Most people look to horror films when they want a good scare, but childhood can be a source of nightmares — sometimes unintentionally. Media made for children is usually benign, but every now and then something slips through the cracks that has us scratching our heads. We look back at ten terrifying children’s characters in pop culture that weren’t created to creep children out, but still do a fine job of it.
Worzel Gummidge is a talking scarecrow, which is creepy enough for most children. But Worzel also looks like a cousin of the evil hobo behind Winkie’s Diner in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. His name also sounds kind of Satanic.
Mime artist Adrian Hedley is the man behind the startling masked character Mr. Noseybonk on the BBC show Jigsaw. Noseybonk gets his name from his prominent nose, meant to offer some comic relief during the show’s puzzle-solving adventures, but it’s a little too phallic for comfort. The character’s dead-eyed stare and maniacal perma-smile don’t help matters.
The BBC program Look and Read was created to help children improve their literacy skills. While that’s all fine and dandy, the show terrified young viewers during their 1971 episode “The Boy from Space.” Brother and Sister Dan and Helen see a mysterious object falling from the sky. They search a sandpit and discover a white-haired boy called Peep-Peep who speaks a weird computerized alien language. Eventually a creepy “Thin Man” comes looking for them. The whole ep has a surreal vibe, but Peep-Peep looks like an extra from Village of the Damned.
Apparently McDonald’s mascot Ronald McDonald has always been the stuff of nightmares.
Australian children’s series Lift Off features an animated rag doll named E.C. — which supposedly stands for “Every Child” and not “Eternally Creepy.” E.C. is genderless, which is a great thing for children to be exposed to — but not when genderless also means faceless, ghostly, and horrifying.
Clearly the Brits have cornered the market on unintentionally creepy children’s characters. Meet Bungle from the TV show Rainbow. Over the years the bear costume has changed, but it’s always been a little ratty and not quite bear-ish enough, which makes Bungle appear a bit uncanny. We wonder if he’s related to the bear in The Shining. Also, why does Bungle wear a towel after a shower, but doesn’t wear clothes otherwise?
Gooble is a character on Yo Gabba Gabba! that cries — like, all the time. And it’s unnerving.
Lady Elaine lived in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. She’s always cranky and often depicted as the troublemaker of the bunch, but she was never considered a “bad” character. Still, she looks and sounds rather witchy and villainous. Lady Elaine’s perpetual red nose and cheeks makes it seem as though she ‘s had a bit too much to drink.
We’re not sure how the disembodied character Nobody got a spot on Sesame Street. Jim Henson originally created the character with a rubber band face for a short film. But he makes an imposing children’s host with his deep voice and floating face.
Steven Spielberg’s character E.T., which stands for Extra-Terrestrial, is a favorite of audiences everywhere. But he was born from a place of sadness. As a child, Spielberg created an imaginary friend to help himself cope with his parent’s divorce. He later used the figure to inspire the film character. E.T. wins our hearts throughout the movie, but E.T. can be rather scary for some children based on looks alone.