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:

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:

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…

Seriously. So, so many people were petrified by The Exorcist.

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:

Poltergeist (1982)

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:

But it seriously freaked people out in general, clown or no.

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:

Jaws (1975)

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.

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.


Gage Creed for sure got under our skin…

And so did Tim Curry as Pennywise:

Man, the 80s and early 90s, not a good time for clowns, right?

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.

Even aliens that weren’t supposed to be scary scared us:

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.

Freddy Krueger getting to us in our dreams scared the crap out of us

Nightmare On Elm Street Movies

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)

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.

Plenty of people were also traumatized not by monsters but by the House of Mouse, particularly some of their animated classics.

Disney Movies

And, last but not least, FINALLY: One person who shared my childhood fear!

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?

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