Great Movies to Watch to Scar Your Children for Life
I grew up in the 80's in a time before the censoring of Bambi where children everywhere knew Bambi's mom was ruthlessly shot down by a hunter. We grew up with eerie dystopian fantasy movies mingled with muppets and mayhem. Today its hard to tell which are the children's movies and which aren't because, quite frankly, they couldn't be promoted to today's wussy little snot monkeys. Still, even today, more movies are coming out that either aren't actually children's movies or somehow seem to slip under the radar. I couldn't be happier about this!
Watership Down was actually made in 1978 but I think it kicked off the scary children's flick phenomena so I might as well pay homage to it. As a child of the 80's I was thoroughly scarred by it. You see my aunt went to the video rental store and looked over all the covers to the VHS tapes and saw one with a bunch of cute animated fluffy bunnies thinking that would be great for the kiddies. I was four years old. I can still remember vividly in my head little animated fluffy bunnies being ripped to bloody shreds by ravenous dogs. Blood everywhere! And the screaming! Bunnies really know how to scream. She turned the TV off but she couldn't turn off my memory of it. I'm told now that if I actually watched the whole thing there's an ecstatic bunny slaughtering in almost every scene and that the fact some of the cast lives in the end is a real shocker, having had to deal with ravenous dogs, hungry foxes, brutal hawks, and a patrol of fascist rabbit police! FUN! Why anyone animated this story is beyond me. The novel it was based on was most certainly not written for wee ones.
The Last Unicorn
Alright, so you know about unicorns now and how wonderful and magical they are... well we have some bad news. They've been involved in a little genocidal incident and now there's only one left. She doesn't know what happened to her fellow forest rompers so she's on a quest to learn the horrible truth. There is much strangeness and whimsy in this movie before we realize the other unicorns were herded into the ocean and left to drown by a monster bull. Comforting. I guess there is redemption here but wow. Just wow.
Mary & Max
Mary & Max is an independent Australian claymation. That being said I am not sure it was ever meant for children. Maybe? In Australia it is rated PG but I don't really think American audiences would agree! Mary is an eight year girl, thoroughly unpopular, who lives with her severely alcoholic mother and a father who'd rather stuff dead birds that he finds aside the highway than spend time with her. One day she decides to write to a random person who she finds in a phonebook. That person ends up being a 40-something year old man with Asberger's who after much mental torment decideds to write back. That's when the movie starts really showing every character in an unflinchingly honest sort of way, through the innocence of a child's eyes. Mary's mother isn't a kleptomaniac, she's just borrowing or saving on the use of grocery bags. Max writes back lacking any idea of discretion. When Mary asks where babies come from he tells her that Atheist babies come from eggs laid by whores. As the unlikely duo get older their problems with life and this relationship grow more and more complicated. I dare anyone to watch this and not fall wholeheartedly in love with all these foible-riddled characters, down to their very last flaw. But that all being said I wouldn't show this to any children in my charge... I wouldn't want to answer any questions they may have!
All Dogs Go to Heaven
Its true, all dogs go to heaven, except you Charlie, you've been a bad bad dog and you're going to Hell. Maybe he mistook the sofa for a fire hydrant, I don't know. More likely God's a bit pissed Charlie the dog is a mafioso, murdered by one of his cronies, who cons his way back to life. Talk about a mixed message! It's a moral saga that makes my mind today want to implode, I can only imagine what it does to children.
This remains one of my all time favorite movies, especially as a person who feels a bit uninspired by the presence of most children. The plot of the movie is set up pretty quickly as a twelve year old girl accidentally wishes away her crying snot-faced baby brother to the custody of a Goblin King who then gives her 24 hours to rescue the kidnapped infant. If that's not creepy enough the Goblins and many of the other creatures are scary little muppets. Oh and there's the oubliette, a dungeon where prisoners are thrown to be "forgotten" until they starve to death. Oh and then there's a tunnel of hands which were responsible for many many nightmares as a child. This is not to mention the fairy-killing can of Raid, the hoarder muppet that lives in the dump, or the crazy likely LSD inspired scene where a bunch of muppets start lopping off body parts and throwing them at each other. All those things are flipping scary as a child, but as an adult I have far more heebie jeebies thinking about the scene where the Goblin King tries to throw our twelve year old heroine off by enticing her with a romantic tryst - a memorizing dance where she is offered to be Goblin Queen if she just forsakes that damn baby! There's so many things wrong with that I can't even begin to write about it but I am willing to turn a blind eye because this movie still kicks butt.
