Tag Archives: scary

CftC: My Top 10 Traumatizing Scenes from Kids Movies

Another year, another return to…

 

Instead of looking at one Halloween special at a time, I have chosen to do a Top 10 list for this first installment. Below, you will see the ten most memorable moments in kid and family movies that gave me endless nightmares as a youngster.

I tried to dive in as deeply as I could, talking about the scenes themselves but also about what makes them so scary. I find that the psychology driving effective horror scenarios can be pretty common for most people, and surprisingly basic and traceable. But that doesn’t make them shallow by any means. Some people say that the root of all good comedy is that someone has to be miserable. No matter how elaborate you make the joke, there always has to be a “butt” of it. The same can be true of horror, but there are more roots, or “butts,” to choose from.

 

10) The Donkey Scene (Pinocchio)

 

I’ve seen Pinocchio maybe 5 times in my life. It’s not a Disney movie I come back to often, and I have no idea how faithful it is to the source material, but when I watch it again, I’m always struck by how dark and mean-spirirted it is, even as fairytales go. It’s like if Don Bluth made films back in the 40’s.

This one scene is pretty screwed up. It’s basically body-horror for children, and while it might not be as grotesque as a David Cronenberg production, it’s almost as frightening.

What is body horror, you ask? In short, it’s the whole concept of unwanted, uncontrollable transformation, which stems from a fear of not being in control. The one physical thing that any human being can own completely is their own body, so the notion of it changing without your consent, and most likely in a very painful way, is terrifying. This fear is in a similar vein with that of petrification; both of which most people don’t think about or wouldn’t admit to being afraid of, but totally are.

What sells this particular scene are Lampwick’s panicked screams and thrashing, but the lighting and music are pretty intense as well. He’s a kid, albeit a smug little jerk, so there’s an element of protectiveness that can be involved. But more importantly, this perversion of nature is what will happen to Pinocchio, our main character, who is nearby watching but unable to help. It seems to be going slower – possibly because he’s not a real boy yet – but it’s assumed that it will happen like that.

 

It’s a scary moment on its own, but also for the danger it poses to the person we most care about in the movie.

 

9) The Hollow (Ichabod and Mr. Toad)



I might have mentioned this in my full review of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, but this scene is hilarious and scary at the same time.

The build-up is great, when Ichabod is on edge and thinks he can hear the Headless Horseman coming after him. The scene is mostly quiet – silly of course, but tense nonetheless – and when you’re first watching, you never know when the ghost will actually show up. It could be during any one of the little scares Ichabod basically gives himself, as he inexplicably travels alone in the dead of night after a party, where he probably could have found several someones to walk most of the way home with him. Or he could have booked a room with the Van Tassels and called it a night.

 

Walking or generally being alone at night is a common fear, particularly for women, and it feels even worse when other people tease you for being paranoid. Katrina chuckles at Ichabod’s fear during the party, and the fact that the schoolmaster’s horse just moseys along, not paying attention or speeding up when Ichabod tells him to, would certainly add to my frustration, not knowing whether or not I’m going crazy or should seriously get the hell out of dodge.

Ichabod and his horse have a good laugh when he thinks his imagination got the better of him (after all, he thinks a frog’s croaking in the background sounds like “Headless Horseman”)…and then suddenly, a third voice joins in with a chillingly demonic cackle.

Then, we begin a scary…hilarious….scare-larious chase scene. Seriously, it’s morbidly delightful.

 

8) Donald’s Mental Breakdown (Fun and Fancy Free or Mickey and the Beanstalk)

Did you ever want to see one of your beloved childhood icons go kill crazy?…No? Well, here you go anyway!

 

I’m not sure how much more I can say about this one. It’s screwed up. Donald Duck gets crazy eyes and decides to kill his farm’s only cow, because he’s sitting there starving in his own home. I know the guy needs some anger management therapy, but damn!

On a side note, in a world of walking, talking, anthropomorphized animals, why does the cow not talk or wear clothes? Why can it be sold, but not Mickey, Donald, or Goofy? Is it that some characters can be captured and domesticated for slave labor, but these guys are somehow untouchable?

I have no idea how this world would work!

 

7) The Reveal (The Witches)

 

“Stranger danger” is practically beaten into every child’s brain, because they’re exceedingly naïve and their parents are terrified. The makers of this Roald Dahl movie adaptation probably made a bet with themselves to see if they could reverse that, because many adults happily rented it and their children were then soundly traumatized.

