10 to try: Strangest kids films

We relive some of the weirdest children’s cinema ever made. The ones that creep us out too

Caroline
Caroline
Deeproy Return
Deeproy Return
Nightmare before Christmas
Nightmare before Christmas
Dark Crystal
Dark Crystal
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10 Coraline (2009): A young girl walks through a secret door to find a perfect world populated by button-eyed dopplegangers. She is quickly seduced by it, until her newfound parents demand that she sew buttons onto her eyes to be more like them. Isn’t it always the way?

Don’t look: When Coraline escapes, only to be chased Evil-Dead-style by the severed hand of her ‘Other Mother’.

9 Watership Down (1978): More depressing than actually creepy, and yet this ‘70s gloom-fest about rabbits evicted from their home, co-opted into a fascist warren, and then forced to listen interminably to Art Garfunkel’s ‘Bright Eyes’, has more than enough disturbing moments to warp any childhood.

Don’t look: General Wormwood gets ripped to pieces by a rottweiler, and a mental scar appears on a generation of British children.

8 The Black Cauldron (1986): The ‘80s were clearly a disturbing time. Produced to celebrate Disney’s 25th anniversary, this was their first PG-rated cartoon and an attempt to reach teenage fantasy fans. It also flopped, despite the last minute removal of a number of gory scenes involving the undead ‘cauldron born’ slashing throats.

Don’t look: More weirdly misguided than scary. We’re still holding out for the mythical uncut release which allegedly exists.

7 Young Sherlock Holmes (1985): Pharmaceuticals, evil societies, cream cakes: this has it all. Teenage Holmes hunts down an evil Egyptian cult which uses a blowpipe to shoot their victims with a suicide-inducing hallucinogen. Plus, as inappropriate cinematic moments go, Holmes picking up a pipe and promising to learn to smoke it is up there with the best.

Don’t look: Dosed with ju-ju, young Watson imagines being suffocated by cream cakes. We lost sleep because of that.

6 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971): Crazy-eyed Gene Wilder lures kids into his factory and tortures them with sweets. Forget the umpa-lumpas (if you can) and freeze-frame the scene where they ride the boat really fast. You can see a chicken’s head being cut off and snakes slithering on a man’s face. Far out!

Don’t look: Tiny orange men who sing of disaster in rhyming couplets? That’s the sort of thing mental patients freak out about.

5 A Nightmare Before Christmas (1993): Teenagers in eye-liner and shiny belts will tell you it’s the best film ever made. In truth, like all Tim Burton movies, it owes its trademark look to early German expressionist filmmakers. But this dark tale of skeletons and boogie men stealing Christmas has a distinctly black heart.

Don’t look: We like the mad professor who is poisoned nightly by his pretty Frankenstein creation.

4 Legend (1985): The sight of Tim Curry’s insanely massive-horned devil, an ingenue Tom Cruise and Mia Sara’s princess getting seduced by a faceless mannequin haunts our dreams to this day. What do you expect when you hire Ridley ‘Alien’ Scott to make kids’ films?

Don’t look: Meg, the swamp witch, makes Dawn of the Dead look like Bambi.

3 Return to Oz (1985): The flying monkeys were bad enough in the original, but if you’re not bothered by Dorothy being sent to a mental clinic for electro-shock therapy, then the disturbing wheelers (humanoids with wheels instead of feet) will probably tip you over the edge (setting back the disability rights cause by a decade in the process).

Don’t look: Tik-tok somehow managed to be the most disturbing, jolly, fat clockwork robot ever made.

2 Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983): Trying to compete with The Dark Crystal, Disney produced this carnival freak-fest about an evil ringmaster who lures in townsfolk by promising to fulfill their every childhood wish, only to steal their souls. Ray Bradbury’s gruesome source was edited a little, but it made a generation of kids scared of clowns.

Don’t look: The spider attack will induce a lifelong fear of all-things eight-legged.

1 The Dark Crystal (1982): The king of creepy ‘80s kids’ fantasy films. At the time it was overshadowed by E.T., yet Jim ‘Muppet’ Henson’s twisted puppet vision of vulture creatures, Gelfling genocide, mystics and crystals retains a powerful hold. Even the nice characters creep you out – the smooth-faced Gelfings look like early examples of botox gone wrong. A sequel by Russian Powerpuff Girls creator Gennedy Tartakovsky is scheduled for 2011. We can’t wait.

Don’t look: Watching the Skekses drain innocent creatures and drink their juice was practically child abuse.

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