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
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
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 Even in the 80s it was decidedly outdated in it’s imperialist xenophobia and sexism, and it’s tone runs a veritable mine cart ride from horror to humor at the drop of a fedora.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
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
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.