by Melissa Uhrin
Side note: As I have already written of my terror and hate of E.T., I have left it out of this piece. However, know that it is a silent contender for most horrifying of all.
When I was a kid, and I mean a wee lil thing, my favourite book was Ottie and the Star. To quickly sum it up, Ottie the Otter wants to catch a star so he can make a wish, and mistakenly swims down in search of a starfish of which he had caught a glimpse. Cute, right? That is until he runs across a shark. Not a drawn-for-a-children's-book shark, a giant toothy I'll-eat-your-face-off-if-you-get-too-close-to-this-book shark. Yep. And my two and three year old self asked my mom repeatedly to re-read me this story night after night. So it makes sense (to me!) that some of my favourite children's movies featured wonderfully horrific scenes.
When I think back to my first selection, immediately a fiery bull, creepy talking skeleton and terrifying caged monsters come to mind. It had been about two and a half decades since my last viewing and my memory still had it categorized in the (unintentionally?) scary children's movies section of my brain. Directed by Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr. and based on the novel of the same name by Peter S. Beagle, the story, in short, is of a unicorn (voiced by Mia Farrow) who believes she is the last of her species and goes in search of her kind. Along the way she comes across Schmendrick the Magician (Alan Arkin), who turns her into a human to aid her escape from the fiery bull. The two “humans” eventually come across an evil king (Christopher Lee), who has captured and sent the entire unicorn race to spend eternity in the ocean.
Little Monsters (1989)
The Witches (1990)
The Witches, on the other hand, while being a favourite book and movie of mine as a kid, has only grown better in my opinion and is quite easily one of my all-time favourite movies as an adult. Based on the book The Witches by one of the best children's authors to ever pen a tale, Roald Dahl (The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), I was first introduced to this story when it was read to us by our second grade teacher Monsieur LaFleche (yes yes, I was a good ole French Immersion child). With it having such a huge part in my childhood, I am amazed that so many people in my life are unaware of its existence. Directed by Nicolas Roeg and featuring Jim Henson's creativity in his last project before his passing, they managed to bring to life the vivid characters and spirit of Dahl's imagination in a way that few others have ever been able to accomplish. My only criticism is that they strayed from Dahl's original ending to create a “happy ending” for film audiences, which he is on record as having despised.
The darkness and scary elements are what drew me back to these movies time and again. In comparison to what is made available to children these days, any hint of darkness or sense of evil appears to be filtered and sanitized until they are left shielded from even a glimpse of a nightmare. The original tale of Cinderella, for example, tells the tale of the stepmother who cut off with a knife the toes of her daughter and the heel of her other daughter in order to fit their feet to the shoe. But the blood flowed over the sides so we knew it didn't fit, that it was made to fit. Today, we get the grumpy girl who tries to squeeze her foot in and the shoes comically pops off. The stories are merely shadows of their originals and as more and more things are sanitized and filtered to protect the young minds of tomorrow, the horrors of the “real world” become that much more incomprehensible. These movies gave us, (what I feel) a healthy understanding of fear.