Howard the Duck
I watched Howard the Duck before I was of school age but apparently even in the 80's it was labelled "Iffy for 11+" Oops. Maybe that's why when I watched it recently with my boyfriend all I could remember was the stupid monster at the end. "Oh my God! That thing is real!! I have been seeing that in my nightmares for over twenty years!!" My boyfriend is Dutch, and having lived here in the States and watched its puritanical attitudes turned to me and said, "This can't be a children's movie." What? There's something wrong with an ass-grabbing, chain smoking duck getting a little human action? Or was it the weird nonsensical plot? Or the copy of PlayDuck Howard is seen reading? Or maybe the duck boobs shown in the very beginning as Howard's chair bursts through a lady duck's bathroom as she's bathing? Who knew ducks could even have boobs! After watching this movie I am left with a feeling of pity for all the poor little people that got shoved in that hot sweaty duck suit during filming. I feel for ya. This movie is so horrible I actually recommend it to everyone who loves poking fun at B-rated movies.
"Gremlins isn't a children's movie!" Tell that to all the little kiddies who saw the adorable fluffy little Gizmo and squealed, "I WANT ONE! Forget the stupid pony! I want a Gizmo!" Oh but wait... you can't even give him a bath or feed him past midnight or retarded duplicates will sprout out of him and then morph into ravenous reptilian monsters.... Makes sense.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
Oh man, this film has everything a geek like me could want, clay animation, an Edward Gorey-esque look about it, and a soundtrack by Danny Elfman. You just can't go wrong with this one... unless you're afraid of "the clown with the tear-away face" or you look at the story line. Yes, skeletons and monsters are going to kidnap Santa Claus and then deliver him to a maggot-filled sock who'll delight in torturing him while singing in the most sarcastic tone that is possible for the human voice to muster. I finally grasped how truly horrible this was when I noticed strange women slowly wheel their children away from me when I sang some lyrics jokingly to my boyfriend at the supermarket. Would you do the same if you heard someone pleasantly singing, "Kidnap the Sandy Claws, beat him with a stick, Lock him for ninety years, see what makes him tick...."
Since this movie is just that great I am adding two clips, one so you can appreciate the ghastly lyrics of Kidnap the Sandy Claws and the second so you can hear the seething raw sarcasm of Mr Oogie Boogie himself.
Claymation movies have a tenancy to be... well... scary, even when they're adorable. How can you not get all warm and fuzzy watching the gerbil circus in Coraline? I mean its wonderful, whimsical, and wow... that must have taken some patience shooting that one frame at a time! I mean yes, there's an odd bit of nudity at one point with opera singers but I can overlook that... what I have a harder time overlooking is the truly dark nature of the storyline. Don't like your parents or home life? Fine! Just find a parallel world where your parents are the most amazing people ever and then to join them all you'll have to do is replace your eyes with giant black buttons, leaving a doll doppelganger in your own world in exchange. I love the complexity, though it does strike me as rather adult, as does the overall dark nature of the entire scenario! And what's up with the buttons?? I mean I think I remember reading that some serial killer used to sew buttons to the roadkill he stuffed as a child because he couldn't afford glass taxidermy eyes. That's just creepy man.
Alice in Wonderland (Any version)
I LOVE Alice in Wonderland, any version of it, save for Disney's. I have to start this by saying that Alice in Wonderland was written by a math genius and given to a ten year old girl as a Christmas present. Sounds sweet until you realize the entire story is a satire of actual people and events and the parts that can't be conclusively pinned are equally disturbing. I mean as a child I was infatuated with the hookah-smoking caterpillar. He just talked....so.....slow....and....mysteriously..... Sure, in the book he's depicted next to a tobacco leaf but I am certain it wasn't good old tobacky in that pipe! Even if it was there's still the abuse of mushrooms. One side will make you big, one side will make you small! These are actual feelings people have when taking hallucinogenic mushrooms. Cute, huh? I could write a whole flipping article about this but I shant. I'll only say I am not the only one obsessed with the story. In fact there's even a musical porno made in the 70's with the same lovable characters and plotline... I hear its the only porno ever to be considered adorable. Obviously don't let your kids watch that one!
When Pan's Labyrinth came out parents everywhere saw the trailer and thought it'd be a great fairy tale-like movie to bring their children too. Little did they know it was indeed a fairy tale but only of the darkest sort. You could probably tell in the beginning when a man's face is beat in with a glass bottle for poaching rabbits, which two minutes later you realize he didn't actually do. Curiously this is about the same moment when parents started shuffling their screaming children out of the theater. Luckily that was the most violent scene but that being said it still takes place during the war and has a certain gravitational seriousness about it. There are marvelous undertones about what it means to be a child, to be innocent, and what and if that innocence should be kept. Intensely artful in every aspect it is a delight to the wandering mind but I think we should keep this to the adult daydreamers out there!
