Viewer Discretion Advised

Some kids’ stuff is just tooooo scary for kids.

Childhood is generally thought of as a happy period of one’s life. Most children have few responsibilities and can frolic in the flowers and watch cartoons as much as they please. Books, TV shows, and movies geared toward children are typically light and funny, just what kids love!

But there were some things I watched and read that, looking back on it, were sort of creepy and even downright terrifying. When I remember these shows and books, I’m like, “So that’s why I could never sleep at night!”

Here’s a list of the reading and viewing material that kept me up when I was wee.

Courage the Cowardly Dog

This animated series aired on Cartoon Network during the years 1999-2002. The premise was that Courage, a cowardly little pink dog who lived in the middle of nowhere, would have to keep some sort of ghost/demon/phenomenon from destroying his owners each episode. I have seen that poor little mutt terrorized too many times to count. The show had a very dark sense of humor, with plots that usually revolved around murder, death, and disturbed characters.

I was in first grade when I saw my first episode, titled “Freaky Fred.” Fred was a mentally deranged barber who was obsessed with shaving off people’s hair. Enough said.

Although characters came in funny shapes and sizes (a butcher pig here, evil eggplants there), they were always a little too disturbing for a Cartoon Network show. I mean, just watch this clip from the final episode:

DOES THAT LOOK LIKE A KIDS’ SHOW TO YOU? No! It looks like a David Lynch short, or your worst nightmare. Cartoon Network started re-airing the show not that long ago but it was moved to the later, more mature programming time of 2:30 AM. Obviously, Courage the Cowardly Dog was just too macabre for kids to handle. Thank you, Courage, for keeping me up all those nights and thank you especially for King Ramses:

That dude is the freakiest thing in cartoon history.


This 2002 horror novel by Neil Gaiman became a movie in 2009. I initially boycotted the film because I didn’t think it would live up to book’s creepiness, but many people have convinced me I would appreciate it. I still haven’t seen the movie, but I promise to in the near future! In the story, a girl named Coraline enters an alternate universe similar to her own, but in this one her mother is evil and everyone has buttons for eyes. That’s totally not weird at all. Not to mention the Other Mother has a history of kidnapping children, growing bored with them, and locking them in a closet for eternity. Freaky!

But the most disturbing part of this children’s book—I repeat, this is a book for CHILDREN—is the illustrations. I’m a visual person; images stay with me forever. Therefore exceptionally eerie pictures are basically burned into my brain and I NEVER FORGET.

A crazy old man + the Other Mother eating some sort of beetle. Yum!

Creepy artwork combined with some freaky visual text…

“‘Come here, little girl. I know what you want, little girl’…She walked through several rooms with low, slanting ceilings until she came to the final room. It was a bedroom, and the other crazy old man upstairs sat at the far end of the room, in the near darkness, bundled up in his coat and hat.”
– Coraline, Chapter 10

…makes for a nightmarish novel. But like LITERALLY nightmarish because I am pretty sure I had several different fever dreams involving buttons being sewed onto my parents’ eyes. Aaaah!

A Series of Unfortunate Events

I was really into this series of books, by Lemony Snicket, as a child. Due to their dry, black comedy the books read like Coen Brothers plots for kiddies, or at least that’s how I remember them.

The premise of the series is that the three Baudelaire children live a fantastic life with loving parents until their house burns down. Whomp-whomp…the parents are dead and the kids have to move in with a creepy cousin named Count Olaf who eventually tries to marry the eldest daughter, Violet, to gain their inheritance. Did I mention Violet is 14 years old? It’s OK, though—the three Baudelaire orphans end up escaping Olaf and moving on to different homes with wonderful adoptive parents. Oh, but then Olaf tracks the kids down and kills their new parents. Like, in every book. Seriously. So in this series we’ve got a serial killer pedophile trying to ruin the lives of three unfortunate orphans. I think my teacher read this series to my class in second grade. How fun!

The Witches

Who could forget this amazing Roald Dahl book, originally published in 1983? I read it in 2002 (second grade), but it was still terrifying. The story of a boy who ends up stuck in a hotel that is hosting a witch convention, The Witches is gruesome and haunting.

I must say the movie might have scared me more than the book. Who could forget the Grand High Witch’s ugly face in the film? Ew! I will never forget the story of the girl who was trapped in a painting by a witch.

That story has freaked me out since I was a child. I just watched it again for the first time in years and now I know I won’t sleep tonight. “Papa…papa…”

Spirited Away

Spirited Away, or Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi, is an animated Japanese film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. The movie opens with Chihiro, a young girl, riding in a car with her family, to their new home. They stumble across an abandoned amusement park, and Chihiro’s parents are distracted by a delicious-looking buffet. Her parents start eating and then, yada yada yada* … suddenly Sen’s parents have turned into pigs and there are ghosts and monsters all around her. Woah Nelly, what happened?! Chihiro’s name is changed to Sen for work purposes and she is forced to work in a bathhouse to try and save her parents. While catering to a variety of creepy spirits, she eventually befriends the creepiest ghost of all: a tall, dark, masked thing named No Face. SPOILER: turns out No Face has anger management problems and eats people. If you haven’t seen the movie, please do because I cannot even begin to describe how terrifying this creature is.

It’s very easy to categorize this movie as a sort of twisted fairy tale, but underneath the surface lies an even more terrifying concept. Spirited Away, according to some movie critics, is actually a metaphor for child prostitution. I can see why the Disney Corporation (the film’s American distributor) wouldn’t want to promote that interpretation. On its own this is a really unpleasant story with some horrifying imagery, but this metaphor might be the scariest thing about it.

