To the excitement of fans everywhere, long before he even returned in the exceptional “Ash vs. Evil Dead” TV series, Ash Williams found a second life in comic books. His comic history began with the Army of Darkness adaptation by Dark Horse, painted by John Bolton and overseen by Sam Raimi. But it really took off in 2005, when Dynamite obtained the Army of Darkness license and published their first sequel miniseries, Ashes 2 Ashes, about Ash accidentally transporting himself back to the day before he went to the cabin and then trying to stop himself from ever reading the book.
Since then, there have been several more miniseries as well as a few ongoing titles and, well, a whole lot of crossovers. In the 10+ years since Ash firmly planted his feet in comics, he’s teamed up with—or more often, butted heads with—just about everyone. From some of the most classic heroes in comics to some of the biggest horror movie icons, to other Sam Raimi creations and even other characters Bruce Campbell has played.
Narrowing down the most memorable crossovers can be difficult, of course. But the best of them tend to be the ones that actually challenge and sometimes even question Ash as a character. They’re not just about fighting someone he’s never fought before. One of the most appealing things about Ash is that you can put him in just about any situation.
He’s always going to be Ash. He’s always going to think he’s the toughest, even the smartest guy in the room, he’s always going to have that ego trip that will leave every character around him rolling their eyes. He’s always going to sarcastically comment on what he sees. These crossovers, if anything, prove what a successful character he is by showing how well he can be placed into virtually any scenario.
Having said that, most of the following crossovers are absolutely big, dumb fun. And a few of them are genuinely exciting, innovative takes on both the character and the mythology… that also happen to be big, dumb fun.
Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness
OK, so Ash finds himself in the Marvel Universe, which is a great concept in and of itself. But it’s not the main Marvel Universe, as it turns out, it’s the Marvel Zombies Universe. Created by Mark Millar in the pages of Ultimate Fantastic Four, this is a world ravaged by a zombie plague that affected its superheroes, causing them to cannibalize one another. This is obviously a Marvel timeline that’s much more Ash’s speed and so he attempts to help the survivors with the aid of the classic chainsaw/boomstick combo.
This miniseries features several insane, delightful moments like Ash fighting an undead Howard the Duck, unsuccessfully hitting on Dazzler, using the Necronomicon to purposefully raise an army of Deadites to combat the unending hordes of hungry dead heroes, and Dr. Doom opening the doors of his castle as a safe haven to survivors, only for Ash to realize that this safe haven excludes the sick or the elderly.
Darkman vs. Army of Darkness
The idea of putting Darkman and Ash together is all kinds of genius. First and foremost, they’re obviously two Sam Raimi creations—both of them the heroes of cinematic trilogies, even—but they’re also polar opposite characters. Darkman is obviously dark. He was affected by his trauma in a serious way, defined by it, whereas Ash has spent his entire life avoiding his trauma.
The crossover also sees Peyton Westlake’s long-lost love Julie (who he’s been spying on since the event of Darkman III) being turned into a Deadite, referred to by other Deadites as “The Queen of Darkness.” As death isn’t quite as permanent in the Evil Dead universe, the comic takes advantage of this to bring back Darkman franchise villain, Durant.
Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash: Nightmare Warriors
The second Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash crossover miniseries deserves a mention of its own because of how genuinely insane it is. Whereas the first comic was a sincere combination of the three characters, based off of the actual treatment for the film had it been able to move forward, Nightmare Warriors is entirely its own beast. The story not only unites Ash with nearly every survivor of the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street series, but involves Freddy becoming a cosmic entity with unlimited power and Jason returning to human form with luxurious hair as a reward for leading a Deadite invasion on Washington, DC.
Baby Jacob from Dream Child and Baby Stephanie from Jason Goes to Hell (both now teenagers) hook up, and Freddy’s Dead protagonist Maggie, as well as Stephanie, wind up joining their respective family businesses and going evil to the point of basically being sexy female versions of Freddy and Jason. It’s not better than the first miniseries by any stretch, but it’s so ungodly bizarre that it absolutely warrants a look.
