Greetings! In celebration of Hallowe’en (Samhain), I thought it would be a great time to talk about what terrifies us. Hallowe’en is the spookiest time of year – the nights draw in, the temperature drops, and the veil between worlds thins…
It’s time to talk about the most terrifying villains we remember from our childhood – the ones that kept us awake at night, and lingered in our dreams when we slept. *Spoilers ahead*
1. Shere Khan from ‘The Jungle Book’
Shere Khan is the villain of Disney’s ubiquitous ‘The Jungle Book‘, one of my favourite films as a kid and I’m sure one of yours too.
A young human boy (Mowgli) is found abandoned in the jungle by Bagheera, the black panther, who takes the boy to be raised by the wolf pack. Ten years later the pack learn that Shere Khan, the man-eating tiger, has returned to the jungle, and it is decided that Mowgli must leave the jungle and be returned to his own kind in the man-village for his own safety. The film covers Mowgli’s journey back to the man-village, having all sorts of adventures and ‘bear necessities’, all the while being hunted by Shere Khan.
Shere Khan actually means ‘Tiger’ and ‘King’, so he truly is the lord of the jungle; one of the primal fears of mankind. The jungle setting evokes its own kind of fear; the dark and the wild unknown. It’s not until mankind discovered fire that they replaced creatures like tigers at the top of the food chain.
In Khan’s first scene, he’s hunting a deer, crouched unseen in the long grass. His sole focus is his prey, and his noiseless stalking left me deeply unsettled as a child. At night I was afraid he would be crouched underneath my bed, waiting for me to fall asleep.
Of course, Mowgli emerges victorious in his final battle with Khan, tying a flaming branch to his tail. But although Khan flees in fear, he isn’t killed, which always left me with the feeling that he was still in the jungle somewhere, biding his time …
2. Sharptooth from ‘The Land Before Time’
Firstly, The Land Before Time films are an absolute classic and you should definitely watch them. Who doesn’t love animated dinosaurs?
In the time of the dinosaurs, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions plague the landscape, splitting up herds of dinosaurs from their families and cutting them off from any food sources. In these desperate times, a small group of young dinosaurs – Littlefoot, Cera, Ducky, Spike, and Petrie (a Brontosaurus, a Triceratops, a Saurolophus, a Stegosaurus, and a Pteranodon respectively) – are separated from their families and, fleeing the famine, head towards the fabled paradise of the Great Valley.
On their journey they battle a brutal landscape and the hungry Tyrannosaurus – Sharptooth – that hunts them.
Everyone talks about ‘that scene’ in Bambi, or even the death of Mufasa in The Lion King, as being one of the most traumatizing television events of their childhood, but The Land Before Time beats them all in terms of the devastating loss of a parent. Littlefoots’ mother is killed by the Sharptooth in the process of saving her baby, and her spirit helps guide him to the Great Valley. Not only is it a devastating scene, but Sharptooth is shown to be almost all powerful – an apex predator – and his presence is a constant threat to the dinosaurs’ survival. He is also the only dinosaur that doesn’t speak or become anthropomorphised by the film – he is pure animal savagery.
Just look at those teeth!
3. Hexxus from ‘FernGully: The Last Rainforest’
For those of you who haven’t seen FernGully, the film focuses on a rainforest populated (and protected) by fairies. When humans arrive and start cutting down the trees, an unfortunate incident results in one of the human loggers being shrunk to fairy size. What follows is a musical bananza of adventure, romance, and magic.
Hexxus is a malevolent spirit that the fairies trapped inside a tree aeons ago (humans are believed to be extinct after Hexxus drove them out).
OBVIOUSLY the loggers accidentally cut down the tree, releasing him. He grows in power, feeding on oil, pollution and greed, and he spreads poison throughout the forests, killing trees and wildlife.
Hexxus is super creepy because he appears as a dark spirit who feeds on the polluting machines that rampage through the forests. Even when the fairies think they’ve defeated him, he manifests within oil and sets fire to the forests. He becomes a scorched skeleton covered in oil and pollution.
Although, he does have a seriously bad ass song, ‘Toxic Love’. What a tune.
4. Rasputin from ‘Anastasia’
Dang, he ugly.
Rasputin is the antagonist of ‘Anastasia‘ – disgraced confidant of the royal Romanov family, he sells his soul for the unholy power to destroy them. He places a curse upon Tsar Nicholas II, vowing to destroy him and his family. Young Anastasia and her grandmother manage to escape when the curse sparks a violent siege on the palace, but Anastasia becomes separated from her and loses her memory.
Ten years later, having lain dormant, Rasputin’s unholy reliquary (the spooky green thingie covered in skulls) glows in the presence of orphaned ‘Anya‘ (the lost Anastasia) and Rasputin’s servant informs him that the Duchess still lives (apparently his spirit is bound to the reliquary and so he’s been skulking in limbo all this time).
Clearly, selling your soul does nothing for your complexion or, indeed, oral hygiene.
Rasputin is just a ghoulish, grotesque adversary who relies on demonic magics to carry out his revenge but, in all honesty, he is kind of a loser.
Unlike our next villain…
5. Professor Ratigan from ‘Basil the Great Mouse Detective’
Think Sherlock Holmes meets, well, mice.
The renowned Basil of Baker Street and his friend/sidekick Dr. Dawson (I know, right? It’s fabulous) race against time to rescue the missing father of young mouse, Olivia Flaversham – a toy maker who has been kidnapped by Professor Ratigan, as part of his nefarious plot to replace the Queen with a clockwork Queen lookalike and declare himself King of Mousedom.