Where the Wild Things Are + In the Night Kitchen

Now these items, ladies and gents, are the scariest children’s media OF ALL TIME. Many of you may be familiar with Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, my very favorite childhood book. After being sent to his room for being bad, a little boy named Max uses his imagination to whisk himself away to an island inhabited by Wild Things. At first the Wild Things want to eat him, but then they embrace him and make him their king. Then Max feels homesick and wants to leave but the Wild Things are like, “Oh no, please don’t go; we’ll eat you up we love you so.” We’ll eat you up we love you so? Is that not the creepiest ever? This book has frequently been banned due to its obviously controversial content, but little children still love it because all little children are evil all little children love books about adventure!

But did you ever see Maurice Sendak’s short film In the Night Kitchen?

Yes, this is a video made for children! I don’t know about you, but I have nightmares all the time about three fat bakers who try to bake me alive inside of a cake. Not to mention those three men definitely look like Hitler. Right? My favorite part is when the boy (while in the nude) floats past his mother whispering, “Mama.” Or maybe my favorite part is when the boy is BAKING IN AN OVEN? Sendak is crazy terrifying, but apparently that’s what it takes to make a good kid’s story/TV show/movie. Sheer terror and a lot of scary. ♦

* This is a Seinfeld reference.


  • boyhood October 13th, 2011 7:15 PM

    I took a series of unfortunate events so seriously when I was a kid. I was so angry when the movie came out as a comedy instead of the intense depression filled books that I loved so much. My best friend at the time felt the same as I did and we would write every. possible. explanation. in out pocket-notebooks of what VFD could mean. My first profile picture for the first social media site I ever joined (MYSPACE) was a picture of Klaus from the books.

    violet + me + in love and always running from count olaf = 4ever <3 <3

    • Maialuna October 13th, 2011 11:16 PM

      Me and my friend tried to capture Count Olaf when were were maybe 8 by inviting him to tea and then calling the police… But actually we just get stuck outside for half an hour looking for the mailbox. He escaped once more…

  • yourenotfunny October 13th, 2011 7:16 PM

    OH MY GOD!!! WHY did you have to put up that blue head guy?!? It took forever for that image to fade from my corneas. Guess no sleep for me tonight.

  • yourenotfunny October 13th, 2011 7:19 PM

    P.S. Spirited Away remains one of my favorite all-time movies. The pig thing was hella creepy though when I was 9.

  • Anna F. October 13th, 2011 7:20 PM


  • Chimdi October 13th, 2011 7:25 PM

    Spirited Away!!!! I just finished watching Howl’s Moving Castle

    (oh no I just realized I responded with a completely unrelated answer to this non-question…now after reading this {} I’m convinced)

    • Marguerite October 14th, 2011 5:50 AM

      HOWLS MOVING CASTLE IS MY FAVOURITEST MOVIE IN THE WORLD! i hope you liked it…now you must watch Kiki’s Delivery Service, that ones cute too…

  • Grey October 13th, 2011 7:26 PM

    I loved courage the cowardly dog! my favorite episode was the slate one with the plagues. that scared my brother sooo much he slept in my moms bed. I can see myself back then because now im a sucker for horror movies. :)

    • Hazel October 13th, 2011 9:26 PM

      Yes! That’s the one with King Ramses!

  • Hunter October 13th, 2011 7:28 PM

    i LOVED courage the cowardly dog. and i still love a series of unfortunate events…i’ve been meaning to re-read the series because i haven’t read them since middle school and would probably like them a lot more now haha.

  • asleeptillnoon October 13th, 2011 7:37 PM

    I had seen everything except In The Night Kitchen and wow, was that disturbing, lol!

  • renata October 13th, 2011 7:38 PM

    Oh god, Spirited Away. I was IN LOVE with a charming kids’ movie called Kiki’s Delivery Service (another by Miyazaki–about a 13 year old witch, and if it’s mentioned on Rookie this month I may just die of happiness), and watched it repetitively. Mistaking SA for another such lovely, wholesome sort of film, my parents let me stay up on New Year’s Eve when I was 8 to watch it. Imagine watching that, at eight, falling asleep into nightmares you can’t distinguish from the movie itself. My brain cringes at the thought.

  • Bren October 13th, 2011 7:39 PM

    THANK YOU. Courage the Cowardly dog freaked me out. There’s a lot of things that I look back on and see people remember fondly, and then wonder if there was something wrong with me because just thinking about them made me uneasy. I saw the movie Coraline and was definitely disturbed. This is such a great list. I loved A Series of Unfortunate events, even with the dark themes, and such. It was fantastic.

  • sobrina October 13th, 2011 7:39 PM

    OMG I read Coraline when I was SEVENTEEN and it still scared the hell out of me. All of these things were important to me at some point in my childhood… maybe that’s what’s wrong with me now.

  • Marguerite October 13th, 2011 7:41 PM

    I LOVE a series of unfortunate events! I haven’t read those in forever! Totally gonna read those now! I kinda liked the ones when the still lived with distant family members better. I loved Spirited Away too! I was 5 when i first saw it and it scared the life out of me! Now I love it and all of Hayo Miyazaki’s films (especially Howl’s Moving Castle) but the turning into pig scene still scares me!

  • sedgwick October 13th, 2011 7:49 PM

    My mum is german and so when i was little she would read me this german kids book called Struwwelpeter from like the 1800s and it was effing scary. In one story a kid gets his thumbs cut off because he sucks his thumbs and in another a girl gets burnt to death. One boy becomes anorexic and dies. thanks, mum.

