Wednesday, 30 October 2013


Every year since 1995, or at least whenever I've remembered or been able to, I try and find/purchase Bart Simpson's Treehouse of Horror, an annual anthology of "spooky" Simpsons comics. This year's was a bitter disappointment (in that it wasn't funny at all), but that's par for the course with The Simpsons these days.

Anyway, in that very first issue eighteen years ago, this page was in it:

That's Matt Groening listing a load of things that spooked him during his developing years. I'm going to have a go at doing that now! Probably the last opportunity I'll have to do something "thematic" for this month, so it's back to the comics after this. But just for now, here's as many things as I can remember that frightened, confused, perturbed or caused mild discomfort to me over the years...

Certain cartoons. Only certain ones. We watched cartoons for fun and distraction, and they were SAFE (you know, because cartoons are for kiddies, right?). But occasionally, characters would be thrown into peril, peril that I just wasn't expecting. 

For example, The Little Mole (1941) has a short-sighted mole leaving the burrow, getting some glasses sold to him, then seeing the world in all its colour and so on. All very nice until he loses his glasses and falls in the water, and as he's drowning he hears all the words and advice he never listened to:

Or how about Mickey's Garden (1935). Mickey, of all things! Who'd be scared of that? Me, when he gets chased by insects, that's who:

Unexpected peril, that's what it's all about. You wouldn't expect anything of the sort from a Mr. Men cartoon, would you? Well, it happens to Mr. Greedy:

There was another one too, one that I haven't been able to find in all the years since. A more "arty" one than the usual stuff we'd watch, I just remember a big gaping chasm between two cliffs. A baby walked right over it, only for a bridge to appear beneath him and he made it safely across. The old woman behind the baby tried to follow, but the bridge crumbles behind her right the way across. That's all I remember, and it wasn't exactly pleasant viewing.

Not so much "perilous", more "surprisingly unsettling" is a certain group of characters from the otherwise completely harmless, fully hilarious, Terry Wogan-fronted Stoppit & Tidyup, those characters being the Sit Downs:

Bigger than any of the other characters, all they ever did was sit down and emit a low, humming noise. And they looked a bit like ghosts. They could cure diseases somehow, so obviously weren't a threat, but they always seemed somewhat sinister compared to everything else that happened in the Land of Do As You're Told.

There's another cartoon I only saw for the first time within the last year, and to this day it remains the ONLY piece of media to make me physically sick. The ankle scene in Evil Dead and the bit with the hangnail in Hellraiser ALMOST did it for me, but this one is the most sickening thing I've ever seen. It's called Munchers: A Fable, and I'm only embedding it here, not watching it:

Teeth in general. That's another thing that's bothered me a lot, and remains my only true phobia. That bloody Munchers thing sent me running to the kitchen sink, as did a certain episode of Rocko's Modern Life which I don't even want to go looking for. The one with the giant rampaging tooth, in case anyone's wondering. 

Who knows what caused this terror? As the oldest sibling, I was the first to lose a tooth, something I was completely unprepared for. I used to visit a psychotic dentist who'd stuff my mouth full of cotton wool and keep it there for half an hour until I passed out. I almost threw up on the floor in a science lesson when it came time to learn about teeth, and we had to look into each other's mouths. Or there's that bit at the start of American History X. All horrible stuff. One day, out of curiosity, I'll probably stick "teeth" into Google's image search, and immediately regret it. I'll NEVER watch Marathon Man, that's a sure thing. No, it is NOT safe!

Certain things on the television. Naturally. Spend a lot of time watching the thing and you're bound to happen across SOMETHING that unsettles you. Like this public information film about locking your car. I've never driven a car, let alone owned one and had reason to lock it, but something about this one sent the mind the wrong way. Skip to 33:55 to see the one I'm on about:

Are You Afraid of the Dark? was alright as "scary" TV shows for kids go, but ONE MOMENT in ONE EPISODE was a bit intense. Skip to 11:50 to see which moment I'm talking about:

Strange But True was a great Friday night bit of fun each week. Just a load of "dramatic reenactments" of paranormal happenings. This one about the Enfield poltergeist was a bit of a chiller though, mostly for the tape recordings "he" left:

Or how about this advert? Took me several years to track this one down, but here it is:

Clothes. Some of them, anyway. That Hotpoint advert's bad enough, and somehow I always had troubles with things like this:

Dressing gowns or coats hanging on doors. Nope, didn't like them at all. I was still a bit iffy about them even at the age of 20. I'm fine now, obviously. It's not as if the one that's hanging up just behind me is slowly reaching out to grab me or anything. Probably.

