Monday, April 25, 2011

Scarred For Life: How Walt Disney & Others Ruined My Very Existence.

Disney's Fantasia (1940)
When I was a kid, I saw a whole slew of films that probably scarred me for life. 
Even talking about them today is difficult and makes me want to grab my old teddy bear.  But I'm not talking about watching Friday the 13th for the first time, or that time I  stayed up after the folks hit the sack and flipped the channel to the midnight showing of Night of the Living Dead.  Oh no, we're going much farther back than that. 

I'm talking about films like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  Old Yeller.  Watership Down.
Stuff that truly still unnerves me and has me calling for my mommy in the dead of night. 

But it's films such as these that instilled a love of horror in me I think.  I mean, what was more horrific than Bambi's mother getting shot?  Why would Mr. Disney DO that??  Thinking back upon my childhood and the movies that shaped it, I realize that getting my pants scared off was probably the best thing that ever happened to me.  Whether it made me fear a prick on my finger or the possibility of someone actually shooting my beloved dog, it made me who I am today - a horror loving freak. 

So let's discuss.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate factory (1971) was a film I used to just yearn for.  When I was a kid, television stations showed these movies once a damn year - not every other day like ABC Family.  You had to wait twelve months to see those ever-lovin' Oompa-Loompas.  I used to make an entire event of it. 

My grandfather - for whom I blame for showing me most of these films in the first place - and I would camp out in the living room of his house with loads of snacks and watch as Gene Wilder yells his friggin' head off at Charlie.  YOU LOSE!!!

Crap, that scared me.  To have thought ol' Willy was this nice guy who loved kids and then be lambasted with all that attitude and shouting?  I could cry.  And all that was after  you witnessed the psychedelic boat ride from (or to?) hell - all that crazy rambling: "Not a speck of light is showing...So the danger must be growing... Are the fires of Hell a-glowing?....Is the grisly Reaper mowing?....Yes! The danger must be growing....'Cause the rowers keep on rowing...."  WTF!?

Can I just say, Watership Down (1978) is a work of art. The beautiful English countryside.  Frolicking rabbits facing life and death and love.  Seriously one of the finest stories ever written, right?  That being said - what the hell were they thinking?  I will give the "movie people" some slack, as this was a book first (as most children's films are), but one really has to wonder how this story came about.  Yes, it's an epic tale of challenge, heroism, and survival, but at the same time - why rabbits?  Why all the violence?  And really - you thought it a good idea to bring it all to life on film and show it to small children?  Should have known those brazen Brits were behind it. 

The Wizard of Oz (1939) was my very first 'extreme weather' experience.  I was absolutely fascinated by that damn twister.  Now that I know it was just a muslin sock or some such thing, it doesn't hold as much weight, but it's still pretty realistic for 1939.  Pretty scary, right?

As much as I feared that twister, I feared Miss Gulch even more.  Not her counterpart, the Wicked Witch of the West, but Elvira Gulch herself.  What a raging bitch.  She obviously needed to get with a man, as her 'tude was one for the ages.  I nearly cried when she took Toto away from Dorothy.  So.Not.Fair.   It did give me pause when Dorothy was up in the funnel and Gulch transforms into the Witch.  Great effect.  But I think she was even scarier before she morphed into the green hag, because as a kid, you knew people like that.  The old lady down the street that always warns you to stay off her property lest she makes your life miserable.

Okay, so I was in my twenties when The Lion King (1994) came out.  But my little brother was like 7 or 8, and so I had prime experience with the tale of Simba and his father, Mufasa.  I don't think I've been more affected by a Disney film in all my days, young or old. 

When Scar flings his royal brother off the cliff and into the gorge to fall to his death, it ripped my heart out, stamped on it about a hundred times, then discarded it like a stale piece of jerky.  So traumatized I was, that when I got the film on VHS (yeah, it was that long ago) I had to fast-forward through those scenes - especially the ones where Simba finds his dad and cries his little kitty heart out.  Oh God.  I can hardly bear to think about it.  Moving on...

The Sound of Music (1965) remains, to this day, one of my favorite films.  But when I was a kid and watched it, I was introduced to Nazis for the first time.  I had no idea who those bastards were, I was like, seven or something. 

