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Posted at 1:23 PM ET, 10/ 1/2010

The eight horror movies most likely to wreck a childhood

By Jen Chaney and Liz Kelly

The power of Christ compels us to share this list of childhood-wrecking horror flicks. (Warner Bros. via Reuters)

We have officially entered the month of October, a time to bask in the joys of fall foliage, brisk autumnal days and stuff that scares the heck out of us.

Yes, this is the month of Halloween, perhaps Celebritology's favorite holiday. In keeping with the spirit of all things creepy, kooky and/or ooky, our October Friday lists will all have some sort of Halloween-ish theme. Starting today, with our list of eight horror movies most likely to wreck a childhood.

We're not necessarily talking about masterfully crafted, works of Hitchcockian art -- although "Psycho," among others, certainly qualifies as a childhood-wrecker. We're talking about movies that have proven their ability to imprint horrifying images on young minds, thereby forcing little boys and girls to stay up all night, staring at the ceiling and listening to Q107 on their clock radios because they know that if they dare to close their eyes, an evil clown doll will inevitably attack them. Not that, um, we know anything about that.

Liz and I have each singled out four childhood wrecking scare-athons, but we know there are many more. So we encourage you to share your choices in the comments section. We promise it will be therapeutic, and not at all terrifying.

Jen's Picks:

"Poltergeist": Seeing "Poltergeist" because all the tickets for "E.T." were sold out -- this was a rite of passage for children growing up in the '80s, and one that spawned a generation of individuals who, to this day, still shudder when they hear the words: "They're here." Everyone has one scary movie that did the most psychological damage to his or her susceptible little mind, and for me, this one was it. No, I didn't sleep during non-daylight hours for the remainder of the summer of '82. Yes, I was convinced Robby's freakish clown doll was going to kill me. And yes, I did keep my eyes open all night long by listening to D.C.-based top 40 station Q107, which is why the songs "Hard to Say I'm Sorry" by Chicago and "Eye in the Sky" by the Alan Parsons Project still, also, creep me out.

"Trilogy of Terror": Okay, clearly I have issues with dolls coming to life. But so do plenty of other people, as evidenced by the number of friends who also say that "Terror" -- a 1975 ABC Movie of the Week -- scarred them as kids, primarily because of its third chapter, which features a feral Zuni warrior doll terrorizing an increasingly desperate Karen Black. It seems more than a little goofy now. But when you're in elementary school, this is straight-up, send-me-to-counseling scary.

"Nightmare on Elm Street": Yes, Freddy Krueger got campy pretty quickly. But any kid who saw the original story of the pockmarked killer who murders kids in their dreams can probably attest to this Wes Craven movie's status as an A1 childhood-wrecker. I mean, just try settling down for a pleasant night's rest when you've just watched Johnny Depp die in his sleep.

"The Exorcist":
This one didn't destroy my youth, but I still think it stands as the all-time record holder for most childhoods wrecked by a single movie. What makes this one so terrifying -- that Linda Blair is a girl who gets possessed, which makes it seem likely that any child could get possessed by the devil? Blair's ability to spew vomit and curse like a deranged sailor? The fact that it's supposedly based on a true story? All of the above, but -- in my view -- the real reason it freaks us all out can be attributed to the make-up work of legendary artist Dick Smith. The sight of Linda Blair's ravaged, monstrous face is something that continues to wreck childhoods -- and for that matter, adulthoods -- nearly 40 years after the film's release.

Liz's Picks:

"The Amityville Horror": This was the first scary movie I ever saw and it probably didn't help that I watched it alone in the very spooky basement of my house. Did I mention that this house was in Naples, Italy, and had both a sub-basement wine cellar and a jail cell in it? Okay -- now you get why a movie about a house in which all kinds of creepy events are going down thanks to the spirit of a mass-murderer -- many of them in the basement -- might traumatize an 8-year-old.

"The Shining": Jack Nicholson was plenty creepy before playing the lead in the Stanley Kubrick-directed adaptation of Stephen King's horror masterpiece, but watching Nicholson totally descend into madness and hunt a deserted haunted hotel for his wife and young son sent me over the edge. Not to mention "Red Rum," the image of the dessicated old woman in the bathtub or the twins who want to play with little Danny forever. (Note: The clip below isn't the original trailer, but gives a better sense of the film than the real one.)

