Some movies can wreck your childhood if you watch them before you are ready. These are the 80s movies that did the most work on my fragile mind.
When I was a kid, my parents, God bless them, left me home alone on more than one occasion.
I was a quiet kid that rarely ever acted up and as long as I had a good movie and some tasty snacks, I would behave. My parents would get home a couple of hours later and find me in the same spot on the couch that they left me in.
The thing is, some of the movies I watched when I was home alone completely messed me up. These movies were innocent enough; in fact, all of them were “kids’ movies”.
However, many of my childhood’s most iconic and popular children’s movies had certain scenes that were, at best, nightmare-inducing, and at worst, the seeds of lifelong traumas.
SPOILERS AHEAD, These are my
Top Ten 80s Movies That Ruined My Childhood
All Dogs Go To Heaven
All Dogs Go To Heaven is a fantastic film from the mind of Don Bluth, of An American Tail and The Land Before Time fame.
The movie, which was not as critically successful as those two animated classics, follows the story of Charlie B. Barkin, a German Shepard who teams up with a charming orphan girl named Anne-Marie and learns fundamental lessons about friendship, love, justice, and kindness.
The thing is, All Dogs Go To Heaven is a movie about the farthest thing from a Good Boy that there is. Charlie is a drunkard, a gambler, and an all-around reprehensible individual who kidnaps children and steals from Heaven!
And right there early in the movie, our main character is run over and killed by a runaway car. So here I am, a young child, watching what I think is going to be a fun little movie about a good dog and his friends, and end up watching the main character gets murdered.
And that’s just the beginning, because as the movie progresses and develops it goes to great effort depicting violence, theft, drinking, and gambling.
But as if that weren’t enough, we also get clear and vivid depictions of hell, snarling fanged demons, and boiling lava.
Pee-wee’s Big Adventure
I love Pee-wee Herman and will defend the character (and Paul Reubens) to the death from any naysayers and critics. However, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, released in 1985 and directed by a young Tim Burton of BeetleJuice 2 fame, has one of the scariest and most unexpected freaking scenes I’ve ever seen on film.
As an adult, I find jump scares entirely too predictable and boring. I’ve become inoculated against them because they are grossly overused. But as a child, watching the Large Marge scene in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure was a terrifying ordeal.
The whole scene takes about three and a half minutes from beginning to end. And it goes down like this:
Pee-wee, after finding himself alone on the side of a dark and foggy highway, gets picked up by an older female truck driver.
From the get-go we can tell something is off. The elderly lady, whose tousled white hair reminds me of the Bride of Frankenstein for some odd reason, has a deep and permanent scowl as she begins to tell our poor Pee-wee a macabre story about the worst car crash she has ever seen.
Then, in the middle of the story, as she is talking about the burning wreckage left by the accident, and recounting what the corpse of the driver looked like, she transforms right before our eyes into the very visage of a nightmare.
My innocence died that night when I saw Peewee’s Big Adventure for the very first time. I would never trust anyone, ever again. To this day, when people talk to me I half-expect them to turn into disfigured bug-eye monstrosities, a la Large Marge.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a timeless movie. For one, it revolutionized visual effects by pioneering technologies that made the blend of live-action/animation seamlessly possible.
Second, it contained more than a few truly memorable, and positively scarring scenes.
Watching this as a child was a trip. On one hand, I had some of my favorite cartoon characters going on new and unprecedented adventures. Hell, where else would I be able to see Mickey Mouse have a chat with Bugs Bunny?
On the other hand, the movie featured several graphic scenes of violence and murder. I will never forget the moment where the evil Judge Doom dips slowly dissolves a poor shrieking cartoon shoe in a vat of “The Dip”, which slowly dissolves him into a pool of cartoon gore.
And who can forget the final twist-reveal wherein we learn that the dastardly Judge Doom is, in fact, a cartoon himself? That s#@t is the stuff of nightmares. I literally developed a recurring nightmare that involved a cartoonish Judge Doom coming at me with his bulging dagger eyes, screaming in his hellish high-pitch squeal, “When I KILLED your brother, I talked like THIS!!!”
The NeverEnding Story
The NeverEnding Story is one of my all-time favorite films, but that fact alone cannot erase the fact that it was also the reason behind my very first depressive episode!
Released in 1984, and based on the 1979 German novel of the same name, The NeverEnding Story is a far darker tale than most people realize. Our poor main character, 10-year-old Bastian, has lost his mother and has a terribly insensitive father whose best advice for his mourning child is to join the swim team.
The movie follows Bastian as he reads the story of Atreyu, a young warrior, as he is given the task of saving the land of Fantasia.
The entirety of the movie’s fantastic plot-line is a metaphor for Bastian’s inability to accept his mother’s death.
So when our hero Atreyu and his trusted steed Artax arrive at the Swamp of Sorrow, a metaphoric representation of purest sorrow and despair, we are given a very literal demonstration of the destructive power of unfettered sadness.
As Artax and Atreyu step into the swamp’s black ooze, the horse is overcome with the deepest sadness that exists in the universe and he gives up the will to live; letting himself slowly sink into the stinking muck and his death.
As if that weren’t enough sadness to destroy my young and impressionable heart, Atreyu, a child no older than myself, also gives up and lets himself sink into the mud.
If it weren’t for Falkor, the luckdragon, swooping in and saving young Atreyu from drowning in sludge, the movie would have ended right then and there.
Have I yet mentioned that Atreyu fails his quest and Fantasia is destroyed? Yeah, this movie is a tough pill to swallow.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
If The Never Ending Story is one of my favorite films of all time, E.T the Extra-Terrestrial has to be one of my most reviled. I never really liked this movie.
