Weekend Roundtable: Movies That Terrified You as a Child

We’ve got a fun Roundtable topic this week. What movie did you see at far too young an age that left you traumatized from the experience? The more irrational this fear, the better. Especially if it’s a movie that isn’t necessarily “scary” per se, but that made you quake in your boots nonetheless. Can you look back at these movies and laugh at how silly your childhood fear was? Or do they still leave you unnerved at even the thought of them?

I’ll kick this one off.

Josh Zyber

  1. Ghostbusters‘ – Yes, really, ‘Ghostbusters’. It’s a comedy classic. I’ve seen it a hundred times in the years since, and laugh all the way through it. But I swear to god, when I was 10 years-old, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man scared the living crap out of me. I can hardly even imagine why anymore. It must have had something to do with being a friendly-looking product mascot turned evil. That menacing smile creeped me the hell out. It seems silly now, but I actually had recurring nightmares about being stomped by his giant gooey foot. Fortunately, I outgrew it, and the movie is funny enough that I can watch it again now without curling up in a ball in mortal terror. Most of the time, anyway.

Mike Attebery

  1. Superman III‘ – I know I’m not alone on this one. Even 27 years after the fact, just the thought of this movie makes me furious. No, I’m not talking about the whole Good Superman/Bad Superman garbage, or Richard Pryor’s intolerable performance, which had no place anywhere in the world of the Man of Steel. No, I’m talking about the scene at the end of the movie, when an out of control computer grabs hold one of the main villains, pulls her into its electronic workings, and solders and splices pieces of machinery and hardware onto her as she screams in pain and horror. Then, the damn thing sets this nightmarish demon robot monster loose on her own brother and the brother’s floozy girlfriend. In preparing for this little visit to my own childhood hell, I just watched that clip for the first time in at least twenty years. Though today it seems stupid and silly, it still has no place in a children’s movie, and stands as proof that studio executives, no matter the age or era, have no damn idea what they’re doing. Never have, probably never will. Watch if you dare!.

Dick Ward

  1. The Phantom Tollbooth‘ – In 1971, a brilliant book was made into a brilliant movie. It wasn’t a big hit initially, but it gained an absolutely astonishing following, and even got a remake in 2005. It’s a movie that will forever hold a place in my heart – ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.’ One year before that, the great Chuck Jones managed to absolutely terrify me with a much less whimsical and wonderful envisioning of ‘The Phantom Tollbooth.’ It has a truly awful animation style that still makes me uncomfortable today, and a complete lack of regard for what’s actually enjoyable to watch. My parents decided to rent ‘The Phantom Tollbooth’ one day, and I’ve never forgiven them for it. The book may have been worth reading, but I got through about thirty minutes of the movie before it was too much. I’m not sure if it was the Spelling Bees or the Senses Taker, but whatever it was, it was awful. I haven’t tried watching it again, save a quick YouTube clip to remind me how much it weirded me out. These days, if I’m going to watch someone traveling in a small box and meeting weird and interesting creatures, it’s going to be The Doctor.

Drew Taylor

  1. Pet Sematary‘ – My grandparents gave me their old-ass television when I was very little. While most late night programming didn’t phase me (I fell deeply in love with the vivid colors presented in Hammer’s underrated ‘Revenge of Frankenstein’), even I had my limits. When Mary Lambert’s inelegant but still effective ‘Pet Sematary’ flashed by my impressionable eyes, I was terrified. It wasn’t the animals that came back from the dead that bugged me out, but rather the ghostly visage of the patient that our hero Louis Creed (the robotic Dale Midkiff) couldn’t save. This man’s head was crushed, the side of his skull caved in like a giant wad of bubblegum, with blood oozing down the side of his face. In fact, this could be my own imagination. He could look totally innocuous. But I can still remember the heebie jeebies I got when I first saw this image. Later in the movie, a zombie child seeks revenge for tampering with God’s laws. I still watched, of course, but nothing could top the maimed man, who as far as ghostly apparitions delivering a message from the great beyond, was infinitely creepier than Griffin Dunne in ‘American Werewolf in London.’

