Non-Parental Guidance: Movies That Will Scare the Crap Out of Your Child
By Wesley Rossenrode
Halloween is near. You can feel it. The temperature here in sunny Palm Springs, California is dipping into the 90’s, the drug stores and department stores are setting up their Christmas displays, and AMC is getting ready to marathon all the horror classics that kept me awake at night when I was a small, chubby child.
Being frightened was an important part of my growing up. As an adult, I am now cognizant of how much I enjoyed being frightened by a good scary movie. Killer clowns, probing aliens, and static on the TV are now fond childhood memories of mine. But it wasn’t just the fear I relished; I remember the empowering feeling I had when I overcame the fear. How silly I was to be afraid of that child-eating clown with glowing red eyes who lived in the sewer when everyone knows he really lives in the suburbs. I realize now that Halloween is for the kids. Don’t get me wrong, adults can still live out their fantasies of dressing up like Caitlyn Jenner or sexy Sesame Street characters, but it’s really about scaring the children, and we must do our part.
To get you started, I’ve put together a list of PG and PG-13 films. These chosen five are just a few of the movies that kept me up at night shivering, even though it was still 90 degrees at midnight and my blanket was tightly tucked around my entire body. I know some of them are old, but I’m still going to keep it spoiler-free. Here they are in no particular order.
Poltergeist (1982) - When Spielberg does horror, he does it right. The film does a good job of making the main characters relatable, which I feel is important in a scary movie. Pot-smoking parents, an angsty teen, a forgotten middle child, and the dead-eyed youngest sibling made the family feel real to me, so when they’re bungee-dropped through hell and back a couple of times, I cared. It wasn’t until years after I watched the film that I discovered it was rated PG-13. All the torture porn films in the Saw series combined can’t shake a severed limb at this classic. One of the more disturbing parts for me was the swimming pool full of corpses. For my wife, it's the maggot-covered leftovers.
It (1990 TV Mini-Series) - The epicenter of my generation’s crippling phobia of birthday clowns. We follow a group of adult friends as they reminisce about the good ol’ days when they battled a supernatural murderous clown named Pennywise. If paper sailboats and the line, “They all float down here” don’t haunt you after watching this movie, you’re the monster. There’s also a creepy scene with the clown and bed sheets drying in the sun that makes me thank God for dryers.
Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988) - Keeping with the theme of murderous clowns, this film came out before It, but I saw it after. It was my attempt at conquering my fear, which I failed to do. The movie is set in a small town that becomes the target of blood-harvesting aliens dressed as circus clowns. Or, are circus clowns modeled after blood-harvesting aliens? That would make more sense. I don’t know how much of the film’s budget was spent on the visual effects, but the clowns’ design does not disappoint. I’ve always wondered what their home planet must have looked like. Maybe like Desert Hot Springs if a giant big top was erected around its borders.
Fire in the Sky (1993) - Growing up in the desert, there were more tales of UFO sightings than there were ghost stories. Back then, I was determined to have a close encounter of my own, until I saw Fire in the Sky. The film is based on the alleged abduction of Travis Walton, who went missing from a logging expedition in Arizona back in 1975. He returned five days later, completely naked and claimed aliens had done horrible things to him aboard their spacecraft. The film recreates those claims in frightening detail. I am now happy to say I have never seen a UFO.
The Witches (1990) - Not one of the scariest films from my childhood, but Anjelica Huston’s performance as the Grand High Witch is fantastic and frightening enough to grant a spot. This is also the last film Jim Henson worked on before he died. Not to say there isn’t enough nightmare fuel in here to keep the kids up at night. One scene has a young boy entering the witches’ convention looking to collect on a promise of chocolates. The boy gets more than he bargained for and is turned into a mouse in what looks like a very painful transformation. The looks on the witches’ faces as they watch him writhe in agony and vacate his bowels still gives me the heebie-jeebies.
Return to Oz (1985) - You know this isn’t going to be the familiar trip to Emerald City when the movie starts out with Dorothy fighting her way out of a mental asylum. This time around, Dorothy ditches Toto the terrier, the tin-man, and the scarecrow as travel buddies and replaces them with a talking maternal hen, a wound-up war machine, and the king of Halloween Town himself. And they’re not the creepiest bunch in Oz. As Dorothy tries to find out who turned all her old friends to stone, she is confronted by a gang of low-rent David Bowie look-a-likes with wheels for hands, a head-swapping witch, and a tyrannical rock king with a penchant for dazzling shoes. This is twisted Disney at its best and one of my favorites.
That’s it; now go out there and scare the snot out of those punk kids. They’ll love you for it. And if you know of a better movie, tell us about it in the comments.
Before I go, I have to give an honorable mention to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Nothing made my fat little legs run out the backdoor faster than when that music video popped up on the TV screen.