Army of Darkness: Ash vs. The Classic Monsters
Imagine The Monster Squad with one manchild instead of a group of children. That’s the beauty of Ash vs. The Classic Monsters. As a fan of all of these characters, especially one who considers the modern icons as a part of a longer legacy dating back to the Universal days, it’s great to see Ash interact with these old-school monsters.
Much like The Monster Squad, Dracula serves as the primarily villain for this storyline. Werewolves, mummies, vampires and Frankenstein’s Monster all turn in appearances as well. On top of that, Evil Ash makes a return appearance, teaming up with Dracula and the others to try and take Ash down. It weaves Evil Dead into so many other landscape horror mythologies in a neat way.
Army of Darkness/Xena: Warrior Princess: Why Not?
This crossover manages to top Darkman vs. Army of Darkness by not only having two Sam Raimi helmed properties collide, but throwing two Bruce Campbell characters into the mix as well. Campbell, of course, played Autoclys on the show and you better believe the four-issue comic series has a field day with that. The plot, however, is the real kicker here as it might be the strangest set-up of any of the Evil Dead/Army of Darkness crossovers.
The Wise Man from Army of Darkness flings himself into the present to warn Ash that one of the Mini-Ashes from the windmill sequence of that film got ahold of the Necronomicon and transported himself into the distant past of Xena where he has used Ash’s crafty modern engineering skills for evil, creating all kinds of ridiculous weapons. The crossover was so successful that it spawned two sequels, the most recent of which was released in 2016.
Army of Darkness vs. Re-Animator
Evil Dead and Re-Animator are perfectly matched for a crossover. They’re both cult classic franchises of similar stature. They’re also both extremely similar franchises as well, both in terms of tone and style as well as the tongue-in-cheek, often outrageous amounts of gore. Seeing Combs’ interpretation of Herbert West, as well as Ash as we know him and love him interacting is awesome. They’re two completely different characters in just about every way.
The neat thing that this crossover does, though, is that it uses West and Re-Animator to introduce the larger H.P. Lovecraft mythology as well. It’s a nice nod, because the name of the Necronomicon hails from Lovecraft’s stories, so West seeking the book to unlock bigger mysteries of life and death is perfectly fitting. It’s super cheesy, but in a way that feels completely appropriate and delightful.
Army of Darkness vs. Hack/Slash
Hack/Slash is a wonderful comic so deep-rooted in ‘80s horror lore that it has crossed over with the likes of Child’s Play, Vampirella, Re-Animator and Hatchet. But when it comes to Ash, Cassie Hack and her partner Vlad are butting heads with another likeminded hero. The fact that Cassie is young and attractive and Ash is Ash makes for a great personality clash, because she is exactly the kind of person who would not put up with any of his obnoxious flirtation or advances.
But even despite that, they’re incredibly similar characters. Both of them have alienated themselves from their trauma, put up an isolationist wall, even though they deal with their lack of dealing with their problems in very separate ways. The crossover is great because it’s fun and really well-paced, but it also genuinely reveals things about both characters by pitting them against one another. Definitely one of the best.
Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash
This is the big one. Easily the most famous Evil Dead crossover, it has the added bonus of at least at one point being considered as a feature film. Obviously it didn’t pan out, but we’ve still got the crossover based on Jeff Katz’ treatment for what the film could have been. It’s Freddy, Jason and Ash as we know them and love them. It’s a direct sequel to Freddy vs. Jason. It deals, like “Ash vs. Evil Dead,” with Ash being older than the last time we saw him.
On top of that, though, it also gives fans the snowy Friday the 13th they’ve always wanted to see, as the comic is set at Crystal Lake in the dead of winter. In fact, it’s set around the Christmas season, which makes for a few great gags and even gives the whole thing a bigger “event” kind of feel. There’s also a great climactic showdown between the three title characters on the icy lake.
10 Recent Almost Horror Movies for Genre Fans
I can’t count the number of times I’ve said, “Well, it’s almost a horror movie…”
We’re living in a golden age of horror with enough new films and classic reissues to offer genre fans endless hours of entertainment. But just because you can watch horror exclusively doesn’t mean you should. Too much exposure to gore and jump scares can leave even the most enthusiastic horror aficionados feeling jaded; believe me, I know what I’m talking about.
