Few things have made me happier this week than finding out that The Heart, She Holler was coming back to Adult Swim for a second season on September 10. If you missed it when it first ran back in 2011, oh man, you have no idea what you're in for. I could tell you the plot, but I might sell it better telling you how goddamn chock-full it is of people you love. Patton Oswalt in a Kaspar Hauser wig, Kristen Schaal dressed like some sort of Elseworlds Reba McEntire, Joseph Sikora from Boardwalk Empire, Amy Sedaris (in season 2, at some point), the list goes on and on. Better yet, they're playing season 1 again starting on September 2, every night at 12:30 until they roll straight into season 2. Watch it.
One of the hooks of the show is how things that are supposed to be terrifying are so wonderfully bad-looking or ridiculous that they aren't scary, and then they totally come back around to being terrifying. A quick look at Adult Swim's preview video should clue you in to that.
To celebrate that, I've put together a quick list of my favorite "accidentally horrifying" movie characters. These are characters that yeah, maybe they're supposed to be bad guys or "scary" in no uncertain terms, but follow the same trajectory of scary -> funny -> scary that Heart surfs. Be sure to let us know which pop culture characters accidentally gave YOU nightmares, and seriously, don't forget to watch this show when it airs, all right? If anything needs an endless run of seasons, it's THSH.
"Be sure and tell 'em Large Marge sent ya! Heh heh heh heh heh!"
Pee-Wee Herman is an acerbic man-child crisscrossing the American Southwest on a quest to retrieve his stolen bicycle. When you're this far into the movie, you're expecting a lot of things ... bikers learning to love you via 'The Champs,' impromptu rodeo comeptition, learning the lyrics to 'Deep In The Heart Of Texas' -- but you aren't expecting this.
Pee-Wee gets picked up on the roadside by a trucker sharing the horrible story of a driver who died in a crash that sounded "like a garbage truck dropped off the Empire State Building" and was the worst accident she ever seen. She illustrates with a jarring, unforgettable claymation face, causing Pee-Wee (and any five year olds who might've been enjoying the film up until now) to scream. When he gets dropped off at a local bar he finds out that the woman who died in the crash was "Large Marge," aka the woman who'd picked him up. Thanks for the 10 years of nightmares, you stupid great comedy.
What could be scary about a jovial clown showing up at your window from out of nowhere, offering lollipops? I don't know, maybe the fact that he's secretly THE CHILD CATCHER, and he has shoved you into the back of his wagon WHICH IS ACTUALLY AN OLD-TIMEY ZOO CAGE because he CATCHES CHILDREN and you are ... dead? Sexually assaulted? Turned into lollipops? I was never quite clear. I was too busy running in fear from whatever television was featuring THE CHILD CATCHER.
It's good to know that I made it into adulthood, and that if the Child Catcher ever wandered by my window offering me treats I could just kick the crap out of him.
You can't make a list of anything without including Wonka, can you? Wonka's poetry slam and boat trip into the abyss defined accidental, unnecessary terror for generations of young movie-goers.
Frankly he's just another interpretation of The Child Catcher. Dahl created them both, after all. He's the smarter, localized Child Catcher. Instead of rigging up a trick wagon and riding around town trying to lure kids in freestyle, Wonka sets up shop in a factory FULL of candy, creates an exclusionist mythos about how awesome it is to hang out inside his trap-house and tricks a world of kids into begging to be assaulted.
Oh, you think you're going to enjoy this movie about candy?
Why are so many of these about how kids are fat and awful?
"The Greedy" shows up in Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure, which for all intents and purposes should be about as scary as a Wiggles tape. Barney the Dinosaur should give kids "trapped in the kitchen with raptors" flashbacks before something in Raggedy Ann & Andy makes you scared.
But here I am, decades later, watching this song on YouTube and feeling sick to my stomach. Gluttony has never been depicted more heinously than as a taffy monster who serves as his own ground and sky, eats giant portions of himself on the reg, has a bunch of flavorful growths on his body and wants to eat Raggedy Ann's heart. Holy sh*t.
Okay, gluttony has been more heinous once.
If you aren't horrified by a man who eats and eats and eats until he's puking all over himself and then eats some more, perhaps his body exploding and spilling his guts will do the trick. Remember, this is the same movie that features a serious song about science. Why can't I sleep?