An episode of Just William (the 1990s series) had a headless ghost at some point - probably engineered by William moving a dress around the place with ropes or something. I can't remember exactly, but I remember not liking it.

Speaking of disembodied clothes, this book here was horrifying at the best of times:

But ONE PAGE in particular was a bit too much if it was night time:

Christ on a stick, the BONNET! Horrible stuff there. Other books spooked me a bit as well - certain pages of The Ten Doors of Doom and The Scary Book for example, but NONE as much as that empty hole in the top left there. This may've led on to a certain wariness toward monks, nuns and hooded folk in general. There's a bit in Death Becomes Her (1992), an otherwise hilarious film, that has Bruce Willis running down a corridor towards the hospital's morgue, when he has to get against the wall as a trio of nuns are somehow GLIDING down the corridor. That's not nice.

And speaking of "not nice" bits in otherwise highly enjoyable films...

The librarian ghost from Ghostbusters, obviously. We must've watched this film hundreds of times, and it still remains my favourite, but there was always that initial "hurdle" to get past before settling down to enjoy the rest of it:

The sequel was no more forgiving, what with that picture of Vigo the Carpathian, the carnivorous slime monster that emerges from the taps, the heads on sticks in the abandoned tunnel, and this piece of airborne terror (skip to 1:19):

What else? Well, the ghost train at Southport Pleasureland was a bit intense. And the farting cow on the Noah's Ark at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. You knew it was coming, but it still made you jump each time.

Speaking of Blackpool, I don't know if this sod's still there, but he's not nice:

No, I'm not one of those "Ooh, clowns are SCARY" types. He was definitely a laughing KING when I was a nipper. The horror of inherited privilege and all that. Plus, it was like he was chasing you if you ran round the back and he spun around to laugh at you some more.

Liverpool Museum (or World Museum Liverpool, as it's now called) had (well, has) a corridor leading up to the cafe on the top floor filled with antique clocks. Mostly of the massive grandfather clock variety. The tick-tick-ticking of them all, and the HEIGHT of the things, fairly unnerving. It looked like they were going to fall on top of me. Nope, didn't like those. That "fear" extended to tall wardrobes as well.

Speaking of irrational fears... We all have our bogeymen, right? That thing we dread encountering in the small hours? Well my one lived in the bathroom. This is the closest image I can get of him from the Internet:

Same as that, only more grey and dusty, with a big load of grey hair in a perm on the top. It never happened, but I always thought that one night, on a bathroom visit, I'd push the door open and THAT would be there. And he'd lift his head up to look at me.

More night terrors? How about one that involved something that simply didn't exist, but I still have memories of it for some reason? We did (DIDN'T) have a yellow stone carving of a woman hanging on the wall in the hall. We didn't, but one memory tells me that we did. And one night, walking past it, the woman turned to look at me, pointed, and said "DARE" in an accusatory tone. As in, "Don't you DARE tell anyone"

The imaginary ones are always the weirdest. The memory's solid, but grown-up rational thinking insists they couldn't've happened. At all. Like the time I was in the back of the car one night, and we were driving back from somewhere. I had one of those grabber toys - you know, like this one:

When we got into the car at the start of the journey, it had black eye sockets. Definitely black. During the drive home, with the car mostly lit by motorway lights, the car went dark for a few seconds as we went under a bridge. Once there was light again, the eye sockets had turned white. They were still white when we got home, and they were still white the next morning. I've never been able to figure out what happened there.

Another car-based mystery - we were out for a drive around Ince Woods one night. It was Hallowe'en, and those woods are supposed to be haunted... It was an annual tradition. Anyway, we're driving down the road, and the headlights lit up a house on the corner of the road. In front of the house was maybe two-dozen pale-faced people, mouths open and teeth bared, all sat or stood in a school photo-like arrangement. No-one else in the car mentioned it, or even seemed to acknowledge it. I can't remember if I asked anyone about it, but it's possible that because of my age at the time, the lack of reaction from anyone else must've meant it was a completely normal thing to see in the middle of the woods on a cold October evening.

Last of all is the one that didn't confuse or irk me at the time, but the more I think about it these days, the more I think it's a wonder I kept my sanity at the time. It involved a school trip to Normandy, with around sixty 11-12 year olds staying in some filthy chalet-based hostel. I was one of them, obviously. On the journey there, and during idle moments, a lot of us would play the poltergeist game. From memory, this involved bouncing a coin around the table whilst asking the poltergeist a question. So, like a Ouija board for the illiterate.