To be fair, I know perfectly well that I’m in a very small minority of people who don’t like this movie. I’ll even admit to understanding the appeal: it’s a sweet and intimate coming-of-age story that championed love and friendship above all. Yeah, whatever.
That friendship almost comes to an end as E.T. starts to get sicker and sicker. When they find their sick friend at the river, he is on the brink of death.
Not only was this a terribly sad scene. They did an exceptional job of making a dead E.T. White, bloated, stiff, and lifeless. Ingrained in our minds forever.
Jim Henson and George Lucas’ 1986 fantasy musical Labyrinth was a commercial failure. Nevertheless, the film slowly gained a dedicated and passionate fanbase that hold it close to their hearts and defend it at all costs, thus becoming one of the 80s’ most beloved cult classics.
The movie follows Sarah, a precocious teen with a vivid imagination, who is left home alone with her younger brother. That night, Sarah, annoyed by the boy’s incessant crying, wishes for her brother to be whisked away by the magical goblins of her favorite fantasy book.
Much to her surprise, and the audience’s, the boy disappears and Sarah is visited by the Goblin King who makes her an offer: the boy in exchange for all her dreams coming true.
Sarah immediately regrets wishing the boy away and refuses the King’s heinous offer. As a result, the King reluctantly gives her a 13-hour window in which to rescue the child before he is lost to her forever.
And so we follow Sarah into the King’s labyrinth where she is challenged by obstacles and creatures beyond her wildest dreams.
Ultimately, the movie is about taking responsibility for one’s own life, but as a child, I didn’t appreciate that level of maturity. The things that truly scarred me were the various creepy puppets used to populate the world of the labyrinth. Henson was a master puppet maker and his puppets for this movie were “too life-like” for my fragile childhood psyche.
The Last Unicorn
The Last Unicorns is a Japanese/American animated fantasy film, released in 1982 and directed by Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr.
This wonderful film has a stellar cast that includes Mia Farrow, Jeff Bridges, Alan Arkin, Christopher Lee, and many others, and tells the tale of a majestic unicorn who goes on an epic adventure to figure out why she is the last of her kind in the world.
This beautiful and wonderfully animated film is filled with touching and memorable moments, unfeigned sincerity, and setpieces full of genuine spectacle.
However, I couldn’t see this as a child. As a child, this film was confusing at times. As a young child, this film scared me.
The thing is, the film is populated by inherently dark and sometimes violently savage moments. Moreover, some of the characters in this film are so malevolent and wrathful that I can remember little else.
I will never forget the ravenous Harpy and its heavy, pendulous breasts, or the berzerker Red Bull with its blood-red, rippling muscles and fiery mane. Savage.
Return To Oz
A full 49 years after the monumental film The Wizard of Oz, we got a bonafide sequel with Return To Oz.
Return To Oz is an unforgettable fantasy that distills a boundless sense of wonder, imagination, and beauty.
The movie’s plot is filled with sincerity and a certain nostalgic je ne sais quoi that elevates it above other fantasies of the times such as Labyrinth, Willow, and the Princess Bride.
However, the film, directed by Walter Murch, veers away from the childlike tone of the 1939 film and enters a rather dark zone populated by ominous and gothic undertones. Return To Oz can be a very dark film at times and, for an impressionable and sensitive child like I used to be, a genuinely terrifying experience.
For starters, the movie begins with Dorothy interned in a freaking insane asylum where she undergoes electroshock therapy because she told her aunt and uncle about Oz and they thought she’d gone crazy!
When she inevitably finds herself back in Emerald City, she finds that everyone has been turned to stone in some sort of biblical penance. Whereas the original film had a cast of loveable characters such as the Cowardly Lion, Return To Oz has a freaking Pumpkin Head! Nightmare fuel, I tell ya!
Oh, and that scene with Hall of Faces? That scene did me in.
The Dark Crystal
The Dark Crystal is another cult classic with millions of passionate fans. The original 1982 film ( a prequel series was recently released by Netflix) written by David Odell and directed by the incomparable Jim Henson, is considered groundbreaking.
However, initial reactions were lukewarm, probably because the film is very dark and extremely unsettling.
There are two types of people in this world: those who find the like-like puppets of The Dark Crystal cute, and sane people.
Take the Skeksis, for example.
These bird-like, reptiles/dragons are present throughout the film and are the embodiment of children’s worst nightmares. Their decomposing, wrinkled black skin is disgusting to look at, and their bloated bellies always seemed grossly out of proportion to the rest of their withered bodies.
Completely wigged me out as a child.
Gremlins has been credited with the creation of the pg-13 rating. That’s right, this children’s movie is in fact a very dark black comedy disguised as a feel-good Christmas spectacle that ended up traumatizing and shocking more than a few innocent little kids who had no right watching it.
The movie, released in 1984, on the same day that Ghostbusters burst into the scene, was both a critical and commercial success.
Gremlins is the timeless story of a boy and his pet. Except for this pet, an adorably fuzzy Mogwai has the ability to spawn more Mogwais, who have the ability to metamorphose into disgusting, mischievous, murderous creatures called Gremlins.
Gremlins are mean-spirited, scaled, reptilians with razor-sharp claws and teeth. Throughout the course of the movie, the Gremlins destroy property, torture, and ultimately murder several humans.
In turn, humans kill a host of gremlins in a variety of gruesome, and significantly icky ways. Case in point, one of the human characters makes a Gremlin smoothie in a blender and a Gremlin lava cake in the microwave.
Do any of these movies cause you to have sleepless nights? Let us know what you remember!