Childhood nightmare fuel through the ages

This week’s blog post is by The Paternity Test co-host Matt Boresi, who lives in the Edgewater Glen neighborhood of Chicago with his wife (“Professor Foster”) and their 4-year-old daughter who prays that Mandy Patinkin from “Elmo in Grouchland” isn’t under her bed.

I walked past our guest bath today and realized it has been turned into a spirit pop-up costume shop. I guess Halloween is coming!

October means pumpkin coffee, pumpkin beers, pumpkin pumpkin, poorly produced Halloween specials (I’m not re-watching you again, “Great Pumpkin.” Yecchh.), little kids dressed as Elsa and twenty-somethings dressed as “Sexy Donald Trump.” It also means scary movies, scary decorations and scary “Sexy Donald Trump” costumes.

My daughter, it should be noted, is scared of, well, almost everything. Everything in movies, anyway. I guess we’ve sheltered her too much, or given her too little screen time, or not included enough Chucky memorabilia in the nursery or something, because everything from “Beauty and the Beast” to “PJ Masks” to “Elmo in Grouchland” is too scary for her to watch. (Mandy Patinkin’s eyebrows are pretty scary in that Elmo movie, but I recently realized he sings the “Atari/Ferrari” rhyme not popularized by Cee Lo until over ten years later. That movie was blazing lyrical trails.)

This week we gave away three “Dora the Explorer” books because Swiper, the thieving fox in the bandit mask, is too scary for her, even when the book is closed. Evidently the chant “Swiper, no swiping!” isn’t defense enough for her. I guess we won’t be learning Spanish quite yet.

I really wish she’d show a little more intestinal fortitude at times, but I also understand that childhood is when you’re deeply scarred by imagery you either didn’t understand, or imagery that was probably too much for its intended audience. It made me wonder what things scared other people as children. I know I was terrified by a Charlie McCarthy ventriloquist dummy, by an Incredible Hulk toy and by at least a couple of episodes of M*A*S*H (That nightmare one! And the one with the chicken/baby!) So, I took to Facebook for an informal poll of what scared people in different decades. Thanks to everyone who responded! Here are the results, excluding the valid societal fears, which we may be visiting later this month:

The ‘90s kids seemed universally afraid of “Are You Afraid of the Dark,” which must have been designed to ruin childhoods. “Goosebumps” came up and some ‘90s ephemera bothered this group, including the Hexus in “FernGully: The Last Rainforest”; the clown in “It” (latest in a long line of clowns, especially in Chicagoland, home to Gacy); the putties in “Power Rangers”; Chucky, the anomalous “Blue Barney” in certain early Barney episodes; and the witches in “The Witches,” because everything in Roald Dahl is terrifying.

The ‘80s were rife with upset children, thanks to the rise of “latchkey kids” with access to the new “cable television.” Freddy and his ilk topped the list, along with “Children of the Corn,” dark puppet stuff like “The Dark Crystal” and “Labryinth” (just Bowie’s tights alone bothered many kids), Teddy Ruxpin, and of course, “Poltergeist” and it’s under-the-bed clown. And don’t forget about all the terrifying PSA’s thanks to DARE, MADD, the Cocaine Monkey and more, which left kids quaking in their Roo sneakers.

The ‘70s has all the trippy, horrifying Sid and Marty Krofft shows, “The Wiz,” Lou Ferrigno’s hulk, the nightmare boat ride in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (the chicken, amiright?), and scary metal album covers – KISS came up twice, as did Queen’s “News of the World,” Black Sabbath and others. There was also “The Exorcist,” Sesame Street’s creepy Maria-as-Chaplin sketches and everything on “The Electric Company” – especially the screaming opening!

The ‘50s and ‘60s had “The Twilight Zone” (1959-1964) which continued to upset kids with Talky Tina in “Eye of the Beholder” for decades to come. There were other suspense shows, like Inner Sanctum, and just about anything related to the cold war.

Catholic kids of all decades were upset by notions of possession and exorcism and the related CCD lectures and horror movies.

And “gypsies” came up in most past decades polled, which is both terrifying and culturally insensitive.

Clowns never missed a decade, nor did mascots or Disney villains, nor kidnapping, which seems to climax in a full blown mania in the ‘80s.

“The Wizard of Oz” is evergreen nightmare fuel, in ALL it’s incarnations. The flying monkeys and the witch came up again and again, and the subway scene in 1978’s version left a generation scarred. Those might have been nothing compared to 1985’s deeply disturbing, “Return to Oz,” in which Dorothy is given shock treatment, befriends a dead moose and sees a hall full of screaming severed heads.

Screaming. Severed. Heads. If happy little blue birds fly …

I also took the Wayback Machine all the way to the 1920s by asking my grandmother, now north of 90, what scared kids in the Jazz Age. My late granddad told me years ago that Long John Silver in “Treasure Island” was scarier to him than any Freddy or Jason nonsense. But what does Grandma think?

She told me she was deeply afraid of dogs, but that was “due to a brutal attack by a dog that bit my face, and the very harsh rabies treatment at the time … but that’s probably too dark for your comedy article.”

True, Grandma, but I’m very relieved to know my daughter will never need to get 1920s rabies treatment.

“I don’t know,” she told me, “I’m from the Greatest Generation … we weren’t afraid of things … except Hansel and Gretel. That story was upsetting.”

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