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Bride of Scaring the Kids

John Moe

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Bride of Scaring the Kids
(Pere Ubu)

Last week's story about scary childhood movie memories brought an unprecedented flood of response to our website. Apparently, Weekend America listeners have a lot of unresolved issues from their youths. You told us how you were still traumatized by "E.T.," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Pinocchio," "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure" and even "9 to 5," plus more "Twilight Zone" episodes than we could count. John Moe called up a few listeners to provide a sort of group therapy session of the airwaves.


Moe: On last week's show, we were getting ready for Halloween, and I talked about this really cheesy Bigfoot movie I saw when I was eight years old that made me terrified of Bigfoot for years and which I have still not recovered from. I mentioned how other people have the same feelings about those terrible flying monkeys from "The Wizard of Oz" and I invited you to go to our website and share your own scary childhood movie memories.

Well, we were swamped with more comments than any story I can remember. The website became a kind of story slam/therapy session. There was such a huge response, I talked to a few listeners this week about their own memories of childhood movie fear.

Kelley Collier of St Louis, Mo., recalled going to see "E.T." at age four. It didn't go well:

Collier: When he got sick, it was terrifying, and then when the men in the white suits with the guns came over the hill, I freaked out. We were asked to leave the theater. It was absolutely terrifying. My grandfather tried to take me to see it a second time, and the same thing happened, except I threw up. Then my family tried a third time, with the same result. I'm in my thirties and I still haven't seen the end of "E.T." And it's so bad that when the 25th anniversary edition came out, I was sitting in a theater and the preview for it came on. And when the men in the white suits came over the hill, tears started streaming down my face.

Moe: Do you have kids, Kelly?

Collier: I have a four-year-old daughter. And I don't think I'm going to let her watch it.

Moe: Does she know what "E.T." is?

Collier: She does. My brother actually went to Disney Land in California, and brought home - well, it was Universal - brought home an E.T. doll for her, and I made it stay at my parents' house. I won't have it in the house.

Moe: Because if you had it in the house, the government men would show up at your house?

Collier: No! I recognize that that wouldn't happen, but it just freaks me out. The same way when people come up behind me and go, "Ooh, touch," and like touch the back of my neck. It makes me cringe and gives me the heebie-jeebies.

Moe: As I heard someone say in a movie once, "Ouch."

Collier: Hey! That's not funny!

Moe: "E.T." has really joined the "Wizard of Oz" tradition of "movies kids are supposed to like until something goes horribly wrong". Andrea Dickson of Seattle remembers it too.

Dickson: I really liked "E.T." But I was terrified when he turned all white and the government agents were keeping him on ice. I stood up in the middle of the theater and shouted, "You told me that he wasn't going to die." And then stormed out when my parents laughed at me. I had a habit of getting upset at the death of movie characters. Which is why my father had calmed my incessant whining when Bambi's mother is shot by assuring me that she had merely been "kidnapped."

Moe: Did your father think "kidnapped" would somehow be better than being killed?

Dickson: Apparently. Yeah. I don't know if I knew what that meant, either, at that age. I mean, I couldn't have been more than three. But I think it was just a word other than "dead."

Moe: Did it work?

Dickson: Oh, completely. I was totally sated. And I assured all the other children around me who were crying that it was not a big deal, she was just kidnapped.

Moe: It's only a kidnapping! It's fine!

Dickson: Yeah, come on, guys. Get on board. Jeez.

Moe: It's a mere abduction.

The more I think about it, the more it makes sense that kids would react this way. Kids' minds are totally open. They don't have the biases and defenses that adults do. So when something exceptionally strange comes along - Bigfoot, "E.T.," a flying monkey - it hits much deeper. And sometimes that hit goes deep, like it did with Dennis McCarten of Naragansett, R.I.

McCarten: I have to agree that the flying monkeys are the first things that come to mind when I'm asked about scary movie moments of my childhood. But I now know that I've suppressed a more terrifying movie experience. This realization surfaced recently when I sat down to enjoy Disney's "Pinocchio" with my three-year-old granddaughter. I relived the entire experience of watching this movie for the first time when I was eight or nine years old. The whole movie is dark: about abduction, drunkenness, debauchery. But when Pinocchio was swallowed by the whale, I realized that this movie introduced me to the concept of despair. It was and is an awful experience.

Moe: When I read through the comments online, I was struck by how strongly worded these things were. The full force of years of fear comes bursting out. Like it did with Matt Franks of Davis, Calif.

Franks: I'm sorry, but the all-time scariest moment in a so-called "children's movie" is Large Marge from "Pee-wee's Big Adventure." As an eight-year-old, I had nightmares for years about this scene. Pee-wee gets picked up by a trucker who turns out to be a ghost. But before he gets out, she turns to him, and to the audience, and her face turns into a horrifying monster: bulgy eyes, snake-like tongue and all. I'm definitely sparing my children from that image.

Moe: I've got this scene pulled up on YouTube now.

Franks: Yeah, what do you think?

Moe: Ohhh! God! Yes.

Franks: There you go!

Moe: Holy cats. Wow. This is, like, my wife's favorite movie.

Franks: Really?

Moe: Yeah. And she wanted to, she keeps trying to get our kids to watch it.

Franks. Yeah. Uh-uh. No.

Moe: I just timed out this section that we're talking about. You know how long it is?

Franks: How long?

Moe: One second.

Franks: Yeah, exactly! I mean, and that's part of it, too. It's just like, you don't really know what you saw, you know? It's just like so fast, and so out of nowhere, that it's all that more terrifying.

