This list will steer towards the personal, in that almost all of the films on this list made a significantly creepy impact on me when I watched them as a child. For this reason, films like The Dark Crystal, Watership Down, The Neverending Story, Labyrinth and others will not be on here; I saw them all later in life. Only one film here is from the past ten years; the rest are films from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. Other films like The Wizard of Oz and The Nightmare Before Christmas are omitted because while they have scary villains, they do not get to me the way these others do.
I was a very odd child and it goes without saying that I am a very odd adult. Very random and seemingly harmless things can scare me. Example: as a three year-old I had a poster of Sesame Street Live on my wall. The image of Cookie Monster on it quite literally gave me nightmares. Another example; a viewing of Citizen Kane when I was twelve sent me into a crippling two-year fear of Orson Welles. Laugh now (I sure do), but I honestly could not enter Blockbuster, it effected my school work, I cautiously turned the pages in books and magazines during that time and went to the school guidance counselor every week for it. Faces terrify me more than perhaps anything else. Willem Dafoe as a theoretically older Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ. Kathleen Byron in Black Narcissus. Fiona Shaw in The Black Dahlia (awful film; great performance). Gloria Swanson in the end of Sunset Boulevard. Conrad Veidt in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Felissa Rose at the end of Sleepaway Camp . Donald Sutherland and Adelina Poerio at the end of Don’t Look Now. All of these examples are evidence that, oftentimes for me, the scariest thing I can see is a face.
As I brainstormed for this list I discovered something quite surprising. There were films that sprang to mind that were not applicable. Why? Because it was the films themselves that scared me, not the villain in them. There are many children’s films that have a very unsettling feeling about them; it is almost impossible to put into words. There are several films on this list that fit this category. Examples of films not on the list that apply are The Brave Little Toaster, The Secret of NIMH and James and the Giant Peach are examples.
Now that you have a brief idea of where I’m coming from, here is my list. Again, this is based entirely on what I watched as a child and my experiences with them. I would LOVE to hear your own picks so be sure to comment!
Here is the only villain on the list from a film made in the 2000’s. This would have been guaranteed a higher spot, had it not been for the absence of specific traumatic childhood memories. As it is, director Henry Selick has always known how to be creepily effective when he needs to be. This is no different; he really delivers the goods here and the strong source material gave him plenty to work with.
9. The Spirit – Jackie Burroughs (voice) – The Care Bears Movie (1985)
Laugh if you will. It has been…about fifteen years since I last watched The Care Bears Movie. It is hard to remember back and pinpoint what specifically was so frightening about this. Doing research, I noticed that many others cite this as a film and character they were scared by. It should go without saying that The Care Bears Movie is not going to actively scare any children, even very small ones; apparently not.
Ferngully as a whole unsettles me (not in a way that takes away from the film); again, it is hard to pinpoint why. Maybe because it has Robin Williams voicing a fruit bat. Surely much of it is because of Hexxus who is given an effectively eerie voice by Curry. The way Hexxus slinks, slithers and seeps into and out of objects is what makes him frightening. Also, he turns into an oil demon that breathes fire. Enough said.
7. Doc Hopper – Charles Durning – The Muppet Movie (1979)
Doc Hopper’s obsession with Kermit the Frog and his legs is just a little creepy. The man kidnaps Kermit and attempts to BRAINWASH him. Durning plays him as this fantastical and outlandish Colonel Sanders archetype, and its his purposely caricatured performance that resonated for me as a child watching the film.
This is another example is a film that sufficiently unsettles in its entirety. After recently seeing it again, it holds up as being even creepier than I remember. Mombi could have easily gone into this spot too, but characters that have a specific mobility trait tend to stick with me more. This goes for Hexxus and The Wheelers. They come in packs and they move, well, it’s all in the name.
5. The Coachman – Charles Judels (voice) – Pinocchio (1940)
…..yeah. The picture says it all. The Coachman’s inclusion is meant to also represent the entire Pleasure Island sequence. The outright sadism of this character is a bit jarring to see as a child because his satisfaction is easy to comprehend and process. This is the scariest thing Disney has ever done.
4. Miss Trunchbull – Pam Ferris – Matilda (1996)
Pam Ferris annihilates with her performance in Matilda. It is completely over the top, but it never feels like its too much because of the world director Danny DeVito and author Roald Dahl have separately created. All adaptations of Roald Dahl films creep me out on some level, with the exception of Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. DeVito loves the fish-eye lens and extreme close-ups; he tries very hard to give the film the same feel that Quentin Blake’s illustrations have. The way Trunchbull is shot, in addition to the feeling of the entire film and finally because of Ferris herself, this gets a high spot on the list. Can we just take a second and reflect on the mere concept of The Chokey? Or the scene when she makes Bruce Bogtrotter eat an entire chocolate cake? Or the sequence when she discovers Matilda is hiding somewhere in her house and ruthlessly hunts for her?
3. The Grand Duke of Owls – Christopher Plummer (voice) – Rock-a-Doodle (1992)
Remember when I mentioned some of these films creep me out entirely? Nowhere is that more relevant than it is here. Honestly? I don’t even know if I could watch this again; that is how hesitant I am. Every single frame of this film disturbs me. And it sucks to boot. It’s an outright shitty film and for whatever reason, it unnerves me more than any other animated film in existence. This includes the “Grand Duke of Owls”.
2. Judge Doom – Christopher Lloyd – Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)
I feel like this is an inclusion everyone can agree on. Something like the “Grand Duke of Owls” is more specified toward my own odd relationships with certain films. Others like Judge Doom, are simply universal. He is terrifying at the outset. Who among us can recall the suspense during the “Shave and a Haircut” scene? His very controlled and unpredictable demeanor. Those gloves. Those sunglasses. His desire to WIPE OUT AN ENTIRE RACE. Then we reach the climax, which takes everything several steps further than expected.He gets run over by a STEAMROLLER. The sound effects by Lloyd as we SEE THIS HAPPEN are completely fucking disturbing. Then, in the scariest resurrection since Michael Myers in Carpenter’s Halloween, the villain, now a flat and wobbly toon rises and re-inflates himself as his EYEBALLS POP OUT. His voice transforms into a helium-possessed freakshow as he simultaneously reveals he killed Eddie’s (Bob Hoskins) brother. It’s a two-for-one plot twist; it remains shiver-inducing. His eyeballs become animated knives. He bounces across the warehouse. It’s fucking brutal.
1. Grand High Witch – Anjelica Huston – The Witches (1990)
Unlike Rock-a-Doodle, which I won’t rewatch because I know it’s crap and it will not be worth the likely trauma, The Witches is a film I am fairly certain I would like if I rewatched it again, but am cowering in fear at the very notion of it. This is the most disturbing live-action children’s film bar none. It is very telling how much of this film I remember even though it was not a childhood favorite of mine. For all I know, I have only seen it once. I just know the impact it had on me. Not coincidentally, this is another Roald Dahl adaptation. The Grand High Witch is just plain disgusting, but so is everything about this. The work Jim Henson and his company did on this film is nothing short of stellar. This is the kind of work that is not done today if it does not have to be. There’s not much to say about this villain, as I cannot recall her specifics; just the reveal that this is what she actually looks like. That I remember. To top it all off, Nicolas Roeg directed this! This accounts for a lot of the film’s tone and has convinced me to revisit it soon. As soon as I work up the nerve.