"Village of the Damned": Not only was this British horror -- the original 1960 version -- about strangely telepathic and diabolical Aryan children with glowing eyes totally creeptastic (how can you go wrong with possessed kids?), but it had enough pop cultural cred to be spoofed by "The Simpsons." So it must be a childhood-wrecker, right?

"The Blair Witch Project": Okay, so I wasn't exactly a kid when this faux documentary about three college students searching for evidence of a malevolent force in the Maryland woods hit theaters, but I was still young enough (28) to be utterly terrified. For anyone who will protest that the scary factor was mitigated by the massive hype, I'd just like to say that I saw the movie before the hype machine really got rolling, so I didn't know what to expect walking in to the theater. I, of course, knew what to expect walking out -- something wicked hiding behind every tree and in every dark corner of my house. Which is why I couldn't sleep well for at least a week. I still won't go camping.

By Jen Chaney and Liz Kelly  | October 1, 2010; 1:23 PM ET
Categories:  Friday Lists, Movies, Pop Culture  
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Do you know when the Exorcist really wrecks your childhood? When your name is Regan. And you grew up in the '80s. In the Washington metropolitan area.

I still get requests to turn my head all the way around.

Posted by: Louise9 | October 1, 2010 1:49 PM | Report abuse

Doesn't need to be a horror flick to qualify as a childhood wrecker. I was six when my parents dragged me to see "Judgment at Nuremberg".....can only assume they didn't know there was going to be concentration camp footage.

Posted by: nonsensical2001 | October 1, 2010 2:05 PM | Report abuse

I still can't even look at a still photo from The Exorcist without cringing in fear. My babysitter made us watch it on tv when I was 6. I slept with a picture of Jesus for a year.

Posted by: stefs624 | October 1, 2010 2:06 PM | Report abuse

"Tales From The Crypt" - 1972. I was 8 or 9 and, for some reason, was allowed to see this in the theater. The Langley Theater in Langley Park (long is The Allen, which was down the street on New Hampshire in 'Coma Park). I've never forgotten this movie. To this day, whenever I look in the rear-view mirror, I think I'm going to see a skeleton, in a leather jaket riding a motorcycle.

Also, the original "Halloween" - 1978. I was 13. Saw it at the underground theater (can't remember the name) in Silver Spring. The theater was across from The Silver on Fenton, I think. The theater was, literally, underground. Scariest movie EVER, though it might have been enhaced by the...ummm..."herbal" extras I had enjoyed right before the movie started. (Yes, those were the days.)

Posted by: Bebunk | October 1, 2010 2:10 PM | Report abuse

I had to walk to and from classes around the Exorcist shooting location on Prospect Street. The real eerie perspective was from Rosslyn or Key Bridge at night, looking towards Georgetown. The area around the Exorcist shoot was enveloped in a cloud of movie fog, illuminated by spotlights.

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | October 1, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

Sas, just think how scared Linda Blair must've been to spot a Cryptid in Georgetown!

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | October 1, 2010 2:57 PM | Report abuse

I think it'd be interesting to also list movies that petrified us that weren't SUPPOSED to be scary. Me? Hocus Pocus. I still can't watch it without being positive I'm going to get turned into a mouse as soon as I close my eyes.

Posted by: CaitlinEmmy | October 1, 2010 3:02 PM | Report abuse

Apparently I was thinking of "The Witches." That's where they turn into mice. But Hocus Pocus petrified me too, I'm sure.

Posted by: CaitlinEmmy | October 1, 2010 3:09 PM | Report abuse

Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3. Maybe it's 4? The one where they're in the hospital and their sleep is being studied. There's a scene where Freddie Krueger uses the veins of one of his victims as puppet strings to jerk him around and eventually kill him. For years (no exagerration!) afterwards I slept with one forearm facing up and the other down, because that way, if Freddie Krueger came for me, he would only be able to get the veins on one arm, and I could fight back with the other.

Posted by: themegnapkin | October 1, 2010 3:26 PM | Report abuse

I know the Exorcist left me with a phobia of becoming demonically possessed! But Bambi and Dumbo gave me the impression that I could become an orphan at any time and those weren't horror movies!