Later in school when we learned about WWII and found out about all their dastardly deeds (yeah, that was back when they were allowed to teach you about Hitler and the concentration camps, etc..) I kept coming back to that film, where the family Von Trapp was hiding in the abbey, hoping to hell they wouldn't be discovered by Hitler's henchmen.  And that damned Rolf, what a prick - blowing the whistle on them.  I realized it was way back then that the Nazis first scared me.  And continue to do so.

Ah, Bambi (1942).  Is there a more perfect example of how to dash a child's hopes and dreams for a happy ending?  THEY KILLED BAMBI'S MOTHER!!!  I don't know what the h-e-double hockey sticks Mr. Disney was going for here. Was he truly trying to ruin children's happy homes?  Their innocent hopes that everything in life was perfect? He had to have succeeded on soooo many counts.  I saw this film in the theater, in one of its thousands of replays over the last near-seventy years or so.  My grandfather took me, as he did to most of the Disney films playing at the small theater (since closed of course) in my hometown.  I never asked him, but he had to have recollections of about a hundred small children bawling their eyes out during that movie.

There can be no other reason than pure malice on Disney's behalf - to expose children to such grim circumstances.  I haven't seen Bambi in literally twenty years or so, and even though it's rocking the shelves at Wal Mart as we speak, I haven't had the guts to even touch the DVD case.  I keep thinking it will burn like hell if I touch it.

I have only seen The NeverEnding Story (1984) once. And once is all I will EVER see this film.
I was a young teen when it came out, and though I didn't see it in theaters, I managed to witness the horror of it years later on TV.  It remains one of the biggest traumas in my movie-going experience, akin only to perhaps the ferry scene from The Ring.  Perhaps even worse.  When Atreyu's horse, Artax, sinks into the Swamps of Sadness....Oh hell.  That is waaay too much pain to inflict on a horse-loving girl such as myself.
It is still like a dagger in my heart.  I repeat, I will NEVER again watch this god-damned movie.

Who would have thought a spider could bring so much despair? Charlotte's Web (1973) is actually a real favorite of mine, and unlike several of the films here, I can watch and re-watch it without losing too much sleep.  But that's not to say it doesn't hurt pretty damn bad when Charlotte explains the circle of life to Wilbur and everyone has a good cry. Also a cruel reality is being privy to just what happens to the pigs on a farm.  When you're a kid you don't really think about those cute little piggies becoming the Easter ham or some terrific bacon sitting on the plate with your pancakes, so that was a rude awakening. It also tore me up when Wilbur witnesses most of Charlotte's youngins flying off into the breeze.  What kind of cruel and unusual punishment is this, one must think.  But three of her offspring stick around and all is right with the world.  But still, Charlotte's soothing voice and love for her friends make me weep when she takes her final breath and Wilbur exclaims "Charlotte!!"  *tear*

I don't really have a lot to say about Pinocchio (1940).  It's not my favorite Disney film, because the whole damn thing was about an old man who always wanted a child and couldn't have one.  So he carves a puppet that comes to life.  Okay, say it with me now:  FREAKY!   Didn't the same thing happen in Dead Silence, sort of?  And in Magic - creepier yet!  Anyway, I don't have kids...don't want them either - so I'm thinking my worst nightmare would be if one of my dolls would actually turn into a real child.  Yep - scary as hell. And precisely the reason that I do not own any dolls!
But I have to mention the scene where the boy turns into a donkey (!), letting all the youngsters know that smoking and drinking are very bad things.  And then there's the part where people are getting swallowed up by a whale!   I mean, who thinks this shit up?  Nothing like scaring the hell out of your five year old.

It's not just animals that have me tied in knots and scared for my soul.  People do it too.  Which is evident in the case of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968).  From the mind of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (explains a lot, really) comes the tale of a flying car (um, yeah.) - but what really kept me awake at night was the frightening Child Catcher.  Seeing those kids in the back of the paddywagon, behind bars and shrieking for their lives, instills a world of fear in impressionable young kids.  Rather surprisingly, this movie is based on an Ian Fleming story - and perhaps if you were born under a rock you might not know he wrote the original James Bond novels.  I'm not sure this adaption was what he was going for, as it's a rather ridiculous movie despite the talents of Dick Van Dyke in the lead role.  But besides the truly terrifying Child Catcher villain, it isn't exactly Oscar-worthy. If not for him, it would be nearly loathsome.

