[Editor’s note: The following is chock full o’ spoilers.]
This weekend’s release of the new (improved?) Nightmare on Elm Street started me thinking about the original, some would say classic, Freddy film. That got me thinking about my childhood and all the other scary films that used to keep me up at night. I say “used to” for a reason, because nothing in horror films scares me anymore. I know that sounds macho, but I am about to list ten reasons that I’m anything but.
The fact is, these things have much more impact when you’re a child, and I watched a lot of stuff when I was way too young. (Thanks Mom.) I jumped when Dallas was given a giant alien–hug, covered my eyes when the twins wanted to play with Danny, and flinched the first time Bruce [Editor’s note: The shark from Jaws, named after Spielberg’s lawyer.] pops out of the water, but those great scenes were only frightening to me in the moment.
I want to be clear; this is not the best or scariest or most shocking moments. Bravo already made that list, and flawed as it is, it does a decent job of recounting some great scares from some great films. But for the most part, the classics didn’t traumatize. That is, they didn’t affect my day-to-day life in any way. This list is much more personal, has little to do with the movies themselves and everything to do with my imagination running wild with some of the ideas presented in these films. These are the films, scenes, or moments that stayed with me long after the credits rolled.
I don’t remember the first Critters, and I remember very little about this sequel. I know it’s about little fur ball aliens that come to Earth and wreak havoc on a small town until some space bounty hunters come to save the day. (I also remember that it’s not as cool as it sounds.) It’s a Gremlins knock-off to be sure, but not nearly as fun. The creatures themselves aren’t that scary; they’re small and seem far from formidable, but what scared me and stayed with me after is the giant ball of critters. Suddenly, the harmless looking critters combined to form one giant rolling ball of flesh-eating death. They run over some poor bastard and there’s nothing left of him after barely a few seconds under the critter ball. After The Main Course, I didn’t look at small, furry animals the same way. I imagined that if I wasn’t careful, any group of tiny beasts (rabbits, hamsters, etc.) could roll into a massive ball of destruction and kill me within seconds. Very hard to have pets with Critters 2 memories implanted in my brain.
Fun Fact: David Twohy (Pitch Black) co-wrote Critters 2 and Leonardo DiCaprio was in Critters 3.
9. Tales From The Crypt: Season 2, Episode 10, “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy” (1990)
This wasn’t a movie, but it’s HBO so I think it counts. I watched a lot of Crypt as a child, and although it was meant to be campy it could still scare the hell out of a small child. Out of all the episodes I watched, this is the only one I remember. It starred Bobcat Goldthwaith as a wannabe ventriloquist and Don Rickles as the old pro with a dark secret. It was actually directed by Richard (Superman, The Goonies) Donner and written by Frank (The Mist, Shawshank Redemption) Darabont. Not bad for a campy TV show. The big reveal is that Rickles isn’t really super talented, but rather a sad freak of nature. See, he isn’t really throwing his voice; no, he’s just dressing up his deformed conjoined twin in dummy suits and putting on a show. That’s right, his hand is really his brother, looking like an aborted fetus and spouting off one-liners. The whole twist is played up with macabre humor but that doesn’t take away from the fact that from that moment on I was scared shitless of dummies, because I figured they were all just hideous hand monsters. Did they really need to make Dummies more frightening?
8. Troll (1986)
Troll 2 is apparently the Best Worst Movie. [Editor’s note: “Nilbog is goblin spelled backwards.”] The original Troll isn’t much better, but still haunted me many a night. The plot has something to do with an evil troll lurking around an apartment complex, going from tenant to tenant transforming them into fairy creatures in a bid to have the fairy realm take over the real world (Like Super Mario Bros). What makes this frightening is the troll in question.
No CGI could ever create something so freaky looking. Now there are plenty of scary creatures in the history of film, but this one struck me as particularly menacing for another reason other than his appearance. This creature didn’t hide under bridges, but a regular apartment building. I grew up in a regular apartment building! I just assumed from then on that any random closet or unmarked door around the complex hid a scary troll waiting to attack me.
Fun Fact: Troll’s main character is named Harry Potter and features a young Julia-Louis Dreyfus.