My Dread Central colleague Mike Sprague recent penned the editorial Why Horror Fans Should Watch Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. He points out how there’s a nebulous divide separating bleak dramas like Super Dark Times, which is considered a horror movie, from others that are thematically similar but separated from the genre.
I’ve always had a somewhat liberal definition of horror, believing it’s more than a genre classification. Horror is a feeling, one most commonly associated with a confrontation with, or realization of, mortality. In other words, anything is horror if it taps into your primal fear of death. With this attitude, the entirety of cinema becomes horror’s stomping ground.
Watching a variety of films from all genres will make you a more rounded and educated horror fan while rekindling your love for the more extreme subgenres. I’m not suggesting you go out and rent a bunch of musicals and romances if that’s just not your cup of tea. What I can do, however, is steer you towards some non-horror films that approach but never cross the genre’s most drastic borders. I hope you find them all both thrilling and entertaining.
Nocturnal Animals, IMDB Classification: Crime, Drama, Romance
Normally, a film containing kidnapping and rape would be off-limits to mainstream moviegoers, no matter what its genre classification. But Nocturnal Animals approaches these concepts with a level of detachment that makes it tolerable. While we understand that actors and actresses are merely characters playing parts, this film has a telescoping effect, delivering a fiction within a fiction.
With all the hallmarks of a revenge horror, Nocturnal Animals is nonetheless a meditation on guilt and regret, one that could make anyone second-guess his or her decisions in life. And while it definitely delivers some heavy subject matter, it never uses graphic imagery or unnecessary on-screen violence to convey its messages.
127 Hours, IMDB Classification: Adventure, Biography, Drama
Ghost and slashers are terrifying, but truth is always scarier than fiction. And a movie about a guy with his arm stuck beneath a rock might seem mundane, but knowing that someone actually endured this trauma creates a visceral intensity most horror movies can’t match.
Like Carrie, 99% of those going to see 127 Hours already know how it’s going to end; yet, this only adds to the suspense as the film creeps towards its inevitable outcome. But part of its success is that it’s immensely entertaining, even ion its most harrowing and depressing moments. The film culminates with 90 seconds of pure body horror but results in a conclusion that’s poignant, triumphant, and inspiring.
Jungle, IMDB Classification: Action, Adventure, Biography
Also described as a biographical survival drama, Jungle is based on the true story of modern-day adventurer Yossi Ghinsberg who, along with a couple compadres, became hopelessly lost in the Amazon rainforest back in the 1980s. It’s a real-life journey into The Heart of Darkness with a set-up and premise that puts it alongside horror heavyweights like Cannibal Holocaust and The Green Inferno.
Though Ghinsberg never crossed paths with dangerous cannibals, the nightmare he endured is beyond anything most of us can even imagine. And Jungle is engrossing for its accurate portrayal of the realities of extreme survival (much unlike Holocaust and Inferno). Emotionally, Jungle carries the same weight as Alive, another biographical survival drama; still, it’s differentiated by a triumph of spirit that makes it both thrilling and inspirational.
Bullet Head, IMDB Classification: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Describes as Reservoir Dogs meets Cujo, Bullet Head is as intense as both yet completely unique and nowhere near as horrifying. Yes, it’s sometimes hard to watch and, yes, it’s tragic, but Bullet Head is a movie for animal lovers—especially dogs. While the plot hinges on an underground dogfighting ring, and the camera takes us all the way into the bloody arena, viewers are never subjected to depictions of violence against animals. People, sure, but not animals.
Though punctuated by scenes of intense action, Bullet Head is primarily dialog-driven and includes several extended flashback scenes. And it uses some great creative techniques, like giving us a POV from the dog’s point of view. Bullet Head gave me all the feels, so I can’t recommend it highly enough. And though there’s no need to warn against blood or violence, it might just break your heart.
Side Note: Bullet Head ends with the statement: “A portion of the proceeds of this movie will go toward eliminating dog fighting, rehabilitating its canine victims, and promoting awareness and education about the humane treatment of man’s best friend.” So, enjoy this one knowing your money is also going to a worthy cause.
Good Time, IMDB Classification: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Just as Kristen Stewart was able to shake her Twilight legacy through a series of great performances in serious movies, Robert Patterson officially ditches any remnant of his sparkly, vampiric past with a gripping turn in Good Time.
