5 Scenes From Non-Scary Films That Gave Me Nightmares

My parents loved movies.  They loved them so much they’d drag sensitive, impressionable pre-teen me along to whatever interested them that evening, scary or no, whatever the age restriction.  Like many younger brothers, I was also subjected to a grotesque menagerie of VHS horrors by my older brother.  These films, of course, helped define my taste and turn me into the horror loving film junkie I am today.  Some of the most memorable, scary scenes, however, were from films that weren’t, as a whole, scary, and certainly not horror films; I supposed that’s why these scenes were so electrifying – getting a bit of horror in a family friendly film is akin to expecting Coca Cola and getting a mouth full of orange juice.

In no order of precedence, and by no means complete: Scenes from Non-scary Films That Gave Me Nightmares.

1. The Empire Strikes Back – Yoda trying to scare Luke

I am! I am!

The Empire Strikes Back is certainly one of the best film sequels of all time.  It’s also definitely not a horror film.  Yet, watching it when I was four years old, it still scared me.  Han carving up a friendly Ton Ton and stuffing Luke into it’s carcass.  Vader chopping off Luke’s hand.  Vader announcing to Luke his parentage.  Mynocks were gross and weird.


Whether Luke was or not, I was.  Not sure I’d sleep in that hut with the friendly, giggling, bumbling old space gnome after that threat.  Sorry, Yoda, I made a mistake.  Jedi training just isn’t for me.


2. Time Bandits – the ending

The heck am I supposed to do now?!

There is lots of adventure in Terry Gilliam’s children’s film masterpiece Time Bandits, and lots of heady topics of discussion, such as the nature of good and evil and the existence of free will.  It also has plenty of scary stuff, including  Evil himself!  Nothing, however, was as creepy as that ending for a child.


Oh my God.  After all that, the poor kid is left an orphan, and everyone just leaves him there on the street.   Nightmares, every night.  Being considerably older now, it’s quite an interesting scene – the boy now is giving his parents a dose of, “Don’t touch that,” and they suffer the consequences of ignoring their child’s warnings, proper Grimm in nature; consequences, fallibility, temptation.


3. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – Mola Ram ripping the heart out of a dude and plunging him into lava


It seems like everyone hates Temple of Doom.  Even in the 80s it was decidedly outdated in it’s imperialist xenophobia and sexism, and it’s tone runs a veritable mine cart ride from horror to humor at the drop of a fedora.  Even taking all that into account, I am an unabashed lover of the second (and prequel) Indiana Jones film.  It’s risky and very different from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and I love the EC Comics over the top horror meets two-fisted Doc Savage style pulp.  It also has beautiful photography and lighting, a fantastic score by John Williams, and a wonderfully terrifying villain in Mola Ram.  There was also lots of great scary scenes, like Indy drinking blood from a rotting skull, and an old Indian dude pulling a Yoda and cackling at Indy in a creepy way.  And then, there was this:



4. Beastmaster – gross vampire things dissolve a dude

Don’t get close to these things!  Or hang around when they eat.

I love cheap 80s barbarian and post-apocalyptic films, and Phantasm’s Don Coscarelli’s Beastmaster is among the best of the bunch.  It’s fun, doesn’t take itself too seriously, and has that Coscarelli creativity in spades.  Also, Rip Torn as an evil sorcerer.  It wasn’t a scary film, but it did have disgusting, weird vampire leech things that dissolved you if they caught you.



5. The Dark Crystal – a podling is turned into an undead husk after he has the life force sucked out of him

A photo of the author, Coachella 2014.

Jim Henson was a genius, and his untimely passing was a tremendous loss.  Everyone loves The Muppets and Sesame Street and Jim’s pioneering work on Lucasfilm projects, but he was just finding his feet as a director when he passed away.  Thankfully, we got two fine, occasionally frightening children’s classics from him in The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth.  True to it’s name, The Dark Crystal got dark.  The Skeksies were just creepy as heck, and nowhere were they as creepy as when they sucked the life force out of kind podlings to extend their lives.



30 thoughts on “5 Scenes From Non-Scary Films That Gave Me Nightmares

  1. I’m going to have to agree with this list. I wasn’t even a small change when I saw these movies. Especially the bug scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and the podling scene in The Dark Crystal. Although, I thought every scene with a Skeksis in it, was pretty scary and gross. As for melting scenes, I couldn’t even watch that scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark. I was watching it with my Mum, the first time, and ran out of the room when that scene came up.

    I did see the first Star Wars movie, when I was very small but the scene I had nightmares about, was the creature in the garbage compactor. I got through the second movie okay, though.

  2. Good choices! God, it’s been ages since I saw Time Bandits–I don’t remember it clearly, but I do remember the evil guy shooting his fingers as weapons, and that freaked me right the hell out.

