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8 Classic Movie Villains who Made Children (& some Grown Ups) Scream

Steve Palace
Fair Use
Fair Use

Everyone has their favorite movie villain. And for a lot of viewers that character scared them stiff as children!

Brave this rotten rundown of the worst of the worst…

8. Judge Doom

‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ (1988) caused a commotion with its incredible FX, blending live action and animation. But arguably the best effect was human, in the form of Roger’s eerie enemy Judge Doom.

Fair Use – Tochstone Pictures

Fair Use – Tochstone Pictures

Christopher Lloyd jangled children’s spines as the black-clad justice dispenser, who was eventually unmasked as a “toon” himself. Versatile character actor Lloyd also played Doc Brown in ‘Back To The Future’. Not that audiences would have recognized him here.

Doom’s fright factor was ramped up even further by an inspired creative decision from Lloyd. “They’re not human, so I just felt Judge Doom should never blink” he told social media this year, via Disney +. “It makes him even more ominous, more scary, if he’s just looking like that. It wasn’t really difficult, I’d just keep my eyes open as long as I could, try to time it out with the next take and all that. It was cool.” Chilling more like…!

7. Medusa

1981’s ‘Clash of the Titans’ was the final big screen movie project of legendary animator Ray Harryhausen. The stop motion maestro delivered a dangerous doozy of an opponent for hero of Greek myth Perseus (Harry Hamlin) to tackle in his quest.

Toward the end of the movie he came face to face with the snake-headed Medusa! Or rather he didn’t – the creature turned her victims to stone if looked at directly. Perseus slayed his skin-crawling opponent by studying her movements in the reflection of his shield.

Medusa may have lost her head, but the scary sequence gave many young viewers sleepless nights… and maybe a few older ones too…

6. Grand High Witch

Director Nicolas Roeg was known for his surreal and brain-frying imagery. The ending of horror classic ‘Don’t Look Now’ (1973) is one of the most jarring curveballs in movie history. When a 1990 movie version of Roald Dahl’s ‘The Witches’ arrived in cinemas, Roeg was at the helm. The little ones didn’t know what hit them!

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Fair Use

Anjelica Huston cut a glamorous figure in her early scenes as Eva Ernst. It was when she dropped her disguise and became the Grand High Witch that people started screaming. Huston donned nightmarish makeup for the switch, looking like a cross between a bald bird and a melting candle.

‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ director Robert Zemeckis has filmed a new version, with Anne Hathaway as the ultimate witchy woman, due out next year. Will it give impressionable minds the willies in quite the same way…?

5. Jaws

For some, Jaws is a big rubber shark that terrorized Amity Island. For others, Jaws will always be the terrifying Bond villain – big as a house and sporting frightening metal teeth.

He made his debut in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ (1977) opposite Roger Moore’s 007. The terrifying scene where Jaws slays an unfortunate investigator among the pyramids is burned into the memory of viewers of a certain age!

Richard Kiel. Fair Use

Richard Kiel. Fair Use

Richard Kiel was the man behind the molars. Ironically he had his own dental problems in early life! The original plan was to kill the character off, but producers soon realized they were onto something special.

His powerful presence led to Jaws returning for ‘Moonraker’ in 1979. “I had convinced the producer that Jaws should have some characteristics that were human to counteract the steel teeth” Kiel told Den of Geek in 2009. “I guess I overdid it – I became too likeable to kill off!”

4. The Skeksis

Muppet creator Jim Henson took audiences into the magical world of ‘The Dark Crystal’ in 1982. Those expecting cute frogs and karate-chopping pigs were in for a surprise. The movie was dark, challenging and very, very scary!

Heather Kennedy – CC BY-SA 3.0

Heather Kennedy – CC BY-SA 3.0

Wizened creations the Skeksis were key to haunting children’s dreams. The scheming beakmeisters were more like something from a Stephen King novel than a kids’ puppet show. They were devised by Henson and conceptualized by fantasy artist Brian Froud.

The figure of the Chamberlain was particularly memorable, for his repeated and unsettling use of the word “Mmmmm”! Performed by Miss Piggy’s Frank Oz and voice artist Barry Dennen, he became a tragic figure who – in a shocking sequence – is viciously pecked at by his Skeksis brethren.

Netflix prequel series ‘Age of Resistance’ (2019) brought the Muppet-fueled monsters back to frighten a new generation…

3. Freddy Krueger

Though not intended as a children’s character, Freddy Krueger went mainstream after his debut in Wes Craven’s ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ (1984). The gooey-faced ghoul and dream invader with blades on his fingers is everyone’s idea of a boogeyman.

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Fair Use

No doubt young people got their hands on the video release, to check out the gory sights for themselves. They probably wished they hadn’t once it was time for bed!

Robert Englund played Freddy over multiple movies and TV appearances. He sees the character as striking a deep chord in budding imaginations.

In 2013 Englund told website This Bird’s Day, “there is nothing more private than your dreams. It’s like your secret diary or your drawer in your desk… the fact that somebody can get in there and mess around with your own fears… I think that’s really unnerving to adolescents. I think that’s probably why so many people internationally reacted that way to the eight films.” One two, Freddy’s coming for you…

2. Evil Queen

‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ made history in 1937 as Disney’s first ever animated feature film. Why is it so well remembered? The beautifully-drawn characters and timeless songs of course. But also the Evil Queen!

Voiced by Lucille La Verne, the villainess managed to scare children even more by transforming into an old crone. This memory has scarred millions of childhood cinema trips. And the frights didn’t stop in the 1930s.

“Our first ever cinematic experience should have been something non threatening that would ease us gently into the world of Hollywood films,” writes 80 Kids, “but our parents instead declared that we should take a trip to see the 1983 re-release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”. Heigh-Ho? Heigh-No…!

1. Child Catcher

What could be scarier than a sinister figure who swipes up kiddies in a net? Nothing that’s what. Actor and dancer Robert Helpmann’s performance as the appalling Child Catcher in ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ (1968) is still liable to get youngsters hiding under furniture all those decades on.

Fair Use: United Artists

Fair Use: United Artists

Helpmann received a jolt of his own however, when rehearsing a scene for the movie with the Catcher’s cart and horses. As he rounded the corner, something went very wrong. “It flipped over” star Dick Van Dyke recalled in an interview for ITV.

It takes more than that to stop the Child Catcher though, as Van Dyke discovered to his astonishment. “He was sitting up at the front… as it went over, he stepped on the sides, stepped on the wheel and stepped off on the curbing. And the thing just went tumbling and falling apart. Never seen anything as graceful in my life!”

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Steve is a writer and comedian from the UK. He’s a contributor to both The Vintage News and The Hollywood News and has created content for many other websites. His short fiction has been published by Obverse Books.