Live-action children’s movies underwent a bit of a revolution during the 80s. Special effects expanded the possibilities for what may have only been possible in animated movies prior. The 80s brought about some pretty elaborate sets, make-up, and puppetering to kid’s movies. The decade also seemed fairly bent on darker kid’s movies. At times, attempts at live-action creatures also turned out so poorly as to become frightening. This list only includes movies meant to be family-friendly. These movies all range in the PG and below category. “Creature” essentially includes anything nonhuman in appearance. So here’s a list of yesteryear creatures that soaked underpants and with kids too scared to sleep, had parents bickering into the night about which one let their child watch such a movie.
8. Garthim in The Dark Crystal
The Dark Crystal stars puppets, only puppets. Released in ’82, this Jim Henson movie features many creatures that are simply creepy. The birdlike Skeksis are pretty grotesque. However, the Garthim are worse because of their resemblance to some critter one might find in a dark corner of a pantry. The Garthim are dark and shiny crustaceous giants. Even though these things are gross, the Garthim are dumb and lack some of the sinister qualities of other things on this list. The Dark Crystal faded over time to a cult-like obscurity for good reason. The movie is fairly slow and sometimes difficult to even understand what characters are saying. Still, it likely helped influence some amazing puppetry that followed later in the era.
7. Alien parents in Mac & Me
Ah, that loveable 80’s movie about a boy who finds a cute little alien and forms a wondrous friendship. Yes, Mysterious Alien Creature (M.A.C) is pretty dang cute, but as it turns out, the alien is just a child and his parents are on Earth also. And holy shit, they are awkward to look at. The movie-effects here aren’t half bad, but these gangly creatures are like something out of Silent Hill, and they’re often naked. Then again, they’re almost creepier when clothed and trying to blend in. The dad walks especially funny, and to make matters worse, these things get sick in the movie and their skin turns putrid and dotted…until that is some of the worst junk foods out there get shamelessly promoted and things like Coke, McDonald’s and Skittles, help save the lives of these bizarre things.
6. Fireys in Labyrinth
Labyrinth is full of bizarre creatures, usually portrayed by puppets, and owing to the imagination of Jim Henson’s workshop. The Fireys on first appearance, don’t look so bad. They’re pink and rat-like. While traversing the maze, Sara encounters their camp and they begin their introduction via catchy song. Things go grim when the creatures begin removing and sharing their limbs with one another—talk about a germaphobe’s nightmare. Catchy singers or not, their perverse pleasure is to remove the head and limbs of others. These odd little guys stand out from the other darker creatures in movie, not because of their appearance, but because of their gruesome intentions. Seriously, imagine how this scene would have played out had Sara not escaped.
5. Garbage Pail Kids in Garbage Pail Kids: The Movie
Why? Why would anyone think these things look like something children, or adults, could stand to stare at for over an hour? Garbage Pail Kids became an almost instantly popular trading card series in 1985. The cards were a parody of Cabbage Patch Dolls, and though they were meant to be gross, the cards were fairly cute. The makers of Cabbage Patch sued however, and Topps agreed to modify the appearance of characters on their cards, and it seems, in this movie. The movie is despised by critics, and audiences responded the same to the movie back in 1987. The cards soon lost popularity after. The plot of the movie is pretty uninspired, just like the cop-out explanation of the Garbage Pail Kids apparently being both alien and magical. An animated movie may have been a better choice, but then kids in the 80s never would have had the chance to have their lovable trading cards haunt their dreams.
4. Wheelers and Princess Mombi in Return to Oz
Why a tie, well, this whole movie is pretty disturbing. It doesn’t seem like it should have been a kid’s movie, but Oz-territory had previously been established as family friendly. Even the “Return to Oz” title seems bent on cashing in on the franchise. So which friendly creatures does Dorothy meet this time on her trip down the yellow brick road? Some of the first are the Wheelers, creatures that have wheels for hands and feet. How do these eat? How do they mate? Their semi-human appearance makes them all the more frightening. Then there is beautiful Princess Mombi, a wealthy sort of witch whom chooses not dresses or clothes to accessorize her look, but other woman’s heads. She can magically remove heads to preserve and wear at will. Her worst look is when she isn’t wearing a head at all, while also chasing Dorothy through her palace. Yikes!
3. Boy in Little Monsters
There are monsters under the bed. In Little Monsters, that typically frightening space becomes a passage into a world of monsters. The monsters mainly take joy in frightening kids, but once in a while befriend a child with an eventual goal of turning them into a monster as well. Many things about this world remain a mystery, but one thing answered early is that Boy is in charge. So what does Boy look like? At first, he looks like a young man who didn’t want to grow up. Actually, he kind of looks like an ACDC cosplayer. When the camera pans, the back of Boy’s head looks like the moist soil below a rock, worms and all. Boy’s skin is shiny and his dialogue rings with sinister undertones. His monster form is eventually revealed, but he truly looks most frightening as that combination of monster and man…or monster and boy.
2. Grand High Witch in The Witches
Okay, so the movie actually came out in 1990, but it was filmed in the late 80s. There is a genuine build up of suspense in Witches. The boy in this movie learns of witches hiding throughout society. Audiences get teased, but not until the movie is half over, do they actually get to see a witch out of disguise. The Grand High Witch is physically, the most gruesome witch of all. She’s also terrifying because she’s pretty competent at what she does. She can also go back to looking normal. She comes and goes from her disguise in the movie, but that first change really takes the cake. Of course, one of the lasting benefits of this creepy creature is the after effect the movie had. Kid’s never look at flat-toed, handsome women the same after seeing The Witches.
1. The Nothing in The Neverending Story
The Nothing appears like a force of nature in The Never Ending Story, sometimes depicted by clouds, thunder, and darkness. The Nothing is a sort of void, and is especially frightening because it represents the loss of hope and dreams. Characters in Fantasia are helpless to run or hide from it. The Neverending Story has plenty of amazing creatures: Rock-Biter, Falcor, Gmork (image at top of page)—the giant wolf who tries to help The Nothing, and for his effort, is sucked into the cloud after his battle with Atrayu. The Nothing is subtle enough most people might not instantly find it frightening, but it underlies the reason for fearing many other things on the list. The darkness and loneliness this creature represents can stir fear in adults as well as children. The Nothing is shrouded in mystery, and it’s likely best this way, for The Nothing exists at the deepest and darkest depths of our imaginations. Out of everything on this list, it sure is the last thing anyone would probably ever want to see in reality.