I saw this movie at a friend’s sleepover, and I could not sleep for the rest of the night. The Willy Wonka Tunnel of Hell may have the element of surprise on its side, but it has nothing on an entire movie full of disturbing concepts and imagery, all of them posing threats to innocent kids, simply because they are kids. Imagine if Willy Wonka was an army of hideous, vicious old women who had a more active loathing of children, beyond just the bratty ones, and decided to kill/eat them as a result.

The scene where a grown woman pulls a snake from her purse and attempts to coax the main character out of his tree house is nightmarish enough, but then you have the scene where the witches go to their witch conference or whatever. They remove their disguises in a hideous fashion, talk about their plans for child murder, and then turn the boy into a mouse after he is caught spying on them.

 

So we have “stranger danger”, yet more body-horror, and a race to foil the plans of a powerful, secret group that few other people realize is a threat, with only the boy’s grandmother to help the kid along. The one adult he can rely on is only so useful, and the other adults are either dangerous or ignorant. That’s encouraging to know, right?

 

6) The Cauldron Born (The Black Cauldron)

 

Some people consider this film a cult classic, while others demonstrate why it did so poorly at the box office. It’s a very flawed, mixed bag, but I would put myself in the former group. The villain has an intimidating, cool design; the art style is dark, but also fairly whimsical; and personally, I thought Elmer Bernstein’s music fit this movie better than it did Ghostbusters.

There’s nightmare fuel aplenty, too.

 

In one scene, the Horned King becomes a necromancer, resurrecting a bunch of dead warriors from various places and eras. An eerie green fog begins rolling out of the cauldron, becoming almost like a soup in places as it fills the room, and one of the king’s henchmen stupidly jabs it with his spear. Suddenly, skeletons erupt in a jump scare, descending on the man. We don’t see what happens to him, but we can assume he’s dead, as the scene cuts to the remaining humans looking away in horror. Then the Horned King sends his undead minions out to “destroy all in (their) path,” and I think about how they would go to the ends of the earth, murdering helpless, unsuspecting villagers like a plague.

 

The scares in this scene is pretty shallow for me. It’s mostly about the imagery and the music, but for what it is, it’s damn effective. The zombie sun-genre of horror isn’t really my forte, but these evil undeads unnerve me every time.

 

5) Charlie Goes to Hell (All Dogs Go to Heaven)

 

The concept of eternal punishment is scary enough by itself. Human beings don’t like pain, and the idea that we’d suddenly have no control, no way to stop the unpleasantness happening to us, and be stuck that way forever is a hard pill to swallow. Even worse, what if we don’t know what we did to deserve it, or the act/acts themselves were miniscule? Arbitrary? Does God even have an appeals court?

Hell is a fear that is instilled in Christians (and other religious folks with Hell-esque parallels) from an early age, and it’s hard to shake off the vague, but ultimately disturbing imagery that comes to mind when that word is uttered. It can be uniquely terrifying to each person, but the basic conceit is the same, and so the fear holds some universality as well.

In this movie, the main character, a German Shepherd named Charlie, stole a second chance at life while he was in Doggy Heaven. As punishment for this, he will go to Hell. Directly to Hell. He can’t pass Go, and he certainly can’t collect $200.

 

While he feigns indifference initially, we can see that Charlie is fearful of the consequences of his actions, and no scene shows this more clearly than the Dream Sequence. There’s fire, brimstone, demons, and most poignant of all, a crushing sense of being unable to escape or stop what is happening to him.

Don Bluth movies in general have this great way of capturing what it’s like to feel small, insignificant, and prey to the whims of the world around you…Probably because so many of the movies involve mice or other small creatures dealing with vicious predators, or the indifferent reactions of humans and nature. Bluth’s world either doesn’t care or is actively working against them, isolating and tormenting the characters but also providing great catharsis when they finally achieve their goals.

Charlie’s torment is necessary, showing his growth as a character and the loss of the innocence/ignorance that once shielded him from it, but that makes it no less terrifying.

 

4) The Bear (The Fox and the Hound)


Things that make this scene stick out:

  1. It’s jarring as all hell! It comes right out of nowhere; what you thought was going to be the climax of the story – Todd either escaping Copper and Amos or getting killed by them – is kicked out of this giant moving car to make room for a random bear attack.
  2. It looks like some weird, mutant cross between a Grizzly Bear and Black Bear. And what bear has freaky demon eyes like that?!
  3. Amos gets knocked down a hill, losing his gun in the process, and then he gets stuck in his own trap, which I’d imagine was pretty painful in and of itself. Despite how much I hate him during the rest of the movie, and despite knowing he provoked the attack by shooting the bear, I can believe his terror and helplessness. He’s old, and now suddenly rendered defenseless.
  4. Despite the lack of blood, the scene is full of violence. You can almost feel the impact of every bite and scratch, especially followed by all of those grunts and yelps. The Great Mouse Detective, which Disney put out a mere 5 years later, has a similar effect in its climactic showdown. Every blow and reaction shot seems heavily focused on.