  • Miss Erin October 13th, 2011 7:52 PM

    I would like to second boyhood’s comment completely- me and my best friend spent hours going over VFD and possible clues, and I was mad at the movie being comedic, too, and refused (still do) to see it – except my myspace picture was of Violet.

  • Kathryn October 13th, 2011 7:56 PM

    My 2nd grade teacher read us A Series of Unfortunate Events too! I loved it a lot though, I read all 13.

  • bufferrenee October 13th, 2011 8:00 PM

    In The Night Kitchen is the trippiest thing I’ve ever seen. I’m am now scared out of my wits.

  • moonchild October 13th, 2011 8:03 PM

    I! LOVE! THIS! ARTICLE! These are the things that creeped/creep me out. This is SPOT ON!

    I love Coraline (the book) and I expected the movie to be less good but it WASN’T!

    Also, I love The Witches so much (along with every other Roald Dahl book and I had NO IDEA that there is a movie! I will have to see that!

    I have never seen Courage the Cowardly Dog but NOW I REALLY WANT TO! I love books/movies/shows with disturbed/disturbing characters! The barber guy reminds me of Jonathon Brewster from Arsenic and Old Lace for some reason. LOVE IT LOVE IT LOVE IT.

    Keep it up!

  • Pashupati October 13th, 2011 8:03 PM

    I read The Witches (reread and reread), A Series of Unfortunate Events, and Where the Wild Things Are when I was kid (like eight years old for The Witches and Unfortunates Events, because when ten I tried to catch on on the new tomes but didn’t remember the precedents, same thing when I tried to read Eragon’s sequel two years ago, remember reading The Witches in the same time) but really enjoyed it… Although I only remember a tad of Where the Wild Things Are and episodes of Unfortunate Events.
    Sometimes the plot seemed really weird even for a book. I kind of remember them ending in a desert?
    Anyway, I really enjoyed, but R. L. Stine books scared me (and they still do) which I’ve heard isn’t habitual? Weird!
    I really liked the characters and universe of A Series of Unfortunate Events, and got mouses to train after reading The Witches. What, for me The Witches was funny! (my mouses all died or fled away in our home, lot of time trying to catch them.)

  • MichyMich October 13th, 2011 8:04 PM

    Man, I used to watch “Courage the Cowardly Dog” when I was little. I really missed watching it on Cartoon Network. The most memorable quote was whenever Eustace said, “You stupid dog!”. UGH. I REALLY miss my childhood.

    I also LOVED reading “The Series of Unfortunate Events” when I was in 5th grade. I remember reading all 13 books. Darn…I wish Lemony Snicket could continue those novels.

  • diny October 13th, 2011 8:04 PM

    i had watched Coraline. i don’t know that it is horror movie at first, i watched it, and scared all the time! but, the end is pretty good.

    A Series of Unfortunate Events.
    oh my, these books are so weird. Olaf is pedophile! we do agree. this books makes me remember about ‘dark moment’. life can be that dark! i never imagine that life before. too scare to think about it.

  • jeepsterbear October 13th, 2011 8:05 PM

    The fat Hitler bakers are supposed to be Oliver Hardy of Laurel and Hardy fame…

  • Nomi October 13th, 2011 8:10 PM

    LOVE spirited away, but I always had to leave the room during the scene where her parents have become pigs. That traumatized me more than anything else. But that metaphor stuff really disturbs me. I hope it’s not true!! It would give a whole new meaning to one of my favorite movies.
    SEE CORALINE. It’s SOOO much better AND creepier than the book. I will warn you that they did change some things, but DON’T let that dissuade you. It’s soooooo good.
    Series of Unfortunate Events? That stuff used to be like my favorite books in SECOND GRADE. And then like three years later I reread them and I was like “The eff, this is so depressing.”

  • Jenn October 13th, 2011 8:11 PM

    Literally this post is my entire childhood summed up, except none of this scared me? That must be why I’m immune to horror movies… Anyway, I’m still completely obsessed with all of this and the best part is that the school play I’m in is Roald Dahl’s The Witches! How jealous are youuuu?

  • meganemk October 13th, 2011 8:26 PM

    I loooved this post!

    The Series of Unfortunate Events used to freak me the hell out. As I read along, I would literally pray that Olaf would die soon and the kids could finally live in peace. I never got past the 8th book because I was so angry that I couldn’t take it anymore and it was seriously pissing me off.

    Oh, and Coraline mind fucked the shit out of me.

  • Annie October 13th, 2011 8:29 PM

    That King Ramses episode scared the shit out of me when I was a kid but for some reason I LOVED it. Probably was my favorite episode.

  • norienoire October 13th, 2011 8:29 PM

    This really explains my sick sense of humor, I grew up with all of these things… except I was always disappointed in the Witches movie. It’s a blue tinge to their teeth for crying out loud!

  • Ali Fran October 13th, 2011 8:46 PM

    Oh my God, Courage the Cowardly Dog always always ALWAYS freaked me out. So did In the Night Kitchen. I had so many nightmares… now I know why I’m petrified of pink dogs and bakers with mustaches.

    “Yada yada yada, I had the lobster bisque.”

  • Fiona-na October 13th, 2011 8:53 PM

    So true. Although they never gave me nightmares. I blame most of my creepiness on these things. Not to mention my mom put me to bed with the words of Edgar Allen Poe and sang me depressing Irish ballads as a baby.

