Yesterday, I was thinking about the things from my childhood that still scare me a little as an adult, especially the things I saw in movies. I grew curious as to whether this was just a me thing or a people-in-general thing, so I asked people on Twitter a simple question:
Which horror movie scared you the most as a kid?
— Alisha Grauso (@AlishaGrauso) April 27, 2020
I expected to get just a few responses. Boy, was I wrong: As I type this, 450 people have responded to it directly with at least another 50 people responding with quote retweets and the answers continuing to pour in. Apparently, we’re all still deeply scarred by the horror movies (and surprisingly not-so-horror movies) that we watched in our formative years – and, for many of us, when we were way too young.
One thing that did surprise me, though, was how few movies from within the last decade or two popped up in the comments. Maybe it says more about the age range of people who follow me than anything else, but the overwhelming majority of responses named movies from the 70s and 80s. Hey, the classics are classics for a reason, I guess.
According to my extremely scientific method of scanning the responses and doing a quick count, one movie stood above all the rest as having scared more pants off more of us as kids than any other. A few other films came close, but this one topped them all:
The Exorcist (1973)
Oh, wow, did The Exorcist scar people. Here’s but a sampling of all the responses I got citing William Friedkin’s film as the movie that messed them up most in childhood:
The Exorcist. Saw it when I was 6.
— Aaron Pruner (@AaronFlux) April 28, 2020
Yep, put me down with another vote for The Exorcist. I was 11 or 12 and my cousin made me watch it. I had a hard time sleeping for 3 or 4 days after, I was terrified of every noise.
— Tim Tervo (@infernaltim) April 28, 2020
The Exorcist, which I saw when I was still a young child.
— Mark Hughes (@markhughesfilms) April 27, 2020
I was way too young to watch it. I don’t remember the age but it might have been single digits. I went to church and Sunday school every week and the thought of being possessed was too much for my little brain.
— Casey Johnston (@DarthHockey) April 27, 2020
The Exorcist. I saw it as a little kid and I really shouldn't have. Oddly though I think it started my love for horror movies. I must have liked the abuse.
— Eric Daugherty (@astroeric12) April 27, 2020
THE EXORCIST, no doubt. I was (a) way too young, and (b) raised as a Roman Catholic (so I believed that sh*t). JAWS is a strong second.
— Mel Valentin (@FyodorFish) April 27, 2020
Are you noticing a theme here? Apparently, our parents in the 70s and 80s were just letting us run around watching whatever we wanted. Demonic possession and rotating heads are probably best left until at least the pre-teen years. I mean…
Oh! The Exorcist. I’m aging myself, but for a time, I considered being a priest, failing to realize they’re the first to go!😄
— Rags Morales (@RagsMorales) April 27, 2020
The Exorcist… By far..
— Muhammad Esmail (@gambit_me) April 27, 2020
Seriously. So, so many people were petrified by The Exorcist.
Still does. pic.twitter.com/8RuUkGbsQR
— JerseyStyle Photography (@MarkKrajnak) April 28, 2020
Not gonna lie, still not comfortable with it especially with it being based on true events
— Katie Reed (@Katneutrality) April 28, 2020
THE EXORCIST. My parents were watching it in the living room, while I snuck a peek from the upstairs balcony. During the vomit scene I blew my cover and started screaming. https://t.co/d02f1cYvx2
— PhantoMantis (@PhantoMantis) April 28, 2020
Believe me, there were at least 20 more one- and two-word answers of “Exorcist” and “The Exorcist” that I’m not going to share. Just know that Linda Blair singlehandedly did more to mess up an entire generation of kids than potentially any other actor in a horror movie ever.
Mind you, my “scientific method” didn’t extend beyond, “Huh, looks like Exorcist is winning.” Still, if The Exorcist was #1 with a bullet, then another movie was close behind in second place:
Some write off Poltergeist as being sort of an Exorcist-lite movie, but I assure you, it’s its own terrifying thing. Like the spider-walk from Exorcist has stuck in people’s minds forever, the clown scene from Poltergeist did the same. Seriously, that damn clown doll:
Poltergeist. That scene with the evil 🤡 attacking the son freaked me out.
— David Rodemerk 🍿 (@davidrodemerk) April 28, 2020
Agreed. I saw Poltergeist in the cinema. I was 12. I'd seen LOTS of horror movies and none had ever really bothered me. Then that damn clown doll came into my life!
I'm still a bit wigged out by clown dolls.
