SN&R writers share the film “monsters” from their childhoods
Back in the old days, family movies were still allowed to scare kids. Remember the grizzly bear attack in Disney’s The Fox and the Hound? The Penguin’s rusty grin in Batman Returns? Every single scene in The Wizard of Oz?
No child was safe from terror at the cinema, and six of our writers have the nightmares to prove it. Clowns didn’t make the scary list, but these nontraditional movie “monsters” sure did.
E.T., go home
E.T. (voiced by Pat Welsh)
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
E.T.—the bumbling yet adorable alien known for his quizzical nature and affinity for Reese's Pieces. We can't help but love him, right? Wrong! On the long list of things that made E.T. the opposite of endearing to my 5-year-old self (bulbous cranium, grating voice, long sweaty fingers), one scene had a haunting effect: E.T. hiding in a closet full of stuffed animals. The fact that Elliott's mom couldn't spot the difference between a wrinkled, hairless alien and fuzzy plush toys was terrifying, and I was convinced E.T. would try the same trick in my closet. Many sleepless nights were spent cowering under the covers, hiding from my dark closet and E.T.'s soul-piercing gaze. Even now, the thought sends shivers down my spine. R.M.
Rated G for ‘Good Luck Sleeping’
Nightmare King (voiced by William E. Martin)
Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland (1989)
When young-boy-in-a-dream Nemo opened the door to the Nightmare King's prison cell and quickly slammed it shut, he didn't properly secure the lock. Nemo had been warned to stay away from that door, but he didn't listen! Of course, the Nightmare King broke his way out, becoming an unstoppable, oozing mass of tar that enveloped the good King Morpheus in a terrifying sequence that left its mark on my door-closing habits forever. The animated film, rated G by the all-knowing MPAA, was a series of early childhood nightmares brought into reality. On present-day rewatching, the voice acting is obviously hammy and laughable, but the imagery cauterized my toddler brain. Remember, kids: Firmly shut doors. Listen for the latch. Don't be a Nemo. M.M.
He has risen
Reverend Henry Kane (played by Julian Beck)
Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986)
I was never spooked by killer clowns or murderers behind white masks. Yet, the tall, slender, sunken-eyed fictional Reverend Henry Kane from Poltergeist II: The Other Side terrified me. He slowly sang an old hymn throughout the film, dressed in black with a brimmed hat, a look I later associated with the Quaker oatmeal man. Whether opening cupboards at home or roaming the grocery store aisles with my mom, 5-year-old Steph suspected the smiling Quaker was out to get her just as Kane was out to trap little Carol Anne! To this day, I despise oatmeal, hymns and probably won't be showing my 4-year-old any Poltergeist movies anytime soon. S.R.
Mola Ram (played by Amrish Puri)
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
I was 7 when my mom took me to the theater for the opening weekend of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. For the first 30 minutes, I was completely enthralled by the nonstop action and intrigue. But then Indy and his crew arrived at Pankot Palace and discovered the underground lair of the blood-drinking Thuggee cult—and its high priest Mola Ram. Portrayed by a veteran Bollywood actor, Ram wasn't just a formidable villain, he was an embodiment of absolute terror, one that's widely seen as culturally insensitive today. His ability to pull his victims' beating hearts from their chests with his bare hand—somehow keeping them alive only so that he could then lower them in a cage into molten lava—made me want to climb far under the theater seats. Things got worse when I saw that the whole point of Ram wanting to lava-bath his prey was so that their hearts caught fire in his palm, like a spine-curdling carnival trick, all as he laughed and laughed. At that point, I was doomed—pun intended—to see Mola Ram in my nightmares for years. I often wonder if Steven Spielberg considered how savage this character really was. STA
Scary good genes
Nuclear Man (voiced by Gene Hackman)
Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (1987)
Mark Pillow is Hitler's dream. The actor has a chiseled face, blues eyes and mulleted helmet of blond hair. He's tall and muscular. It's creepy how perfect he looks. So it makes sense that Pillow played Lex Luthor's latest diabolical experiment in Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, a fiery-tempered but inhumanly cold Energizer battery with one purpose: “Destroy Superman.” Fueled by the power of the sun, the black-caped bogeyman is Superman's formidable doppelganger, kicking the Man of Steel like a soccer ball to the Big Apple, the Great Wall of China and even the moon. Good genes aside, what creeped me out was that Nuclear Man had a monstrous roar, a mean face and electric fingernails. M.Z.
The Devil and Max Devlin (1981)
I'm in a garbage can rolling down a subterranean staircase into the darkening depths of I-don't-know-what. Days pass. My fear subsides. I guess this is my life now, a jostled fetus in a funky, metal womb. It almost starts to feel like home. But then boom—the receptacle bursts apart, propelling me into what Renaissance painters and unimaginative Hollywood producers have conditioned me to recognize as hell. Bubbling magma lakes, jagged red rocks, demons in bad need of manicures—I soar just beyond their clawing reach toward the horned honcho himself, aka Lucifer, Beelzebub … Bill Cosby?!
This was one of my most frequent nightmares as a child—and it always ended with the big reveal that the devil was none other than “America's Dad.” Sometimes Satan/Cosby held my own dad chained and shackled at his hooved feet, sometimes not, but he always tried to open my belly with his pitchfork as I glided over him into the waking world. That meant that sometimes my dad remained The Cos of Darkness' captive. What's that about? I loved The Cosby Show. I even loved Fat Albert!
It turns out my subconscious was riffing on an old movie I caught in a hotel once, The Devil and Max Devlin. I can't tell you what this Disney comedy is about, except that Cosby plays “Barney Satin,” and that a few minutes of his performance were evidently so potent that they lodged in the head of a kid made delirious with chronic ear infections. Oh, and also this: It turns out my subconscious knew more about real-life monsters than my woke brain. Go figure. RFH