I’m a big fan of both YourMovieSucks and Chris Stuckman, two very different movie reviewers on YouTube. Adam from YourMovieSucks just finished his retrospective called Childhood Trauma, a series all about the things that scared the piss out of him as a little kid. And Chris just released a similar video about the things that scared him.
It seemed like a fun thing to join in on since everybody has those isolated media moments that scared the hell out of them as kids. I’m not different. So let’s get started!
* * * * * *
So first up . . . Stephen King traumatized me as a child. I didn’t realize it until just now, but Stephen King television miniseries have an excellent track record at giving me nightmares throughout my childhood.
SciFi must have had a deal with Stephen King at some point, because they played Stephen King miniseries all the goddamn time. Back to back. All day. They set the precedent of freaking me out within the first ten minutes until I left the room, a lasting phobia having been formed. I discussed during my IT teaser trailer review that just watching the original clown-in-a-storm-drain scene from IT as a five or six-year-old was enough to make me terrified of both clowns and storm drains until I was a teenager.
The first act of Maximum Overdrive also terrified me. I already had reoccurring nightmares about my mother’s then-car locking me inside of it and rolling down hills and/or running into things, so the idea of cars coming to life and killing you was already a very salient one to me before I watched this movie, and this certainly didn’t help. Watching the opening scenes with a bunch of common everyday appliances going crazy and killing people was enough to make me go apologize to my desk lamp to make sure it wouldn’t electrocute me.
The cherry on the top of the Stephen King-centric trauma sundae, though, is definitely the 2004 Salem’s Lot miniseries that aired on TNT. This is the first Stephen King miniseries that I actually had to tune in to watch. I was nine years old at the time, and Salem’s Lot was what I watched with my family as “family time” before going to bed on a weeknight. My parents had no oversight. None.
Note: some of these are clips from the 1979 movie, not the oddly-difficult-to-find miniseries.
There was the first death scene where a stranger hidden in shadow murders a small boy wearing a red jacket by forcing him under the surface of a frozen pond and watching him die as he violently drowned underneath the ice. That was traumatizing enough imagery on its own, but add to that the fact that it was a kid my age doing the dying, and that’s how you got a nine-year-old who’d seen snow once in her life nevertheless become terrified of falling through ice and drowning. Secondly, there’s the hospital scene wherein the dead boy comes back as a vampire to kill his brother. All you see is a waterlogged red jacket passing in between the hospital curtains as the heart monitor goes crazy in the background until suddenly stopping as a corpse-white hand finally pulls back the curtain, and his brother lets out a terrified scream. Third, there’s the lovely image of a black-and-white dog impaled on a wrought iron fence in a grave yard. That one is pretty self-explanatory. And lastly, there’s the vampire school bus scene where a man is eaten alive by a hoard of sadistic vampire children.
Yeah, young me did not have a fun time with this one.
* * *
We can finally move away from Stephen King into other things that made me shit my pants! I’ll dedicate this part to a quick run-down of some animated fare that thoroughly freaked me out. I’ll go through these quickly since many people are probably traumatized by these same things, so there’s no need in explaining it too much.
Scooby Doo on Zombie Island. It is and probably will always be the perfect Scooby Doo film, and it is terrifying for young children. Despite this, I watched that VHS so much it broke. You know the scene I’m talking about.
Hey Arnold! is known for it’s great scary episodes. The one that takes the cake for me, though, is the Headless Cabbie episode, wherein they tell the tale of a ghost woman who kills innocent horse carriage drivers by hanging and/or beheading them with a scarf. The way it escalates from a sweet, quiet woman offering a cabbie a scarf, to her insanely yelling for the cabbie to drive faster, and the evil laughter that comes after he winds up dying disturbed the hell out of me.
