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The Stuff That Scared the Shit Out of Us as Kids

From Pee-Wee characters to Bertolt Brecht, we got a few of our writers to recount the media that kept them awake at night.
Illustration by Lia Kantrowitz

As kids, we all feared things that went bump in the night—but what about the things that spooked us on the screen, or on the stage? We're perhaps the first generation to grow up to a constant exposure of media and pop culture (imagine how future generations are going to be), and as such, the capability of getting the shit scared out of us by said cultural experiences was greater than ever. We've compiled some of our earliest experiences in getting scared silly—hopefully, they won't prove too traumatic for us to remember, or for you to learn about. —Larry Fitzmaurice, Senior Culture Editor, Digital


The Perrier 'Lioness' commercial

I remember this very vividly: I was maybe four or five years old, we were at my grandparents' house, and I had wandered into the family room while everyone was watching TV before we got in the car and headed home. When I entered, a commercial for Perrier was blaring on the TV, featuring a woman trying to get a refreshing bottle for herself while facing off with a lion. The commercial is clearly comical, but when that lion roared, man, I was fucking terrified. Terrified! I cried for at least five minutes, and our trip home was hastened. Sorry, Mom and Dad. —LF

Bertolt Brecht's Caucasian Chalk Circle

Photo by Beckett Mufson

When I was 11, my dad directed a theatrical production of Bertolt Brecht's Caucasian Chalk Circle. It's a complicated narrative, a play within a play that features a number of twists and perspective changes, and perhaps the worst ending of all time: a custody battle between two women that leads to a literal tug-of-war with a baby in tow.

It ends exactly how you'd expect it to, and since my dad's specialty is pushing established stories to their most radical visual and conceptual conclusions, each actor had to have a custom-made mask carved from a wok and mounted on a stick. As an adult, I recognize the beauty in their exaggerated facial expressions, but as a kid, they freaked me the hell out. The image of two metal-masked mothers splitting a baby haunted my nightmares. It didn't help that the masks were mounted around my house for years. —Beckett Mufson


Large Marge from Pee Wee's Big Adventure

I had an irrational fear of Large Marge from Pee Wee's Big Adventure. I watched it for the first time in kindergarten with my family, and got so scared that I had to sleep on my brother's floor for weeks. I was convinced she lived in my closet. It didn't help that my neighbor who babysat me every day at the time looked practically identical to her—so much so that my brothers eventually nicknamed her Large Marge, likely to fuck with me. Every day after school, I'd go to her house and sit with my back up against the wall. I thought if I lost sight of her for even a second, suddenly her eyes would bulge out of her head. —Lia Kantrowitz, Senior Illustrator

The Kid with the Head Wound in The Sixth Sense

As a precocious child of impending divorce, who therefore identified with every Haley Joel Osment character, all my worst fears blasted out of the back of my head with the reveal of the confident-looking older kid's cavernous dome-wound in The Sixth Sense. The only thing I knew back then was that I had to keep my wits about me, so the idea that irresponsible parenting did, in fact, lead to young wits splattered about patterned wallpaper was enough horror for that evening. I promptly asked—read: sobbed—for the movie to be turned off and slept exclusively on my back for a month. —Emerson Rosenthal

The Cryptkeeper from Tales from the Crypt

This fuckin' guy. He scared the living shit out of me as a kid. I'd have nightmares regularly about his gross-ass face and his terrifying laugh. My fear of the Tales from the Crypt mascot was so great that I couldn't even enter the comic-book store in the mall without catching a glimpse of his face across the cover of a Fangoria and running for the safety of one of my parents. My parents were more or less annoyed by this fear, by the way—and if you're able to perceive being able to annoy your parents visibly at the age of seven, you're either really fucking perceptive or really good at annoying your parents. I'd like to think I was both. —LF