— Paul (@ZZoMBiE13) April 28, 2020
POLTERGEIST. Pretty much everything in that film scarred me for life: the clown doll, corpses popping out of the pool, tree eating the kid, guy peeling his face off, closet turning into giant anus to Hell, etc.
— EAT UP MARTHA (@arachnophiliac) April 27, 2020
But it seriously freaked people out in general, clown or no.
POLTERGEIST, though that was the first one I saw so kind of an asterisk.
Once I had a few under my belt, the TV movie DON'T GO TO SLEEP left the longest lasting scars.https://t.co/HExnHNoMHx
— Brian Collins (@BrianWCollins) April 28, 2020
Poltergeist freaked me out especially the scene when the head popped out of the closet.
— I'm Just Sayin' (@YvisC) April 27, 2020
Poltergeist. I was never ever the same
— Arianna Jeret (@AriannaJeret) April 27, 2020
As an adult tho it's almost comically bad lol
However I dont like the real curse apparently surrounding the movies 😨
— 🎮🏳️🌈Marty #RemakeShiningForce3YouCowards (@PhantasyStarBoy) April 28, 2020
It really freaked me out.
— Martin Allan (@RetroBrothers) April 28, 2020
Poltergeist. I accidentally walked past the den where my parents were watching when the ghosts flew out of the TV. I was terrified to leave a TV on static for YEARS.
— A Matt Golden? In THIS Pandemic? (@emgolden) April 28, 2020
— JazzyJahn @Outpost 31 (@thatjazzyjahn) April 28, 2020
And I’d wager that if there’s a movie that came in third on the list, it was one that had nothing to do with possessed kids or haunted dolls, no demons or spirits, but one real-life animal. Granted, it was a real-life animal that convinced us we should never go into the water again:
There was something so perfect about Stephen Spielberg’s simple-but-effective adaptation of Peter Benchley’s novel about a great white shark that terrorized a town. Before Jaws, people barely thought about sharks. After that, the great white shark became a symbol of the terrors that lurk in the depths. To this day, we view them with wary respect. And the “dun dun…dun dun…” of the ominous theme music still gets us every time.
Jaws. Saw it when I was four and it had the same impact on me as it did movie goers of its era. My ass was not getting in any water. https://t.co/caQSy7LPZD
— Ryan Larson (@ryanlarson) April 28, 2020
Jaws, 1976. I was 9.
— Jared 🧻 Earle (@jearle) April 27, 2020
Jaws – I didn't even want to get in the bath. pic.twitter.com/e4WXVRZI7l
— David Evans (@dhevans77) April 28, 2020
There were a few other votes for the iron-jawed shark. But one other real-life creature terrified plenty of us when we were kids – a human, to be Granted, it’s not that the man himself is what scares you. Rather, it’s the terrifying stories that come from him.
Stephen King Movies
He’s the King of Horror for a reason and his villains have absolutely f’ed us up for decades.
The Shinning. My 8yr old ass had no business watching that film. I’m still scared of The Blair Witch Project and hate found footage stuff as a result. https://t.co/1qoTjDvKUZ
— Death Petal (@PinkBerryShake) April 28, 2020
Commercials for “The Shining” gave me nightmares.
— wojr (@AntiWojr) April 28, 2020
The “They’re Creeping Up On You” segment of Creepshow. I don’t know if that’s where my fear of roaches began, but it def didn’t help matters. https://t.co/U2DuzBiqoz
— Bobby Baby Robert Darling (@DryBertini) April 28, 2020
I walked in on my parents watching THE SHINING when I was 6 and I didn't sleep for a week https://t.co/2xdS9xKDsK
— Danielle Ryan 🖼🔥 (@danirat) April 28, 2020
Young kid- Salem’s lot- teenager – the exorcist
— Alistair Elliott (@alistairlejog) April 28, 2020
Saw this when I was 10 and couldn’t sleep for like 3 nights. pic.twitter.com/VN7SSVKWBG
— Matt Elliott (@vigilante0514) April 28, 2020
Gage Creed for sure got under our skin…
Pet Semetary! That scene of the kid walking down the hallway laughing haunted me. https://t.co/yVgtzPHmbZ
— Spencer (@Haddonfiend) April 28, 2020
Pet Semetary hands down. Ironically the part that scared me/stayed with me the most was when Gage is killed by the truck and Louis just lets out that soul shattering scream. https://t.co/vcatXRcBmc
— CorryeNOTAtTheMoviesUntilThisCOVID-19BullshitEnds (@VanCorrye) April 28, 2020
Pet Sematary was the one I chickened out of in the theater. I could not go into the video store for 6 months because they had a The Fly poster up that showed Goldblum's step by step transformation. But nothing was ever scarier than Large Marge.
