For whatever reason, children’s television and cinema was overflowing with nightmare fuel in the 1970s and 80s. Here’s a list of some of the worst offenders those decades had to offer. Get ready for creepy puppets, flayed humans, and screaming bunnies – it’s great fun for the whole family to enjoy!
1. “The Adventures of Mark Twain” (1985)
This is a stop-motion animation flick for kids. In the film, Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and Becky Thatcher travel on an airship to Haley’s Comet and have several adventures along the way. Sounds like a typical and harmless children’s program, right? It is… until you get to the part with Satan.
Watch the clip above and just imagine viewing this as a kid – especially the part where Satan murders the happy clay-people village, transforms to the likeness of a skull, and calmly explains the pointlessness of man. Not exactly your standard light-and-fluffy children’s programming.
2. Land of the Lost (TV Series)
If movies like Halloween (1978) and It Follows (2014) which feature a slow, creeping horror which is always right behind you, frighten you – then, Sleestaks are your worst nightmare. They were slow, but they had they had this hideous hiss, and they lurked in the shadows of their ancient cavernous mazes… and in the jungle at night.
Land of the Lost was a great show – it could be light and campy, and it could also turn cerebral on you as well. But as any child of the 70s will attest – the Sleestaks were pure and simple nightmare fuel.
3. Return to Oz (1985)
Disney is no stranger to childhood trauma – Snow White had it’s share of scary scenes, and let’s not forget Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty and The Black Cauldron. But none hold a candle to this 1980s gem. The headless queen is perhaps the most memorable fright from the film; however, it’s really the film in its entirety. It’s bleak, cold, and full of dread from beginning to end. 80s kids expecting a jaunty sequel to The Wizard of Oz got this existential horror instead – a rude awakening of the most traumatizing kind.
4. H.R. Pufnstuf
I was going to include an unadulterated clip, but I think this pretty well captures the acid-trip nightmare that was H.R. Pufnstuf as good as anything I’ve seen. Sure, the show was campy, but for kids of the late 60s and 70s, it was like wandering into Sid & Marty Krofft’s LSD hallucinations – which, I don’t think I need to argue, was not a very pleasant place to be.
5. Peppermint Park (TV Series, 1987)
Hey kids! Want to see a puppet show? O-kay! Now let’s all go to the neighborhood serial killer’s basement and watch the show!
Yes, Peppermint Park had some of the creepiest puppets of all time, complete with enough dirty curtains and wood panelling to safely assume that “Peppermint Park” was actually cellar. More Peppermint Park nightmares to be had here.
6. Children of the Stones (TV Series, 1977)
Often regarded as the genuinely scariest show for kids ever produced. I’ve only seen it as an adult, so I can’t quite attest to this claim; however, I can say the music for this show is truly frightening. British television was no stranger to vaguely creepy intros (Tomorrow People, Dr. Who), but when it comes to nightmare soundtracks, Children of the Stones is a clear winner.
7. Slim Goodbody (TV Series)
I remember Slim Goodbody and his intestine suit from his appearances on Captain Kangaroo – always a horrific treat. If the sight of a flayed man on a children’ s program sounds like the stuff of nightmares, understand that Slim was very, very real.
What’s worse is that his gory insides were a part of a unitard that was incomprehensibly form-fitting. So, children of the 70s were treated not only to the sight of his flayed anatomy, but also every bulge on Slim’s physique. This is not a show you want to watch in high definition.
8. Watership Down (1978)
For me, this film wins by a landslide. I went to see this in theater expecting to see a movie about cute bunnies….. and what I got was cute bunnies dying horrible deaths. There’s also fields running red with blood, rabbit phantoms, rabbit torture, and a bunny holocaust. A movie for the whole family to enjoy!