The film follows Connie Nikas (Patterson) for several intense hours following a botched bank robbery. It would be a comedy of errors if it wasn’t so harrowing. Through a series of desperate actions and blind luck, the crook attempts to elude capture, all while trying to prevent his disabled brother/cohort from ending up on Riker’s Island. It’s a chaotic ride with some genuinely disturbing moments, but Good Time has both heart and soul—something sorely lacking from many genre offerings.
One of my personal favorites of 2017 just skirted the boundaries of straight-up horror, but every genre fan should be more than willing to see anything featuring Jane Levy, am I right? No, she’s not the star, but the rising Scream Queen does deliver her most unhinged role since Mia in 2013’s Evil Dead. The cast is led by Melanie Lynskey and Elijah Wood as Ruth and Tony, an unlikely (and unqualified) crimefighting duo.
When police prove ineffectual following a home break-in, Ruth and Tony take matters into their own hands—and quickly find themselves in way over their heads. There are some bleak moments, and the film addresses some heavy issues, but it’s mostly a hysterical dark comedy that sees underdogs refusing to take shit, rising up after a lifetime of petty indignities.
And did I mention Jane Levy?
The Beguiled, IMDB Classification: Drama, Thriller
2017’s The Beguiled is the second film adaptation of Thomas P. Cullinan 1966 Civil War-themed novel; directed by Sofia Coppola and anchored by performances from Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, and Elle Fanning, it oozes with tension and sexual deceptions.
When a wounded Union soldier is taken in by the remaining residents of an all-girls boarding school in Confederate Virginia, repressed desires and pre-established hierarchies collide with shocking consequences. What might have seemed like Heaven for Corporal McBurney (played by Colin Farrell) becomes hellish as his situation starts to resemble that of Paul Sheldon in Stephen King’s Misery.
The Beguiled is slow burn, but the intensity hits a fever pitch; engrossing performances and a moody aesthetic should captivate even the most action-hungry horror fans.
Okja, IMDB Classification: Action, Adventure, Drama
Babe meets Jurassic Park in this wildly imaginative, multicultural film from Bong Joon Ho (Snowpiercer). Don’t believe grumblings claiming there’s an anti-meat agenda; Okja merely asks viewers to think about where their food comes from. Of course, it does so by creating scenes reminiscent of the Holocaust. So yeah, it’s heavy.
But it’s all about the journey and, ultimately, this is one of triumph through perseverance, a story that celebrates the emotional bonds between humans and animals. There are madcap dystopian elements throughout Okja that are more akin to the psychedelic imaginings of Terry Gilliam than the utilitarian Snowpiercer. It’s almost like a live-action anime and though it has a grand scope, it hinges on down-to-Earth themes of family and home.
Swiss Army Man, IMDB Classification: Adventure, Comedy, Drama
I took some guff for including Swiss Army Man on my list of Best Horror Movies of 2016, and I understand why. On paper, the story of a man spending weeks alone with a corpse sounds grotesque, but filmmakers Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert delivered an often hysterical, thoroughly poignant, intellectually steeped examination of social detachment—with farts. Indeed, Swiss Army Man is closer to a bromance than a horror flick.
Of course, a movie that features a man living with a corpse can’t be all dancing and butterflies; there’s an emotional component to Swiss Army Man that I found absolutely devastating. Beyond themes of misguided love and misplaced affections, there’s a stark reality revealed when all illusions are finally abandoned. It’s proof that healing doesn’t always bring a happy ending, merely a chance for a new beginning. What happens next is up to us.
The Falling, IMDB Classification: Drama, Mystery
There’s a whole subset of horror movies that take place at girls’ boarding schools and, in many ways, The Falling fits in with films like The Moth Diaries, The Blackcoat’s Daughter, and The Woods. When a fainting plague sends staff and students into a panic, genre fans can’t be faulted for detecting hints of virus horror or supernatural intrusions. Indeed, the woods surrounding the school, along with familiar Gothic elements merge for a compelling narrative and a haunting mystery.