  • Mindy October 13th, 2011 8:59 PM

    Spirited Away???!!! Asian childhood memories. I never got the part when they’re flying in the air at night, and appear in the morning safely on ground. Weren’t they falling to earth at, say, a bajillion miles per hour?
    And Haku’s pretty hot, you know.

  • Julia BR October 13th, 2011 9:09 PM

    I always thought Courage the Cowedly Dog was so creepy when i was younger, and even more disturbing watching it again when i’m older!

  • Stellaaaaarrr October 13th, 2011 9:12 PM

    I see you all of the above and raise you “Return To Oz”… A supposed sequel to The Wizard of Oz with a bunch of the scariest freaking characters ever!

    How about a witch that changes her heads… and wants to take yours? Scary dudes with wheels instead of hands and feet who want to cut you up into little pieces and spread you across the desert? A fella named Jack with a tree body and a pumpkin for a head??

    In an interesting twist, Dorothy is played by none other than Fairuza Balk, who would later go on to play Nancy in The Craft.

    I have no idea how old I was when I watched it (I was born two years before it was made but I sure didn’t watch it when I was two!) but my god it scared the CRAP outta me! Still freaks me out whenever I think of The Wheelers… *shudder*

    • anastasia October 13th, 2011 9:28 PM

      Yes! Return To Oz is such an amazing movie. Fairuza Balk is FANTASTIC in it.

    • brynntheredonethat October 15th, 2011 11:56 AM

      I totally remember that movie! It was really creepy, but I think I was such a weird child that it never phased me. I was like, “Oh, a witch with different heads for each occasion . . . isn’t that odd . . . ” My outcry was the fact that they sent her to a mental place.

  • Kathryn October 13th, 2011 9:14 PM

    You know what scared me, but I watched a million times anyway? ALL DOGS GO TO HEAVEN. It’s not as creepy as anything above, but I always got scared at the part when he goes to hell (very misleading title) and also the part at the end when a death cloud ghost thing floats through the window.

    I feel like there were a lot of things that scared me when I was little but I can’t think of any others on the spot, possibly because I try to block out horrifying things. I feel like a lot of children’s things are scary!

  • Claire October 13th, 2011 9:15 PM

    Courage the Cowardly Dog scared the shit out of me when I was little!

  • littleDani October 13th, 2011 9:19 PM

    I love everything on this list. sooo creepy.
    But I’m pretty sure Courage was never shown on Adult Swim. It may have had a later time slot, before Adult Swim started, but in all the years I’ve been watching Adult Swim, Courage has not been part of their line-up. Sorry to be ~THAT~ girl.

    • Anaheed October 14th, 2011 2:37 AM

      Thank you for being ~THAT~ girl! I was misled by the Adult Swim message boards; you led me to do some more research and fix our mistake.

  • Pinkwitchcraft October 13th, 2011 9:22 PM

    Coraline is genius, one of my favorite books of all time!!

  • Sphinx October 13th, 2011 9:24 PM

    I loved Courage the Cowardly Dog! It was like the only cartoon where the monsters were real, not just some guy wearing a mask!
    Also, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Spirited Away (first Hayao Miyazaki film I saw) and Where the Wild Things Are are so good!
    I read and watched Coraline last year, and though it didn’t scare me, I know that if I were 7-9 years old it would’ve been terrifying.
    I think that most of these were scary because when you’re a certain age, the thing you fear the most is losing your parents.

  • anastasia October 13th, 2011 9:26 PM

    I did NOT understand Courage the Cowardly Dog when I was younger. All I knew was that it was weird and scary and made me want to cry, so I didn’t watch it.

    The Witches movie is one of my favorites– I’m totally surprised it never makes it onto any mood boards or anything. It’s perfect for winter inspirations!

  • catdeneuve October 13th, 2011 9:41 PM

    has anyone seen the snow white “sequel” ‘happily ever after’???? i remember that the villain turned everyone into stone and oh god NOTHING terrified me like that movie. for some reason I always asked to rent it, despite it bringing nightmares without fail…. such a macabre child! :/

  • writeranddreamer October 13th, 2011 9:52 PM

    WAIT. as SOON as i saw the title of this post the first thing i thought of was The Witches. i LOVE roald dahl but that book STILL absolutely terrifies me.

    oh, and also, i nominate Lilo&Stitch. i think aliens are creepy.

  • respectcactus October 13th, 2011 10:04 PM

    Three words: Earnest Scared Stupid. Observe–the scene at one minute in scarred my whole childhood:

  • spacemadness October 13th, 2011 10:15 PM

    Omg, I had completely erased courage the cowardly dog from my scarred brain! Nooooooo! Scarier than a horror movie…

  • nausicaa October 13th, 2011 10:40 PM

    What a delightful collection of creepy things.

    I am fairly certain that Miyazaki did not intend Spirited Away to be a metaphor for child prostitution, though it is not an unreasonable reading. He has stated in interviews that his purpose in creating it was in response to reports that little girls in Japan were lacking in confidence and that they were overly pampered. He wanted to create something that would inspire girls to be strong and resourceful. In a much later interview he said that the majority of animators good enough to work at Studio Ghibli were women…. and that he imagined he hadn’t done enough to bolster the self-confidence of boys.

    Also, your reading of the oven in In The Night Kitchen as being terrifying is spot on. When Sendak was growing up his family would constantly remind him of Jewish children being burned in the ovens in Germany. If he was late coming in the house when his mother called him in, she would remind him how lucky he was to be alive and that he should be a good boy. In the Night Kitchen is a very personal book for him.

