gale on an entirely new adventure that terrified 80s babies to their core. The Wheelers, and most importantly, their laughs, were frightening. Still, the scene where Dorothy walks by the hall of human heads scared me and thousands of others in the forum. When Princess Mombi decides she wants Dorothy’s head — chills.
13. Child’s Play (1988)
“Hi. I’m Chucky. Wanna play?” Yes. 100% Child’s Play scared the bejesus out of thousands of kids. I remember a My Buddy doll that looked similar and was creepy after watching Chucky!
14. The NeverEnding Story (1984)
Who wasn’t traumatized by The NeverEnding Story? The scene where Atreyu’s horse Artax drowns in the Swamps of Sadness is forever engrained into 80s children’s heads. Many forum members admit that that scene still makes their eyes well up, even as adults. Others confess Falkor scared them watching as a kid.\
15. Jaws (1975)
Jaws traumatized generations of children. Several people had irrational fears of taking baths because of the shark. Others note that to this day, they can’t get into the ocean.
One elaborates, “When Quint slowly slides down the sinking boat, and we get to watch his face as the shark eats him alive,” as an image they can’t shake from their head. Others agree that the opening scene was terrifying. We all agree the theme music makes it so frightening, with many admitting they still hear it when they bravely go into the ocean.
16. Watership Down (1978)
It may look like you will watch a cute movie about bunnies, but that is not the case. One user admits, “I watched it as a child, and it terrified me. I watched it last week with my husband, who had never seen it. We had to have three or four conversations about it since because it made him have such complex feelings.”
17. Arachnophobia (1990)
Arachnophobia was another film that technically wasn’t made in the 80s but still frightened 80s children (myself included), so I put it on this list. Many users admit they had no fear of spiders until after seeing that film. While some reminded us to always check our shoes before putting them on, I am still plagued by the memory of the spider crawling out of the woman’s nose. Hey, by the way, did you know this film is labeled a comedy?
18. The Blob (1988)
Truthfully, The Blob from 1988 is a remake of a 1958 version with Steve McQueen, but both are terrifying. I will never forget the scene where the blob pulls someone into a sink.
19. The Dark Crystal (1982)
The Dark Crystal was one that I remember being scared of, but I was so young at the time that I don’t remember why. However, someone says, “I watched the first 10 minutes when I was younger, and the Skeksis scared me so badly I couldn’t sleep with the lights off for weeks.”
20. The Secret of NIMH (1982)
The Secret of NIMH was one of my favorite books as a kid. I had a fourth-grade teacher who read the book to us, and I was enthralled the entire way through. However, the movie painted a more terrifying image. Many suggest the owl really scared them; one elaborates, “WHY HAVE YOU COME? That line still creeps me out at age 42.” However, others were more bothered by the spider monster.
21. Batman (1989)
Batman with Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson had some nightmare fuel. In the end, the Joker falls from the bell tower, and they slowly zoom in on him, smashed into the concrete, with a smile on his face and the laugh track stuck in a loop. One explains, “The whole movie was dark. Bruce’s parents are getting murdered in front of him, the falling bag of popcorn. But the ending was the scariest thing I’d seen.” Another adds that the Joker using the acid on his girlfriend was “pretty creepy.”
22. The Fox and the Hound (1981)
The Fox and the Hound is one that stays with you. It’s one of the first films to make me cry. The fox and hound become friends as kids. But the hound grows up to learn to hunt foxes and eventually has to chase down and kill his childhood friend.
Others mention the scene where the lady drops the fox off and drives away as traumatizing. “Him looking at the truck driving away from the angle of the rearview mirror will be forever seared into my mind, and it’s been over 20 years since I last watched it.”
23. Pet Sematary (1989)
Pet Sematary has one of the creepiest kids in the history of horror films. The part where he is under the bed with the scalpel haunts me. Additionally, the scenes with the mom’s sister, Zelda, are permanently engrained into many of our brains. “Rachel!” Oh, so creepy. One clarifies, “I was so frightened by the mom at the end that I was afraid to walk into our own kitchen alone because she might be there just waiting for me!”
24. Cocoon (1985)
“Cocoon” shares one. “Old people kept dying in their sleep, and young me didn’t realize it was because they were old. I thought people just randomly died in their sleep. Queue about a year where I was terrified to go to sleep because I thought I would never wake up again.”
25. The Witches (1990)
The Witches is another book my fourth-grade teacher read to us, and I loved every minute of it. However, the part where the girl is put into a painting forever terrified me. When the witch’s eyes glowed purple, it was also frightening. Nonetheless, the scene that takes the cake is when the witches remove their wigs, and the Grand High Witch removes her face!
26. Tremors (1990)
Tremors is such a classic, and I watched it on repeat with my sister. However, I can see why it terrified children. The creatures sense vibrations and pull you under the ground. One viewer states, “I was scared to walk on the floor at night for years.”
27. Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985)
Pee-wee’s Big Adventure with the clown dream sequence and the large Marge scene terrified thousands of ’80s kids. One who admits: “I still fast forward those scenes to this day. They freak me out.”
Another agrees: “Large Marge is THE thing that scared me most. It was so unexpected in an otherwise fun movie. We used to pause it on Large Marge’s face because it looked so creepy and kinda funny.”
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Featured Image Credit: Willy Wonka – Warner Bros. Return to Oz – Walt Disney Pictures. The Temple of Doom – Lucasfilm Ltd.
Elizabeth Ervin is the owner of Sober Healing. She is a freelance writer passionate about opioid recovery and has celebrated breaking free since 09-27-2013. She advocates for mental health awareness and encourages others to embrace healing, recovery, and spirituality.