7. Ghoulies 2 (1988)
The poster pretty much says it all. I know the first Ghoulies had monsters in the toilet as well, but I never saw the first Ghoulies. I vaguely remember the plot about evil creatures attacking a carnival, but I damn sure remember the poor dude popping a squat over the toilet bowl. Seconds before the guy sits down, we see that there is indeed a ghoulie inside the latrine, just waiting to bite. You don’t actually see the attack, just the the victim screaming in agony (and not because he was constipated). I couldn’t take anything but quick shits for a very long time. I was convinced that the second I relaxed and didn’t properly inspect the toilet beforehand was the exact moment a ghoulie would climb out and eat me. Frankly, I’m surprised I didn’t just shit my pants from then on, but I guess I was satisfied with my thorough inspections.
Again TV, but I had to mention it. Based on the massive novel by Stephen King, the adaptation isn’t perfect but still contains many effective elements. It’s told in two parts, in the first a group of young friends band together to fight off an evil multi-dimensional entity called Pennywise that usually takes the form of a disturbing clown. (Is there any other kind?) [Editor’s note: No, there isn’t.] In the second, those same friends have since grown up and must come together yet again to finish Pennywise off once and for all. The first part is the better of the two, as the second half, while not horrible, doesn’t fulfill the promise of the set-up and could have been left out. Now, clowns are inherently creepy, and Pennywise is the mother of scary clowns, but that is not why IT is here. IT damaged me with one of its first scenes. Little Georgie chases a paper boat as it floats down the sewer drain, only to be confronted by the demonic clown. Pennywise, all charm, convinces the boy to reach down the drain to grab the boat that the smiling bastard just so happens to have found. As soon as poor Georgie reaches in, Pennywise grabs Georgie’s arm and rips it off. We don’t see the arm rip, but it is made pretty clear, and although Pennywise does not follow this up by beating Georgie to death with his own arm, it’s still some scary shit. After IT, I found it very difficult to reach after toys and balls that rolled down the sewer drain, let alone reach my hand into any unknown crevice but maybe that’s a good thing.
[Editor’s note: To this day, whenever I look at a storm drain, I think of this scene.]
5. Tremors (1990)
Tremors is awesome. It’s a fun creature feature about killer worm monsters and it stars Kevin Bacon. If you haven’t seen it, that last sentence should have made you want to. The worms themselves aren’t that scary and the movie plays up the action and comedy more than the horror. The single detail that makes this one unforgettable is how the worms track and kill you. They live underground and sense any seismic activity happening above and then pounce on it. Basically, if you walk on the ground, you die. Well, when Tremors was released, I already played a game where I pretended the ground was lava and therefore untouchable. After this movie, I had another reason to try not to touch the ground. I wasn’t afraid of the worms themselves, but the possibility of some other undiscovered beast just waiting for me to make a wrong step.
Like Snakes on a Plane, the title says it all. Evil alien clowns invade Earth and kill a bunch of people in goofy, ironic clown ways. [Editor’s note: I want these mother-fucking clowns off this mother-fucking planet.] It’s a fun, campy cult classic and even though clowns=scary, they’re not really that scary in this movie. [Editor’s note: Clowns are always scary. ALWAYS.] That is until one of these Killer Klowns unleashes his killer shadow puppet. Let me say that again, killer shadow puppet. What?! Fuck me, I’m scaring myself now. Yeah, so some people waiting for the bus are entranced by a Killer Klown’s magic shadow puppetry. Then, when they least expect it, the puppet on the wall eats the people. Poof, no more; they disappear to god knows where, Shadowland, Puppetworld, Klown-hell? My young mind was forced to imagine such a place and whether regular shadow puppets could send me there. The movie couldn’t make clowns scarier, but it sure as shit ruined shadow puppets.
3. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), A Nightmare of Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988), A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989)
I’ve always been a Freddy fan. The films were always more fun and imaginative; the idea that the bad guy could get you in your sleep was way more frightening than Jason, Michael Myers, or Leatherface. You could run away from those guys, but not Freddy, he literally haunts your dreams. That being said, Halloween is easily the best movie out of all of those franchises, and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (Co-written by Frank Darabont) is easily the best Krueger film, so why aren’t those on this list?
Well, they didn’t have scenes that made me afraid of water. Water, you know, the basic foundation for all life, that little thing. More specifically, Elm Street 1,4, & 5 made me afraid of baths, showers, and water-beds. Freddy wasn’t that scary, but these real things suddenly were.
