For many horror fans, our first exposure to the genre was by way of kid friendly horror fare that we were able to get our hands on because it was marketed to children, regardless of the fact that it may have contained thematic elements that were too frightening for young kids. The MPAA has become much stricter in recent years and today’s youngsters likely have to turn to the kid friendly horror titles of the ‘80s and ‘90s to get their scare on. The titles outlined below undoubtedly resulted in a a lot of sleepless nights for young fans of fright flicks.
Below, we count down some of the scariest movies marketed to children.
Something Wicked This Way Comes
This Ray Bradbury adaptation gave an entire generation of children nightmares. It was incredibly dark for a Disney production and would even be dark by the standards of a less family friendly studio. Something Wicked This Way Comes tells the tale of a traveling carnival that comes to town and its proprietor scares the living hell out of a pair of youngsters while simultaneously trying to damn the entire town with his evil carnival. This film furthers my long held assertion that carnies are not to be trusted. Watching the film as a child, the peril that the young boys ended up in seemed incredibly real and the carnival’s proprietor was terribly wicked. Jack Clayton, director of The Great Gatsby (1974), brought plenty of spooky atmosphere to the film and Ray Bradbury effectively adapted the screenplay from his novel of the same name.
The Watcher in the Woods
The Watcher in the Woods chronicles the tribulations a family experiences when moving in to a home in the country that is just brimming with supernatural and or paranormal occurrences. This was a later role for Bette Davis, but she still brought her signature flare to the role of Mrs. Aylwood. The film terrified me as a youngster; there are séances, ghost-like creatures, a large amount of paranormal activity, and more. It’s surprising that Disney produced this title, but it gave plenty of children a taste for horror films at a young age, so we see no cause for complaint.
I watched this film for the first time on ‘movie day’ in elementary school and was equal parts thrilled and shocked that we were watching such a frightening film in primary school. The scene where the witches take off their masks was especially jarring. Nicholas Roeg, who helmed the ‘70s classic Don’t Look Now, directed this terrifying tale, so it’s no surprise that The Witches is brimming with spooky atmosphere. Anjelica Houston was perfectly wicked as the head witch. It still amazes me that a movie where witches try to hunt and kill children received a PG-rating.
Return to Oz
Adapted from the L. Frank Baum books, Return to Oz takes a much darker tone than the 1939 classic. Casting Fairuza Balk in this tale of Dorothy’s return to the land of Oz was an ingenious move by the casting director; Balk was brilliant in the film and has gone on to do a series of dark roles since. The scene where Mombi takes of her head was shocking to see in a movie geared towards youngsters. Interestingly enough, this was the only feature film Walter Murch directed. That could be due to the fact that the film didn’t receive an entirely favorable reaction from critics. However, it found its audience on home video and has a massive cult following.
The Gate finds Glen and his best friend Terry exploring a hole in Glen’s back yard – the result of a recently removed tree – and discover that it is a gateway to hell. We see: the lead character’s parents melt in to green goo right before their very eyes, the family dog murdered, demon-like creatures doing demon-like things, the deaths and subsequent resurrections of young children, and a giant scary monster with velociraptor arms. Plus there is a plot point that involves devil worship. I caught this treasure of a film on cable one Saturday morning and it scared the tar out of me. But that didn’t stop me for enjoying it a great deal and re-watching it repeatedly.
Honorable mention to: Watership Down, George’s Island, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Paranorman.