But whether there’s a scientific explanation or demonic forces at work is never revealed; instead, The Falling is a suspenseful examination of shared hysteria, pack mentality, and deviant social behaviors. The concentration of adolescence creates a powder keg of sexual awakenings, social maneuverings, and budding psychoses.
Making the film more than simply noteworthy is a knock-out performance from Maisie Williams (“Game of Thrones”) as Lydia Lamont, the young woman at the center of the school’s disturbing epidemic. I can’t wait to check her out in The New Mutants come 2019.
10 Famous Hard Rockers Who Were in Horror Movies
Horror fans got a kick out of news that Metallica’s James Hetfield is playing Officer Bob in the Ted Bundy biopic Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, directed by Joe Berlinger. While this is the rocker’s first foray into acting, cinema is littered with examples of musicians who attempted to make this transition. In the 1980s, Mick Jagger, Sting, and David Bowie all made numerous appearances in movies, including horror flicks.
The trend continues today, but there’s something about metal musicians in movies that feels… funny. I mean, metal is a brutal, mean, and often ugly artform—and those who make a living in this arena often reflect these traits physically. The thought of these ambassadors of antiestablishment on movie sets, jumping to the whims of a director, feels kind of like a let-down!
Then again, horror is the perfect genre for these creators of cacophony, and more metal musicians have popped up in genre flicks than you probably realize. Below, in no particular order, are 10 frontmen who rock hard on stages and on celluloid. While we’d never suggest these guys quit their day jobs, their contributions to the horror genre are definitely appreciated.
To be clear, we’re talking about appearances where musicians are playing roles, not showing up in cameos as themselves.
Considering Alice Cooper’s sound and aesthetic are heavily inspired by classic horror movies, it seems natural that he’d make some notable appearances over his decades-long career. Some have been comic cameos, but Alice flexed his acting chops as Robert Englund’s adoptive father in Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. It was a small role, but one that oozed pure evil, giving us insight into the origins of Freddy’s psychosis.
His appearance as a “street schitzo” in John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness is also worth noting. He even made it into the trailer; check him out above at the 0:34 mark!
Henry Rollins from Black Flag/The Rollins Band
On stage, Henry Rollins is a tightly wound ball of rage, a throbbing and percussive vocalist exuding a lifetime’s worth of frustration. But he was able to contain and channel that explosiveness into a measured yet intense performance in 2015’s vampire horror He Never Died. Rollins didn’t just appear in the film—he stars in it, meaning the film’s success hinged on his performance.
Both the film and the musician/actor garnered immense praise and Rollins will reteam with writer/director Jason Krawczyk when He Never Died Part 2 goes into production this summer.
Rollins actually has an extensive creative filmography, with small parts in numerous horror movies including Lost Highway, Feast, and Wrong Turn 2: Dead End.
Considering Marilyn Manson is known for his completely unhinged stage performances fueled by drugs and alcohol (a persona he maintains in between concerts), it’s hard to believe he’d have the discipline necessary to carry an actor’s weight in a film. But he proved himself a capable thespian—and I’m not talking about his bit-part as a sex fiend in Jawbreaker!
The shock-rocker played Pope in 2016’s Let Me Make You a Martyr, a complex and gritty horror movie written and directed by Corey Asraf and John Swab. The fact that Pope is a serial killer seems natural for a man named Manson, but the character is seething and controlled, requiring focused skill to communicate. Without a shred of his hallmark antics, Manson delivered a smoldering performance that dripped with arresting suspense.
Gene Simons from KISS and Ozzy Osbourne
As the fire-breathing, blood-spitting bass player and co-vocalist for KISS, Gene Simmons is the personification of horror. The same can be said for the incomparable, bat-decapitating madman Ozzy Osbourne. Both rockers have been destroying stages worldwide for over 4 decades and, somehow, found themselves with bit-parts in the same horror movie back in 1986.
Trick or Treat, directed by Charles Martin Smith, is a heavy metal-themed horror comedy that’s none too good. The appearances of Gene and Ozzy may be the only reason to seek out this clunker! Simmons is rather forgettable as a radio DJ named Nuke, but Osbourne is hysterical in an obviously ironic turn as a metal-hating evangelist.