This was submitted personally by my girlfriend. I asked her, "can you think of any characters from movies that were accidentally horrifying?" Her immediate response was "Old Biff." "Like from Back To The Future II?" I tried to explain that yeah, he's pretty weird, but he's not necessarily "horrifying."
She explained it to me. What's scarier than an old man sneaking around, stealing your stuff? Especially one who can travel time, intentionally tries to destroy the universe with paradox and is mean enough to hit the younger version of himself in anger? Yeah, dude's pretty terrifying.
I've been trying to figure out why this one is so scary for years. What's so bad about little people wearing bell hop costumes and bad monster masks? Monkeys can't fly, and if they did, what's the big deal? I'm not afraid of birds. If a witch sends a big chicken after me I'm not gonna freak out.
But no, I've got it: it's the first time a lot of children experience "the unknown."
A lot of times, movies will give you something fantastic, like a giant hydra or whatever, and your brain goes, "this is a movie. That's a movie monster. Cool." When you're a kid that's a little harder to do, but the flying monkeys presented a thing that could ACTUALLY HAPPEN. You're five, how do you know for sure that there aren't flying humanoid monkeys in the world? How do you know that they wouldn't put their little man hands on you and kill you, or fly you back to a castle somewhere? I'm in my 30s now and I can't name EVERY animal in the world. There is probably a flying monkey in Brazil right now, scooping down into some dark corner of the rain forest to snatch a snake with its grubby paws. Eesh.
WHY IS HER HOUSE FULL OF HEADS?
WHY DID SHE STEAL PEOPLES' HEADS? OH GOD, WHY CAN THE HEADS STILL SCREAM?
OH JESUS, WHO ARE THESE ROLLERBLADE MOTORCYCLE MEN AND WHY ARE THEY TRYING TO KILL THAT CHICKEN? WHAT'S WRONG WITH THEIR FACES?
If you aren't covering your face for 70% of Return To Oz, you're doing it wrong.
This one's personal.
Chong Li is the antagonist in the Jean-Claude Van Damme classic Bloodsport, a film about a suspiciously not-American American guy who travels to China to compete in an underground, full-contact martial arts tournament. He hurts Van Damme's friend, offers hilariously dubbed threats ("first you break my record ... now, I break you!" etc.) and, at one point, kicks a guy's leg so hard his bones fall out.
I remember watching this when I was 9-years old, eating a bowl of Spaghetti-O's. I just assumed everybody's bones were gonna stay on the insides of their bodies. I was 9, you know? I'd never CONSIDERED that a bone could leave your body. And then BOOM, Chong Li kicks this guy's leg and a big piece of broken leg bone pops out. I had trouble eating spaghetti for years, and every time I saw an enormous, muscular Chinese man in billowy pants, I made sure to keep a close watch on my leg bones.
Similarly to The Wizard Of Oz, Dumbo's pink elephant freakout isn't "scary" necessarily, but it's your introduction into the world of hallucinogens, and that's gonna leave a mark.
Dumbo and Timothy the mouse take a big gulp of water, unaware that a bottle of champagne has fallen into it. They're either tiny or a baby, so they immediately start seeing things, and those things are responsible for every "what was Disney SMOKING" joke you've ever heard. Things move in and out of sync, colors change, shapes move ... the world is falling apart. Chaos. The pyramids are there, too. Illuminati? When you're a kid, it's a hardcore shot to your subliminal, and leaves you wondering what good life is if nothing makes sense and everything can change.
Or you laugh at the racist crows that show up at the end. One or the other.
And, finally, the Kingsh*t of scary Disney villain F*ck Mountain, The Coachman from Pinocchio.
Out of context, he's just an average looking guy working the docks, doing his job. IN context, he's a heartless, ruthless, abusive monster who goads boys who've been turned into donkeys into trying to talk ... if they don't, he rips off their clothes and throws them in a crate under lock and key. If they do, he throws them back to gestate until they've lost all humanity. If you aren't sold on how horrifying this is yet, watch Pinocchio's poor derelict friend go apesh*t when he realizes he can no longer speak, thrashing around the room, breaking mirrors. It's a nightmare. The Coachman just smiles and does his job.
Sometimes that's the scariest thing.