    Finally, thank you so much for collecting these fantastic clips. I love them. When I was a little girl I had nightmares about Watership Down– which is more sad than scary, but I found it unbearably sad and I actually threw my parents copy of the book it was based on behind the bookshelf so I wouldn’t have to be reminded of it.

    • Anaheed October 13th, 2011 10:43 PM

      I still can’t even allow myself to think about Watership Down.

  • Gretchyn October 13th, 2011 10:47 PM

    For some reason this sort of made me sad because I used to really look up to fictional characters like Sen from Spirited Away n stuff + I thought that was a genius movie… Same with Where the Wild Things are, reading it as a child. And Coraline, as well. That was like, amazing. It’s a bummer that these are being seen as terrifying, though I see where you’re coming from. I usually looked past the creepiness of those things + more delved myself into the lesson that was trying to be taught.

  • Mememeo October 13th, 2011 10:48 PM

    I was in LOVE with Coraline, Spirited Away, and SoUE. I first read Coraline when I was 8, and after I pretended to be a brave explorer girl ready to thwart any evil mothers living in alternate dimensions. This led to my addiction to nooks & crannies & hiding holes in homes…

  • unicorn October 13th, 2011 10:48 PM

    i was so freaked out by coraline that i couldnt finish the movie.
    a week after i started it, those lalaloopsy dolls came out at target where they all had the lifeless button eyes…seriously, i nearly had a mental breakdown in the middle of target.

  • erin October 13th, 2011 10:49 PM

    I never watched courage the cowardly dog, because the one episode I did see was so creepy! Also, loved Series of Unfortunate Events (I should probably re-read them now that it’s been years), and I did watch Spirited Away, and as everyone is saying, the pig part was so scary to me! Still,I think I’ll watch it again soon…. because I’m sooo mature now… kind of.

  • Franny Glass October 13th, 2011 10:51 PM

    DUDE! You wanna talk about scary Brave Little Toaster clips!?!

  • Supernova7 October 13th, 2011 10:55 PM

    We can’t hide everything from our children. We can’t protect them from every single thing that might be frightening. It’s a part of growing as a human being and understanding the world around you.

  • Alina October 13th, 2011 11:03 PM

    Courage the Cowardly Dog would terrify me too when I was little. But once I started watching it – even though I was terrified – I had to make the sorta creepy granny was alright in the end (but, didn’t she have this strange werid thing about her). I loved Spirited Away, but No Face creeped me out it got a bit werid at some points. I also really liked the book series but some parts gave me the chills.

  • joenjwang October 14th, 2011 12:01 AM

    Actually, I think we’re underestimating children here. A lot of these books and cartoons really triggered my imagination, and I loved them dearly for never treating the reader/watcher as stupid and inane (as a lot of adults did). They’re children’s books and they’re great for children.

    • Hazel October 14th, 2011 3:16 PM

      I think these books and television shows are perfect for children! I just think it’s funny, and interesting, to look back on them and notice how scary they were. I think as an older person, most of these take on entirely new meanings for me. I didn’t see Count Olaf as a pedophile or The Night Kitchen as an allusion to concentration camp ovens. I am so glad the things on this list were part of my childhood because, just like you, they triggered my imagination as well!

  • Dinospy October 14th, 2011 12:15 AM

    I loved Courage The Cowardly Dog! I think the episode that was the creepiest for me was the Velvet Vic one; Where Eustice gets an old record by his favorite artist Velvet Vic, but when he plays the record the ghost of Vic comes out of the phonograph and tries to send the old man in. I think it scared me so much because I was surrounded by record players in my house…

  • Colleen Bluejay October 14th, 2011 12:39 AM

    I agree with joenjwang–I’m glad I read and watched the eerie, creepy things I did (and let’s face it, growing up in the ’80s and early ’90s there wasn’t yet a lot of convincing CGI yet, so it left a bit more up to the imagination). Now I’m a writer and artist and I’m fascinated by the role that the macabre and imagination has in girls’ lives.

    BOOKS: Did anyone else read THE WITCH SAGA by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor? I was obsessed: The Witch Water, Witch’s Sister, etc. Just kept reading then, though they gave me insomnia. Did anyone read V.C. Andrews? I did not, but I’d like to hear from anyone who did.

    MOVIES: SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, rated PG (apparently Ray Bradbury himself wrote the script); GREMLINS (also PG); and THE DOLLHOUSE MURDERS (PG)!

    I love reading about everyone’s different spookfests, and all the background info on Miyazaki!

  • broguishrogue October 14th, 2011 12:47 AM

    i totally love all these. Coraline/The Witches both freaked me out, to some extent. and the possible metaphor in Spirited Away is interesting, despite the fact it’s highly unlikely that was intended.

  • ellthemighty October 14th, 2011 1:26 AM

    I had/have a book version of The Night Kitchen. I was never freaked out by it but then, the pictures didn’t move.

    Starting to wonder what exactly was going through the head of the person that bought that book for me.

  • Toilets October 14th, 2011 3:12 AM

    @Anna – I’m pretty sure that a massive section of my childhood was spent watching the Brave Little Toaster over and over and over.

    In fact, I think I’ve just decided what to watch this evening!