Fred Durst from Limp Bizkit
He did it all for the nookie, riding high on the short-lived rap/rock craze of the late 1990s! But Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst’s offstage antics and a nasty reputation transformed him into a social pariah, a status reflected in tanking album sales. The singer’s been attempting to make a name for himself as an actor for over a decade now with little success to show for his efforts.
A notable exception is the horror drama Population 436, directed by Michelle MacLaren and released straight-to-DVD in 2006. It’s a Southern Gothic with hints of folk horror (something rare in American films), taking place in a town that maintains an exact population for nefarious reasons. Like Hetfield in Extremely Wicked, Durst plays a lawman and the irony is obvious. Still, Durst delivers a decent performance as a conflicted pillar of an insular community.
The only non-vocalist on this list, Flea is nonetheless one of the most famous bass players in modern rock. He’s also been popping up in movies for decades beginning with an uncredited appearance in 1983’s The Outsiders; other notable Flea films include Suburbia, Dudes, Point Break, Mototama, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
As far as horror goes, Flea had a tiny part as Bob Summerfield in Gus Van Sant’s ill-advised, shot-for-shot remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. He also played Jester the Alien in the obscure sci-fi Stranded, directed by Fleming B. Fuller and released in 1987; this film only exists on VHS, making it a sought-after rarity.
With his untamed mane, wild makeup, and sharp teeth Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider no doubt invaded the nightmares of more than a few kids who grew up in the 1980s. But he took an ambitious leap into horror movies in earnest with 1998’s Strangeland as the schizophrenic, highly modified sadist Captain Howdy. Snider didn’t merely accept a role, he wrote the film; and though it’s often overlooked by mainstream horror fans, Strangeland has a sizable cult following.
He’s connected to another horror film, although you could watch it 100 times and never realize it. In Adam Green’s chilling chair-lift thriller Frozen, Snider’s the guy who yells (from offscreen) “Last chair is through!” That means this guy’s responsible for a lot of heartache!
Linkin Park were Kings of Nu Metal for over a decade and the soaring vocals of Chester Bennington were a huge component of the band’s winning formula. Though his career was spotted by publicized battles with alcohol and drug addiction, his 2017 suicide shocked millions of fans worldwide; at 41, he still had a long career ahead of him, in music or acting.
Bennington planed Evan, a member of the skinhead gang murdered by Jigsaw protégé Mark Hoffman in Saw: The Final Chapter. Directed by Kevin Greutert, it’s one of the most brutal and over-the-top installments of the franchise, and Evan’s death sees the thug super-glued into a devious trap.
Most horror fans know Corey Taylor as the pyro-psychotic vocalist for the nightmarish outfit Slipknot (where he’s simply known as Number Eight). Though he’s donned many terrifying and unnerving masks for his onstage antics over the years, he went latex-free for a role in Fear Clinic, where he appeared alongside genre icon Robert England and Fiona Dourif (Cult of Chucky, Curse of Chucky).
Taylor also had a bit-part as Frankie in Sharknado 4: The 4th Awakens, although at this rate, everyone with an IMDb page will have appeared in a Sharknado movie by the end of the decade!
10 Terrifying Moments from Kids’ Movies That Haunted Our Childhoods
When the trailer for Solo: A Star Wars Story dropped a couple weeks ago, I watched it with a tinge of dread. See, Han Solo traumatized me as a child. I was 7-years-old when I saw The Empire Strikes Back in theaters, and the scene where Harrison Ford gets tortured at Cloud City gave me my first bona fide panic attack. It was dark, intense, and completely out of left field in an otherwise fantastic franchise where no one ever bleeds (or screams).
I might be the only one who had such an adverse reaction to Solo’s torture (which happens, primarily, off-screen), but those of us who came of age in the 1980s can probably relate to encountering terrifying moments in otherwise kid-friendly films. For the most part, these were the days before PG-13, meaning there was a ton of leeway for movies that fell in between the extremes of Cinderella and The Shining.
In retrospect, 1980s kids were subjected to a litany of scares that would be considered highly inappropriate by today’s standards—perhaps explaining our generations’ intense love of horror! Return with me now to those terrifying days of yesteryear with 10 terrifying moments from kids’ movies that haunted our childhoods!
