20 Characters That Scared The Life Out Of Us As Children
Childhood is a sensitive time, when the slightest little scare can send you off into a frenzy of fear and uncertainty. And whilst parents are usually on hand to provide the necessary comfort and reassurance, one or two of the scares that we experienced as youngsters still haunt us to this very day.
If you’re anything like us, then it was your parents’ TV screen(s) that provided much of the fearful imagery that set your young mind running riot. And whether it was scary family films that claimed to be suitable for children, or adult films that you really should not have been watching, there were numerous cinematic moments and characters that sent us running for cover behind our 1980s sofa.
Below are 20 terrifying characters that scared the life out of us when we were children. If you can bear to peep through the gaps in the fingers that will shortly be covering your eyes, please do join us in taking a terrifying trip down a nightmarish memory lane.
20. General Woundwort from Watership Down
OK, General Woundwort may be an animated rabbit, but that didn’t stop him from giving us the creeps when we were kids.
Woundwort famously scraps with Bigwig, one of Watership Down’s main characters, leaving both bunnies battered and bruised.
With his foaming mouth, bloodied teeth and menacing cloudy eye, Woundwort was really the stuff of nightmares.
Even Woundwort’s gravelly voice – supplied by acclaimed British actor Harry Andrews – struck fear into the kids that watched Watership Down.
Woundwort eventually gets his comeuppance in the film when he comes face to face with a dog – but his fate is left ambiguous and it’s unclear as to whether he survives the battle with the hound.
It’s clear that while on the surface Watership Down may have seemed an innocent film about bunny rabbits, the reality was far from it.
19. The Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz
Before the Harry Potter series changed the way we viewed witches, there was The Wizard of Oz.
The film was and still is a classic, and most kids are treated to watching it at some point in their childhood.
The 1939 film follows the exploits of a sinister witch, who was essentially the blueprint for most 20th century portrayals of witches.
The ever-cackling Wicked Witch of the West is green and comes complete with a hooked nose, pointy hat and broomstick.
The witch can also teleport, leaving a cloud of red smoke in her wake, as well as control fire.
Of course, the witch is also pretty creepy given her disturbing pursuit of Dorothy. How could any child not find her scary?
18. Scar in The Lion King
You wouldn’t have thought that an animated big cat could be that scary until you saw Scar in The Lion King.
With his jet black mane, pointed fangs and emerald eyes, Scar gives off an extremely threatening aura.
Everyone’s hatred and fear of Scar was cemented in Mufasa’s tragic death scene, where power-hungry Scar lets his brother fall off a gorge to his death.
Scar’s heartlessness and sheer evil earned him a reputation among 80s and 90s kids as a formidable movie villain.
Scar was partly inspired by a whole host of depraved figures, ranging from King Claudius in Hamlet to history’s most infamous dictators.
In 2014, Scar topped the Huffington Post’s list of iconic Disney villains, and it’s fair to say he earned his place.
17. Rasputin from Anastasia
With his slick black goatee and menacing smile, Rasputin, from the 1997 animated film Anastasia, seriously gave children the creeps.
In the film, Rasputin is a sorcerer who sells his soul to curse the Romanov dynasty – ultimately bringing about the Russian Revolution in 1917.
The evil character revels in mayhem and struck fear into the hearts of children with his booming, malevolent voice.
While he ‘dies’ early on in the film, the hard-to-kill antagonist is later revived using dark magic – only to be destroyed by Anastasia once and for all.
The fact that this Rasputin was based on a real-life figure also added another disturbing element to the already-unsettling character.
The real Rasputin wasn’t much better. The slimy Svengali infiltrated the Russian court in the early 20th century, where he exercised a disproportionate level of influence over the Tsar and Tsarina.
16. Claude Frollo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Frollo is potentially the most underrated Disney villain of all time. While nobody’s disputing that he’s a creep, he’s a lot creepier than people seem to realise.
Pretty much immediately, we learn that Frollo doesn’t really care that he’s guilty of murdering an innocent woman.
He’s also very ready to kill the woman’s baby – the then-infantile Quasimodo – and has some horrible things to say about the baby’s deformities.
While murder isn’t off the cards for most Disney villains – just look at Scar – murdering an innocent human baby is pretty next level stuff.
With his gaunt face and pinched expression, Frollo’s icy exterior struck fear into many of us as kids.
Though he gets what he deserves and is duly punished by the end of the film, he certainly left a haunting impression on many of us.
15. Miss Trunchbull from Matilda
Miss Trunchbull definitely springs to mind when you think of all the terrifying characters from the films of your childhood.
In both Roald Dahl’s book and the 1996 film, Miss Trunchbull is a formidable character to say the least.
Everyone remembers her for her extreme cruelty. Famously, on one occasion she punishes a girl by throwing her out the classroom by her pigtails.
Trunchbull’s tyranny and sheer hatred of children left us all quaking in fear as kids.
Plus, that tense scene where she chases Matilda and Miss Honey round her house was nightmare-inducing.