— Fred Topel #noPROact #fightforfreelancers #fixAB5 (@FredTopel) April 27, 2020
And so did Tim Curry as Pennywise:
Stephen King's it just the cover alone scared me pic.twitter.com/vk6LxtXkAA
— Autism Gamer (@AutismGamer) April 28, 2020
IT. And IT still scares me. Also Omen and The Exorcist, but I find them kinda funny now. https://t.co/uHlqdD69f1
— 𝙲𝚒𝚗𝚎𝚖𝚊𝚌𝚔𝚎𝚍 (@Cinemacked) April 28, 2020
The IT tv movie, Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street also not a movie but I was terrified of the X-Files theme https://t.co/T6qfhbxriv
— christopher who is having an existential crisis 👽 (@xstntl_chris_is) April 28, 2020
Man, the 80s and early 90s, not a good time for clowns, right?
Carry. After that bloody hand came out of the ground, forget it!😱 I was afraid to reach out toward anything for days. https://t.co/SZIq5oLJv9
— Erin (@Silent_Squee) April 28, 2020
And there were quite a few other votes for Cujo, Salem’s Lot, and other assorted Stephen King movies.
Aliens. Just Aliens.
Aliens also freaked us out, no matter what kind they were. Everything from Whitley Strieber adaptations to the Alien Queen destroyed us as kids.
Scared the ***** out of me.
The cover of the second book wasnt better either 🤣 pic.twitter.com/DWvSG4a0gQ
— Solyant (@Solyant1) April 28, 2020
The exorcist and Fire in the sky pic.twitter.com/FodfZK1V42
— 🍹SpaceRiverNews2 🍀2020🍀 (@News2River) April 28, 2020
Invaders from Mars (1986)
The creatures from that movie disturbed me as a kid https://t.co/rcEouLBVL2
— Nick aka Sharpie Stabsworth (@nscottg) April 28, 2020
Predator. Seeing the men's skinned bodies was a bit much for 9-year-old me. https://t.co/sMKdPemXgx
— Tara Bennett (@tarahime) April 28, 2020
The Predator . I watched it when I was like 5 years old . I waited for my mum to go to bed . Quietly when down stairs and watched it .
— Mark (@Markind_0) April 28, 2020
That movie gave me nightmares for months.
Now, of course, I love it, but back then it made me wish I was still wearing diapers at age seven. Would have saved some pants. pic.twitter.com/dKxNnimoMn
— Mikel Thomas (@MrMikelThomas) April 28, 2020
Aliens. My Dad recorded it once but never labelled the tape, so any time I went through the blanks to record something I’d come across Ripley’s nightmare scene. Honestly thought for years it was an episode of ER as I had no idea wtf I was seeing.
— Nick Staniforth (@nickstaniforth) April 27, 2020
Even aliens that weren’t supposed to be scary scared us:
Horror movies never gave me nightmares as a kid. You know what did?
They zipped him into a body bag while he was still alive! Do you have any idea how much that fucked me up as a kid?! https://t.co/jdXyTOS0i7
— Courtney B (@StorybookColors) April 28, 2020
ET. Not horror, but that lil alien scared the hell outta me
— AnonApoc. (@vanzway09) April 28, 2020
Mars Attacks which I DID NOT KNOW was a COMEDY until 2 years ago 😳 pic.twitter.com/4CTnl9v2Wn
— Chloe Condon 🎀 (@ChloeCondon) April 27, 2020
And oh, man, do we hate dolls. We hates ’em, Precious. But can you blame us? Look at all the movies that we had to terrify us while growing up!
Dolls Can Go To Hell
Seriously, all of them. There’s a psychological reason we hate creepy dolls. Though, if you ask me, almost all dolls are creepy. And no doll scared us more than Chucky.
Child’s Play 1-3 I fucking hate dolls to this day!
— Cameron Vasquez (@CamCamVas) April 28, 2020
Child’s Play was the main one. I had a My Buddy when the movie came out. After watching it I was afraid of it so I threw it away one morning. Got home from school and he was back on my bed because my mom found him in the trash. Even more terrified.