 

As a kid, it was fairly easy for me to picture myself or someone I loved in place of whoever was being hurt or scared in any given movie. Animal attacks are particularly scary because you’re not facing something you can possibly persuade. All you have left is your speed (assuming you can move at all) and your wits (assuming you wouldn’t go stupid with panic and adrenaline).

 

KILL IT WITH FIRE!!!

 

3) A Wild Beast Appears! (Beauty and the Beast)

How many animal attacks make up this list now?

I’m not trying to go for a theme here. Honestly, there is just something viscerally upsetting about seeing terrified, defenseless people (particularly old folks, women, and children) being helpless in life-or-death situations.

 

In his first major appearance in the story, the Beast is a large, jagged black shape with white slits for eyes, towering over Maurice, who can only cower and beg for mercy. He stalks forward, enormous claws and fangs bared. He is unrelenting, unmerciful, and just plain scary-looking, all while the scary music swells and the audio engineers overlay his vocal track with loud, deep bestial snarls and roars. Every bit of him appears to be a monster; though unlike the monsters Maurice just escaped outside, this one could potentially be reasoned with. The Beast just refuses to hear him out.

 

Once again, the fear comes from imagining yourself or a loved one in place of Maurice. What would you do? Despite the Beast being a hand-drawn creation, you can watch him and feel the threat that he possesses. Everything about the scene screams “RUN AWAY NOW!” Lumiere and Cogsworth just cower and stand there, barely making an attempt to calm the Beast in his territorial fury. How comforting is that? One guy invited Maurice to come in and make himself at home, but then fails to defend him, and the other guy just constantly tries to cover his own ass at your expense.

Even later, when the Beast saves Belle from the wolves, he looks as monstrous and feral as the very things he’s fighting. This is another reason that I look down on the remake; their Beast is not even remotely scary or threatening, which removes his bite, so to speak. Nevermind that the CG effects are fake-looking as hell, which also distracts from the believability, but it then removes the sense of real change when the Beast finally starts coming around to Belle and acting more human. He wasn’t just a grump hermit in a fur suit; he was regressing in despair, to the point of mentally becoming an animal.

But I digress.

 

2) Any Hag Scene (Snow White and the Seven Dwarves)

Particularly the one in which she is “born.”

Queen Grimhilde’s regular character design is unsettling, what with her frozen face yet sporadically widening eyes. But once she transforms into the Hag, using a potion literally made out of the stuff of nightmares, the woman becomes completely terrifying.

It is said that the actress removed her false teeth to achieve her older voice, and the Hag’s cottony cackles couple well with her poorly-aged, clearly-evil, “oh-my-God-only-an-idiot-wouldn’t-realize-this” disguise. She talks out loud to herself constantly, plotting needless cruel tortures for Snow White, and she often looks directly into the camera, as if she knows you’re there and will probably be coming after you next.

Aside from her physical repulsiveness, I think some of the fear also comes from the Queen essentially hating this little girl for an unbelievably petty reason, and being willing to kill her so sadistically. “Kill Snow and bring back her heart in a box.” “Have the dwarves bury her alive because they don’t know she’s just sleeping.” It’s all so simplistic, but brutal. Her insecurity and jealousy makes her into a complete monster, and had she survived, who knows what this depraved madwoman would have done next?

She also has a secret alchemy/black-magicky lab in the castle dungeons, which she can apparently slip in and out of unnoticed. There’s nothing like seeing a clearly dangerous person in power, roaming the streets and doing whatever she wants with no supervision or legal repercussions.

…Whatever happened to the Huntsman, anyway? Is his head on a pike, festively adorning the castle walls? Did he get away scott-free while Queenie was busy with premeditated princess murder? We’ll never know for sure, but she did say, “You know the penalty if you fail,” which I figure involves an execution of some sort…The less I think about this, the better.

 

1) Wolf Attack (Beauty and the Beast)

An old man gets lost in the woods, loses his horse, and then has to run from ravenous wolves.

 

Belle gets attacked by wolves as well, but that scene is actually very different. It comes hot off the heels of another major conflict, the music transitions fluidly, and the background and lighting are consistently…well, for lack of a better word, brighter all around.