Posted by: kvs09 | October 1, 2010 3:46 PM | Report abuse

I can't believe you didn't mention either the Evil Dead or Jaws. I still don't like swimming in the ocean.

Posted by: burkemic99 | October 1, 2010 3:47 PM | Report abuse

Totally agree on Poltergeist. I had a bouganvillea bush right outside my window. HUGE thing. Kept expecting it to come through the window any night. Also, I couldn't eat chicken for weeks afterwards.

Also, the original Friday the 13th. That scene with Jason popping up out of the lake kept me from falling asleep for weeks. And I saw it on tv not the theaters.

Posted by: epjd | October 1, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse

I didn't see The Exorcist until I was in college, but it really freaked me out. The freak-out was intensified by the fact that the spooky old Jesuit "priest in residence" in my dormitory actually played the university president in the movie, and was rumored to be the priest involved in the story that was the inspiration for the movie.

Posted by: northgs | October 1, 2010 4:00 PM | Report abuse

When I was about 8 I saw a horror movie at a friend's house (her older sister was watching it). I don't remember which one it was, but it involved a killer who stabbed people with a long knife, and in the end he burned to death in a fire. I had nightmares for weeks! Also The Scarecrow on Disney (of all things). WTH, Disney?!!

Posted by: inkydog | October 1, 2010 4:26 PM | Report abuse

Stephen King's "It" scared the crap out of me. Also, after watching The Silence of the Lambs in high school, I slept with the lights on for a very long time.

Posted by: bluesun42 | October 1, 2010 4:27 PM | Report abuse

The horror movie that ruined all horror movies for me was "Don't be afraid of the dark." (1973). I can still hear the little creatures whispering "going to get you, going to get you" and see the wife being dragged into the chimney. Many years later, i shared this memory with my dad (who I watched the movie with) and for awhile he used to come up behind me and say that phrase in that awful voice. Still scared me/gave me shivers! Creeps me out writing this posting. I can hear those creatures now!

Posted by: jperkins2 | October 1, 2010 5:10 PM | Report abuse

Michael Myers. "Halloween." That mask. That music. OK, I'm scaring myself even now.

Posted by: crissyfresh | October 1, 2010 5:13 PM | Report abuse

To this day, my wife (46) will NOT allow me to watch (re-watch) "The Exorcist". If I find it on cable and turn it on, she'll leave the room. If I turn up the sound, she'll leave the house.

"Scary" movies don't really affect me, but watching "Psycho" for the first time at age 16 scared the (put your own word here) of me.

Posted by: milano99_99 | October 1, 2010 5:24 PM | Report abuse

OK I can't be the only one that was traumatized by the original mini-series of Salem's Lot can I?!?

That kid levitating outside the window & the vampire Barlowe had to send more kids into therapy than all the NOES, Friday the 13th & Halloween movies combined.

I'll agree w/Trilogy of Terror, all things doll related 'specially Magic, & The Exorcist which I still won't watch alone.

The other 2 movies that scarred me into the life of a horror/Halloween loving geek were Dracula Prince of Darkness & The Mummy.

Dracula Prince of Darkness was the sequel to the first Hammer Dracula film w/Christopher Lee, Horror of Dracula. Rumour has it the dialogue was so atrocious that Lee wouldn't speak it so he spent the whole movie glowering, hissing & baring his fangs.

The scene that always got me was the opening scene, which was the closing scene of HoD, where Drac is exposed to light & he wastes away to dust. The other scene was the one where is faithful manservant Klove (yes that was the character's name) resurrects Dracula by hanging a guy over his ashes in his coffin & slitting his throat over them.

As usual Hammer's blood was extra red & as a kid it grossed me out horribly.

The trauma from the Mummy, 1932 Boris Karloff version, was the sight of Karloff made up as the Mummy, Im Ho Tep. That classic image stayed with me.

I'd also like to give a shout out to the man that introduced me to horror, Count Gore De Vol!!

Here's an article about him from the WaPo in 2008:

The locals of a certain age here will remember him fondly.

He will be at Spooky Movie Fest in Silver Spring at the AFI, end of Oct.

And for those that want to relive their trauma, TCM is playing Hammer Horror every Friday in Oct.

Posted by: wadejg | October 4, 2010 12:32 PM | Report abuse

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