— Justin V (@JusticeVancho) April 28, 2020
Accidentally saw Bride Of Chucky at age 9 as my dad was asleep and I was stuck under his legs. Front Row ticked over from Armageddon to Bride Of Chucky, and I cant really be in a room with a doll since. The mirror scene ruined my adolescence. https://t.co/f8kC3PJV0z
— Nathan – New Horizons (@nathandelune) April 28, 2020
Child's play. I dont even remember watching it. But I remember the fear. https://t.co/oIbTODcxhr
— Veronica Proznik (@Vernicq) April 28, 2020
Grew up absolutely terrified of Chucky after the one-two punch of seeing this standee for SEED OF CHUCKY at my local theater and then laying eyes on a GOOD GUY doll at a nearby toy store 🥵 https://t.co/OUQ34QaZHy pic.twitter.com/v007jN6Umn
— RYΛN ROSENBLUM [writer//director] (@ryan_rosenblum) April 28, 2020
This lil muthafucka had me & my brothers jumping into the bed from the doorway after watching this. pic.twitter.com/hL4N7EZQfg
— DLBIININJA/ I was going to ECCC2020 when Corona! (@DavidlBennettII) April 27, 2020
Freddy Krueger getting to us in our dreams scared the crap out of us
Nightmare On Elm Street Movies
Nightmare on elm Street.
Because of the way dreams are, because of the way my childhood was, sleeping was always my luxury that I didn't regularly have.
But then Freddy Krueger became a reason for me not to sleep. As a kid, it was the most terrifying thing that I could imagine
— Film Fervor (@Film_Fervor) April 28, 2020
A Nightmare on Elm St.
It scared me so much that I had to buy a Freddy Christmas Ornament to hang from my ceiling fan. I slept with it facing me every night to force myself to stop being scared. Face your fears, kids. https://t.co/w5uz30SdpC
— Captain Spaulding (@deviantsyndrome) April 28, 2020
Pretty much all of them…But the original Nightmare on Elm Street I think was the one that stuck with me the longest. When I was a kid I would have nightmares about Freddy and he was always blue for some reason.
— Radical Reviews (@NickelwoodRay) April 28, 2020
Nightmare in Elm Street. Gave my sister nightmares for a week and my mum bollocked me for watching it with her. We only watched it up to the scene in the school where she falls asleep at her desk!
— Showboat78 (@Showboat78PSN) April 28, 2020
Simply the image of Freddy Kreuger. I didn't watch A Nightmare on Elm Street until college. Even then, it was required viewing for a film class and I was quite nervous about watching it.
— Ryan Krumm (@krummbum) April 27, 2020
Undead of another kind had a respectable showing in the comments, with zombies popping up thanks to George Romero.
Night Of The Living Dead (1968)
I was a weird kid horror movies perse didn't scare me
But one did and really wasn't for the zombies it was the end and it was it's intended purpose
Night of the living dead
When the last survivor who was black stood up and was shoot and killed by the cavalry https://t.co/o7xxoKnXSY
— 🇵🇷☯️☮🏴☠️Moomoof♒ (@moomoof) April 28, 2020
Return of the Living Dead
It’s so stupid & cheesy but I still can’t watch it. https://t.co/H0R3ZFh9eP
— Baxsea Muster (@BaxseaMuster) April 28, 2020
Night of the Living Dead. It doesn’t now but ‘They’re coming to get you, Barbara’ was freaking haunting. pic.twitter.com/p2lXRQaqiG
— QuiGonTimm (@quigontimm) April 28, 2020
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a special shout-out to two underrated, culty movies that got a bit of love in the comments.
The Gate (1987)
I admit it, I’ve never seen this movie before. Now I’ll have to. But…maybe after quarantine is lifted and I can be around people again.
The Bad Seed (1956)
The Bad Seed got a few people good as kids, including B-horror movie legend, Lloyd Kaufman.
— Lloyd Kaufman (@lloydkaufman) April 28, 2020
Plenty of people were also traumatized not by monsters but by the House of Mouse, particularly some of their animated classics.
The Rescuers Down Under
— GuyFawkesRetro (@GuyFawkesRetro) April 28, 2020
I remember them turning into donkeys; I swear it’s the reason I don’t drink today! 😱 Scared the hell out of me!
— Mel ☀️🌺🌲🏒📚✨ (@NaryaFire) April 28, 2020
And, last but not least, FINALLY: One person who shared my childhood fear!
Gremlins. I saw it at a very young age and I loved it, but the gremlins scared the shit out of me. I was convinced they were under my bed. https://t.co/piGJshFnBe
— Alyssa Miller 👽 (@Theoddprophet) April 28, 2020
At the time, one of our appliances wasn’t working so I was convinced – convinced – that gremlins were responsible.
What scared you most as a kid?