On the plus side, at least watching Matilda made us all super grateful that we didn’t go to Crunchem Hall, and we stopped moaning about school for at least a good week.
14. Jaws from James Bond
Steven Spielberg’s mechanical shark may have had us reaching for a bigger cushion to hide behind, just as Roy Scheider’s Chief Brody declared the need for a bigger boat.
But the ‘Jaws’ that scared us the most when we were young was the metal-toothed monstrosity that appeared in the James Bond films The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker.
Jaws’ character was inspired by the character Sol ‘Horror’ Horowitz in Ian Fleming’s novel The Spy Who Loved Me.
Just like Jaws, whenever Horowitz spoke he’d reveal rows of scary steel-capped teeth. Producer Albert R Broccoli is credited with the idea of having actor Richard Kiel don metallic dentures for the role.
Kiel has since stated that wearing the teeth was incredibly uncomfortable, and he could only manage to wear them for a minute before gagging.
In 2002, the teeth were displayed as part of an exhibition at London’s Science Museum to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the release of Dr No.
13. The Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
The otherwise fun family film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang contains one of the most terrifying cinematic bad guys of all time in the form of Robert Helpmann’s Child Catcher.
The Child Catcher is hired by Baron and Baroness Bomburst to catch and imprison young children from the street.
Helpmann’s menacing, villainous character also stole our chance of a good night’s sleep in the process.
The Child Catcher did not appear in Ian Fleming’s original book, and was likely the brainchild of screenwriters Roald Dahl and Ken Hughes.
In 2005 The Child Catcher was voted the ‘scariest villain’ from a children’s franchise, winning almost a third of all votes.
He beat Cruella de Vil (2nd) and Bill Sykes (3rd) to the top spot. With his evil smile and malevolent intentions, it’s no surprise that The Child Catcher nabbed first place.
12. The Evil Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Our young film-viewing experiences should have been something non-threatening that would ease us gently into the world of cinema.
But our parents instead decided that we should see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, introducing us to our next recurring nightmare in the form of the Evil Queen.
With her penchant for dark magic and trademark icy looks, The Evil Queen struck fear into the hearts of many young viewers.
The classic Disney film followed the queen’s efforts to kill her beautiful stepdaughter, Snow White.
The juxtaposition of the Evil Queen’s wickedness against Snow White’s innocence and naivety only made her seem more horrible.
The queen gets her comeuppance in the end – but that didn’t stop us all having nightmares about her.
11. Emperor Ming the Merciless from Flash Gordon
The film itself is a ridiculous, fun, camp classic, so we can only blame the young age at which we viewed Flash Gordon for being the reason that we were really scared of Max von Sydow’s Emperor Ming the Merciless.
Emperor Ming was Flash’s arch-nemesis who unfortunately doesn’t quite die at the end of the film.
With his spiky eyebrows and angular outfits, Ming wasn’t exactly the most cuddly or wholesome of characters.
The film sees Ming plot to destroy the Earth by causing numerous catastrophic natural disasters.
It’s hardly surprising that Ming the Merciless terrified a lot of children back in the day with his dastardly plans for destroying the world.
Recently the character of Ming has been looked at in a new light, with some arguing that the portrayal is xenophobic.
10. Chucky from Child’s Play
It’s an adults-only series starring a serial killer-possessed toy doll, but in truth a number of us 80s kids were able to get our hands on a VHS copy of Child’s Play.
We scarred ourselves for life in the process, thanks to the film’s terrifying portrayal of demonic doll Chucky.
The film sees Chucky, a doll possessed by the spirit of a serial killer, terrorise the Barclay family.
The creepy doll goes on a murderous rampage for half the film before attempting to possess Andy Barclay, the family’s young son.
With his ginger hair and piercing eyes, Chucky has since become one of the most recognisable horror antagonists of all time.
We all were a little – read: hugely – afraid of our toys for a while after Chucky graced our screens.
9. Judge Doom from Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Christopher Lloyd as Judge Doom was undoubtedly iconic – he was just as terrifying as he was brilliant.
The scene that we’ve never been able to shake from our memory is the one where Judge Doom slowly lowers a cute little shoe into a bath of acid.
And who could forget the scene where his eyes turn red and bulge out their sockets as he reveals he’s a toon?
Frankly, every scene featuring the menacing Judge Doom was nightmare-inducing for any kid who watched the film back in 1988.
And if you think Lloyd’s portrayal of Doom was bad – be thankful Tim Curry didn’t get the part.
The Rocky Horror star came close to nabbing the role but producers ultimately decided he would have been too scary.
8. The Grand High Witch from The Witches
As if Roald Dahl’s 1983 novel wasn’t scary enough, Hollywood had us running in fear for a second time when they adapted The Witches into a film.
The movie featured the brilliant Anjelica Huston, who starred as the horrifying Grand High Witch.
While Huston ordinarily dazzles audiences with her elegance and grace, her appearance in The Witches was a little less glamorous.