The Dark Crystal
The Dark Crystal is one of those movies that seems to have earned itself a cult status. I'm sad to say I never had the chance to watch this as a child. If I had I am pretty sure I would have loved the muppets, the scenery, and the wildly complicated plotline. I'm not sure how I would have taken the scarier aspects of the movie that start with the word gelfling. Considering the word for a neutered stallion is a gelding I couldn't help but think the main characters were some sort of sexless elves. They were also orphans, their parents having been ripped away from them by the evil vulture-like skeksis. What for? Well, it could have been a number of things... they may have been slaughtered, turned into slaves, or had their life sucked out of them to make youth potions. That question is never really answered. Being an orphan is sad, being the savior of the planet is just confusing, especially considering the entire conflict was between the Skeksis and the Mystics, not the gelflings. How's that for typical political nonsense!
The Never Ending Story
I remember watching the Never Ending Story hundreds of times... for the fluffy dragon. He was cute! Who doesn't love a fluffy wingless dragon that can somehow still manage to fly? How I managed to block out the rest of the movie is beyond me... It starts with a psychic book that writes about the life of the main character and drags him into a world it has seemingly created for him. I didn't think of this much then but I did find the Nothingness absolutely terrifying. The Nothingness is the bad guy of the story - it eats up the reality of this dream world like a black hole and turns everything into nothing, obliterating everything in its path. During the struggle to fight off the nothingness our main character will fight great battles and meet many strange creatures and peoples including a boy and Indian brave named Atreyu who gives the movie great emotional darkness in one absolutely wrenching scene. I am sure everyone whose seen this movie can recall this one cinematic moment where Atreyu looses his faithful companion, his horse, in a patch of quicksand as he tries desperately to save the struggling beast. There are lots of tears, a horrible gut wrenching feeling of utter helplessness, and then a deep sorrow as we're left staring at a devastated crying boy. It makes Old Yeller look like an uplifting film.
Well... since we were already on the topic we might as well give this one a shot. It's an oldie but I still see people torturing their kids with this one. Its like saying, yes, you can have that puppy you have been begging for since you can talk, but beware! After you've gotten desperately attached to it you will have to shoot it in the head - yourself. Tough love? I don't even know what the moral of this psychologically warped story is supped to be....
I LOVE Frankenweenie. It is another cult classic that is hard not to smile about. That being said it is rather creepy. On the surface it looks like a cute child friendly satire making fun of all the horror films of the 1950s, but it's deeper than that. In the middle of the movie there is a rant given by the science teacher that really cuts to the quick. I don't know what was bothering Tim Burton that day but WOW. It accuses stupid people of being suspicious of science because they don't understand it, worse it goes on to say they are intellectually stunting their children because of their own insecurities. Beautiful. That's not really the creepy part... the creepy part is trying to bring a dead dog back to life and succeeding. There is even a scene where the dog drinks only to have water shoot out of the stitches in its neck. It is one of those things you either laugh or shutter about. Pretty much all Tim Burton movies could make this list but I have chosen this movie because it was his first.
Battle for Terra
Have you ever looked at a small child and wondered how you could instill them with hopeless pessimism? Or perhaps destroy whatever faith in humanity they may have? Well then Battle for Terra is right for you! This movie retains all the darkness of an adult sci-fi while animating it with cutesy floating mermaids and a morally conflicted robot. The story goes something like this: Earth has been destroyed by war and the only humans left are apparently psychopathic militants who find an already inhabited new earth, Terra, to colonize. So obviously, they decide to wipe out all those pesky sentient being as well as their crops and civilization so they can make the atmosphere human-friendly and take over. And even more obviously they've decided to do this without even bothering to say hi to the locals. Basically we have an action packed children's movie based on genocide. Cheerful! And to make it worse the bad guys are the humans! There's even one absolutely horrifying scene where the one sympathetic human is forced to watch as his brother and one of the aliens is put into a chamber where one of them will have to die. Does he push the button to fill the chamber with oxygen and save his brother or does he allow the alien to live and watch his brother suffocate? What sociopathic values this is supposed to teach children I haven't the foggiest! And of course this movie is topped off by a brilliantly horrific ending. SPOILER ALERT the one Jesus-like human who is sympathetic to the aliens saves them by committing a suicide bombing, which he believes will also doom his own people to extinction. In the last two minutes of the film the aliens decide to save the remnants of humanity. Why, I have no idea, no rational being would have decided to save something that has been trying to kill them for the entire movie! But there it is. This is the only movie on the list that literally left me feeling angry at the end.
In the end all these movies got me wondering where the tradition of making creepy children's films came from. You could argue it goes back to fairy tales but I'd rather just go back to the birth of cinema. Here's a cartoon produced in the 1920s that I think beats all the above films.
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