Movies That Scared the Crap Out of Me When I was a Kid

Horror is a lot like violence and pornography. The more you see of it, the less impact it has. Viewers eventually become desensitized to it to varying degrees. But in childhood, everything is fresh and new. There’s no desensitization at all. Horror movies are at their most shocking at that point in a person’s life. In my own childhood, there were several films that scared the crap out of me–figuratively, of course. These are the movies that gave me a proper appreciation for the horror genre. Here’s a list of these films.

Can't sleep, clowns will eat me, can't sleep, clowns will eat me...

Poltergeist (1982)
I wasn’t even allowed to watch this until I was 8 years old, two years after it had been in theaters. It’s easy to see why. People who grew up in the 80’s have one thing in common, no matter who they are. If they saw Poltergeist as a child, they had nightmares about clowns at some point. But it wasn’t just the clown that got to me. There was also the guy peeling off his face. There was the gang of corpses swirling around in the pool. There was the fact that the tiny elderly ghost hunter woman looked and even sounded an uncomfortable amount like my own grandmother. For good measure, there was a colossal murderous tree that just happened to look just like the tree outside of my window. When people ask me which movie scared me the most as a kid, this is the answer every single time.

The Thing (1982)
John Carpenter’s re-make of The Thing From Another World (1951) was a rogues gallery of pants-shittingly terrifying images. Severed heads crawling around on spider legs, evil shapeshifting stray dogs, torsos with mouths, Wilford Brimley… What child wouldn’t be horrified by this type of stuff?

The Dark Crystal (1982)
I had repressed many of my memories of this movie into adulthood. “Oh”, I’d think, “that Jim Henson movie with the puppets? I can’t believe I was scared of that as a kid”. A recent re-watch brought the reality crashing back down on me. It’s about creepy turkey vulture puppets who suck the souls out of other saccharine cute puppets so they can run their little corner of the world. That’s seriously jacked up, especially to a six year old (which is how old I was when I saw it in theaters). Making matters worse, my two older brothers dropped me off in a Revolutionary War cemetery on the way home, daring me to stay there at night for as long as I could. And now the two events are always going to be associated with one another as one of the most terrifying nights of my life.

Jaws (1975)
This came out the year before I was born. I wasn’t allowed to watch it until I was 8 years old (paired with Poltergeist, I guess 1984 was a banner year for me for horror). It’s not necessarily a horror but Spielberg certainly doled out a heaping spoonful of suspense. Many of our family vacations revolved around trips to the beach, to the ocean, where I would play. That little fact gave Jaws some extra teeth–no pun intended, I swear. Watching the great white shark devour beachgoer after beachgoer made images dance in my head of ME being the victim in the waters that I’d visited so many times. Lakes and rivers became a lot more appealing than the ocean from that point forward. That is, until I saw…

Piranha (1978)
I was so content for a year or so to visit lakes and rivers instead of the ocean after I saw Jaws. And then I saw Piranha, wherein a pack of seemingly harmless smaller fish in a river spin swimmers into a bloodbath. It’s worth noting that it wasn’t nearly as frightening as many of the other movies on this list, if only because I was older and it was hokey. Also, the topless women helped distract me from the horrors. Still, I was quite uncomfortable watching it.

Ghostbusters (1984)
When my brother took me to see it, he insisted that I “couldn’t get scared”. If I had flipped out in the theater, he would never let me live it down. He probably would’ve kicked my ass because that’s what big brothers do to teach you things. And so I bravely walked into the theater, ingested the film, walked out, and claimed to have never been scared. The only problem was that my face had given me away on several occasions during the movie. The abject horror on my face prompted my brother to tease me about it for a few days afterwards. “What do you mean you weren’t scared? You had piss dribbling down your leg”. That wasn’t true, but he was right to call me out on it.

Psycho (1960)
To celebrate Halloween when I was ten, my mom let me watch Psycho. Truthfully, I was bored for the bulk of the movie. Hey, I was ten. Cut me some slack. But there was more than enough in the film to scare me. Anthony Perkins’ creeper behavior, the gory shower scene, the general suspense of the film, and the corpse mom at the end all made me uneasy.

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)
Yes, believe it or not, the Disney movie from 1949 scared the crap out of me when I was a kid. I think it was at a 1st grade assembly or something right before Halloween when they showed us Disney’s version of the Headless Horseman story. It was a cartoon, no doubt, and it was narrated by the velvety smooth voice of Bing Crosby. I understand why people might have reservations believing that it was all that frightening. Lest anyone forget, though, the story is about a headless guy with a demonic pumpkin in hand who rides around on a pitch-black demonic red-eyed horse that breathes fire. This image alone conveys my point about why a five year old would be crapping their pants:


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21 responses to “Movies That Scared the Crap Out of Me When I was a Kid

  1. Good stuff. I did a similar couple of lists to inspire some Halloween watchings- 31 movies for kids and 31 for adults. I actually have 6 lists in total, but time is beating my cheeks.