The original has the iconic scene where Nancy falls asleep while taking a bath and Freddy’s glove pops out of the water. Nancy wakes up in time, but not before ruining any future baths I planned on taking. I couldn’t close my eyes in the bath for years after that for fear of something, anything happening.
The Dream Master has a kill scene where a teenage boy dreams about a bikini model swimming in his water-bed. The model turns out to be Freddy and he proceeds to kill the horny boy, uttering the classic zinger, “How’s this for a wet dream?” Never mind the fact that it would be years before I understood the one-liner, this absolutely destroyed water-beds for me. Couldn’t sleep on them, and I wouldn’t go near them. Despite the fact that water-beds are in no way depicted accurately in the movie, I was convinced that I could drown in one or get sucked into them.
The Dream Child has a brief but memorable sequence where the main character is taking a shower. You realize it’s a nightmare when the water begins to rise more and more until she almost drowns. It is a short scene, but turned showers into something to fear, at least showers with doors instead of curtains. [Editor’s note: Showers with curtains were ruined by the shower scene from Psycho. But, when I was kid and had yet to see Psycho, they were ruined by Police Academy 3 and an homage to Psycho involving Bobcat Goldthwait. Scary.] Once again, showers are inaccurately depicted and can’t fill up this way, but I didn’t know that then. I don’t want to drown while taking a fucking shower. Damn you Krueger!!!
[Editor’s note: Shower scene begins at 3:42.]
These 3 scenes, all tied to water, haunted me more than all the many gruesome deaths in the Nightmare franchise.
Sky is based on the (supposedly) true story of Travis Walton, who was seen abducted by aliens in the middle of the woods late one night. Everyone assumes foul play, not aliens, and the movie plays like a straight drama/mystery for most of the running time. Then Travis shows up 5 days after his abduction, alive and with a story to tell. The movie proceeds to recreate Travis’ close encounter and it becomes an utterly terrifying film. The aliens don’t have some fancy, high-tech spaceship, everything on the ship is icky and tactile. Travis is terrified and so was I. They do the standard issue medical probing and tests, but this is not what freaked me out. Other than the idea that this story is all true, what freaked me out was the moment Travis happens upon a cocoon like the one he awoke from. Inside the slimy shell, he finds a rotting human corpse. “Holy shit,” I thought, “not only are aliens real, but they are scary, mad scientists who will kidnap you AND NEVER BRING YOU BACK!!!” And oh yeah, I lived out in the woods when this film was released. Going to bed every night afraid aliens might show up is one thing (Thanks X-Files), but to be abducted and left to waste away in a chamber of horrors is something altogether infinitely more terrifying.
[Editor’s note: Poor DB Sweeney. All I can think when I watch this scene is, “Toe pick.”]
1. Creepshow 2 (1987)
From George A. Romero and Stephen King comes the sequel to their anthology horror film. Like the first one, part 2 is hit and miss, but part 2 contains The Raft. Four horny college kids go swimming at a remote lake only to discover a floating oil-blob creature that kills, cause that’s what blobs do. Two manage to stay alive on a small raft in the middle of the lake. After a long night (and after the guy molests the unconscious girl), the blob thingy seeps its way through the raft to finish them off. It is the look of the blob creature that makes this one so jarring. It looks like an oil slick or a shadow or maybe some algae. See where this is going? You always knew when Jaws was about to get you because you’d see his fin, not so with this blob thingy. Any dark looking anything in any body of water had become suspect in my book. I vividly remember refusing to jump in a swimming pool because of a shadow in the deep end. Jaws never made me scared of swimming pools, but Creepshow 2 did.
There you have it, 10 films that made me afraid of: small animals, dummies, my apartment complex, going to the bathroom, reaching my hand where it doesn’t belong, walking on anything other than giant rocks, shadow puppets, bathtubs, showers, water-beds, aliens, and swimming.
Maybe you’ve seen some of these (some you really shouldn’t) and maybe you’ve been equally disturbed, either way go ahead and vote for what you think is the most traumatic and leave your own personal horror story in the comments section.
Also, check back later when Adam will have his own review of A Nightmare on Elm Street.