  • anayaya October 14th, 2011 3:33 AM

    OH MY GOD. I was obsessed with the scene in The Witches when Anjelica Huston turns that boy into a mouse! My Aunt gave it to me on VHS about 10 years after it came out and I would rewind thit so many times that it became all glitchy and wouldn’t play anymore. I fell in love with Miss Eva Ernst, and thus my appreciation for heavily ringed fingers was born. I would have also worn satin gloves, but that would have proven to be far to inconvenient in elementary school.

  • julalondon October 14th, 2011 4:01 AM

    Oh i remember my sister and me watching Spirited Away and it was all weird and scary and i mean her parents became fat ugly pigs and then her “friend” eats evryone but Sen tries to save her parents and then there is this spider-person with its long arms/legs and stuff like this and i just remember us being very scared. We just rewatched the movie like a couple of weeks ago and although im 20 now and my sis is 18 we still didnt really like it because of its scariness…

  • anayaya October 14th, 2011 4:19 AM

    Also, if you think these are scary… go to this:


  • Chi October 14th, 2011 4:27 AM

    Very interesting article!
    I’m here to shout out to the inclusion of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and Ghibli’s Spirited Away (favorite movie EVER)
    As far as Neil goes though Coraline is not his only disturbing “children” book haha
    And if people are willing to believe it, then I think the story and inspiration behind Totoro is actually much more terrifying than Spirited Away.

  • Floraposte October 14th, 2011 7:37 AM

    I read Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban in year 2 and the dementors FREAKED ME OUT. I had to make up a code word (pony) with my mum so she would come and hug me everytime I sensed them. I loved A Series of Unfortunate Events… the bits about deja vu always made me crack up ;)

  • giov October 14th, 2011 7:39 AM

    my dad read the witches to me when I was 3 freaking years old. no wonder I turned out this way. also some nice classics of the past are creepy as hell, with those princesses turned into gooses and poor girls begging in the freezing cold.

  • Naomi October 14th, 2011 8:05 AM

    The Trap Door:
    the thing upstairs, oh my gosh, i still find this terrifying. we had it on video and i have no idea how i watched it when i was young.
    the skull that somehow manages to crawl around despite not having any legs is hilarious.

  • buttoneye October 14th, 2011 8:29 AM

    It’s always wonderful and special when you find out that somebody has read the exactly same books as you read as a child and has experienced them exactly the same way. This is definitely the most interesting and wise article in Rookiemag so far.

    Coraline is like Narnia for the 21st century children; Lucy Pevensie has blue hair, Mr. Beaver has turned into a black cat and Tumnus is a slightly dorky boy with skeleton gloves and a motorbike.

  • soybrain October 14th, 2011 8:41 AM

    awh coraline is my favourite book! I love the movie aswell. I know it’s for kids, but everytime I’m in a bad mood I make myself hot chocolate and watch coraline. it’s just perfect. and the series of unfortunate events is also very good! I haven’t read all of the books yet, they’re so many. :)

  • Salomeq October 14th, 2011 10:00 AM

    awww courage! I loved him so much! now I
    ll have nostalgia and go and watch the whole series again. I miss the music! And Courage and Eustace and his wife and the creepiness and everything!

  • lilghostie October 14th, 2011 10:29 AM

    i literally scrolled down and this and thought, holy shit! these are still all of my favorite things!! seriously! also anyone remember real monsters? god that gave me the creeps. esp the toenails that they used as currency. i didn’t realize how weird or fucked up that was til i got wayyyy older. hot damn

  • DewoftheDesert October 14th, 2011 10:32 AM

    I remember watching Snow White when I was a kid – the witch transformation was so scary and also the chase up the mountain. And this was Disney!
    First time seeing the Night Kitchen and the first thing I thought of was “scary stories from Jewish grandmother”! My mom used to threaten me with abduction by gypsies when I was little.

  • oriGINAlity95 October 14th, 2011 10:38 AM

    The only thing on this list I skipped out on was Coraline, the rest is so my childhood. Now that I think about it so many child-ordinated pieces of entertainment are very dark… Why do so many artists feel it necessary to scare kids? If you have talent why focus on the bad? I mean everyone loves Harry Potter, it’s my favorite but do you realize HOW dark it really is, it went from children’s adventure to… well not one. I have a tough skin, but man when you think about the stuff you watch listen and read as a child it gets you thinking…. why scar little kids because of something in your past with creepy fairy god parents and an evil babysitter? Hm? I read The Canninng Season last year by Polly Horvath. She wins awards for her “children’s” books? I loved the book, thought it was hilarious, but jeez there is no way I’d let a kid read that.

  • DeEtta October 14th, 2011 10:43 AM

    Anybody remember the 80s movie “Watcher in the Woods”. I’m not sure who that movie was geared towards but I remember watching it when I was around 5 and being fuh-reaked out. And from then on I was scared of woods and blond teenage girls with blindfolds. :)

  • Demmy October 14th, 2011 10:56 AM

    I specifically love series of unfortunate event and I still read it. Olaf is so slimy. H and his girlfriend.

  • giricocola October 14th, 2011 11:53 AM

    grizzly tales for gruesome kids, anyone? seasons and seasons of little ten-minute horror stories. i used to watch them all the time and the narrator’s actually incredibly annoying but at the time they were really creepy for the 3pm timeslot.

    • Naomi October 15th, 2011 9:13 AM

      i am pretty sure i was too scared to be in the room when my brother watched those

  • Hedwig October 14th, 2011 1:48 PM


  • aliceee October 14th, 2011 2:19 PM

    Whenever I remember shows I watched as a kid, I always get a vague feeling of fear, even if they weren’t supposed to be scary… like Recess or Sesame Street. In The Night Kitchen, on the other hand, I totally loved but completely forgot about til now. It is disturbing but for some reason I liked it so much better than all those non-scary shows I was scared of. I don’t know what this says about me. I think I just liked the idea of being covered in cake.