David Krauss

  1. Trilogy of Terror‘ – When this topic first came up, I was going to write about ‘The Poseidon Adventure,’ which so freaked me out when I saw it during its original theatrical release at the tender age of 9, I was convinced my home would be washed away by a tidal wave that same evening. (It didn’t matter that we lived a good 10 miles from the shore and in a very hilly area. I just KNEW we were doomed to drown!) But then a little troll figure popped into my brain, and it forced me to dredge up the horrific childhood memories of a low-budget TV movie called ‘Trilogy of Terror.’ I was a good deal older when I saw that flick – maybe 13? – one night when I was home alone, but let me tell you it scared the bejeezus out of me. (And probably still would today, if I could ever work up the nerve to see it again – which I can’t!) Anybody remember Karen Black? Well, shortly after she made an idiot of herself as the harried stewardess at the controls of a jumbo jet in ‘Airport 1975,’ she starred in this bizarre collection of three tales of the supernatural. The last segment, in which an African Zuni fetish doll comes to life and terrorizes her in her apartment, still provokes flashback shivers today. With a mouthful of razor sharp teeth, a deadly spear, and a squealing chant that rings in my ears to this day, this two-inch-tall cyclone of evil scurries about the apartment (the effect was cleverly enhanced by a subjective camera), chasing and traumatizing a rightly hysterical Black, who must figure out a way to vanquish this seemingly indestructible devil. The segment probably doesn’t run more than 20 minutes or so, but back then it seemed like an eternity, and made me worry every inanimate object in our house would suddenly come alive and attack me. I truly have never seen a more frightening piece of film. Apparently, there’s a ‘Trilogy of Terror II,’ which was released back in 1996 and revives the grisly doll. But there’s no way in hell I’d go within 100 feet of it. Hopefully, I’ll be able to sleep tonight!

Those are the movies that creeped us out as kids. What movies scared the pants off you?


  1. JoeRo

    E.T. scared the daylights out of me. I remember the sequence when the government comes to steal him away and he lets loose with this horrible scream. Ugh. To make matters worse, we made little E.T. replicas out of brown paper bags at school, elementary school not university wise guy. Once I brought that thing home my mom proudly displayed it on this bookcase next to a closet, which I could never enter alone from that point onward.

  2. Zaserov

    I remember watching It when I was young – I certainly didn’t make it all the way through, but since the first half was about kids, it worked well enough.

    As for irrational fear – I was actually scared of Willy Wonka for a while. My first contact with the movie was just for a short while in a hair-cut place. Between the cheap tv and a VHS I’m sure had been played a thousand times, when August was stuck in the tube it looked to be filled with blood, not chocolate. With no context, I had an odd perception of that movie for a while.

  3. coologuy1957

    The “Large Marge” scene from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure really f’ed me up for a while….

    and Freddy made sure I couldn’t feel better in my dreams..

    I also second the Trilogy of Terror mention as that image of the doll and the “infected” woman in the final scene still haunts me to this day!

  4. Wayne

    Yeah, I guess being 10 years old I was easily scared. We had watched, on VHS, the double whammy of Cujo and Twilight Zone the movie….. I didn’t sleep at ALL that night….

  5. mh

    My response really ages me, but it was TARANTULA! I’d like to claim that I saw it on TV, but, nope, I saw it in a theater.

  6. besch64

    The air conditioner scene from The Brave Little Toaster. If you’ve seen the movie, you know EXACTLY what scene I’m talking about.

    Absolutely terrifying for a child.

  7. I second the library scene in Ghostbusters. Absolutely scared the hell out of me as a kid.

    I also was terrified by the whole pig scene in Willow, the wolf in Neverending Story, the entire time during Gremlins, everything about Beetlejuice, and the witch with all the heads in Return to Oz.

    Needless to say, every movie ever scared me as a child.

  8. motorheadache

    That scene in the Twilight Zone movie where Nancy Cartwright gets banished into that demented cartoon and devoured. I watched that movie on late-night tv when I was sick, I think I was 9 or 10. That bit really disturbed me at the time.

  9. Return to Oz for me! The sequence with the shock therapy at the beginning, and the hall full of young girls’ heads with no bodies….yikes! I’m still terrified….I want to watch it again! 🙂

  10. Justin Finch

    I’m glad I’m not the only person who was terrified of Return to Oz!
    Scary and f!?king weird as all hell. They don’t make movies like that nowadays.

