Society, across the board, loved horror in the 1980s. While franchise gods like Jason, Freddy, and Michael Myers roamed our movie screens, filmmakers were indoctrinating a new generation of horror fans via seemingly innocent kids’ films that were twisted as hell. Check out our list below of five 80s kids’ movies that were disturbing enough to leave a permanent mark on many of the young viewers, ultimately converting some of us to lifelong horror fans through the cunning use of movie trauma.
RETURN TO OZ (1985)
I will always wonder how the hell this film ever got green lit. I suspect the pitch went something like this, “You know the sacred kids’ film WIZARD OF OZ? I think it needs more headless witches, monsters on wheels with two faces, child abuse, medical malpractice against the mentally handicapped, and giant gods that eat people!”
“Perfect! Approved! And can we get Fairuza Balk and her scary pigtails?”
Scariest scene: The wheelers. Fuck those guys.
WATCHER IN THE WOODS (1980)
Most horror fans agree that Bette Davis was really freaky in BABY JANE. But this is decades later, and she is downright distressing. In Disney’s WATCHER IN THE WOODS, Davis’s daughter, Karen, went missing long ago while playing some weird, f’ed, supernatural incantation game with her friends. She now haunts the local woods trying to get someone to reverse the supernatural game and bring her back to our world.
Scariest scene: Karen communicates mostly through mirrored reflections and whispers. In one scene, Ellie gets kind of possessed and starts writing the name “Karen” backwards on a glass window (“Nerak”) in a totally unnerving Redrum-style moment. And the funhouse scene where Karen appears in all the mirrors! Gasp!
THE WORST WITCH (1986)
Another one starring Fairuza Balk! THE WORST WITCH is about a witchcraft academy (pre-Harry Potter) where poor Mildred Hubble just can’t seem to get her spells right. In addition to a groovy, psychedelic performance by Tim Curry, the movie also has ample frightening moments.
Scariest scene: Miss Hardbroom startles Mildred and her friend as they are gossiping after bedtime one night. Oh, lighting of the scene alone will haunt me to the grave. I couldn’t find a pic of this particular scene, so instead please enjoy some swarthy Tim Curry cape action.
THE ADVENTURES OF MARK TWAIN (1985)
This was one of many 1980s Claymation films, an animation style which was just pretty grotesque to begin with. In the film, Mark Twain takes Tom, Huck, and Becky Thatcher on an airship to various adventures around the universe. While Twain is determined to fly to meet Haley’s Comet, the kids become convinced the comet will kill them all and try to derail the voyage.
Scariest scene: In one weird set piece, Twain takes the group to meet Satan. I can’t even begin to explain how absolutely twisted this scene is. It’s best to witness the innocence-shredding carnage first hand. See below.
SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES (1983)
Of course this one is scary; it is based on a Ray Bradbury children’s horror story. But the movie’s visual interpretations of several key scenes were far more unsettling than anything I could have dreamt up on my own at the time.
Scariest scene: Spiders in the bed! Holy hell, the spiders in the bed!!
Runner –up: PEE WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE (1985)
I can sum this up by just saying the words “Large Marge”. An entire generation just simultaneously shivered.