 

Blue tends to be a more calming color. Plus, you can see every element clearly.

In Maurice’s scene, by contrast, the score starts out calm, but eerily discordant and all over the place. I couldn’t even find the track on the official soundtrack; it was released on a bonus CD sold separately, that’s how unnerving it is.

It also does what is called “Mickey Mousing”, a term that refers to how the music follows and embellishes the actions happening on screen, rather than just setting a general background tone. For example, at one point a shadowy wolf rushes by, and even if your eyes missed it, the music let you know that something bad had just happened.

 

Eyes and other animated facial features morph quickly from nervous to fearful (I have always found creepy or expressly afraid eyes chilling). Even Phillipe the horse knows that something bad is going to happen, and frustratingly, he realizes as quickly as the audience does. His rider, meanwhile, is stubborn and distracted, ignoring the obvious warning signs.

 

The lighting is predominantly composed of reds and yellows (colors that tend to excite and agitate, according to Psychology), and it’s limited because it comes from the inventor’s lantern. The light is soon put out, however, in an extremely quick and violent way, and then all is left in darkness as Maurice’s one immediate hope of escape, his horse, is driven away in terror.

Much like with The Fox and the Hound’s Bear, there is a lot of motion and violent energy in this scene. A chorus of wolf howls goes up, causing Phillipe to back his cart into a tree. A mass of angry black bats comes flocking out, scaring the horse into nearly running himself off of a cliff. Phillipe rears, knocking Maurice off and leaving him alone in the forest. Just as the old man picks himself up, he gets chased by a group of wolves and falls down a cliff. He then reaches a gate and manages to get inside, but a wolf bites his foot and almost drags his whole leg out into biting range. The pacing of it all rarely gives the audience a break, and depending on your imagination, it can be like experiencing the danger yourself, if secondhand.

 

Belle’s scene is still scary in its own way – it’s still a defenseless person possibly going to be mauled to death – but it’s not filmed the same way and it doesn’t really sneak up on first-time viewers. As soon as she starts riding into the woods, you already have an idea of what she’s going to face. The wolves themselves shown up more on screen, coming from predictable directions, and they are also a lot easier to see in their horrific entirety.

Maurice’s chase scene was shorter, but it was more uncertain and suspenseful.

 

What were your scariest movie moments from childhood? Please share in the comments below. If you’re wondering why something isn’t on this list, I most likely didn’t see it until I was older or it didn’t bother me all that much.

 

*None of the images, soundbites, or clips in this post belong to me.

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CftC: Over the Garden Wall

Ladies and gents, it’s time once again for…

october

 

Since I was on a roll with this topic for a while, let us once again explore themes of depression in media aimed at kids and young adults!

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…Okay, Over the Garden Wall isn’t necessarily about depression; the show is interpretable, and this is just one of the many way it can be interpreted.

If you’ve never heard of this miniseries before, haven’t watched any cartoons in the last 5< years, or in cases like mine, don’t have cable television, watch these show intros for me real quick:

 

 

 

I’m not posting these to pass judgment on these shows (although the first two are pretty heinous. Say what you want about Pokemon, but at least it’s theme was catchy and memorable), but look at the intro to Over the Garden Wall and tell me if you see a contrast:

 

Wasn’t that different? Surreal, sure (the creator of the miniseries was also a creative director on Adventure Time), but not what you typically see your kids watching?

That is the show in a nut shell. It has its bizarre moments (usually as a reference or homage. Betty Boop and other Fleischer Brothers’ cartoons in at least one episode, for example) that make it feel very much like Alice in Wonderland, but everything has a purpose when you uncover the greater story.

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Over the Garden Wall is a dark-fantasy adventure-comedy ten years in the making (originally envisioned in 2004 and pitched to the network in 2006); it is also the first ever miniseries that Cartoon Network has put out. It debuted last year in November, and followed two lost children, Wirt and Greg, wandering in a seemingly endless forest known as The Unknown in search of home. They are assisted by Beatrice, a grumpy but well-meaning bluebird, and the somber and cryptic Woodsman, who warns them of the Beast, the dark, shadowy being who haunts the woods and claims any soul who wanders lost and purposeless.

Anything more would be a spoiler, but some are necessary to get into what I’m talking about. So beware. Spoilers Below.

First, let me say what I love about this miniseries.

The music is gorgeous and old-timey (I particularly love whatever Jack Jones sings). The art really shines, particularly when it depicts the fall scenery, and even though I wasn’t crazy about the character designs at first, they have really grown on me. Really, the whole show might be an acquired taste for some people, with the aforementioned styles of animation and music. The voice cast is chock-full of celebrities (Elijah Wood and Christopher Lloyd, to name two), and they all do an excellent job, even if part of me wants to be distracted.