    “And that’s why, thanks to Mickey, we have cake every morning.” Wait we have cake every morning?

  • Cosmo Beatrix October 14th, 2011 3:44 PM


    to think it was a kids show?!?!?!

  • Illusen October 14th, 2011 3:49 PM

    I used to watch “Courage the cowardly dog”, it creeped the fuck out of me. I remember staying up a few nigths because i was unable to get the characters creepy voices and smiles off of my head.
    As for Spireted away, i watched when i was kid and found it amazing but i was way to young to get the pedophilia reference…

  • Cosmo Beatrix October 14th, 2011 4:01 PM

    although i don’t really see Spirited Away as a metaphor for child prostitution…………….
    We watched it MATH CLASS

  • Besu October 14th, 2011 4:12 PM

    I love spirited away and all other studio ghibli films i also love coraline bbut like you its the illustrations that creep me out oooo.

  • Whatsername October 14th, 2011 5:08 PM

    & No Face really did give me nightmares.

    You MUST watch Coraline, it’s pretty much just as good as the book. I don’t say that very often, trust me.

  • rhymeswithorange October 14th, 2011 7:10 PM

    I think you’re about the same age as me Hazel cause I saw or read all of these when I was younger too! I loved all of them except for Courage the Cowardly Dog and Spirited Away, those really scared me haha. Everything else I awfully enjoyed its creepiness. Also I loved R.L. Stine and this really great book he edited of short stories called Beware! I think I checked that out of my school’s library about 5 times..

  • rhymeswithorange October 14th, 2011 7:12 PM

    I also recently reread the first Series of Unfortunate Events and was surprised at how dark it was; I loved that series so much!

  • Caterina October 14th, 2011 7:23 PM

    Great article! I didn’t see all these shows, as I’m Italian and I was a kid in the ’80s.
    When I was a child they used to show this Japanese cartoon, called “Bem”. At the time they just started broadcasting all these amazing Japanese anime on Italian TV and I guess that they weren’t really monitoring what they were showing the kids.
    Just watch this clip of the opening theme:

    The music and lyrics are scary as hell, too.
    I used to watch this stuff when I was 2 years old. I’ve only got vague memories of it, luckily.
    The three main characters were actually good. They looked like monsters because of some crazy experiment and they were fighting against all these monsters, psychopaths, mothers trying to kill their kids, ghosts etc.
    I still find it deeply disturbing.

  • Leslie October 14th, 2011 8:42 PM

    When I was little, it worried me that there were three Oliver Hardy clones trying to bake that little boy. In The Night Kitchen was always my favorite Sendak story.

  • Hazel October 15th, 2011 3:08 AM

    My sister and I used to watch Courage the Cowardly Dog AT NIGHT which was absolutely stupid, now that I think about it. And now I’m even too scared to play that video of King Ramses you posted…

    I LOVED Series of Unfortunate Events and just everything about Lemony Snicket’s writing. The Baudelaire children were my heroes :) Speaking of which, I really have to reread the series!

    Thanks for that link to the Spirited Away review. I’m kind of horrified by everything that critic implied (especially the connection with Hayao Miyazaki to Lewis Caroll) but I admit it’s interesting in a way…

  • Narita October 15th, 2011 3:16 AM

    In the Netherlands, there’s that fantasy show called “Ik Mik Loreland”, it’s showed to 1-2-3th graders to make them better in Dutch. There’s one character called Karbonkel, you should really google “Ik Mik Loreland Karbonkel”, that guy is way too scary for 6/7/8 year old kids.

  • zazza October 15th, 2011 5:52 AM


    But really,disney and barbie who manage to make everything much more happy and child-friendly:
    Barbie Swan Lake – in the original ballet Odette dies??
    Disney Cinderella – in the brothers grimm original the ugly stepsisters actually cut off bits of their foot to fit the shoe but when they try to go out the pidgeons sing
    “rook-di-doo rook-di-doo
    theres blood on the shoe,
    the shoe is too tight
    the bride is not right”
    Sleeping Beauty – sleeping beauty is actually raped by her father the king while asleep she then gives birth to twin boys while asleep then wakes up from her baby sucking off the enchantment. charming

  • koolkat October 15th, 2011 7:51 AM

    haha I always used to watch Cartoon Network even though I didn’t like the cartoons, and I’m glad I’m not the only one who got freaked out by Courage! I still vaguely remember the barber episode. NAUGHTY. Ugh so creepy!

    Also, when I was really little I read the first few books of this series called Avalon, and they seriously freaked me out! I never really got nightmares related to stuff I read before I went to sleep, but there was something about the scary monster-thing and the fact that all the animals were dying of poison…

  • flowerpunk October 15th, 2011 8:17 AM

    Oh God, Courage The owardly Dog gave me the creeps. It still does, actually

  • brynntheredonethat October 15th, 2011 11:53 AM

    DUDE. Where the Wild Things are is amazing. You should really see the movie! Even though I CAN understand how it’s ridiculously creepy. And I read Coraline when I was in about third grade, and I wasn’t scared at all, but my mom was freaked out by it. I saw the movie and I absolutely LOVED it. Seriously. You should most definitely watch it soon. It’s nothing like the book, but nothing is taken away, either. I could go on and on about this list, but I won’t because I like almost everything on here. (Except Courage. That show freaks me out to no end.)