Hard to believe a bunch of brooms could scare the pants off me, but in Disney's Fantasia (1940), they did just that.  So much of the film is one big, scary trip.  As in, psychedelic drug-induced trip.  Kids know not the meaning of this and have no thoughts other than "wow mommy, those mushrooms are scary!". 

Within the Sorcerer's Apprentice segment, starring Mickey Mouse, there are a bunch of brooms, wooden arms outstretched and carrying buckets of water, ready for action.  Mickey, thinking himself a magician, instructs the brooms to help him, only to be overrun with loads of the lumbering wooden frights.  Shit!

Who would have thought a movie about a little elephant would be so traumatic?  But Dumbo (1941) is such a sad film in parts. Seriously, the poor little guy's mother gets all locked up just for defending him, everyone makes fun of his big ears, the circus jerk-offs make him a clown and have him falling in vats of pie-filling, and he gets unintentionally drunk and hallucinates a freaky side-show of psychedelic pachyderms, among other craziness.

 When I was a kid this freaked me out.  In fact, it may be the only reason I never tripped acid.  Those scenes with the pink elephants on parade can coax a shiver out of me even to this day.  Once again, Mr. Disney allows us to be wigged out by animals that have a less than normal lifestyle. 

Yep, it teaches us a lesson - but between Mommy elephant's trunk sticking out the cage bars seeking out her baby and those damndable Jerry Garcia-esque dancing freaks, I won't sleep soundly...ever.

Sleeping Beauty (1959) is one of my favorite films.  Not because the gorgeous Prince Charming awakens the beautiful princess with a kiss, breaking the evil curse.  Um, no.  Because I love dragons! Yay!  But you know, I was always so petrified by that damn spinning wheel.  One prick and whammo, you're down for the count!  And that evil witch - she was the best of all the Disney villains.  I still challenge anyone who would disagree.  When Maleficent morphs into that awesome dragon? 
Wait a sec.  Maybe this one didn't scare me as much as I thought. 

But Old Yeller (1957), now there's a film that gets you right in the gut.  I haven't seen it in like, twenty-five years.  And I have absolutely no intention of ever seeing it again.  In fact, it is probably my most traumatic movie memory in the history of my life.  Only The Yearling (1946) can come close.  And we will not discuss that film at all. No thank you. 

If indeed you haven't seen Old Yeller, I am not going to suggest you see it, unless you want nightmares for the whole of your adult life.  I have seen hundreds and hundreds of terrifying movies - or at least films that tried to be terrifying.  But none of them had the impact that one gunshot did.  I just can't talk about it.


So that's about all I can take for now.  These memories have made me want to crawl up in a small closet in the corner of my room and cry for an hour... or ten.

19 comments:

LA Schnitzel said...

haha, This just made my day! one Disney movie that seriously gave me nightmares as a child was Snow white. When the queen turns into that witch and talked about burning Snow White alive, that was too much for me, in fact I still find it creepy

Christine Hadden said...

LA: Ahh, Snow White: seriously the most unattractive of ALL Disney villains! Yikes! I still get nightmares from that gigantic wart on her nose...ahhhhhh!

Jonny Metro said...

You are so dead on: Willy Wonka, Fantasia and Wizard of Oz messed me up as a child. One that really gave me the creeps, though, was a (I believe) French children's film called The Red Balloon. A little red balloon with its own mind follows this kid all over the damn city. I never felt safe at birthday parties again!

--J/Metro

James said...

Terrific post Christine! Reading this brought me right back to my childhood and stirred up old memories and feelings I thought were long gone. Watching some of these films when growing up, I experienced some of my first encounters with sadness, pain, anxiety and death. These sorts of films - as well as horror films - are continuations from the fairy tale and its role in equipping us with the basic coping mechanisms needed in later life. The world can be a cruel place and there’s no better place to learn this than in films and fairy tales.

Let’s not forget the trauma inducing moments of Return to Oz, The Dark Crystal and Sally and Sampson.

Christine Hadden said...

Jonny: Ok, so I've never heard of The Red Balloon, but damn it sounds rather creepy - will probably have an eye to the sky today looking for it, so thanks!