The story is delightfully dark and creepy, but also has plenty of light-heartedness and comedy mixed in. No longer being a child myself, I can’t really accurately say how kids will relate to it. Seeing it as an adult, I am both horrified and in love with the story, so it’s definitely something parents will want to watch first and decide if their children can handle it.

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The Beast is awesome. Creepy, but awesome. I award extra points for his design, which, while kept mostly in shadow, is reminiscent of a wendigo. He is one of the most serious and sinister villains in all of Cartoon Network history, and he sings opera. How many kid shows have opera?!

…Scratch that. How many kids know what opera even is?

But I digress. Let’s get into the depression interpretation.

Wirt, Greg, and Beatrice come across different characters in The Unknown, some of which are friendlier and funnier than others. There is a town called Pottsfield that is filled with “living” skeletons, a school “teaching animals to count and spell,” an inn patronized by craftsmen and other professionals, wealthy tea merchants, and several others.

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In the fourth episode, it is said that, “once your will begins to spoil, (the Beast)’ll turn you to a tree of oil.” The Beast uses the oil from the ground up trees to keep his lantern lit, and in the eighth episode, one of the characters begins to grow branches and leaves as he withdraws both socially and physically from those around him.

The Beast is the terror of The Unknown. He is referred to as “The Death of Hope” and “The Voice of the Night,” and proclaims to be the owner of the woods:

“There is only me, there is only my way; there is only the forest, and there is only surrender.”

The character who begins slowly turning into a tree in episode eight begins his descent after the betrayal of a friend, and the constant feelings he has been fighting that tell him he will never get to leave the forest. In the tenth and final episode, another character, despite expressing that he will never give up, eventually succumbs to the cold loneliness and impossible tasks set upon him by the Beast and he too begins to turn into a tree.

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I also draw my interpretation from the other characters met along the journey. The skeletons of Pottsfield are already dead, so they are at peace and have no great cause to fear the Beast. The school teacher and the animals are devoted to learning and making the school a success.

The episode at the inn probably tells us the most about the Beast,  and we can also take note of how fervent and pushy the patrons are, both talking about their own jobs and questioning the main characters about who they are and what they do. Their trades and passions keep them from falling victim to the Beast, and they are keenly aware of this, warning travelers like Wirt and Greg, who don’t readily avow any traits of their own. Every time Wirt is ascribed with a new identity by someone at the inn, he denies it, but is typically ignored by the crowd.

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You could read this particular episode a few different ways, but however you look at it, the need to have a motivating force (ultimately, the patrons decide that Wirt is a pilgrim) is definitely crucial to survival in The Unknown, whether one is lost or not. The Beast himself only physically fights one character, but that is towards the end of the series, so the possibility of direct physical harm was not necessarily implied. And when his lantern is threatened out of his reach, he seems almost powerless to stop it. Most often, he appear as a seductive Faustian demon, bargaining to protect his lantern and gain more souls to feed it.

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The Beast could be representative of depression itself; frightening, unclear, not necessarily physically hurting you, but giving you feelings of fear, hopelessness, and loss of direction and motivation. He pulls you apart from friends and loved ones, causing you to withdraw inward and feel trapped and lonely. Both characters who fall victim to the Beast lose their purpose, or at least the drive towards it, are rendered wooden and immobile, hollow if not for the black, sludge-like oil that can be harvested from them.

The Unknown, just by its title alone, is pretty on the nose, but by itself, it does not cause depression. It and its inhabitants only provide obstacles for the main characters to overcome, helping depression along when the challenges prove too difficult or frustrating.

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Someone on the creative team must have had or known someone with anxiety or depression. Whatever the miniseries could ultimately be saying about the subject (that it, and not the person possessed by it, is initially feared, but overcome in the end), it gets it.

Of course, there are also themes of death, growth, and loss of innocence as well. As I said, there are many ways you could interpret it. I just find it interesting how mature subjects are not just taught to children, but made relatable to them.

The ending is happy for just about everyone, and the subject, tone, and setting of the story makes it a perfect, relatively short Halloween binge-watch, for multiple reasons.

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It’s much deeper than it may appear, and I really hope more people will see it. If you’re not interested…well, you’re still welcome to help yourself to some good old potatoes and molasses.

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9/10

*All pictures, video clips, and other media belong to their respective owners, most notably Patrick McHale and Cartoon Network. None of the above belong to me.