children's movies
It's time to break out your VCR and VHS tapes to revisit some old classics. (Illustration by Dorothy Timan, Indiana University)

4 Terrifying Children’s Movies You Should Try Watching Again

Who needs ‘Annabelle Comes Home’ when you already have these gems?

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children's movies

Who needs ‘Annabelle Comes Home’ when you already have these gems?

When most people look back on movies they loved as a kid, they think of Pixar’s “Finding Nemo” or Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.” While films such as these all have moments that make you question, “Is this appropriate for small children?” you are constantly reminded that they are, in fact, children’s movies. Other films that are labeled as such, however, are not safe for the youth, and contain unspeakable terrors lurking around every corner.

Allow me to repeat myself. Unspeakable terrors. 

I’m sure a few examples have already begun popping into your head. Here are four children’s movies that you might not remember, but are sure to bring the night-terrors rushing back in. Buckle up kids, you might have to keep the lights on for this read.

1.“The Dark Crystal

Last month, the official trailer for Netflix’s original “The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance” finally dropped. Set to hit computer and television screens in August, the new series takes place on the mystical planet Thra and features a star-studded cast of voice actors including Helena Bonham Carter, Taron Egerton and Awkwafina, just to name a few. Don’t let the trailer for the reboot let you forget the horror that was the original. As adults, we aren’t scared of things like evil magic, bad guys and talking puppets. In fact, they’re kind of intriguing. Charming even. Now all there is to fear is crippling student debt and the climate crisis. Flashback to when you were a kid, however, and remember the first “The Dark Crystal.” Which was quite literally the stuff of nightmares.

What kid doesn’t love “The Muppets“? Jim Henson’s Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy were practically made to make children laugh — so any movie he made had to be perfect for little tykes, right? Wrong. “The Dark Crystal” was anything but the children’s movie some parents woefully believed it to be.

While some of the puppets in the film, like Jen the Gelfling, are admittedly pretty cute, the evil Skeksis are absolutely harrowing. If that alone wasn’t enough to traumatize children, then some devastating plot lines surely were. Who could forget the trauma of watching the fun-loving, friendly podlings get completely destroyed, or Kira taking a knife to the chest.

That being said, if you can bring yourself to give watching the movie another try, you might be pleasantly surprised. Although it might seem a little retro now, the set and cinematography is enchanting, and the movie itself is a wild, mystical adventure of heroism. Plus, it’s the perfect thing to get you excited for the new series at the end of the summer.

2. “Labyrinth

Who wouldn’t want to watch David Bowie dancing around in tight pants with a bunch of creepy goblins? The answer is most children. While some kids (ahem, me) might have enjoyed the toe-tapping tunes and fantastical storyline of the 1986 children’s movie, the overall premise and nightmare-inducing puppets were a bit too much for most.

If you don’t remember, the film follows a young girl, Sarah (Jennifer Connelly), who asks an evil ruler known as the Goblin King (David Bowie) to come take her baby brother away to live in the land of the goblins. When she realizes she has made a mistake, she has to take on a giant labyrinth to get him back, encountering many obstacles and creatures, both good and bad, along the way. Sure, this doesn’t sound too bad, but did I mention there’s creatures that can literally take their own heads off and use their eyeballs as dice? Yikes.

While the film would, understandably, make any child run screaming from the theater in terror, watching the movie as an adult can be quite a different experience. The second go-around is a marvelous romp through the splendor that is Bowie’s music, with songs such as “Magic Dance” and the hit “Underground” setting up the storyline. The artistry that creators Jim Henson and Brian Froud put into making the puppets make it the perfect, bizarre, fantasy flick that as an adult, you’ll be sure to watch on repeat. 

3. “FernGully: The Last Rainforest

“FernGully: The Last Rainforest” has everything kids look for in a film: talking animals, cute little fairies, oh, and a giant shadow monster trying to destroy the earth.

Released in 1992, this classic children’s movie follows a rainforest-dwelling fairy named Crysta living happily with all her fairy friends. Well, and a slightly strung-out bat voiced by Robin Williams that’s apparently been tested on by humans. But that’s beside the point. Everything changes when a young, handsome lumberjack comes to the forest and is accidentally shrunk down to fairy size. More goes awry, however, when his coworkers cut down a tree that was imprisoning a giant, horrifying shadow demon known as Hexxus. The characters have to do everything in their power to stop both demon, and man, from destroying their rainforest home.

With more death and destruction than most children’s movies care to demonstrate, this film probably traumatized a good few youngsters. As adults, however, it is much easier to see the message the creators of “FernGully” were trying to get across. Relevant in the early-‘90s, and even more so in 2019, the film tackles the issue of deforestation as well as the impact humankind is having on the environment. In “FernGully,” not only is the average man portrayed as a deadly foe to the Earth, but an evil shadow creature is meant to represent all of mankind. It even uses pollution as fuel to destroy the fairies’ rainforest.

Looking back, this was a really clever way to make children aware of what is happening to the climate. Hopefully, even if it did scar them just a little bit, the message didn’t go over too many kids’ heads. In fact, all adults could do with giving it a thorough, meditative watch now. 

4. “James and the Giant Peach

A little boy who climbs inside a magical, giant peach and follows his dreams to the Big Apple, singing songs and making friends all the way there: It’s everything you could want in a children’s movie. That is, unless, you count the boy’s hag-like evil aunts, a giant rhinoceros that killed his parents climbing down from the sky, and most of all, giant bugs.

It’s safe to say that all Roald Dahl stories could likely be made into thrillers instead of children’s movies. Willy Wonka from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” literally murders kids after all. But the film adaptation of “James and the Giant Peach” was another level of horror for little ones.

The half-live action, half-claymation film has a good heart and storyline, urging people to follow their dreams, do the impossible and find their way out of extremely tough situations with the help of friends. Looking at it as a kid however, you’d likely want to see this story without the horrifying, mechanical shark trying to eat the main characters, ghost pirates taking over the peach-ship and the aforementioned giant bugs. Still can’t get over that one.

If you push aside the terror of it all, however, the film has a nice message about chosen family and removing oneself from toxic situations. An added bonus is all the adult humor you might not have picked up on as a kid. Keep an ear out for Mr. Centipede’s one-liners — he’s a wild one.

While these four children’s movies may have caused you endless strife as a young person, and trust me, there are far more that could have been mentioned (we’re looking at you, “The Witches”), they are all pretty awesome. Some taught important lessons, others were just for fun, but each of them held something that you will probably appreciate a lot more now that you’re too old to be looking for monsters under your bed. So grab some popcorn, pick your poison and don’t let the giant bugs bite.

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