Walking through a London backstreet, I thought I’d been cornered by the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang…
But thankfully it was just a garbage truck adorned with a severed mannequin’s head. This got me thinking, however, about just how scary the Child Catcher was (is!) and how most things that scared me as a kid were the supposedly family-friendly things whilst horror films and the like were enjoyable larks to me. Maybe this is due to the fact that every corner shop or newsagent I went into to buy my 10p mixture and packet of Garbage Pail Kids stickers was guaranteed to have a video rack sporting titles such as Driller Killer, The Corpse Grinders, Microwave Massacre and Pinnochio. Ah, the bliss of the unregulated! Most of the Hollywood studios were scared of home video and so didn’t release their big titles on it (The Shining (da na!) being a notable exception) which meant that the early boom of the VHS market was left to enterprising indy labels who put out whatever they could get their mitts on – usually cheap horrors and kids films. Great combo when you’re six.
Of course, my Dad didn’t let me watch most of the so-called video nasties until I was at least ten but there was plenty of normal stuff I watched as a kid that in retrospect was far more disturbing:
1. The Child Catcher – Has to be top of the list. Ian Fleming wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang but the Child Catcher was a much scarier villain than anything Bond had to face and in fact looks more like a creation of the Chapman Brothers! In this clip Benny Hill faces a Gestapo like interrogation at the hands of the CC who threatens to turn his teeth into a necklace.
2. Watership Down – Beloved rabbit snuff cartoon. Just watch the trailer which even feels like a straight up horror as it sets you up with a false sense of security and then BAM – Fields of blood. Slow motion shotgun death. Bright Eyes.
3. Safety Education Films – These well meaning but disturbing government produced films were shown in school assemblies. One particularly vivid short was informing you of the dangers of playing by electricity pylons – “Darren, there’s a ball by that pylon. Hey, someone’s had a go at this fence. That’s it, Darren… Darren?.. DARREN!”
4. The Theme Tune to Pebble Mill – I don’t know why but the theme tune to this early 80s daytime chat show would send me running out of the room screaming. I can’t find a clip of it, thank goodness, but heres one of Morrissey on the show maintaining a tight grip on his artistic integrity.
5. Willy Wonkas Acid Boat Trip – Centipede crawls across woman’s face. Chicken gets head cut off. Giant lizard. Gene Wilder has an ‘episode’.
6. Early Disney – As suggested by HayleyEve, Pink Elephants on Parade from Dumbo. I had totally forgot about this part of the film, maybe I blanked it out on purpose! The middle part of this sequence sure is freaky, something about the horror of repetition perhaps. And of course, Pinocchio, which is full of joyously disturbing scenes like this one.
Can anyone think of other unintentionally terrifying gems?