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Movies That Shouldn't Be Scary...But Are

Sometimes, movies that are meant to be cute, charming, or harmless entertainment for children, completely backfire, creating an experience more terrifying than anything else. This Halloween, the Moviegoer writers decided to reflect on those experiences. Read more below!

Caylen: The Polar Express

The Polar Express (2004) is a classic for the holiday season, but it’s never exactly sat well with me. The main reason lies in the strange animation of the film’s characters. The Polar Express exhibits a classic example of what is called ‘the uncanny valley.’ The uncanny valley is a theory exploring the relationship between artificial resemblance to humans and humans’ reactions to those similarities. The characters of The Polar Express fit into the niched ‘valley’ where they resemble humans very accurately, but something about them isn’t quite right. To some, this may seem like a nuance of realistic animation, but to me it's a terrifying approach. Maybe it’s the lifeless eyes of the train’s young passengers, or maybe it’s CGI Tom Hanks. Either way, the animation of the characters in this movie makes it hard to watch the entire thing, mostly because the confined setting constantly forces the viewer to view these lifeless animations. This unsettling ‘uncanny valley’ is fine for an already creepy show like Love, Death + Robots, but not for a children’s Christmas movie.

Hayley: WALL-E

A lonely, trash-collection robot falls for a futuristic droid and follows her across the galaxy. An isolated pair of people take their first steps together and relearn how beautiful human connection can be. Looking back, the whole movie is super cute. But something about the world WALL-E imagined inspired a full-blown existential crisis in my childhood self: a garbage-covered dystopian wasteland devoid of all life, where humans have been exiled to live out immobile lives on a galactic cruise ship, brainwashed by advertising and unable to digest solid food. Granted, I was 8 when I first watched it, but my 20 year old self is still a little freaked out by the prospects of an environmental apocalypse, humanity governed by a mega-corporation, and robots replacing human relationships. For now, I’ll just stick to Toy Story.

Emma: The Black Cauldron

Okay, this one is a bit of a deep cut. In 1985, Disney released The Black Cauldron, a dark fantasy tale that almost killed the Disney animation department when it flopped. It’s your classic medieval European story: poor boy wants to be a knight, he saves a princess, and he defeats evil with his quirky sidekick by his side. Not too scary, right? Wrong. The evil, in this case, is literally a demon king who wants to raise an undead army (and like all of Disney’s other actually scary villains, he has horns). As if that wasn’t terrifying enough, Disney decided to make the quirky sidekick a creepy little dog-troll thing that sounds like Donald Duck if he were a very nauseous old man. It also dwells a lot on the idea of death, something we don’t see often in children’s media. There’s a reason this was the first Disney animated movie with a PG rating. As a kid, this movie was one of the creepiest things I had ever seen. As an adult, it still gives me weird nightmares.

Hannah: The Cat in the Hat

This movie traumatized me as a child. Many scenes were far too gross to be funny, and the makeup and costume on Mike Meyers just looks...wrong. Exceedingly wrong. His eyes are way too small, and the suit restricts his body to the point that he just looks and moves unnaturally at all times. Not to mention the appearance of Thing 1 and 2 - how do you go from some of the cutest Dr. Seuss drawings to those absolute monstrosities? As an adult, there are definitely some things to appreciate about it - the set design is well-constructed, and the film adds some much-needed characterization to the two child characters. However, it’s hard to enjoy what’s on screen when so much of that screen is occupied by that terrifying cat.

Gaby: Coraline

I remember seeing this film as a kid with my older sister. I was so excited to see it since it was my sister’s favorite book as a child, and anything that was her favorite was automatically mine — but what the actual HELL is this movie? What movie marketed towards kids and their families has a child’s eyes being potentially sewn shut with buttons? Looking back, there are all these crazy moments that make it no wonder I had nightmares about this movie for weeks — Other Wybie’s face being sewn into a permanent smile, creepy replica dolls moving by themselves, mothers killing their children and turning them into ghosts — the list goes on and on. Movies typically don’t scare me — give me The Conjuring any day, but this “movie” may as well have been made by Tim Burton, because it’s that chilling.