One thing that really upsets Ratigan (other than being thwarted by ‘that second rate detective’ Basil of Baker Street) is being called a rat. Apparently, he’s masquerading as a mouse. A really big mouse. When one drunken henchmouse utters the ‘R’ word in his presence, Ratigan’s in no longer charming smiles and sweeping gestures; he loses his cool and summons his pet. The other henchmice have to watch as their companion is eaten alive by an enormous cat.
At the end of the film, Ratigan’s ‘ratty’ nature is finally revealed and he abandons the sleek, devilishly charming Professor exterior he’s been cultivating and turns rabid.
Seven year old me saw Ratigan for what he was – a sociopath.
And it freaked me out.
BUT it also gave me a great appreciation for the two man team (or is that mouse?) that was Basil and Dawson (see: Holmes and Watson). Go team Baker Street!!
6. Sir Ruber from ‘Quest for Camelot’
Sir Ruber is a power hungry knight of King Arthur’s (voiced by Pierce Brosnan!) round table. After attempting to kill the King and steal Excalibur, killing Sir Lionel, father of our heroine, in the process, Ruber sends his evil (if a little inept) griffin to do the deed in his stead.
Unfortunately, the griffin drops Excalibur in the forbidden forest. It’s up to Kayley, feisty daughter of the deceased Sir Lionel, to escape Ruber’s clutches and find the sword before he does, and plunges the land into another age of darkness.
Ruber uses dark magic to build himself a mechanical army – binding men (and one unfortunate chicken) with maces and metal, in order to take over Camelot and declare himself King. Once in possession of Excalibur, he plans to use the dark magic to bind the sword to his arm so it can never be stolen from him.
He’s mad, he’s bad, and by heaven, he’s got truly awful fingernails. Just, ick.
If you haven’t seen this film, you absolutely have to watch it! Featuring a song be Celine Dion (she was way cool in the 90s okay?), it also boasts the talents of Brosnan, Gary Oldman, and Eric Idle. So, as a Brit, it’s pretty much my duty to make you watch this film.
Also, singing dragons. Check it.
7. Wolf from ‘Peter and the Wolf’
Did any of you have the misfortune of seeing Disney’s version of Peter and the Wolf? I mean, it was made in 1946 so I’m not sure how I even ended up having it on video…
For those of you that don’t know, Peter and the Wolf is a piece of music composed in 1936 in the USSR by Sergei Prokofiev. It’s a children’s story set to an orchestra with a narrator telling the story. Each character in the story is played by a particular instrument and has their own tune.
And the music for the wolf made my skin crawl.
Peter is a young boy who goes hunting in the forest for the wolf that has been seen near his village. So he wanders around the dark, creepy forest being stalked by the hungry wolf. Who eats his pet duck.
I used to panic walking up the stairs to my room in the dark, wondering whether the wolf was silently following me…
But seriously, look it up on YouTube and see if that music doesn’t make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end.
8. Giants from ‘BFG – The Big Friendly Giant’
Based on the Roald Dahl children’s book of the same name, the villains of this film are Giants who pluck children from their beds in the middle of the night and eat them.
Yup. Eat them.
Luckily one of the giants is the Big Friendly Giant, considered to be a freak by the rest of his kind because he refuses to eat people. The BFG spends his time capturing dreams in Dream Country and using a trumpet to blow them into children’s bedrooms, thus providing children with wonderful dreams.
The other giants have disgustingly accurate names like Bloodbottler and Fleshlumpeater. Some of them specialise in eating children from orphanages because they’re less likely to be missed.
9. Jenner from ‘The Secret of NIMH’
The Secret of NIMH is another of my all time favourite childhood films and another Don Bluth classic (better than Disney? quite possibly…)
Don Bluth films tend to have a dark side, and this one is no exception. The main protagonists are a bunch of rats who escaped from a secret facility called NIMH, where they were subject to experiments which made them ultra intelligent. Mrs. Brisby, a tiny widowed fieldmouse, asks for their help when her son catches pneumonia and can’t be moved from their house in the farmers field right before the harvest season is about to start.
First she’s forced to seek advice from the Great Owl – this guy:
…who sends her to see Nicodemus – this guy:
…and neither of them is the villain! Even though owls tend to find mice extremely tasty and giant, elderly, mystical rats are super creepy.
The villain is in fact Jenner – this dude:
The scheming, power hungry rat who’s bent on removing Nicodemus and Justin (the handsomest rat hero to ever win an 8 year-olds heart) and declaring himself leader of the rats (is this sounding kinda familiar?).
The general atmosphere and fantastic animation of Bluth films meant that Jenner’s aura of evil seemed to leak out of the television set and into the living room with me.
And last, but by no means least, the most terrifying villain from my childhood is:
10. The Horned King from ‘The Black Cauldron’
The Black Cauldron is probably the darkest film that Disney ever made. So dark and suspiciously satanic looking that my mum wouldn’t let me watch it, and my dad had to rent it secretly from the library while she was at work.
(Hands up: how many of you remember renting a VHS from the library? No? Am I really that old?)
The evil Horned King is searching for the magical Black Cauldron, a mystical relic that will enable him to raise an army of undead warriors.
(You can see why my mum wasn’t keen on me seeing it…)
Fortunately for her, good triumphs in the form of assistant pig-keeper Taran who, with the help of his pig (who can tell the future), a princess, and a strange creature called Gurgi, sets out to prevent the King from finding the cauldron and covering the land in darkness.
Yeah, I’m pretty sure the Horned King wins for the creepiest cartoon villain you could watch this Hallowe’en.
That’s my top ten. Catch you next time and having a chilling Hallowe’en!