Kids are sure to get thrills and chills from "ParaNorman," in theaters Friday.
Kids are sure to get thrills and chills from "ParaNorman," in theaters Friday.

Five terrifying movies somehow made for kids

A boy who can speak to the dead battles ghosts and zombies in order to save his town. No, that's not the premise for a new horror movie; that's the plot for "ParaNorman," the new claymation kids film whose co-director, Chris Butler, worked on the equally grim and twisted "Coraline."

Zombies and ghosts are definitely not typical kids' fare. Hollywood, however, does have a history of making terrifying, nightmare-inducing movies that can chill both children and adults to their bones. Here are five films supposedly for kids that filled children with terror and parents with regret.


"Jumanji," the 1995 Joe Johnston-helmed fantasy movie, is notorious in my household. When I was 5, my mother took my sister and I to see it at the movie theater, unaware of the terrifying adventures about to unfold. I wasn't able to sleep for almost two weeks after seeing it. To this day, she calls it the greatest mistake she's made as a parent.

Of course, "Jumanji" is awesome now. But as a kid, the opening sequence, featuring a boy getting literally sucked into the game and a girl getting chased by African bats, was utterly horrifying. It didn't let up much after either; houses turn into quicksand, a hunter keeps attempting to murder Robin Williams and giant spiders attack our main characters. In fact, I'm pretty sure it's responsible for my fear of spiders, as well as board games and Robin Williams.

"Who Framed Roger Rabbit?"

Christopher Lloyd may be awesome as Doc Brown in the "Back to the Future" movies. However, I will never forgive him for ruining my childhood sleep cycle for days after seeing his turn as Judge Doom in 1988's "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" He turned Toon Town into Terror Town for children viewers.

Most people remember the climactic finale, in which Doom's cartoon eyes bug out of his head and his voice turns into a horrible screeching shout. (It didn't help that he's yelling about murdering Bob Hoskins' brother.) I'd argue the most chilling scene is earlier, when Doom grabs an adorable cartoon shoe and slowly executes it while it squeaks and chirps in fear. Zemeckis doesn't cut away either; he shows the audience the shoe entering the murderous acid, squirming in agony. I haven't been able to look at a shoe the same way since.

"Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory"

"Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" is a childhood classic. We all love the whimsical music and images, as well as the entertaining and earnest performances. Yet if you ask anyone about scary movie moments as a child, the first four words you'll probably hear will be "Willy Wonka tunnel scene."

The scene, which comes out of nowhere, is two minutes of confusing, nightmare-inducing terror. The boat speeds through the psychedelic tunnel of flashing lights and horrible images, including millipedes crawling over mouths and a chicken getting beheaded. Providing the soundtrack to the terror cruise is Wonka, who sings a haunting little verse that eventually escalates into a horrifying scream. Mel Stuart, the film's director, said that he wanted to make a movie for adults and at no point is that more clear than during this scene. The only people who had worse nightmares as a result of the movie? Dentists.

"Return to Oz"

Between the flying monkeys and the wicked witch, "The Wizard of Oz" was probably the first time most people saw something frightening on a screen. "Return to Oz," the unofficial sequel made in 1985, must not have thought the original was scary enough, however, and decided to become one of the most notorious kids movies ever made.

The plot of the movie – involving Dorothy escaping electroshock therapy – is creepy enough, but Walter Murch's film proceeds to fill the story with terrifying characters. The flying monkeys, for instance, are replaced by Wheelers, demonic henchmen with wheels instead of hands and feet. The creepiness reaches its apex, though, when the evil witch's collection of severed female heads begins screaming at Dorothy. Did I mention that Dorothy is also being chased by the witch, who is headless in the scene? It's a moment that wouldn't be out of place in "The Shining" but somehow found its way into a film for kids.

"The Adventures of Mark Twain"

I never watched this 1985 claymation film when I was a kid, but I can tell you after watching its infamous "Mysterious Stranger" segment, I'm glad I was spared the horror. The movie, about Mark Twain and a bunch of kids flying to meet Halley's Comet, is pretty strange. It moves from strange to terrifying, though, when the kids run into Satan.

I kid you not.

Satan, who has a shape-shifting white mask for a head and hauntingly cold voice (imagine HAL but possessed by the devil), invites the kids onto his floating space island where they create an adorable clay village. Satan proceeds to squash two of the Gumby creatures (they reform as coffins) and then murder the rest of the clay people with an earthquake. It's frighteningly vivid, as the creations run around screaming as they fall to their death, get killed in landslides and cry for their lost loved ones. Also, some of the dead bodies are covered with clay blood. Kids love that.

I got chills watching the scene is an adult. If I saw this sequence as a kid, I'd probably never watch a movie again. Or play with clay.


devidia | Aug. 14, 2012 at 3:12 p.m. (report)

"Not a shred of light is the danger must be growing.......there's no earthly way of knowing!!!!!"

-William W. Wonka

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