“I can still hear the screaming”: 12 Horrifying Movie Scenes That Disturbed People as Children

Image Credit: Universal-International Pictures.

It is a rite of passage for at least one movie scene to terrify us as children. And no one can deny the lasting impact these films often have on young viewers. An online forum discusses this concept and the various movie moments they found chilling.

1. Donkey Transformations: Pinocchio (1940)

Image Credit: Walt Disney.

Walt Disney’s animated film is a gorgeous and profound masterpiece. But I don’t think anyone can deny it has its fair share of dark and frightening moments. For many, nothing compares to the moment on Pleasure Island where Pinocchio’s friend Lampwick transforms into a donkey.

One viewer claims, “they can still hear the screaming,” and another recalls the chilling sound of the boy calling for his mother. This scene is undeniably disturbing, which is its purpose. It’s meant to be chilling and have a significant impact, and the brilliant use of shadow, sound, and music as he transforms achieves that.

2. The Wheelers and Cabinets of Heads: Return to Oz (1985)

Image Credit: Walt Disney Pictures.

Return to Oz is a cult classic. For those who saw this movie as children, it is also known as the stuff of nightmares. Oz is no longer bright and whimsical in this movie but, instead, dilapidated and dark.

The film has many frights, especially the creepy wheelers with maniacal laughter and wheels for hands and Princess Mombi’s cabinets of heads she changes into. I loved this film as a child and still do. But I openly admit that these moments were terrifying to me. If you don’t get chills when Mombi’s severed head cries “Dorothy Gale,” you might have ice water in your veins.

3. Faces Melting: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

In 1981, the movie world became a more adventurous place with the introduction of Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark. For many film lovers, it also is the film that features a scene that sent them into an utter state of terror.

When the Nazis open the Ark of the Covenant, Indiana warns his love, Marion, to shut her eyes. Multiple viewers wish they did the same because the audience sees the faces of the others melt and burst into flames. The effects may be outdated, but the scene is still as scary for many viewers as when they were young.

4. Atreyu’s Horse Dies: The Neverending Story (1984)

Image Credit: Warner Bros. Picture.

The Neverending Story is a seminal film for children to experience as it deals with dark but profound themes. Many moments can elicit fear in a young fan. But the most disturbing is when Atreyu’s horse, Atrax, dies in the Swamp of Sadness.

One traumatized film watcher says, “I still shudder anytime I think about it.” And it’s easy to understand why. Watching a beloved companion struggle and eventually give up and die right in front of you as you helplessly watch is devastating. This movie is one of many that seemed to have a mission to scar children for life!

5. The Wicked Witch and Her Flying Monkeys: The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Image Credit:

The Wizard of Oz is a timeless musical with multigenerational appeal. But that generational aspect pertains to more than loving the music and the story. The Wicked Witch of the West and her band of flying monkeys continue to be a source of genuine fear for any young movie fan. And it’s the kind that you will never forget.

One film fan explains how these characters gave them nightmares. Another explains how this fear became a phobia of the witch hiding behind their shower curtain. One person aptly suggests that turning on the shower first would make things less scary. Regardless, being afraid of this green-faced witch is something my mother, myself, my brother, and now his children experienced. Kudos to the filmmakers for the ability to transcend time.

6. The Witches Reveal Themselves: The Witches (1990)

Image Credit: Warner Bros.

As a child watching The Witches, I did not anticipate how much a scene could terrify me to my very core. Can anyone watch Angelica Huston’s character Miss Ernst pull off her mask to reveal the witch underneath without wanting to run away in terror? This moment can scare anyone, especially a young viewer. Look up the term “nightmare fuel,” and this scene should be front and center.

7. The Child Catcher: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)

Image Credit:
Warfield Productions.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a lighthearted film in the same vein as Mary Poppins. That is until the magical flying car takes Mr. Potts, Truly Scrumptious, and young siblings Jeremy and Jemima to a land where children must be kept inside, or the child catcher might get them. This man lures children into a cage with the promise of sweets, and his demeanor and appearance are very creepy.

Many film enthusiasts mention that they love the film but are terrified of these moments. It has a deeper meaning when as an adult, you realize these scenes were a metaphor for the ways Jewish people were searched for and taken during WWII, while also feeling like it is a look into the future of child predators. The film may be light overall, but it can make those with children hold onto them even tighter while you watch.

8. A Toon Is Dipped: Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

Image Credit:
Warfield Productions.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a clever film with its fair share of innuendos that will go over any child’s head. What won’t are the scenes that can be very disturbing. Numerous watchers remember Christopher Lloyd’s high-pitched voice and scary eyes at the film’s end.

But even more traumatic is watching Lloyd’s character take a cartoon shoe and place it in the dreaded substance called Dip. The death of an innocent will always be affecting. Making it a sweet little cartoon character is even more disturbing. I love the film, but the 1980s certainly was a time that didn’t hold back in the dark imagery.

9. Large Marge: Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)

Image Credit: Warner Bros.

Tim Burton’s films are known for being offbeat, zany, and a little macabre. Pee Wee’s Big Adventure is somewhat lighter fare that still has some terrifying scenes. Numerous viewers mention this film’s darkest moment with the quote: “Tell them Large Marge sent you.” Pee Wee runs away in terror, and frankly, I would too. Poor guy- all he wants is his bicycle back.

10. Thomas Jay’s Death: My Girl (1990)

Image Credit: Columbia Pictures.

Out of all the films a child may watch, none are more real and heartbreaking than My Girl. Though there is an understandable debate about what is appropriate for a young viewer, understanding and comprehending death is sometimes necessary.

Of course, that doesn’t make the moment we see bees attack eleven-year-old allergic Thomas Jay any less disturbing. Nor does it make his best friend Vada crying at his funeral that he needs his glasses any less devastating. I’m not crying. You’re crying.

11. Children Attacked: The Birds (1963)

Image Credit: Universal-International Pictures.

Alfred Hitchcock films are generally not known for being family entertainment. But they also aren’t entirely inappropriate viewing for children. That being said, it’s unsurprising that a young film fan would be disturbed by The Birds.

The scenes where birds attack children at a birthday party and near their school can place fear deep into the heart of anyone. The scariest part of The Birds is that it’s never clear what the cause of their behavior is. Fear of the unknown never disappears, but it’s especially strong for a child.

12. Button Eyes: Coraline (2009)

Image Credit: Laika.

Coraline is the type of film that can send a chill through your bones, like Pinocchio. The inhuman aspect of the story is simple but taps into deep-seated fears. When Coraline discovers that her parents from the alternative universe want to give her button eyes, too, it sends shivers down her spine and anyone watching, especially the kids. It’s a harsh but effective scene that breaks down the illusions of that world. As they say in Forrest Gump, “Run, Coraline! Run!”

This thread inspired this post.

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