Open Channel: What Was the First Movie That Scared the Crap Out of You?

A Wheeler makes its horrific arrival in Return to Oz, a movie for children.
Photo: Disney

Sometimes I see “kids’” films and wonder how in the hell some of that stuff got included in the final cut. Surely children must be horrified watching this play out. Then I remember my own childhood.

There are those movies that leave a mark. For me it was 1985's Return to Oz. Written and directed by Walter Murch, the fantasy film was an unofficial sequel to the classic MGM musical, The Wizard of Oz, but was on a supremely different wavelength. First of all, there was no singing. Second of all, there was a hall of freaking severed heads.

Dorothy joins Princess Mombi on a tour of her cabinets of heads. This is a movie for children.
Photo: Disney

Hi, I was like five when I saw this.

Return to Oz starred The Craft’s Fairuza Balk as Dorothy (it was her first film), Piper Laurie as Aunt Em, Jean Marsh as Princess Mombi, and Nicol Williamson as the Nome King. It was incredibly dark. I can’t stress that enough. While the entire thing scared me, it was the Wheelers that gave me nightmares.

Just WTF.
Photo: Disney

But there was more than just fantasy horror in Return to Oz. The film also included a very real-world set-up for Dorothy’s Oz adventures this time around, and they consisted of a 1899 psychiatric hospital complete with screaming patients and shock therapy.


But here’s the thing. Even though I was frightened out of my mind by the movie as a kid, I kept asking to watch it. We practically wore out the library’s copy and it’s still one of my favorite films to this day. I heard last year someone is making a documentary about the film and I can’t wait to see it.

So we’re curious to know: What was the first movie to scare the crap out of you? It doesn’t have to have been horror, obviously; any number of things can set off a fright in a young kid. And did you go back for more, or where you scarred for life? Let us know in the comments!


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About the author

Jill Pantozzi

Deputy Editor, io9. Loves cats.