Perhaps the reason I always loved fantasy as a child is because it teeters on horror for kids. There is adventure, danger, perseverance, and imagination. If you doubt me, consider the darkness in the original Grimm fairy tales or many old nursery rhymes. They follow a similar format and in fact are so closely representative of the genre that horror guru Noel Carroll specifically distinguished his definition of art horror from fantasy. Of course, not all fantasy is horror; however I would like to reveal to you some of the characters and films from my childhood that still send chills down my spine. I am totally giving away my age with this list, but please enjoy the momentary glimpse into my psyche and feel free to add your own.
10. “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” from The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949):
This was my first encounter with the Headless Horseman. I will never forget when he hurled that pumpkin at Ichabod nor the horrific outcome.
9. Watership Down (1978):
Ok, let’s be honest here. This was one of the freakiest movies I ever watched as a child. I was expecting a nice animated film about bunnies…what I got was blood soaked murderous rodents. General Woundwort and Blackavar seriously are the stuff of nightmares
8. Dark Crystal (1982):
Ugh those Skeksis among so many other things. This Jim Henson film was definitely a far cry from The Muppets.
7. E.T. (1982):
Truth gun to my head, I hid under the movie theater seat for half this film as a child. Benevolent alien or not, this guy came from outer space, ate all their candy, and kept pointing at everyone and screeching. I know it’s lame now, but I was seriously young and never saw something like this before.
6. The Last Unicorn (1982):
Amalthea’s breasts were among one of the more disturbing things in this film not to mention the flaming bull that aims to wipe out all the unicorns on earth.
5. Secret of Nimh (1982):
There are several upsetting characters in this one. Dragon the cat, Jenner the rat, and the Great Owl are all among the scariest animated characters of my childhood. Furthermore, their evil is exponentially magnified by the intensely innocent Mrs. Brisby.
4. Neverending Story (1984):
This is by far one of the greatest films on Earth. That being said, several things come to mind with this movie. First is Gmork who is the loyal henchman of The Nothing. His calculated movements and piercing eyes will stay with me forever. It was absolutely horrifying watching Atreyu’s horse sink into the Swamp of Sadness. And finally, the most terrifying thing one can ever imagine is The Nothing. There is nothing more nebulous, menacing, and panic inducing than that which is nothing.
3. Return to Oz (1985):
The wheelers and all the severed screaming heads in this movie read like a bad acid trip. I couldn’t wait to record this one on my BetaMax recorder (look that one up kids). This flick was like the mentally ill secret sister of The Wizard of Oz. If you don’t believe me, check it out.
2. Labyrinth (1986):
Possibly neck to neck with The Neverending Story this is one of my favorite films to date. Starts out great when Jennifer Connelly (also on my Horror Hotties list) wishes her baby brother would be taken away by the Goblin King. So far so good. Well, it gets a little hairy when David Bowie steps in leaving nothing to the imagination in his tight leggings. That being said, the junk lady was scary as heck, but I have up until recently even had nightmares that the Fireys were chasing me trying to rip off my limbs.
1. The Witches (1990)
So no one can accuse me of strictly being a child of the 80’s I had to throw a shout out to Anjelica Huston (also on my Horror Hotties list) as the Grand High Witch in The Witches. While I can excuse the witches distaste for young children, these ladies were super creepy especially when Anjelica peels her face off.
True to my nature I always have add-ons. The Black Cauldron (1985) was one of the first animated Disney films to receive a PG rating and the Horned King was pretty darn creepy. Of notable mention is the nursery rhyme “Ladybug, Ladybug”. To this day I remember the lines “ladybug, ladybug fly away home. Your house is on fire, your children will burn”.[i] Then again, I adored it when my grandfather sang to me, “Gwennie, Gwennie you’re no good. Chop her up for firewood”. . . it’s all starting to make sense now.
[i] Here is a really cool link to some other somewhat unnerving nursery rhymes: http://mentalfloss.com/article/55035/dark-origins-11-classic-nursery-rhymes