Moe: I know you're listening right now and thinking, "Wait a minute, that's not the scariest childhood movie moment! Clearly the right answer is�." Share your fears with us and set us straight. Perhaps we'll all recover one day. I'm glad Halloween is over.


  • Comment | Refresh

  • By Bernie Krause


    Without a doubt, Darby O'Gill and the Little People. When those banshees came screaming along to pick up the dead, I was about ready to have my then 6 year old body picked up at the same time. A few years ago we were having a discussion about this topic with various family members, and my brother-in-law and I simultaneously responded with this movie. No one else had even heard of it, but we're both sticking with this one. :)

    By Dave Williams

    From Rittman, OH, 11/01/2008

    My first memory of being scared with media was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Willy Wonka was just plain creepy and then...the oompa loompas. OMG!!!! I can remember telling myself at the age of 5 or so that the little silent men in white suites with painted faces were just real people acting. I continued to verbally confirm my thoughts with mom and dad. "They are just people playing in the movie right?" They consoled me to no avail. Those little oompas didn't talk, only sang THIER song. I guess it was the mystery of them. Where did they come from? Why didn't they talk much? Why was thier skin and hair a different color? Just how many of them were there in the chocolate factory? Now I'm almost 36 years old and hate to be aroung "little people." I'm a law enforcement officer with a social work degree. Ive learned tolerance, diversity and empathy through all of my undergrad degree and training experiences,but the lasting impression the Oompas had is death defying. My friends and co-workers (rough and tumble) cops and probation officers always make sure to point out little people and references to Willy Wonka. "You got the golden ticket charlie" they say when a little person is around. My pulse quickens and thougths of being five years old wathching THAT movie begins racing in my body. On top of all of this, I live in Amish Country and the amish culture has accounts of imbreeding....thus causing dwarfism... I even sweat at the sight of some passive, calm and peaceful amish dwarf speaking in German dialect and possibly plotting my demise with cheese or swiss chocolate. Now that I am a father, the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory will never be seen in my house. I just hope my children never have the desire to dress up as those Oompa Loompas for Halloween. Even dwarfism phobia websites contribute most phobias related to little people comes from the Oompa Loompas.

    By Jenda Johnson

    From Portland, OR, 11/01/2008

    The incessant, driving nightmarish brooms-with-buckets sequence in Fantasia left me tweaked for years after seeing it as a 7 year old. The final dark scenes of Purgatory did the same to me 30 years later. Definitely not a movie for kids.

    By Bryan Newman

    From Rancho Cordova, CA, 11/01/2008

    I was too young to know what the beautiful girl had done to make the townspeople so angry at her. She sought refuge in a church and there, in its belltower, encountered the most grotesque--and scariest--creature who ever frightened a little boy. No one will ever portray Quasimodo as convincingly as did the great Charles Laughton.

    By Lynn Beaumont

    From Seattle, WA, 11/01/2008

    Them was definitely the scariest movie -my dad was watching it at home when I was really little and I came into the room right when one of the giant grasshopper/cricket was eating a person. Several years later a grasshopper landed on my leg and before I could react, the grasshoppers head fell off! I've never been able to view grasshoppers as harmless ever since.

    By sara joe

    From st.charles, MO, 11/01/2008

    my scarriest childhood memory is of course "the exorcist"!!when i was in 6th grade i watched it for the first time,volume up and lights out, the next day i started seeing visuals of her head spinning and the cross scene which was a little too much for a 11yrold

    By Sue Butler

    From Chapel Hill, NC, 11/01/2008

    The scariest movie I ever saw was the original Psycho. Clearly my mother had no idea about the plot when she let me as a 4th grader and my 7th grade sister take our quarters to pay for the bus to go downtown to see it. It still haunts me. The shower sceen ,,,,the view into the bedroom where the matress is indented with the form or the old womam, and finally when the intrepid detective walks down the basement stairs, opens the door, and turns the rocking chair around......omg. Sometimes I still peek out of the shower to be sure I am alone in my bathroom. The imagination is so superior to special effects. Dread is powerful, and long lasting.

    By Gail Kuhnlein

    From Saline, MI, 11/01/2008

    My scariest movie memory from childhood is the witch from the Wizard of Oz especially when she would turn up out of nowhere when you least expected it like among the apple trees. "I'll get you my pretty!" She terrified me. I had the record album from the movie and her picture was in the booklet inside. I couldn't look at her. I am pretty sure I got rid of the book!

    By suzy hunt

    From seattle, WA, 11/01/2008

    Scariest by far was Horror of Dracula. I was nine or ten and with my brother. At the credits at the beginning of the movie when the camera panned onto Dracula's coffin, blood splattered all over the bronze name. I was out in the lobby where I remained until it was over. We were on an army base, Fort Knox, and all the young soldiers knew I was terrified and made spooky noises and in a nice way (I guess) scared the hell out of me. I ran all the way home leaving my brother in the dust.

    By Sherry Cook

    From Orono, MN, 11/01/2008

    Pee Wee's Big Adventure is my family's favorite movie. The Large Marge scene is scary but we always slowed it way down to get the full 'Marge' transformation, then it was kinda funny. Maybe if Matt tries that he'll be able to let his kids watch the greatest movie ever.

    By Jeanne Rund

    From Shaker Heights, OH, 11/01/2008

    Clearly, to my sister, the scariest movie was "Them." My recollection is that the movie was about an attack by giant insects. They sounded exactly like crickets. Unfortunately for my sister (age 5,) we had a lot of crickets around our house. None of us could go to sleep for about a year, without my sister's dire warning, and some period of crying, that "Them's Coming!"

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