While in the film the Grand High Witch does wear a disguise to blend in with the rest of society, her true form is the stuff of nightmares.
With her wart-covered skin, hooked nose, and emaciated body, it was impossible to not be scared by the Grand High Witch’s frightening appearance.
Her grotesque appearance paired with her disdain for children made the Grand High Witch an extremely scary villain for kids.
7. Gmork from The NeverEnding Story
The NeverEnding Story is filled with images that have haunted us for over three decades now.
However, the one character that we all remember being absolutely petrified of was Gmork the wolf.
Wolves can be pretty scary anyway, but Gmork’s glowing green eyes and huge fangs made him extra terrifying.
Gmork also had the power of human speech and his husky growl made him even scarier.
And if you actually listened when Gmork spoke, you’d find that he often came out with some pretty graphic stuff.
Honestly, what kid wouldn’t be disturbed by a wolf threatening “if you come any closer I’ll rip you to shreds?”
6. The library ghost from Ghostbusters
She appears for just a moment, but the mild-mannered library ghost’s sudden transformation into a horrific spectre in Ghostbusters gave us one of the biggest scares of our young lives.
One second she’s floating along looking at books, the next she’s metamorphosed into a zombie-esque demon.
The suddenness of the transformation made this one spooky jumpscare that left us having bad dreams for weeks.
If you managed to watch this scene as a kid without having to peek through your fingers, kudos to you.
Sadly, the actress who played the library ghost passed away shortly after the film was completed.
Ruth Oliver wasn’t just the library ghost – she was also an accomplished astrologer, writer, and teacher.
5. Skeletor from Masters of the Universe
The Skeletor character from the classic Filmation animated series He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was bad enough.
But having the renowned US stage actor Frank Langella fill his bones in the 1987 Masters of the Universe film proved to be far too much for us to take.
Langella’s performance was dazzling and believable – but that made it all the creepier for us as kids.
Skeletor always had an evil plan to take control of Castle Grayskull up his sleeve.
And, obviously, it didn’t help that the costume and makeup transformed Langella into a visually terrifying human-skeleton hybrid.
With his deathly pale ‘skin’ and missing nose, Langella’s rendition of Skeletor is almost a proto-Voldemort.
4. General Zod from Superman II
Many of you will remember being traumatised by a lady being transformed into a robot near the end of Superman III.
While that was certainly not suitable for young eyes, we were always far more scared of Terence Stamp’s evil General Zod.
General Zod was the Kryptonian who so very nearly got the better of Christopher Reeve’s man of steel in Superman II.
Something about his all-black costume and piercing blue eyes had us quaking with fear back in the day.
Zod struck fear into many kids that came to see Superman II when it was released in 1980.
His ruthlessness and megalomaniacal tendencies in the face of Superman’s innate goodness make Zod the perfect supervillain.
3. Medusa from Clash of the Titans
She may have been made of clay, but the genius of animator Ray Harryhausen meant that the serpent-haired Medusa from Clash of the Titans was one of the scariest sights ever to penetrate our innocent young eyes.
If anything, the staccato movements of Harryhausen’s stop-motion Medusa made her especially disturbing.
The constant rattling and hissing of her snakes was also incredibly creepy in and of itself.
Everyone remembers watching with baited breath as Harry Hamlin’s Perseus attempted to destroy the Gorgon once and for all.
Of course, he manages to successfully kill her – but it’s hard not to remain creeped out at the sight of her disembodied head.
While Medusa in Clash of the Titans certainly freaked us out as children, it’s fair to say that she still spooks out most of us even today!
2. Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street
We knew it was a film that we shouldn’t be watching for at least another five years, but the lure of A Nightmare on Elm Street was too strong to resist.
This inadvertently but unavoidably led to the blade-fingered Freddy Krueger haunting our childhood dreams for months afterwards.
Considering Krueger literally kills his victims by infiltrating their dreams, it’s no surprise that most of us woke up in a cold sweat after a vivid nightmare about him.
Krueger’s victims and targets are also all children, making him doubly terrifying for any kid who dared to watch A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Today, Freddy Krueger is one of the most instantly recognisable movie villains of all time.
The character has since appeared in a number of spin-offs and reboots, and even made a cameo in the 2011 video game Mortal Kombat 9.
1. The Rancor from Return of the Jedi
Like Clash of the Titans’ Medusa, the Rancor from Return of the Jedi was powered by stop motion animation.
But that didn’t stop Jabba the Hutt’s monstrous pet from scaring the life out of us when our hero Luke Skywalker was dropped into his underground lair.
Jabba’s rancor was a birthday present from his henchmen and one of his favourite pastimes was watching victims be eaten by the vicious creature.
So naturally, we were all terrified when Skywalker found himself thrown into the rancor’s pit.
As we all remember, plucky Skywalker managed to wedge a bone between the rancor’s jaws, buying him enough time to run away and hide.
Skywalker then killed the rancor by dropping a heavy portcullis on its head, breaking its skull in the process.