I spent much of my early youth cowering in fear (see this post on the subject). But don’t worry–no tragic event befell me at an early age. I just lived in the 1980s. And it was hard not be terrified as a child in the 1980s.
I have a theory that that the 1980s were the scariest decade of all time. Yes, I know what you’re thinking. Other decades were scary, too. The 1960s has the whole bad acid trip, Charles Manson creepiness. And the 1920s has the whole old-timey, we-can’t-cure-most-diseases-yet creepiness.
Yes, 1920s. I know. You are very, very, creepy.
But no decade can top the 1980s in pure unadulterated horror. And it had nothing to do with the horror films of the time. Those movies never really frightened me. I mean, by the end of the Nightmare on Elm Street series, Freddy was basically just a wise cracking Jimmy Durante look-alike with a pimpin’ striped sweater.
“I’m going to haunt your dreams. I mean, a-cha-cha-cha!”
So why were the 1980s so scary? Let’s start with a look at some of the popular children’s films of the time.
The Neverending Story (1984) seems like a good place to start. The film takes place in a magical land called Fantasia. It features a little boy, a kindly old man who owns a bookshop, a flying, furry creature called a luck dragon and a white horse. Sounds delightful, right?
As the story unfolds, we learn of a void of darkness called The Nothing which destroys everything in its path. Granted, that sounds a bit more like the backstory of a heavy metal album than the plot of a children’s flick, but it’s nothing too traumatizing, right? Right?
Oh God, what is that?
In this classic scene from the film, a young boy watches as his beloved horse drowns to death in the Swamp of Sadness. Wait. Drowns to death? Wait. The Swamp of Sadness? Come on, 80s movie writers! Did you really need to name a place the Swamp of Sadness? And then drown a god damn horse in it as a child screams in agony and terror?
Let’s take another example. Return to Oz (1985) couldn’t possibly be scary, right? I mean it was made by Disney. And it was a sequel to the beloved Judy Garland movie about a little girl, an effeminate lion and a dancin’ scarecrow.
And yet, inexplicably, the movie features a hall of talking, decapitated heads. And these things:
Perhaps one could argue the film was just more faithful to the original stories by L. Frank Baum, which could be a bit dark at times. Fair enough – but how do you explain the scene where Dorothy is given shock therapy?
That wasn’t in the original books! So why? Perhaps the writers got confused and thought they were making the Cuckoo’s Nest sequel? I hope so, because therwise the only explanation is that they were cruel, twisted human beings.
It wasn’t just movies that were scary in the 80s. Check out this commercial made–I’m convinced–by a room full of acid enthusiasts, serial killers and satan’s minions:
WTF, 80s! Even the toys were creepy back then. I’m pretty sure that Teddy Ruxpin was at any moment capable of snapping and going on a murderous rampage. And what was with the Cabbage Patch Kids?
Do you really think the cat on her outfit makes her cute? I cannot imagine being a child and sleeping in the same bed–let alone house–with that deformed monstrosity!
You know what’s even creepier than the 80s? The haunted remnants of the 80s. I am speaking of the dead malls that still litter our suburbs. You know, the malls that, even then, were kind of dark and dismal?
Why was the color scheme of those malls always feces-brown? Why were the anchor stores always depressing establishments like JC Penny, Sears or Montgomery Ward? Because it was the 80s, that’s why! Not even an Orange Julius stand could liven these places up.
Pictured: The ghost of 80s past.
In conclusion, the 80s finally ended and I eventually got some relief from all the terror. Luckily, the most alarming thing about the 90s was that “Barbie Girl” by Aqua and the Macerena were widely popular.
Oh yeah, and that people thought overalls were fashionable. That was pretty scary.
Update: I know I missed a bunch of scary 80s moments, but I couldn’t possibly mention all of them! But for good measure, I will namecheck a few more: Gremlins, the Dark Crystal, the Goonies (remember Sloth?), the part of Roger Rabbit where Christopher Lloyd turns into a devil-eyed freak, Labyrinth (featuring a baby stealing David Bowie) and Howard the Duck. Oh God, Howard the Duck!