Psh! “Kid’s Movie”.
There are a number of movies I saw as a child that shook my sense of safety to my be-pigtailed core. The oddest thing about these cinematic exposures were that they were lumped inconspicuously away with the more innocuous child-fare counterparts as a “Kid’s Movie”.
If this Halloween you’re looking for something a little outside of the acceptable, but obvious box containing All Involved Characters Must Never Have Seen Horror Films Or Why Would They Do That/Go There/Tempt Legends XIV – Here’s a list in no particular order of ::massive air quotes:: “kids movies” that scarred me for life.
The Hugga Bunch Movie – If you didn’t have the 1980’s pleasure, and you’re looking for something viscerally disturbing, look up this gem. There’s creepy puppets, voices in mirrors, and a disconcerting sideways sidewalk (which in hindsight is clever, but really messed with my head as a 4 year old), and flyaway mullet haircuts. Crowning glory- a witch that won’t share her Young Berries…which reinforces an undercurrent of the horrors of growing old pervasive in this lighthearted romp!
The witch desperately reaching for a literal key to her youth. A terrarium dome Slow Dipping Mechanism-s its way toward her hand – which is now being ravaged and withered with the rest of her body by the old age she had escaped till now- and dies. Enjoy that memory nugget the next time you blow out your birthday candles.
The Witches – This was one of my favorite books growing up, I read the crap out of it over and over, thinking I was extra mature for actually liking a book that also gave me nightmares. Rohl Dahl’s books have a dark streak that I managed to gloss through as a child, but the film adaptations seem to cut right to the core of those perilous moments with the added bonus of a permanent visual imprint: the boat ride in Willy Wonka. Enough said really, though Gene Wilder’s a-melodic monotone musings could have it’s own spot on the list. I digress.
I rented The Witches from our local library – scanning the back I discovered Jim Henson’s name on the project- hooray! Any man that endears me to flappity hands acting as loveable monsters of everyone’s favorite Street surely will bring out the best in Dalh’s characters! If I’m remembering correctly – and admittedly, these movies left tangible speed bumps in my developing brain – I watched The Witches for the first time with my older cousin. We managed through a harrowing story of a girl who was ripped from her parents and imprisoned in a painting to grow old and disappear amongst the enchanted oils; the main character’s parents getting killed in a car crash leaving him alone with his fainty grandmother who has diabeetus; a child that convulses, transforms and fizzles into a mouse; and even a room full of witches that squelch off wigs to reveal oozing irritated scalps. But wait – there’s more!
Traumatizing Moment: The Grand High Witch (what once resembled, Anjelica Houston) rips off her face and audibly stretches and remolds back to her true form: something akin to gum that’s been gnawed, spit out, rolled under a dusty bureau, and then sneezed on for a nice glistening effect. I remember my cousin at this point leaning over to me and asking if I was sure this was a movie I was allowed to watch. I took that opportunity to stop the vhs and cry inwardly about the things I could not un-see. The Witches is on netflix now, I watched it a couple weeks ago to see if it held up as the PTSD trigger I experienced it to be as a child – you try it out and let me know.
Return to Oz – The Wizard of Oz is my favorite movie, and for a lot of people, it could rank among these in good company. The first time my mom deemed me ready to watch, I remember her giving me a nebulous warning that there was a witch in the movie, but that it was all make believe, and I could close my eyes if I wanted. Slight hitch in that get-a-long was she didn’t tell me WHEN the witch would show up, so the first magical time I heard “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was behind squinted eyes, waiting for the witch to jump out of the haystack Dorothy was so carelessly leaning on. Either way, that first view turned into literally hundreds of viewings following and I gobbled up any rendition of Oz I could find.
Enter Return to Oz. Let’s get the line up on this doozy: Dorothy is locked up in an insane asylum- because frankly, narrating animals and magic shoes talk in old-timey Kansas gets you tossed in the nutter bin. An unblinking lady straps her down for electroshock therapy to lobotomize Oz out of her, A thunderstorm-river-flood escape gone awry lands her back in Oz where the happy sparkling world and characters we knew have been petrified, crumbled and sucked dry of happiness. Did I mention there’s stop motion – when is that ever not terrifying?
Traumatizing Moment: Wheelers. These are Wheelers. Shrill, squeaking, nails-on-chalkboard villain minions. First off, they roll instead of walk, which gives them an off-putting stumbling glide – a smish combination of the straight jacket trudgers + hovering pursuit of the Gentlemen from Hush (Ubiquitous Buffy reference).
Then, they’re blessed with the foulest collection of noises. Their wheels are the Before in a WD40 infomercial, and they call to each other using hawk shrieks and what can only be described as Tortured Flipper. The Wheelers surround and corner Dorothy, cackling and howling at her fear and predicament with these vexing insane laughs that make the Wheelers nearly as pitiable as they are unsettling.
Traumatizing Moment (No. 2 – Chock full O Trauma Goodness): Princess Mombi. She’s the right hand lady of the Big Bad in Oz, and like so many good witches (cause who believed that “princess” crap) she’s got an insatiable vainity streak that made cutting off the heads of the prettiest denizens of Oz to replace her own frazzled cranium seem like jolly good sanity. She has a whole hall of severed heads in locked glass cabinets, numbered for ease of selection to occasion appropriateness. Dorothy steals the cabinet key from the headless sleeping body of Mombi (I suppose sleeping with a head on is as troublesome as pajamas with a belt) to pilfer the Powder of Life from Mombi’s original I Was Born This Way’s headroom. In true kids movie fashion (sick sick world of filmmakers we’ve got) the nefarious noodle wakes up and hollers the other heads awake to summon the headless carcass to pursue Doooooorothyyyyyyy GAAAAAAAAALE!!! It’s enough to make me shudder now.
H A P P Y H A L L O W E E N !!
What childhood movies left an I’m-Too-Young-For-This impression on you?