What Weird Thing Scared the Crap Out of You As a Kid?

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Ed Grimley was, for some reason, for some of us, at one point, terrifying.

As Halloween nears and TV networks and online giants do their annual dive into the archives for even tangentially ghost- and ghoul-related programming, you're likely to catch some reliable old standbys: Halloween, of course, and Friday the 13th. Classics like The Exorcist and The Shining, as well as the '90s golden age of slasher franchises (Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer).

What the networks are missing, though, is perhaps the most glorious category of scary media: Those shows, movies, and characters that weren't necessarily designed to be frightening but for some reason scare the crap out of children. 

Everyone has an example of this: A visceral phobia that, in retrospect, might not make all that much sense. For instance, I was terrified of Ed Grimley, a hyperactive manchild portrayed by Martin Short on both SCTV and Saturday Night Live.

Note: There is nothing remotely scary about Ed Grimley.


The other vague childhood terror I've been carrying around in the back of my mind for at least two decades while not quite knowing if it was warranted and/or real is a film called The Peanut Butter Solution, which, thanks to the magic of The Internets, I recently discovered did in fact exist. It was released in December 1985 and appears to be Canadian, which I guess explains some things, but still -- this movie does not belong in the family/comedy/fantasy genre.

The plot is that a boy gets scared and loses all his hair, and then all the other kids make fun of him, and then ghosts appear and give him a recipe for some peanut butter-based formula that will make hair grow. Then it works too well and his hair won't stop growing. I don't remember how it ends so I couldn't spoil it for you even if I wanted to, but please know that every adult in this film is horrible and the children inhabit an inescapably dreary suburban hell where evil is basically waiting to burst out from every seam.

Finding the IMDb message boards for this film helped me to feel less alone.


In any event: It was with Ed Grimley and this weird Canadian nightmare in mind that I decided to poll my friends and colleagues about their Weird Thing That Scared The Crap Out of Them. Here are a few excerpts from their responses.

"The most terrifying viewing experience from my childhood is hands down The Last Unicorn. The movie revolves around a massive, flaming Red Bull who herds all the unicorns into the ocean where they all die. As if that isn’t enough, there’s also a terrifying blood-thirsty harpy, a spooky enterprising carnival woman with a piece of bark on her head, a tree that smothers cute-enough wizards with her boobs, and a skeleton who has a drinking problem and anger management issues.

"But perhaps the most frightening piece of this not-safe-for-children puzzle is when the Last Unicorn is turned into a human woman and immediately delivers some existential real talk: 'I can feel this body dying all around me!' The slow, but assured decline and obliteration of one’s body is something we should all come to terms with eventually…but maybe not when we’re still finger painting and tasting Play-Doh." -- Emmanuel Hapsis, who discusses this horror and more on this week's Cooler podcast (which, if you're not already subscribed on iTunes and whatnot, well I don't even know what to tell you). 

"The year was 1983, and it was Christmas Eve. For some reason, my parents decided this was a good time – after the ceremonial reading of the Christmas story in the Bible, mind you – to show us kids Michael Jackson's new video, for “Thriller.” Now, “Thriller” is a campy video, to be sure, but c'mon, I was only eight years old. When Michael Jackson lurched to the ground, turned his yellow eyes toward his girlfriend and growled “GO AWAY” through his werewolf fangs, I instantly jumped out of my jammies. Remember, “Thriller” was the prevailing pop culture moment of 1983, so I can't be alone in this pick, nor could I have been the only one who obsessively watched and re-watched The Making of Thriller basically to hear director Jon Landis explain that the scene wasn't actually real." -- Gabe Meline

"The 'monsters' of Where the Wild Things Are reportedly gave me nightmares when I was little. When I woke up crying, it was because 'Mommy, there's cows in my bed.'" -- the perfectly reasonable Sarah Hotchkiss 

"Though it's obvious they were trying be scary, how scary can a Saturday morning cartoon get? The Real Ghostbusters tested the limits back in the '90s, for real. This episode was when the show went from being a crazy Ghostbusters cartoon to literally being too scary to watch -- and it still gives me the chills!!" -- Kevin L. Jones

And a few anonymous contributions:

"I was very scared of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when I was a kid. Being told they were good guys was no comfort. They were GIANT TURTLES that LIVED IN THE SEWER with a GIANT RAT FRIEND. And they were teenage boys, the scariest kind of person."

"Roseanne's laugh."

"Roseanne's house [ed. note -- these were different people]."

"Everything in The Neverending Story."


Et tu, dear readers? What sent you crawling under the covers? Let us know in the comments.