James: I think the reason I like horror so well is because I always had a fondness for the scarier fairy tales - like Hansel & Gretel and the likes. These stories molded me into who I am, so in other words - they messed me up royally. But I think I like it.

Oh, and Samson & Sally! Why did you have to remind me! Damn you! *tear*

Budd said...

I loved all of these movies as a kid. My oldest wouldn't watch the Wizard of Oz for the longest time because it scared her though.

Emily said...

Ahhh, there's SO MUCH GOOD here! I have a good friend who still won't watch Willy Wonka. For me, those moments in Dumbo, Pinocchio, and The NEverending Story never get easier to watch, no matter how old I am.

Others I'd add: Return to Oz, The Witches (which my sister made the mistake of showing her then-5 year old daughter), and Pee-Wee's Big Adventure (CLOWNS!).

Christine Hadden said...

Emily: Sometimes I think it's a good thing I never had kids and had to expose them to the tortures of these films, but then I instantly regret it because I'll never be able to frighten the pants off them with them! Bummer.
And speaking of frightening...Pee- Wee, in general. Dude scares me!!

Camiele said...

Had to take a pause from reading the damn piece just to say that Atrax sinking in the Swamps of Sadness remains the most heartbreaking thing I've ever seen on film. I actually almost cried jsut reading it here. It was the first time I cried in a film. Neverending Story remains one of my faves...but THAT scene is always...ALWAYS skipped when I watch it. So, thanks for that :P

Christine Hadden said...

Camiele: I am honor bound by duty to make others as miserable as myself. It was just as hard to write about it as it was for you to read it ;)

B.R. said...

Odd. This is very similar to my own impressions and experiences, though I'm afraid that my own have left scarred in a different manner.

In that, I now derive sadistic pleasure from bad stuff in kid movies rather than be repulsed by it. The worse thing that ever happened to me as a kid, in addition to what you listed here was a haunted house that my sisters took me to when I was six and we were living in southern California. Blood, guts, gore and more. Screams of agony and pleas for mercy from kid actors who were only a few years older than me.
A guy in a cowboy hat and a butcher's apron with a kid's leg on a barbecue fork asking, "want any hot dogs?"

At the end, my mom carried me out. I had nightmares for months and couldn't eat for three days.

Since then, I've grown increasingly morbid, and now, when someone dies in a kid movie, I laugh. I mean, Bambi's mom's death was kinda funny you know; I haven't seen that movie, but I think I'll get a kick out of it.

By the way, do you think the Killer Rabbit sequence from Monty Python and the Holy Grail would've had a negative effect on you in your childhood?

Christine Hadden said...

BR: Sounds like your mom was a bit sadistic as well, taking you to a haunted house that warped at such a tender age.
I don't generally get upset when kids die in films. Take Pet Sematary - I was vastly more upset when Creed pulled a stiff, dead Church off the ground than I was when that truck wiped Gage out. It's just who I am.
But Bambi - SO not funny. It still bugs me to this day.

iZombie said...

i am loving this post, i never put this many of the scare factors into all these films. you are right on their own it mild fear or death... together it is a living breathing nightmare...

B.R. said...

Actually, she thought it was just going to be some people in sheets scaring little kids--I think my sisters are the ones who knew what the score was. Seriously, though--what do you think of the killer rabbit? Traumatizing for small children? Because if it is, I may have to get my nephew to watch it... =)

Christine Hadden said...

BR: Seriously, I don't think there's anything in any Monty Python film that could be construed as frightening. Ever.
So, in other words, nah..

Jonny Metro said...

Me again...I just wanted to let you know that I enjoyed this post so much that I chose it as one of my favorites from the month of April. Hope you don't mind, but I included a link to it in the latest "issue" of Spatter Analysis.

Check it out!

--J/Metro

Christine Hadden said...

Jonny: Thanks for including me! ;o)

zeke said...

We just watched Chitty Chitty Bang Band and wow is that scary. BOTH kids were freaked when they got in the cage!!!!

Kaijinu said...

Dumbo had a different effect on me: instead of being frightened, I was Furious! Those damn humans and their cruelty to them animals was unforgivable for me even until today. i ain't no animal activist and/or vegan, but that ain't right.

God, the days i recall hoping Dumbo's Ma breaks out and stomp a kid flat...and hoping to see that onscreen...yeah I was a sick kid even by then.