It's not the only time a commercial has unintentionally scared the bejesus out of kids. When I was a child, Tefal—a British range of household electrical items—insisted on putting men with oversized heads in all of their commercials. Their large craniums were supposed to imply a greater degree of intelligence, but all they achieved in my house was giving me and my sister nightmares for years. Was it the grotesquely long skulls that scared us? The creepy multi-tasking? Or the glaring lack of female egg-heads? It doesn't really matter. This advert will never not be horrifying.
Kids in the '90s were subjected to similarly horrific head aberrations via Fruit Gushers commercials. The entire series (and it really feels like there were about fifty) evoked a Violet Beauregardean nightmare—children eating the wrong kind of candy and paying the price, suffering immediate physical and vocal transformations. This plays out more like a PSA than an ad. Frankly, the banana alone is more terrifying than the entire Hostel franchise.
There is clearly something unfathomably difficult about conveying the taste of fruit that drives advertisers to bizarre lengths. The Sprite commercial below portrays a blindfolded human being subjected to physical experiments, something akin to water torture and, apparently, hallucinogens. Its tagline? "Don't worry. It will only affect your brain." Pity the parents who had to explain every bedtime that actually, no, a sexy tennis player wasn't going to come and immobilize them with saran wrap at 4 am.
Remarkably, making fruit freaky has been a staple of American advertising for decades. The California Raisins might have sparked an entire TV show and a giant pile of merch, but when you get down to it, there was always something rather unsettling about them. In the clip below, are they worshipping at the feet of a Sun-Maid overlord? Or harassing a woman who's locked in an attic, her smile frozen into a Stepford Wives grimace to placate them? It's impossible to tell because everyone involved has hollow dead eyes. I am definitely no closer to wanting to eat grapes of sadness.
If you want to find unchecked, definitely occurring harassment in commercial-land though, look no further than Mr. Six. The old man's long-term reign of Six Flags-related terror began back in 2004, when he rolled his child-catcher bus into a quiet neighborhood and danced maniacally until he had successfully stolen multiple kids. The whole thing ends up looking a lot like what would happen if The Shining's Delbert Grady escaped the Overlook Hotel and headed straight for suburbia.
Sometimes, it's not even the mascot that's scary, it's the physical product. After she stopped being Crystal on Dynasty, Linda Evans got roped into endorsing a beauty product called Rejuvenique, which sends electric shocks "pulses" into the face of the wearer, in the pursuit of tighter skin. Not only does it sound like a torture device, but aesthetically it also resembles a combination of Jason Voorhees and one of the stabby intruders from The Strangers. (Sidenote: If your family has angered you recently and you fancy getting back at them, you can still find these on eBay.)
On the surface, this all suggests that nightmare-inducing commercials are a relatively recent invention, but sheer terror has been a part of the TV realm since the medium was invented. Take a look at this 1953 ad for Sugar Rice Krinkles, consider the fact that Stephen King was around six when this was in rotation, then wonder no more about where the inspiration for It came from. (In case you've forgotten, the character of Georgie Denbrough is also six when he's killed by the evil clown in that novel. Coincidence?)
Amazingly—and as much as I'm sure we'd all like to give these advertisers the benefit of the doubt—it's possible that the horror influence can also work the other way around. A full two years AFTER The Twilight Zone aired its legendary "Living Doll" episode (in which a doll named Talky Tina exacts murderous revenge), Mattel released Baby Secret—a doll that speaks exclusively in whispers, wants to hang out when everyone else is asleep and sounds like it's saying "I want to kill you." Take it away, Annabelle the First!
In case all of this has left you feeling disturbed and on edge, this last clip is intended to make you feel better. Because, sure, while massive heads and animated fruit and strange old men doing the running man are bad, pray for the children of Japan who had to watch on in horror for years as this dog did strange things with human ears, doll heads, other animals and what appear to be ping pong paddles, in a series of commercials that culminate in the dog becoming a red-eyed flying half-alien.
See? It could be worse!