The 10 Creepiest Kids Movies

Posted by Billy Gil, October 19, 2015 05:04pm | Post a Comment

Our childhoods are littered with films that, for whatever reason, were in many ways equally as terrifying as their R-rated counterparts. Around Halloween, it’s always fun to revisit these movies and think about the times when Disney took a dark turn and parents were a lot more lax about what they let their kids watch. Here are 10 creepy cult movies, box office bombs and genuine hits that were probably a lot scarier than they needed to be.

The Adventures of Mark Twain (1985)

Claymation already is and always has been disturbing to me. I couldn’t figure out what was going on with Gumby, and I didn’t want to know. The Adventures of Mark Twain doesn’t seem that creepy on the surface, telling the story of such beloved characters as Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn as they meet Twain himself, who’s on an airship to meet up with Halley’s Comet (which was a big deal in 1985 when this was released, as the comet became visible to the naked eye the following year in a once-in-a-lifetime event). So far, so good. But anyone who saw the film as a child knows there’s a disturbing scene based in part on Twain’s story “The Chronicle of Young Satan” in which a headless suit of armor carrying a mask claims to be the devil himself and capable of easily wiping out humans (“People are of no value,” is his existential response to smooshing some clay people). It’s always good to make sure that children learn life is futile early on. Read an interview with director Will Vinton here.


The Black Cauldron (1985)

A horned demon sorcerer presiding over a catacomb full of dead bodies he plans to raise as an army of the dead…sounds like a great way to start a Disney movie! This unfairly maligned Disney toon from its fascinating dark period during the early 1980s (the same time period that produced Watcher in the Woods and Child of Glass) practically sank their animated division, so they say. Then The Little Mermaid came and saved the day. No offense to that movie, which is awesome in a completely different way, but Black Cauldron is pretty badass for Disney. With Ralph Bakshi-style animation and a Dungeons & Dragonsy party of characters, it’s unlike any other Disney film. It got a PG rating, likely for the aforementioned army of the dead and some blood, but let’s be honest, Disney has always had scary moments in its animated features, from Bambi’s mom getting shot to Dumbo tripping the f*ck out and seeing pink elephants.



Child of Glass (1978)

Child of Glass is a made-for-TV ghost story that you may half remember seeing on the Disney Channel as a child. In the film, a boy realizes he can see ghosts a la Sixth Sense and starts seeing the spectre of a little creole girl who creepily calls out his name. She tells him a riddle about a child who was murdered and says that if he doesn’t solve it, she’ll haunt him forever. Along with similarly surreal Watcher in the Woods, it’s the kind of thing that was perfect for kids who loved reading scary stories and making up their own, a kind of precursor to the excellent “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” series popular on Nickelodeon in the ’90s. Read more about Child of Glass on the excellent creepy kids movie blog Kindertrauma.


Coraline (2009)

It’s easy for us to look at the past and say children’s movies are so tame these days, but it isn’t really true. Take Coraline, for instance, a big-budget stop-motion film about a little girl who finds a secret bizzaro world where everything seems better and brighter than her real existence. But the only way to stay there is to sew buttons over her eyes and have her soul trapped forever. It’s from Henry Selick, the writer/director behind the similarly goth The Nightmare Before Christmas, and based on a book by gothy graphic novelist Neil Gaiman. Enough said.


The Dark Crystal (1982)

It seems like the early ’80s were full of movies that were both aimed at children and hilariously inappropriate for them. Take The Dark Crystal, for instance, a movie that took Jim Henson and Frank Oz’s lovable muppets and made them into nightmare creatures. Henson and Oz followed this film with Labyrinth, another screwed up kids movie about a baby getting kidnapped and a girl stuck in a life-threatening maze that feels entirely hopeless. If the original skeksis weren’t scary enough, check them out in this scene speaking their original, made-up language before it was switched up for English in a bid to be slightly less terror-inducing.