    My own list would add The Neverending Story, The Secret of NIMH, and maybe All Dogs Go to Heaven. And the demon statue thing from Conan the Destroyer. And for sure the Jabberwocky from the live action made-for-TV Alice in Wonderland. There are probably others, but I can’t summon them at the moment. I’m sure they’ll come to mind around 4am and ruin my night.

  3. Those POOR podlings! I will never forgot that scene, messed me up too lol I kept waiting on someone to save that little guy bc he was so cute I figured he’d be fine: WRONG!😄 Great article, brought back some good, and creepy, childhood memories👍

      1. Right!?! That was awful!😜 It helped prepare me to face disappointment later in life lol

  4. I watched the Temple of Doom recently and was amazed how much of the adult type sex and death stuff went over my head and yet it was kinda shocking. As for finding inappropriate scary stuff, I once found VHS of Eraserhead in our video player that an adult forgot. Scarred for life.

    I was talking to a friend who is slightly older than me, who can remember being seven years old in a British school where the kids were shown cheery PSA’s about what to do in event of a nuclear bomb. He remember beings taught to tip a mattress toward the wall and hide under it, also that it was wise to abandon the bodies of those who had died from radiation sickness. he was, seven years old. He still remembers it.

    I like to think this is character building stuff.

    1. I kind of wish I had seen Eraserhead when I was a kid 🙂

      I’ve seen some of those Brit PSA films, and BBCs The War Game, a documentary-style drama about a nuclear war. Really scary stuff, especially if you were a kid when you saw them.

      Absolutely agree about character building 🙂

  5. Good list! Some of these I didn’t see till I was an adult/teen though, or at all (have yet to see Beastmaster), but I totally agree with Dark Crystal. While I love the movie now, the Skeksis were/still are truly the stuff of nightmares.

    1. Beastmaster is worth a watch. I haven’t seen it in quite a while, but it’s a really fun, low-budget adventure film. I adore Don Coscarelli’s style and films, which helps smooth any rough patches.

    2. Dude, you HAVE to see The Beastmaster-if not for the ferrets or early 80’s Marc Singer definitely for the Batwing People Digesting Creatures😄 That movie is a total blast of 80’s kitsch and nuttiness, it was so much fun to watch and still is👍

  6. Time-Bandits definitely messed up my sleep. And it wasn’t just that scene. It was full of disturbing stuff. Wonderful but disturbing.

  7. My parents took me to see “Watership Down” when I was a mite. Animated film about bunnies. What’s to be scared of?

  8. Temple Of Doom should have been rated R. That heart wrenching scene was incredible. I’ll second Watership Down. Fantastic. There’s stuff in Sword And Sorcerer that gave me nightmares. And quicksand. Quicksand always gave me nightmares as a child. Ice Cold In Alex was a war movie. I thought I was safe….

  9. And, those British PSA’s? Weren’t they wonderful? Did their job. I remember the one where the farmer is out doing whatever farmers do all day, goes into his cottage after a hard days work, sits in his favorite chair, reads his paper, lights a cigarette, then promptly says “Aye, it’s been a good day.” Then he falls asleep, drops the still lit cig onto the newspaper and apparently dies in the ensuing fire. The message of the story, the one I got anyway, was don’t work too hard, it’ll kill ya!
    People say I often misconstrue things.

  10. When I was four or so, my dad was watching an old Alastair Sim comedy. In there, a body gets stuffed into a piano, and an arm flops out. The image gave me nightmares for years. I saw it later, and the scene was utterly goofy—the film, after all, was a comedy.

  11. The only movies that authentically scared me when I was young were “The Wizard of Oz” (the scene where the woman on the bicycle morphs into a witch) and “Ghostbusters” (the whole opening sequence led me to think that it was a horror movie).

    For the record, “Time Bandits” was intended as an indictment of consumerism: the boy’s parents spend all their time trying to buy the latest products, and so naturally the boy wants to escape. Terry Gilliam later focused on wanting to escape from this world with “Brazil” and “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen”).

  12. Definitely numbers 4 and 5. The Beastmaster things always freaked me out no end. In The Dark Crystal when they’re tearing off The Chamberlin’s robes I thought they were testing him apart literally. Always freaked me out. I once heard The Dark Crystal described as “a kid’s movie that parents show their kids to freak them out”. Sounds about right, 🙂

  13. One of the most terrifying scenes in a non-scary film has to be the one in Kubrick’s “2001:A Space Odyssey” where HAL 9000, the onboard computer, kills astronaut Frank Poole by severing his lifeline while he’s out in space and then proceeds to kill the hibernating astronauts on board the ship by shutting off their life functions. That scene still gives me chills.

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