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9 Children’s Movies That Are Total Nightmare Fuel

Remember when you were a child and everything just seemed way scarier all the time always? That’s because it actually was. Movies, for example, used to be genuinely horrifying, especially those made for children. That goes double for this batch of films that were ostensibly fun for the whole family, but were in reality forging the psychic scars and therapy bills of decades to come. This is a topic I’ve covered before on The Dan Cave. Twice actually. But since we’re celebrating Nerdoween all month long here at Nerdist, and because everyone loves a good trilogy, let’s take our third and final walk down a deeply traumatic Memory Lane and run down even more of the most unintentionally horrifying children’s movies ever made.

Unico in the Island of Magic

What could be so scary about a movie starring an adorable baby unicorn? Well, because Unico was an anime, the answer is literally goddamn everything about it. If the nighmarish Lord Kuruku bellowing “Tobey” in his crackly voice doesn’t haunt your dreams, then the fact that he looks like Satan had a baby with Ponyo will. To make matters worse, this creepazoid swoops in and murders our hero’s parents by turning them into lifeless clay automatons. And what happens next? Young Cheri’s older brother Tobey does Lord Kuruku’s bidding and turns the entire town into puppet-slaves. Here’s some advice for you: if you’re thinking of showing this gem to your kids, don’t.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Ah, yes, who among us doesn’t love this timeless tale of an eccentric businessman luring children to their untimely ends as an elaborate setup for a chorus of orange indentured candy servants to sing moralizing songs about how they could have avoided being murdered in the first place? And that’s to say nothing of that nightmarish acid trip they called a boat ride. If the snozzberries taste like snozzberries, then it’s too late because you’re already doomed, no matter how many grandparents you put in the same bed.

The Dark Crystal

From the people who brought you beloved characters like Kermit the Frog, Big Bird, and Miss Piggy comes a heartwarming tale about eerily lifelike puppets who have been thrust into an eternal race war after a magical crystal shattered and caused a nightmare apocalypse. Wait, did I say “heartwarming”? I meant a “pants-crappingly scary story full of demons, melting faces, and heroes getting stabbed by those damn Skeksis.” Actually, you know what? Knowing Jim Henson, this one is probably intentionally scary, but I maintain it deserves a spot on this list.

Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure

Two words: Large Marge.

G.I. Joe: The Movie

As a child obsessed with G.I. Joe, nothing prepared me for the Lovecraftian horrors awaiting me in this film. It features Cobra Commander slowly and tortuously devolving into an actual snake-man, a nightmare realm where living plants and massive insects imprison the Joes, a disgusting dude named Golobulus trying to unleash biological weapons all across the Earth, and Duke getting straight-up murdered by Serpentor in single combat. That last bit only changed after the insane backlash against Optimus Prime’s untimely death in Transformers: The Movie a year prior. All the other horrifying stuff was fine, but heaven forbid a child sees that a man actually dies after his heart is pierced by a spear that turns into a snake and slithers away.

The Adventures of Mark Twain

What could be so scary about a claymation movie about one of America’s greatest literary treasures? Well, how about the part where Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and Becky Thatcher literally meet Satan, who takes them into his abyssal realm, has them imbue tiny clay people with life, and then unleashes an apocalypse upon them after they too learn sin? Honestly, it’s the second scariest version of Mark Twain after Val Kilmer’s one-man show.

The Plague Dogs

It should come as no surprise that the director of Watership Down made more than one genuinely frightening animated children’s movie. The Plague Dogs begins with scientists seeing how long it takes a dog to drown, and it only gets creepier and more unsettling from there: dogs eating a human corpse to survive, animals being vivisected, armed gunmen trying to shoot our heroes,  two dogs who escaped forming an animal research facility. If this movie doesn’t send a shiver up your spine, then go see your doctor because you might be paralyzed or your heat is up way too high.

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T

Look, Dr. Seuss has told plenty of questionable stories in his day, but few are more haunting than The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. This movie tells the story of a cruel piano teacher who hates other instruments so much that he keeps 500 boys locked in his dungeon basement where he forces them to play on his gigantic, custom-built piano that requires the titular 5,000 fingers to operate. The only thing more uncomfortable than this movie is Peter Bradshaw’s 2002 review in The Guardian, which called it “surreal, disturbing, strong meat for young stomachs.”

Nutcracker Fantasy

The Nutcracker seems like a safe bet for all ages, right? Wrong again, thanks to the double whammy of this movie being stop-motion animation and made in Japan. It’s the story of a terrifying creature known as the Ragman who roams the city streets late at night looking for children up past their bedtime, who he turns into mice, which is much scarier in action than it sounds. Think about that the next time you can’t fall asleep. This crusty fiend is just lurking outside, champing at the bit for an opportunity to use his Mouse-o-matic Child Tazer on our kids. Anyway, this was made by Sanrio, the makers of Hello Kitty. Sleep tight!

And those are some of the most unintentionally terrifying children’s movies ever made. Want even more spooky kiddie fare? Check out my previous episodes on the subject, then tell me what your favorite unreasonably frightening kids’ movie is in the comments below!

Featured Image: Paramount Pictures

Sources: io9, Rolling Stone 

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Dan Casey is the senior editor of Nerdist and the author of books about Star Wars and the Avengers. Follow him on Twitter (@DanCasey).

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