Poltergeist (1982)

This isn’t so much a kid’s movie, but raise your hand if you watched it as a child. One of the truly scariest movies of all time deserves to be on this list because it was clearly aimed at children and families, it features a child in danger from things that scare children (that goddamn clown and that f*cking tree) and it was rated PG. Despite some cheesy effects, it holds up today, and the terrible stories behind the scenes and supposed subliminal messages only add to the creep factor. This movie made at least one child raise his hands to the TV and try to talk to ghosts, which is not normal.


Return to Oz (1985)

A much harsher film than 1939’s The Wizard of Oz, this sequel was inspired by parts of the second two Oz books and is considered to be more faithful in spirit to the book series. Unfortunately for children of the ’80s who enjoyed sleeping through the night, this meant the film was pretty bleak and often terrifying. It starts with Dorothy in shock treatment following her return from (and obsession with) Oz, and it just gets more surreal and bizarre from there, not least of which are the wheelers, which look closer to something out of A Clockwork Orange than a kids movie. Even Dorothy's new friends are frightening, like anthropomorphic jack-o-lantern Jack Pumpkinhead, whose surname would perhaps not uncoincidentally become a horror film several years later. If only Disney still put out movies this crazy!


Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)

I really didn’t know what the hell was going on in this book when I read it as a teen, and watching the movie now it’s not hard to see why. Ray Bradbury’s tale of a carnival that terrorizes a Midwestern town has it all: creepy clowns, mirror mazes, a carousel that changes your age when you ride it and Jonathan Pryce (The High Sparrow!) as the imposing Mr. Dark, whose carnival traps the souls of its visitors. Another one from Disney’s early-’80s dark period.


The Watcher in the Woods (1980)

I just watched this recently, but what...the…hell was Disney thinking? I only saw the trailer for this movie as a kid, on one of those old Disney VHS trailers, and that alone was enough to emblazon it on my brain for the rest of my life. A blindfolded child’s ghost appears in mirrors and coffins. There are aliens and some Evil Dead-ish handheld camera running through the woods effects. Bette Davis is pretty scary as the psycho-biddy presiding over a creepy old house. And a general fever-dream quality due to some bad editing and strange choices add up to a movie that is massively scary for children. Part of the charm of seeing Watcher in the Woods now is knowing a film like it would never be made today. (Not that we overly coddle our kids these days movie-wise, as Toy Story 3 and Wall-E have some pretty effed-up moments.) There’s a wonderful essay written about the film here that explains it better. Once you’ve seen the film, I recommend watching this alternate ending, which, despite (and maybe because of) the unfinished and tacky special effects, is only all the more unsettling for it.


Watership Down (1978)

This one isn’t so much “scary” as just intense, even for an adult. After a seeing a terrifying image of a field soaked by blood, a young rabbit and his companions leave their burrows to find a new warren. The fact that these adorable cartoon rabbits could be in real danger sends shivers down the spines of children who assume everything will be OK for all that’s cute and cuddly in the world. Based on Richard Adams’ novel, it can be read as an allegory for oppression, but it’s also just a great adventure story for kids who can stomach its bloody rabbit fights and general feeling of desperation. Read Phil Hoad’s essay on Watership Down as part of The Guardian’s “the film that frightened me the most” series. Watch scenes from the film cut with Clint Mansell’s Requiem for a Dream theme below. You can also find scenes cut with Marilyn Manson’s “Sweet Dreams” on YouTube.


Honorable Mentions:

Legend (1985)










The Witches (1990)

That part where all the witches snatch off their wigs *shudders*


The Neverending Story (1984)

I loved this movie as a kid but remember it being sadder than scary—Artax! :( That Gmork, though.


Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)

Two words: Large Marge.


Fantasia (1940)

The “Night on Bald Mountain” part is pretty sick.


The later “Harry Potter” movies (2000s)

If listicles are still around in 10 years, some Gen Y-er is gonna write about how terrifying these movies were for them and they’ll be right.



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