As I pointed out in my Poltergeist review, I didn't watch much horror as a boy. That's probably a good thing, as even the non-horror flicks I enjoyed often scared the bejesus out of me. You kids today don't know how lucky you have it with your wussy Shreks and your lamewad Pikachus! Children of the 1980s are still in therapy over what Hollywood deemed "family films" back then. The following non-horror mind-screws should prove my point.
Return to Oz (1985)
In high school, I brought Return to Oz to a Halloween movie marathon. I hadn't seen it since I was a kid. Everyone scoffed. "A Wizard of Oz sequel? That's supposed to scare us?" I didn't hear a lot of mockery after the movie started. In fact, nobody said a word until about halfway through, when a friend of mine whispered "Can we please turn this off?" I'm not sure who thought this movie was appropriate for children. It gave me nightmares for nearly a decade.
Dorothy finds a key with an Oz symbol on it, shows it to Auntie Em and Uncle Henry as proof that Oz exists, and is sent to an insane asylum! An evil insane asylum where they give our young heroine electro-shock therapy! That's how this "childrens' film" starts! Once Dorothy gets to Oz, it's a speeding night train of horrors. How about that Nome King? Good LORD! Winged monkeys aren't scary enough anymore, let's give the kids The Wheelers -- sadistic shrieking psychopaths with roller skates instead of hands and feet! Kids today won't be satisfied with just a standard wicked witch, let's really ramp that up too, and ruin their lives! The sequence with the witch's cabinets full of human heads easily rivals anything in the Nightmare on Elm Street series for sheer terror. "Dorothy Gaaaaaale!!!!"
Even the heroes are horrifying! Jack Pumpkinhead? A hybrid stick n' pumpkin creature who calls Dorothy "Mother"? That's your good guy? Not cool, Return to Oz. Not cool.
The Neverending Story (1984)
Along the same lines as Return to Oz, The Neverending Story feels way too dark, weird, and just...wrong to be a kids' movie. I feel my eyes welling up now remembering Atreyu's horse slowly sinking into quicksand and dying. I can't even talk about the Gmork, that big wolfy vampire thing. And a storm called "The Nothing?" Sweet fancy Moses! Also, again, the heroes should not be scarier than the villains! The racing snail? The Rockbiter? That bat-dude? And Falkor? A big flying dog/dragon mutation with disgusting scaly eggs on his skin? We were supposed to root for this hellacious beast?
Another scream-inducing aspect -- one of the worst theme songs in all of 80's film. And that's saying a whole lot!Pee-Wee's Big Adventure (1985)
As I mentioned the other day, Poltergeist and Stephen King's It gave me a massive fear of clowns. Also contributing to that fear -- Tim Burton's Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, still one of my favorite comedies of all time. When Pee-Wee (Paul Reubens) imagines a worst-case scenario for what has happened to his missing bicycle, we're shown several demonic clowns in hospital smocks performing surgery on his bike. Bone-chilling.
And don't get me started on Large Marge and her morphing face, which now seems charming and quaint, but at the time was no laughing matter.
Hey, this is fun! These kids get to enjoy all this delicious candy and have adventures! And this Willy Wonka seems like a heck of a nice guy! Yessir! Just a heck of a nice guy! Oh. Oh, he's steering them into that tunnel. Hm. OK, it's pretty dark in there. Um...what in God's name are these nightmarish images flashing on the walls? Was that a bug eating a-- What's happening? Willy, why are you singing like a man possessed?
There's no earthly way of knowing which direction we are going. There's no knowing where we're rowing, or which way the river's flowing. Is it raining, is it snowing, is a hurricane-a-blowin? Not a speck of light is showing, so the danger must be growing. Are the fires of Hell a-glowing? Is the grisly reaper mowing? Yes, the danger must be growing! For the rowers keep on rowing! And they're certainly not showing! Any signs that they are slowing!
Stop the damn boat! I want to get off!
Watching it now, the only thing that truly disturbs me about this movie is the juxtaposition of adorable Muppets and David Bowie's enormous package squeezed into tights. But back then, Bowie genuinely scared the crap out of me (and I'm sure had a legion of youngsters questioning their sexuality at far too young an age). Goblins stealing a baby, talking hands and worms, the utterly terrifying trash lady, I could go on, but I'm getting uncomfortable. See also: The Dark Crystal.
The Garbage Pail Kids Movie (1987)
I am not prepared to deal with my memories of this film. But just do an image search for stills from the movie and you'll understand why I have Vietnamesque flashbacks about the Garbage Pail Kids to this day.
The Peanut Butter Solution (1985)
I don't expect you to know what this movie is. No one does. I get nothing but blank stares when I bring it up. In fact, until doing an internet search just now, I was convinced that the film was some horrible dream of my youth. And all of the people online who remember the film speak of it in the same way -- as though they survived some horrible, scarring experience they're not even sure actually happened.
A boy gets scared and loses all of his hair. He mixes peanut butter with flies and other gross items to make "the peanut butter solution," which grows hair back. There are children in cages. There is a man harvesting childrens' hair for paint brushes. There are ghosts. There are paintings that come to life. I think. There is a scene involving pubic hair. That is all I can remember, or care to remember. But this is one so disturbing I couldn't even walk past it in the video store without shaking. Does anyone out there know this film? Please help me.
Please, please help me.