During the second night, we had one of those group hysteria moments - gradually, every last one of us got it into our heads that there was a ghost/murderer running around outside the chalets, which led to all of us kids running up and down the corridors screaming, or climbing out onto the roofs, or claiming to've seen various menacing entities. The four lads I was in a room with, and myself, armed ourselves with knives and saucepans and all tried to sleep in two beds.

Obviously, there wasn't a murderer or a ghost, and the only messy thing that happened was one of us went to sleep underneath a bed, and wet himself during the night leaving an impressive puddle. 12-year-old logic had it that the previous night's terror was because of the poltergeist game, but it didn't stop us from playing it.

The question I asked the poltergeist the next day was a stupid one - I asked it to kill someone (no names given here). The other people playing the game told me I shouldn't've done that, and I agreed, so we played again and asked the poltergeist NOT to kill that certain someone. And that was that, momentarily...

The week after that, back at school, at registration. The form teacher comes in, and tells us that (name withheld) has been hit by a bus. He wasn't dead, or even seriously injured, but he didn't come to school that week. I turned white, and am still shaking now just thinking about it.

Probably, DEFINITELY just a massive coincidence - kids are mad, they jump in front of buses all the time, right? I've just checked Facebook, and from the looks of things the guy is now married and has a fashionable beard, so unless the poltergeist has a long-term plan, it looks like I'm in the clear.

Bugger, I don't think I'm going to sleep tonight. 

2015 UPDATE:

Repressed memories and all that - just this morning remembered something else that was somewhat disturbing all those years ago. Everyone had that one friend who had access to 18-rated films about a decade too early, right? Robocop, The Terminator, that sort of thing. Well this particular friend, he'd watch those films more or less every day, so naturally we'd see those films a lot. It wasn't the films that were frightening, they were enjoyable. It was his video. Something to do with faulty cogs or whatever, but whenever we watched those films, almost all the way through there'd be a weird droning sound, alternating between the left and right channels. Like playing a Brian Eno record on half speed, extended over two hours. It always seemed to play up most during the most violent scenes, and for a while I took it to be the "music of violence", until one December day we were watching Home Alone 2 - the part where Macauly Culkin's walking the streets of New York at night, seeing all the odd folk, prostitutes and monstrous taxi drivers and laughing maniacs and so on - and then THAT DRONING started up again. It just had the effect of making any film at all seem so much more sinister. I've tried to find a similar example on YouTube, but all that comes up is AfterEffects tutorials, which aren't really all that scary.


  1. This is the scariest thing I'm likely to see this - or any - Halloween season - probably because I can relate to or remember every single one of them.

    Your fear of teeth probably has a lot to do with the time you were chewing on a pen with a loose tooth, and you twisted it a little. Oh, the blood.

    1. Twisted it RIGHT THE WAY UPSIDE DOWN!

      I'd forgotten about that somehow, cheers!

  2. You're not alone in finding that cartoon 'The Little Mole' bloody scary.
    To begin with, it was one of those Hugh Harman / Rudolf Ising MGM efforts that usually had me sighing with disgust at their calculated cuteness - knowing that the following seven or eight minutes would be spent in the company of something quaint from the early forties rather than Screwy Squirrel or Daffy Duck.
    Secondly, I was seven when I watched this. I was expecting a funny cartoon. What I got was a bloody nightmare. A mole who, due to his short-sightedness, thinks a rubbish dump is a glistening palace. Along comes this cheapjack skunk who swindles him - a mere child - out of his meagre allowance for a pair of glasses that end up broken within seconds. Then he nearly DIES. And, unlike in the similarly glutinous The Little Goldfish, it's not all a dream - this shit is REAL.
    Fuck this cartoon.

    1. Whilst we're talking about those Happy Harmonies cartoons - got to admire their variety. From a ridiculously cutesy thing like The Milky Way (kittens go to space and drink milk), to a fantastical nightmare like Bottles ("DEATH WALKS TONIGHT!").

      I'll always have time for ANY cartoon from that era - bound to be better than all this "stylized" stuff we have now.

  3. Great post! Enjoyed reading about all the things that freaked you out.....but I also have to call you an arse for making me see that bloody doll thing in Are You Afraid Of The Dark just before I settle down to sleep....Thanks for that...I'll never get any kip now! lol

    1. It's been eighteen years since I slept - just a warning, like. Enjoy!