It’s the thick of the Halloween season, as confirmed by the fact that yet another “Paranormal Activity” movie is in theaters.
For many, it’s a time to revisit past horror movie traumas; some people just can’t place a tea light in a jack-o’-lantern until they remind themselves that “The Exorcist” turned them into insomniacs at age 12. But what about those more benign frights, the things that scared us as kids when, technically, they weren’t supposed to?
A reader recently suggested that I focus a Friday list on the key nonthreatening pop cultural touchstones that terrified us in our youth. I came up with a few of my own, but I also turned to Twitter, Facebook and Thursday’s Celebritology chat for feedback, which taught me an important lesson: Muppets scared the candy corns out of a lot of people.
Obviously there are far more than 10 touchstones worthy of this list; you can read about many more of them via the transcript of Thursday’s discussion and also by continuing that therapeutic conversation in the comments section of this blog post.
The album “Kiss Alive II”
These days, the members of Kiss seem like aging, affably absurd rock-and-roll clowns. But in 1977, their freakish makeup and affinity for spitting blood were pretty frightening to a young child. This all manifested itself in a specific fear of the double album “Kiss Alive II.” (For the record, “Dressed to Kill” and “Hotter Than Hell” I had no problem with.) The album cover definitely freaked me out. But, for whatever reason, I was even more disturbed by Paul Stanley’s reference to “vodka and orange juice” during his onstage segue into the song “Cold Gin.” It just sounded like something ... deadly.
I was too old to ever harbor fears of Johnny Depp with shrub clippers at the ends of his wrists. But I have a younger cousin who, until fairly recently, could not even look at an image of the melancholy Tim Burton protagonist without getting the shakes.
The original doll who “ate” and “defecated” so that little girls would feel like “real mommies” gave me the creeps. I never owned one because the commercials made me so ... uncomfortable. Either I was eeked out by the notion of dolls coming to life (that’s a yes), prematurely worried about being a parent (probably) or just disgusted by the notion of an inanimate object capable of bowel movements.
Claymation, in all its forms
During Thursday’s discussion, one reader confessed that “Claymation freaks me out. Don’t know why. I think I blame ‘Tim Burton’s Nightmare before Christmas’ for the initial creeps, but then it has somehow attached itself to Gumby and others.” This prompted the obvious follow-up question: “Are you afraid of the California Raisins?” to which another chatter rightly responded, “Those things are freaky.”
Bozo the Clown Doll
Another Celebritology chatter confessed to being traumatized by both a geisha statuette and a three-foot-tall Bozo the Clown Doll, the latter of which the chatter acknowledged “would scare the bejeezus out of anyone.” Clown dolls, even the non-tall ones, are just scary. This one is the version I remember my brother having when we were kids. The look on its face says nothing but evil.
The Heffalumps and Woozles song from the cartoon “Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day”
“I recall a Winnie the Pooh cartoon (early 70s) with a fantasy sequence of Winnie dancing with Heffalumps. Scared the crap out of me,” wrote one chatter. The cartoon in question was released in 1968. Here’s the sequence in its original form and via a demonic remix on YouTube. Not sure which one is more disturbing.
Contrary to the column I wrote just last week about how heartwarming Steven Spielberg’s home-phoning alien was, some people simply did not see him that way. “E.T. wasn’t cute or lovable. Freaked me the heck out,” tweeted reader @CJBinATX. Another responder, @akmitc, echoed that sentiment: “Oh yeah, ET! Scared the buhjeezus out of me.”
Muppets, in a variety of forms
I was under the impression that all sentient beings have always adored Muppets from the moment they first took a breath on planet Earth. Apparently not. It seems some people were terribly disturbed by them as children. They were frightened of “The Dark Crystal” Muppets, as well as the “Labyrinth” Muppets. They were even made queasy by some of the least articulate Muppets Jim Henson ever invented. “A little (very) embarrassed to say I was TERRIFIED by those yupyupping martians on Sesame Street,” confessed @arleneivana. Man. So much for rainbow connections. (I should also note, via Thursday’s discussion, that at least one person was afraid of the Fraggles from “Fraggle Rock.”)
“The Never-Ending Story”
Another that disturbed at least a few of this blog’s readers. Said one of those readers: “When I was a kid the day care I went to seemed only to have ‘The Neverending Story’ to play on rainy days. I still can’t watch it.” Another specifically called out the Nothing wolf from that 1984 children’s movie as a source of terror. The music video for Limahl’s theme song is frightening enough, not to mention the chills that run up one’s spine when you realize that this story never ends.
Snuggle the Fabric Softener Bear
This one might be my favorite. A teacher, a mother and (presumably) a mature adult writes: “Both my young son and I were/are incredibly creeped out by the bear that comes alive on the Snuggle commercial. My husband bought one through a promotion just to hide around the house to terrorize me.” So this is apparently wrecking a childhood that is still in progress, as well as psychologically scarring a grown human being. This:
Actually, that is a little creepy. Actually, SUPER CREEPY.
Got more ridiculous-in-retrospect pop cultural horrors to share? Head to the comments. I promise there are no Heffalumps, Woozles, Muppets or clown dolls there.