There’s no way that Courage the Cowardly Dog wasn’t going to be on this list. It’s a messed up show. The two episodes that have stuck with me the most are ones that appeared as extra features on my Scooby Doo VHS tapes. First, there is the original short that got Courage started, featuring Eustace eating an alien chicken egg and slowly and painfully turning into an alien chicken. It was surprisingly visceral and utilized excellent suspense. Secondly, there’s the King Ramses episode, that begins with two guys getting eaten alive by a swarm of locusts whilst screaming bloody murder, and uses some of the creepiest fucking CGI I’ve ever seen.
* * *
How about anthology shows? I watched a lot of those as a kid. I loved reading and watching Goosebumps. I watched Are You Afraid of the Dark? and Creepshow with my parents’ incredibly questionable supervision. While those shows do have their moments, there are two anthology moments that have always stuck with me.
Firstly: The Twilight Zone episode Nightmare at 20,000 Feet. Aka, William Shatner yelling about their being a gremlin on the wing. Twilight Zone is actually one of my all-time favorite shows, and, in retrospect, this is by no means the scariest episode. That being said, this was one of the first episodes of the show that I had ever seen, around eleven or twelve-years-old. I watched this in history class, as an end-of-the-year “Yay, no more school work!” treat, I guess. My teacher was weird. Despite the not-very-scary makeup for the gremlin, the jumpscare of its face being pressed up against the window is so well done and gets me every time. The thing that really freaked me out wasn’t the gremlin as much as the overwhelming, existential fear of going insane that mounts throughout the episode. The gremlin isn’t scary, but not knowing whether or not it’s truly there is terrifying.
* * *
And now, as the grand finale to this tour of media that haunted my childhood, I will now go through a crash course of films that I should not have been allowed to watch and the very particular scenes that had me shaking in my proverbial boots.
The Blob. Another kid dies. Young me was traumatized by kids dying, I guess. In the case of this movie, it was even worse because it makes you think it’s going to be like most films where anyone under the age of 16 is going to survive. You think the kid is going to get pulled under the water then be rescued by the main character in an act of heroism. Then, out of nowhere, the main character rises from the water without him, looking around frantically, and he explodes to the surface, being painfully and terrifying dissolved inside the Blob on-screen. What.
This next one is also thanks to SciFi: Dark Ride. It is an incredibly shitty horror movie about an escaped mental ward killer in a creepy baby-doll mask doing what killers do and murdering the shit out of some obnoxious young people after they get trapped inside an abandoned It’s a Small World-style amusement park ride. It’s not all that remarkable. What I remember about it, though, was that this physically improbable death scene scared the hell out of me when I looked up at the TV screen right on time to see it happen.
* * *
Lastly, we’ve got the good ole,’ early 2000s American remakes of Asian horror films. The crowning jewel of things that terrified me as a young girl. Namely: 2004’s The Grudge.
And those grudge ghosts, man. Those ghosts. After watching The Grudge and its 2006 sequel, particularly this scene showing that hiding underneath the covers will not save you, those ghosts were the things that went bump in the night as far as I was concerned. Those ghosts were the reason that I did a running leap into my bed every night after turning off the lights.
It wasn’t even the ghosts themselves that I found overly scary. In the end of the day, they’re just some pale people that make weird sounds and move funny. No, the thing that utterly terrified me was that there was absolutely no getting away from them. They’d get you in your bed, or in a phone booth, or from inside a guarded room, or from a picture, or in the shower, or from inside your fucking clothes. They’d get you in your house, or your workplace, or on a busy street, or at school. It didn’t matter.
I was nine years old when I saw the first movie and around eleven when I saw the second one. I just couldn’t grasp the idea that this evil force would drive you insane and then kill you just because you knew someone who know someone who went to school with someone who lived across the hall from someone who worked with someone who went into a house once. It freaked me out just how arbitrary and ever-reaching the victims of these ghosts were.
And that’s why The Grudge traumatized me more than anything else on this list: it introduced me to the concept of indiscriminate, undeserved death. And going on to be parodied in Scary Movie only helped a little.