  11. OMG, I just lost all my typing. No clue what happened! So, I am going to give a list, and will not go into detail about all of them this time.

    Return to Oz – What the HECK was Disney thinking? Beautiful Girl stuck in mirror, Wheelers, the Gnomes, the Deadly Desert, Mombi with the disembodied heads, a talking moose head that came back to life! I was scared of dead animals for years

    Unico: The Last Unicorn – Don’t even remember what this movie was about, I just remember it was some freaky Japanese Cartoon. Proof that just because its a cartoon does not mean its suitable for all ages

    Neverending Story – This movie tramatizes me to this day. And it was my dad’s favorite movie, so I had to watch it again and again and again. The scariest thing was the wolf, still have nightmares about him. Almost as bad is The Nothing – I still have dreams where the world breaks apart into nothingness. The Rockeater, Giant Snails. I still find myself afraid to step on the ground sometimes in fear that it will start talking and moving and end up being some giant turtle. Then the boy’s horse dies. And for years I was terrified of statues, especially if they were giant statues.

    Carebears Movie – The concept that a book could turn a good boy evil, and have effects on kids he doesn’t evne know miles away, destroying homes and all of that.

    Dumbo – Lets get drunk and have hallucinations

    Winnie The Pooh – Lets go to bed hungry and have hallucinations

    Pinnochio – Lets get drunk and have horrible things happen to us.

    Labarynth – Baby stealing Goblins, mazes that rearrange themselves. Watched it again a few years ago, and while it no longer scares me, I still do not like the movie

    Gone With The Wind – The name alone scared me. I was a skinny kid, always told that a gust of wind might just blow me away someday. I always tended to walk in on this movie during the war, the bombing, or when Scarlett is trying to get home. As an adult, its my favorite movie ever

    Chipmunk Adventure – Had to fast forward through several parts – I only watched it cause I had a crush on Britnee. The opening music FREAKED ME OUT! Why would you have music like that on a movie about the Chipmunks anyways? Also was terrified of babysitters after this – dad goes away, leaves you with someone whom you absolutely hate and are terrified of, who can’t drive, and can’t even look after herself?

    Mary Poppins – everything up to the bank scene was fine. I was terrified of Jane and Michael running through the city, terrified of the chimney scene, terrified of the man dying laughing.

  12. Nick

    I’m glad someone mentioned Twilight Zone the Movie. Same segment for me but it’s when you see the sister doesn’t have a mouth and when they pull the rabbit out of the hat.

    Child’s Play also scared me. Never saw the movie as a kid but I saw a tv commercial for it and it gave me nightmares.

    Pet Cemetery also scared the shit out of me.

  13. The Exorcist.

    I was quite young when I got my first glimpse of this movie. Obviously, my parents would never have allowed me to watch it, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t in my own house that I saw that glimpse of the movie. It was very disturbing and had stayed with me for years.

  14. Scott H

    The movie that scared the hell out me is Terminator 2. My parents had rented it when it came out on video and told me it was too scary for me too watch and to go to bed. But I didn’t and I watched through the railings up stairs. When I saw the scene where the cop walks over the T1000 who had morphed into the floor, you heard a sticky squishy sound. Then when the cop turns around only to see a double of him self and get killed. That scrared me, I was afraid when I heard that sound, that the T1000 was going to come out of the floor and kill me. And now that movie is one of favorites of all time. Also the scene in Total Recall when you meet Quato, that scene freaks me out still to this day.

    • If I had of been any younger when those movies came out, then yeah, I would be with you. I was 11 when these two movies came out, thought they were the coolest things. Quatro is still freaky, though.

  15. Turd Furgeson

    1.) “Let’s Scare Jessica To Death”

    2.) Just one scene from the original [cut of] “The Exorcist” where the girl was stabbing herself with the cross and brutalizing her mother.

    I was never left traumatized since horror movies were always my favorite, but those two definitely earned their respective places for legitimately scaring me.

  16. triguous

    To this day, my mom gives me hell for my childhood fear of the Wicked Witch in “The Wizard of Oz.” Once the film went to color, I was out of there. However, I did manage to listen to the remainder of the movie from the comfort of the next room. Strange thing is, I now find the Witch incredibly attractive.