The Tunnel of Terror in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
The only film on this list that wasn’t produced and released in the 1980s (and the only one I didn’t see in theaters) is nonetheless one every child of the era has seen: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory from 1971. I remember my parents telling me that I was in for a treat when they sat me down in front of the TV at the tender age of 6.
I was already unnerved by the tall man in the trench coat and the bizarre antics of Gene Wilder’s Wonka, but that boat-ride scene completely destroyed my childhood. It wasn’t even the chicken decapitation or the centipedes that rattled me; it was Wonka’s unhinged shrieking! To this day, the scene gives me the willies (pun intended!); Wilder truly channels the dangerous intensity of a lunatic.
Gmork attacks Atreyu in The NeverEnding Story (1984)
The NeverEnding Story was an exciting alternative in the Disney-dominated landscape of kids’ movies in the 1980s—exciting and dark! But a kid trapped in an attic, a horse drowning in a swamp, a nihilistic turtle, and a devastating void all paled in comparison to Atreyu’s confrontation with the insidious Gmork.
Those green eyes staring out from the cave froze my blood. The fact that it could speak made it infinitely more terrifying; this wasn’t some primal beast, this agent of The Great Nothing was a cunning and merciless villain. The matter-of-fact way it informed Atreyu that he would be his last “victim” was beyond bleak. When the monster attacked as thunder roared and lightning struck, I screamed.
Though many aspects of The NeverEnding Story show their age, this moment remains, objectively, as scary as any horror movie werewolf attack.
The Wheelers Descend in Return to Oz (1985)
When Dorothy (played by Judy Garland) first arrived in Oz back in 1939, she was greeted by a community of cheerful Munchkins. When Dorothy (reprised by Fairuza Balk) returned to Oz in 1985, her reception was much colder.
The eerie silence of a seemingly abandoned wasteland was broken by an assault by Wheelers: colorful, mechanically enhanced cousins of the Wicked Witch’s flying monkeys. As adults, we can laugh at the impracticality of villains who can’t even maneuver stairs, but we weren’t laughing as kids, I can promise you that!
While the hall of heads, an unintentionally terrifying Jack Pumpkinhead, and a truly demonic Gnome King are perhaps the scariest moments of Return to Oz, the sudden and unexpected arrival of the Wheelers was a truly devastating moment. It obliterated all our happy memories of Oz in an instant, transforming the land of enchantment into a labyrinth of evil.
Large Marge Tells her Tale in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985)
Many of the films on this list are dark from start to finish, containing multiple terrifying moments. But part of what makes the tale of Large Marge so impactful is that it appears in an otherwise completely lighthearted film. Sure, man-child Pee-wee Herman has always been subversive in ways that only become apparent as we get older, but he never dabbled in ghost stories or jump scares.
Luckily, the scary face of Large Marge was as funny as it was shocking, so even though kids like me hit the ceiling, our fears quickly dissolved into fits of hysterical laughter. Today, I remember practically nothing about Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, but I’ll have fond memories of Large Marge until the day I die.
The Emperor Turns to Ash in The Dark Crystal (1982)
Over 35 years after it’s release, The Dark Crystal remains a unique and beautiful anomaly. Jim Henson’s G-rated Muppets were left in the workshop! This film was populated by fascinating and terrifying characters, conveying a tale that wasn’t dumbed down for its audience. These factors give the film profound resonance and contribute to its status as an enduring classic
Like the title warns, this film is dark. The Skeksis are demonic, Augrah is arresting, and the Garthim are pure nightmare fuel. The process of draining Pod People of the essence and the stabbing death of Kira are horrifying. But it was the death of the Skeksis Emperor that really hit me like a ton of bricks.
There was something metaphysically terrifying about this moment; not only is the idea of a creature crumbling into ash creepy as hell but the effect was gasp-inducing. As a child, it was something I’d never seen before, a concept I’d never imagined, and it floored me. Death had never been conveyed with such shocking profundity.
The Lab Rats are Injected in The Secret of NIMH (1982)
When I sat in the theater in 1982, I don’t think I realized that The Secret of NIMH wasn’t a Disney movie, but I realized soon enough Mickey and Minnie weren’t hangin’ with these rodents! The Great Owl was petrifying and the finale was as harrowing as anything my young psyche had yet experienced, but it was the flashback of experiments conducted on lab rats that stuck with me and haunted my childhood.
