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The Ordinary Things That Terrified Us as Children

Fuck you, intro that used to play on HBO before the Saturday night movie!

Halloween: the time of year in which we temporarily let go of modern life's perpetual, banal horrors and indulge ourselves in simpler spooky symbols: jack-o-lanterns, ghosts, ghouls, witches, a black cat or two (although, really, most of them are quite nice), and our favorite horror movies and TV shows. But sometimes—especially when you're a child with an impressionable mind—the entertainment that scares us the most are the things that aren't meant to scare us at all. Some of VICE's finest employees shared tales of what irrationally spooked them the most as children—so take off your mask, turn off Poltergeist, and read on for the things that scared us silly that probably shouldn't have…


Teddy Ruxpin was an animatronic teddy bear you put an audio cassette in, and it would tell stories and sing. It's easy to imagine why that might scare kids, and I was very much one of them. That's because I was an infant during the Teddy Ruxpin craze in the mid-to-late 80s. By the time I was lucid in 1988 or 1989, kids a little older than me all had one, but the batteries were dead and the cassettes were lost, so it just sat there like any other teddy bear. I didn't know there was anything else to it. One day at daycare, our teacher was sick of us all running amok or whatever and was like, "OK, kids, story time!" She plopped a fully loaded Teddy Ruxpin down in front of us, and I was like, "Are you serious?" But then it fucking TALKED. It actually started telling a story. I was fully one of those surprised kids from the first Teddy Ruxpin commercial, except instead of being delighted, it sent a chill straight to my soul. One minute it was this inert toy, and the next minute, it was an orphaned alien telling me about a treasure map it found. After a couple minutes, I calmed down. Even a four-year-old can figure out there's a tape in there, and the face is motorized. But the initial shock kinda never wore off even if over time it turned from fear to melancholy. All because there was that moment when I fully believed this living creature with hopes and dreams had been sitting there awake, staring at me from across the room, and I'd been ignoring it. - Mike Pearl, VICE Staff Writer


When I was a kid, HBO scared the living shit out of me. I'm not talking about old Tales from the Crypt episodes (although I also had a more serious and more rational fear of the Crypt keeper, too)—what really spooked me was the intro that used to play before the Saturday night movie. Truthfully, watching it as a 29-year-old still gives me the heebie jeebies: The family in the window settling down to watch some HBO stokes my fear of what other people could be doing at any moment, the dramatic orchestral music sounds ominous and then terrifyingly bombastic, and the gigantic HBO logo that comes from the sky like a glowing scion of televised humanity makes me feel like HBO is coming to invade my town (or, at least, my dreams). Sadly, I was subject to this intro hundreds of times even after it was taken off the air, as my parents had taped a showing of The Pope of Greenwich Village on the channel and watched it many times with me, subjecting me to my most recurring nightmare all for the love of Eric Roberts. - Larry Fitzmaurice, VICE Senior Culture Editor, Digital

I used to suck my thumb a lot, so my dad would read me this 150-year-old German children's book called Struwwelpeter, about a boy who gets his thumb cut off with giant scissors because he won't stop sucking it. The only other time I have ever seen this book mentioned is as Dwight Schrute's favorite book on The Office.

I also used to regularly have nightmares about this fire alarm commercial, and have spent my entire adult life regularly waking up with a start, convinced I'm dying from smoke inhalation. But I guess that's also meant to be scary. - Jamie Taete, VICE Executive West Coast Editor

Close Encounters of the Fuck Nah. Photo via Columbia Pictures.

This is something that STILL scares me, but when I first saw Close Encounters of the Third Kind, I was completely terrified of it, especially the ending, when the aliens, those bizarre big-headed silhouettes, take that dude away in their spaceship. Are we supposed to be cool with that outcome? Like, oh good he is joining a higher life form or serving as the Earth's ambassador to the stars? FUCK no. Five minutes after he walks into that light inside the spaceship he is at best being splayed open like a frog in biology class and at worst something horrible is happening to him that we can't even comprehend. Most horror films to me lose steam once it's revealed that the mysterious masked killer/evil presence is actually just a deranged drifter/Mayan curse/whatever. But Close Encounters never reveals the menace that hovers over everything—remember, this is a suspenseful movie about a dude losing his mind. There's no resolution.

Every movie about aliens making first contact with humans assumes that these races would be so advanced that they would basically hold humanity in the palm of their hands. In Independence Day and Mars Attacks, the aliens are antagonistic; in Mission to Mars and Contact, they're basically benign. (I've seen all these movies in theaters by the way.) In Close Encounters we don't know what they're about. They're just floating out there in the nothing-y blackness, watching, inscrutable. Some people are comforted by idea of an unknown omnipotent force hovering out there. At 12, I sure as fuck was not. -Harry Cheadle, VICE Senior Politics Editor

When I was about eight or nine, my dad or my mum—maybe both—got me a subscription to National Geographic. Which I read religiously and adored. Until one issue had a piece on the Black Death (bubonic plague) that swept through Europe in the 14th century. I think there was an illustration, or maybe a reproduced etching, of one of the plague doctors in their fucking awful beak masks and goggles, with their long robes, which utterly terrified me. I started getting extremely worried that the new subway lines they were at that time digging in London would hit a plague pit, and that the city would be full of dead bodies on carts and mass graves, and of course that my family would all die with pustules and swollen armpits and waxy faces. I vividly remember sitting at the top of the stairs in my house at night, a few times, crying, hoping my parents would hear and come up and tell me that it was definitely not going to happen. I can't remember if they did, but I do remember sitting there. - Bruno Bayley, VICE European Managing Editor