  2. Alexandra

    Same exact story for me on the Ichabod and Mr. Toad–school assembly, youth, scared, etc.
    Killer Klowns from Outer Space was something that both horrified and intrigued me. I watched it gleefully and laughed at the stupidity of all the characters and then would have to sleep in my parents’ bed.
    90s Dracula’s opening sequences in which Gary Oldman beheads a bunch of people super, super gorily and then makes whatever blood pact thing with Winona Ryder-of-the-past scared me so much that I had to watch it in a-few-minute increments over the span of a couple days.

  3. Younger I was scared of Horror films and even today I’m not a big fan of it either. It’s probably because of Ghostbusters that I saw when I was 5 approx. Until now I am still scared of Ghosts! I still have nightmares about them! Anyway, Ghostbusters is a must!

  4. I think it was that tree in ‘Poltergeist’ that did it for me…

  5. Phil

    Saw Jaws in the theater when I was 6. I remember not wanting to take a bath afterwards. Of course, now it is one of my top 10 favorite films.

    • That’s such a fun part of stuff like the classic Universal horrors, Jaws, Psycho, etc… You see ’em as a kid and they’re just scary movies. But then you grow up and realize just how good they really are.

  6. I did a post like this a while ago but I had some very different selections. THE EVIL DEAD was a big one that scared the living shit out of me.

    “Can’t sleep, clowns will eat me” Isn’t that a line from The Simpsons?

  7. The Exorcist: Watched about 20 minutes of it. I have been traumatized ever since. Haven’t seen more of it ever since ahha.

    It: That movie is fucked up period.

  8. MC

    Man, I saw Poltergeist as a kid and it didn’t scare me at all, and it is looking like I am freak now, but the thing is, I’ve never really been afraid of the paranormal.

    • There are definitely different hot button scare items for everyone. When I was a kid, I didn’t give a damn about werewolves and the Frankenstein stuff but Dracula and ghosts always got to me.

  9. Darah

    Everything about Poltergeist was scarey.
    Hell, even today it gives me the willies thinking about it, but not the obvious scenes.
    What got me literally shaking was the ghosty hand coming from the TV, the immensely creepy bit where the cameras catch all the ghosts walking down the stairs and above all, the pant sh1ttingly pure horror of that apparition that blocked the bedroom door. Jesus Jumping bean Christ. Another movie of that era that really freaked me out was Amityville Horror. The family murder segment was pretty rough to watch, but the unseen ghostly goings on were pretty damn scarey.

  10. Exorcist. Didn’t even see it until I was like 14, but it still was the scariest thing I had ever seen. I was scared at Ghostbusters too. It was funny until that demonic dog was running around humping everyones legs. At least Ghostbusters ended on a funny note with a giant marshmallow man. My most recent nightmare consisted of my kid going really high in a swing and smashing to the ground with a thud, that makes me old…

  11. Jaws wasn’t too bad for me…I enjoyed it. The worst for me were ones with gore. I mean, there’s HORROR, like The Shining, that owes more to atmosphere and overall brilliance in terms of acting and directing, and then there’s ‘horror’, our current definition of movies that take pretty young things and torture them in a grotesque manner until you are THIS close to upchucking your nochos. Oh, you eat popcorn? Okay then. Popcorn. ‘Horror”s that try to pass themselves off as a HORROR disgust me. As do old horror movies. I watched the remake of The Time Machine when I was maybe 12, 13, maybe younger, and didn’t think much of it. Two years later, I caught a glimpse of the original, and it creeped me the hell out. It, and that scene of the T-800 walking down the hallway towards the end of the first Terminator movie…they are my two references whenever I explain why old horrors are more effective than new ones – the special effects, or lack thereof. Frankly, that scene in Terminator was the most terrifying. Everything seems to be so cleancut in the newest movie (I wouldn’t know, haven’t seen it, never will), and yeat I bet nothing in it adds up to the horror in that scene. Just the clumsy manner with which he limps at seeminly breakneck speed…freaks me out, to this day. Bad make up and no special effects is much scarier than CGI s**t, in my personal opinion.

  12. Stu

    I loved “Dark Crystal” as a young kid but the Skeksis, their henchmen, and Aughra – hell, just about everyone but the Gelflings – kinda creeped me out. I remember “Ernest Scared Stupid” giving me a chill as a child and also the wolf creature from “Neverending Story.”

    I saw “The Thing” and “Alien” during the same short span of a few days when I was quite young (no more than eight or so). I didn’t sleep much that week.

  13. It’s good to finally know that I wasn’t the only one left traumatized by ghostbusters. I’m pretty sure it left a dent in my self-esteem for the rest of my childhood. Still,there was an even lamer movie that got to me: there’s a scene in Superman 3 at the end, where a woman gets ‘robotized’ by some evil machine designed to fight superman. I must have been about 7 years old at the time and maybe the fact that I saw it in the movie theater had a lot to do with it, but I slept with the light on for more than a month after that experience. 🙂

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