It wasn’t just the brilliant animation that powerfully conveyed the rats’ pain as syringes were plunged into their bellies, it was a brutal moment of education they don’t teach kids in school. It was my first introduction to the realities of animal experimentation, and the fact that grown-ups would perpetrate such atrocities felt like a betrayal
The Ending of Time Bandits (1981)
In retrospect, it was irresponsible for any of our parents to think that Time Bandits was a kids’ movie just because the main character was an 11-year-old boy. In 1981, the only other film Terry Gilliam had directed was Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Yes, Time Bandits is funny and exciting with motifs common to kid-friendly time-travel fiction, but the film is nearly hopelessly bleak from start to finish.
Kevin (played by Craig Warnock) is completely neglected by his parents and essentially kidnapped by a troop of interdimensional robbers. He’s made complicit in a series of crimes throughout many dangerous eras, forced to endure wars and even the sinking of the Titanic. Eventually, Kevin is dragged into a realm of ultimate darkness. Though triumphing over Evil personified, he’s abandoned by God before returning home—only to find his home engulfed in a blazing inferno.
Though rescued by firemen, Kevin’s parents didn’t even realize he was missing and are soon reduced to piles of ash by a stray bit of concentrated evil. The friendly firemen take little notice, leaving our young protagonist utterly alone.
Faces Melt in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
A lot of my peers will count the human sacrifice scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom as one of the most terrifying moments of their childhood. Not me. After what I’d endured in Raiders of the Lost Ark, I was ready for anything.
Since it gets less attention than its predecessor (bonus fact: Temple of Doom is a prequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark), I think people forget just how scary Raiders really is. It’s worlds darker and grittier than Doom, which has a colorful, comic book pallet by comparison, not to mention a clear emphasis on comedy. The spiders, the snakes, the boobytraps: they all put monkey brains and extracted hearts to shame.
But the climax of Raiders of the Lost Ark is more intense than most horror movies, past and present. The face-melting evoked Cold War Era fears of nuclear annihilation and the idea of a vengeful God was devastating.
The Death of Shoe in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)
I wasn’t always the jaded gorehound I am today; I was young and sensitive once. And even though I was well into puberty by 1988 (or maybe because of it) I was especially traumatized by a moment in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The hard-boiled plot loaded with barely veiled sexual innuendo was, for the most part, completely buried beneath a cacophony of cameos from just about every cartoon character ever penned.
But it wasn’t the fever-nightmare of Roger’s mania or even the emergence of Judge Doom’s true form that devastated me; it was the execution of poor Shoe, a paradigm of animated innocence unceremoniously dropped into a barrel of “dip” (a toxic concoction made from turpentine, acetone, and benzene).
Most kids in their early teens couldn’t stop thinking about Jessica Rabbit; I was haunted by the death of Shoe.
Supercomputer Makes a Human Cyborg in Superman III (1983)
There’s an evil streak that runs throughout Superman III, the third film to feature Christopher Reeves as the titular Man of Steel. While Superman II had its dark spots (specifically the devastation caused by Zod and his companions) there’s an undercurrent in Richard Lester’s follow-up that’s absolutely wicked—containing a scene that contributed to the destruction of my childhood.
A makeshift batch of Kryptonite turns Superman into an immoral, selfish thug before he participates in a troubling fight to the death with himself. But as unsettling as the concept of an evil Superman may be, the scene where the supercomputer turns Vera into a cyborg was some next level shit for 10-year-old me.
I re-watched the scene in preparation for this article and was shocked at its similarities to the moment in Hellraiser II when Dr. Channard is transformed into a Cenobite—especially the wires! No wonder it scared the hell out of me!
- Matthew Horak stopped reading after "things go so hot". would you like me to be your editor? You had ONE job...here, let me do your job for you.... "things [don't] go so hot" or "things [do] go so hot". Thank...
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- Rottenjesus The only reason it's dark is because the DU is dead and it's never coming back.
- Jack Derwent Slappy Halloween was a much better title.
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