Deep in the recesses of everyone’s minds is something unsettling. It’s something creepy or gross or maybe so truly ghastly that it still haunts you to this day. The interesting thing is that sometimes these creepy-crawly memories come from what are supposed to be innocent, family-friendly movies.

Here is a list of 10 children’s movies with villains and scary elements that will give you nightmares.

1. Hexxus from FernGully: The Last Rainforest


[photo: 20th Cent Fox]

The theme of this film — man’s tenuous relationship with nature and the ultimate moral decision to help nurture and sustain our environment — has been conveyed countless times on screen (see: Pocahontas, Wall-E, Avatar, etc.), but 20th Century Fox went a slightly different route to get the point across. Nothing will make you want to reduce, reuse, and recycle more than FernGully’s frightening antagonist, Hexxus. Released from a tree cut down by — you guessed it — man, Hexxus, an anthropomorphic blob of black oil voiced by Tim Curry appears on the scene. As if that description wasn’t a big enough turn-off, he grows from a single drop to a massive being complete with a glowing red skeletal structure, all the while singing about destroying Earth.

2. The Sphinxes from The NeverEnding Story

neverending story

[photo: Warner Bros.]

While one could argue there are a lot more terrifying things about this movie than The Sphinxes — Gmork, the massive wolf with fangs far too large for his mouth; The Nothing, a giant storm-like force devouring Fantasia; or The Swamps of Sadness that swallow the dutiful horse, Artax, spring to mind. I would argue that those pale in comparison. I’ve had a recurring dream since childhood that I have to, just as Atreyu did, run past the twin statues as their eyes slowly open. I can feel the white-hot beam miss me by maybe an inch as I dive past the scorched skeletons of the would-be heroes who have come before. It’s probably a huge metaphor for my fear of failure in adulthood, but whatever, I’ll take it at face value and say that those statues are pure evil.

3. Skeksis from The Dark Crystal

dark crystal

[photo: Universal Pictures]

Who doesn’t love Jim Henson? Kermit the Frog? Miss Piggy? Lighthearted fun and positive messages conveyed through cute singing, dancing puppets? Absolutely! Ah, but then there is The Dark Crystal. This must have been the period when Jim Henson was reading a lot of H.P. Lovecraft and rounding out all of his writing sessions with a nice tumbler of absinthe. What else could explain a film plot like a typhoid fever dream filled with villains like the Skeksis. The recipe for these puppets seems to be one part Thanksgiving turkey, one part Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre, stir well, and serve.

4. The Helping Hands from Labyrinth


[photo: TriStar Pictures]

This is another film that walks the extremely fine line between an amazing, colorful, creative world of imagination and nightmarish hellscape that damages you for life. David Bowie’s bulging codpiece and glittery eye shadow alone walk that line. What I found most disturbing about this film though was the scene in which Jennifer Connelly confidently marches through a door only to fall down a well that has walls lined with gray talking hands that grab at her limbs and hair. Though they’re supposedly “helping hands” I think we all know that they knew what they were doing when they dropped her.

5. The Nightmare King from Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland

little nemo

[photo: Hemdale Home Video]

When poor little Nemo’s curiosity gets the best of him and he uses the key he has been given to open a forbidden chamber, out comes the Nightmare King who kidnaps the benevolent king of Slumberland in an attempt to rule the land himself. Much like Hexxus, an initially innocuous pile of black tar, grows, taking the shape of a truly terrifying villain. Is there anything scarier than when the demon-like king shrieks his displeasure at Nemo and his friends? No, I don’t think so.

6. The Horned King from The Black Cauldron

black cauldron

[photo: Disney]

Ah yes, yet another member of the monarchy that will haunt your dreams forever. The Horned King combines all the traditional elements of a chilling creature—sharp teeth, red eyes, skeletal face, horns, long claws—and when you add in his Cauldron-Born army of undead soldiers, you’re well on your way to serious psychological damage. The film leaves me wondering something though. Why are children always dealing with these baddies all by themselves? Get SWAT in there. Call FEMA. Surely there is someone around better equipped to handle the fate of the entire world than a young pig-keeper named Taran.

7. Gremlins from Gremlins


[photo: Warner Bros.]

As the age-old saying goes, “Transform a Mogwai, and a child’s soul dies.” Seriously, how scarred were you when these benign, albeit high maintenance, little creatures that looked something like Yoda crossed with a Shih-Tzu turned into snarling, warty demons with switchblade teeth? The owner of that antique store was right. The Western World just wasn’t ready for these little monsters.

8. The Rhino from James and the Giant Peach

james peach

[photo: Disney]

Roald Dahl’s books are favorites of children and adults alike because they are fanciful and fun, but also tinged with a bit of darkness. Children are basically dying left and right in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, just in laughable ways. A little boy is transformed into a mouse by children-hating witches in the aptly titled, The Witches. James and the Giant Peach is no exception to the rule. James is followed by a sinister rhino for nearly the entire film. It watches him from the clouds with glowing yellow eyes, constantly threatening to kill him and his lovable band of misfit insects the way it had murdered his parents. Not to mention that it grows stronger the more he fears it. Why does Roald Dahl do things like this? Who knows. Maybe it is because his parents named him Roald Dahl.

9. Professor Screweyes from We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story


[photo: Universal Pictures]

Professor Screweyes is the milky-eyed, malevolent ringleader of the Eccentric Circus. He rolls into town and attempts to enslave happy, hyper-intelligent, talking dinosaurs that have been brought to the future and transform them back into their original feral state all in order to scare his paying audience. He is of course at odds with his kind, thoughtful brother, Captain Neweyes. If Ringling Brothers offers the greatest show on earth, surely Professor Screweyes would be offering the most appalling. Brain Drain pills for the taking? Check. Children turned into chimpanzees? Check. Ferocious beasts chained up to frighten people? Check. That’s right folks, step right up and see your childhood innocence prison-shanked before your very eyes!

10. Mr. Moundshroud (aka Death) from The Halloween Tree


[photo: Cartoon Network]

I don’t know which is scarier: the magical, vulture-like old man, Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud, who is essentially collecting children’s souls like postage stamps, or that this little Hanna-Barbera daytime movie deals with the very real situation of a young friend dying. Honestly, it’s probably a toss-up. Though it is full of valuable lessons on heritage, celebrations of other cultures, and the true meaning of friendship, this short animated film was really messed up when you stop to think about it. So probably just don’t.


11. The Hobo from The Polar Express

polar express

[photo: Warner Bros.]

I’m calling it. I feel like the generation of children that saw this supposedly feel-good Christmas film at a young age will be in therapy down the road. Not only does the film act as a superb demonstration of the Uncanny Valley dilemma (human-but-not-human-enough CGI to the point where it is distracting), but it introduced us to Tom Hanks as the demented hobo who lives atop the Polar Express. I’m still not fully sure what this character is intended to represent. The spirit of Christmas? The young boy’s doubts and fears personified? There is a lot going on in this film and I don’t think old boxcar Joe and his maniacal laughter is necessarily needed.

What films did you find terrifying as a child? Are there any movies you can’t think about without shuddering? Still dreaming of The Sphinxes like I am? Let us know in the comments below.