    • ShockHorror October 15th, 2011 2:39 PM

      The soundtrack to Where teh Wild Things Are is so beautiful, not to even mention the look of the film!

      The bit where…. don’t want ot spoil it but I’m sure if I say ‘when a certain character a, uh, bit… angry’ you’ll know which bit scared me :L And where a certian other character HID!

    • linnea October 17th, 2011 6:09 AM

      Courage really is sick. And even though I guess some people would enjoy it, I don’t see how someone would put that on for a kids show.. :s

  • puny weakling October 15th, 2011 12:42 PM

    I used to love a Series of Unfortunate Events, and most of the other things on this list! Or at least, the ones that existed in the UK. Unfortunately I missed out on Courage the Cowardly Dog. It’s funny, but when you’re young you never really notice that these things are supposed to be scary.
    (or, looking at the comments, maybe that was just me)

  • ShockHorror October 15th, 2011 2:37 PM

    I love Coraline, ASOUE, and the Witches! (Well Roald Dahl in general….) and Spirited Away.

    the bit where the Witch pulled off her face creeped me out, but I was okay once it WAS out, but the bit that REALLY got me was when the first boy is turned into a mouse. The horrible weird inflatable mouse/boy prop deflating is just…. horrible.

    Neil Gaiman is a genius, have any of you guys read ‘the Graveyard Book’? Probably aimed even more at children (at least if it’s got the CHris Riddell cover) and SEEMS less scary but even so…. brrr…

    And of course ASOUE! Apparently he’s writing 4 more books that, while not directly about the Baudelaires, are to do with VFD, and may explain the Great Unknown :0

  • sarahuatito October 16th, 2011 2:59 AM

    when I was little what scared me the most was fantasia, It was all good up until the dinosaurs came out, and I never got through the devil scene at the end.
    Also, this movie didn’t scare me as much as induce me in a weird acid trip, as a little 4 year old, this was just too much!:
    (little nemo: adventures in slumberland)

  • Cosmo Beatrix October 16th, 2011 1:19 PM


  • kasmslo October 16th, 2011 2:22 PM

    there’s no mention of invader zim on here? c’mon!

  • insteadofanelephant October 16th, 2011 6:54 PM

    love courage the cowardly dog. what a great but obnoxious show

    instead of an elephant

  • natasha October 16th, 2011 7:06 PM

    I live in germany and my parents made sure to not have me find out what “Struwwelpeter” was. Google it if you’re curious, it’s awful and I am very thankful I didn’t have to deal with it as a kid!

  • lula October 16th, 2011 9:42 PM

    is it weird that i’m familiar with every single thing here?

  • linnea October 17th, 2011 5:35 AM

    I still to this day have nightmares about Courage the cowardly dog and I’m 22!!

    That show is seriously disturbing and I remember watching the show on late nights before going to bed and ended up so scared that I had to stay up almost all night watching other shows/movies on TV to try and forget about how scared and creeped out I was.

    BUT while I’m at it I must ADD – has anyone seen Salad Fingers???! That show is THE. MOST. RETARDED. THING. EVER!!!!

    I’m not even sure it’s meant for kids but I used to watch it with my friend when I was younger and we were really creeped out and scared but still intrigued in some freakish way.. – this is one of the most horrifying episodes, especially when he cuts his finger on purpose. arrgggh xO

  • girlhero October 17th, 2011 9:33 AM

    dude, me and my brother shit bricks over king ramses…

    also, speaking of cartoon network, the zombie magician episode of powerpuff girls. :[

  • Katherine October 18th, 2011 7:49 PM

    After seeing that witch photograph, I just know that I’ll be up all night with a baseball bat by my bed.

  • Caligirl October 18th, 2011 11:36 PM

    Material for children has often been scary from fairy tales on. One of my favorite quotes is from Jk Rowling who was criticized by Stephen King of all people for being too scary for children. She replied, “It’s a tough literary world out there. Someone has to toughen them up for your books.”

    I love Miyasake and most especially Spirited Away. The child prostitution theory surprised me, so I looked into it. This disagrees:

  • brooklyntakemein October 19th, 2011 10:07 PM

    i absolutely LOVED (and still love) series of unfortunate events… as a child, my best friend and i would play countless games revolving around it. we also enjoyed making baudelaire-themed magazines. good times. i was SO mad the whole vfd thing never got fully explained!

  • cherryblossomgirl October 23rd, 2011 12:17 PM

    This was definitely the stuff of my childhood! Courage, Unfortunate Events, and Coraline ( I still won’t see the film…the bright colors just bother me. And I hate 3D).

    I grew up to be a fairly morbid young lady. I’m a little sad that children’s shows and books these days are more whitewashed.

  • Kathleen Zarnott May 13th, 2013 6:30 PM

    I loved Courage the Cowardly Dog! I don’t remember being scared while watching it, just fairly confused sometimes seeing as I was about four years old when I would watch it. Now, you wouldn’t pay me to watch one of those damn things. SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS!?!?!?! i hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate those books and I still don’t like to even think about them. I got to the third book I think and then I was just done. Personally, I don’t find any of the other things to be scary whatsoever.

  • ayam June 3rd, 2013 4:18 PM

    Courage the Cowardly Dog was awful- especially that one with the psychotic barber…and after watching Spirited Away at 13 No Face still haunts me D:
    One of the creepiest books I ever read as a kid was called ‘The Finger Eater’ and was about a troll who um, liked to bite off children’s fingers and eat them. Check it out: