10 Creepy Kids Movies From the 1970s


All movies from the ’70s have a different feel to them, thanks to the significant changes in society that were happening at the time. With this came an abundance of cynicism, which even went on to bleed into a lot of media targeted towards young adults and children at the time. While a lot of the children’s films that came out in this era are iconic, some of them have some hard-to-ignore, creepy undertones that are even considered unsettling by contemporary standards.


Whether they were live-action or animated, these films didn’t shy away from more mysterious and disturbing elements, challenging the norms of storytelling. Here are 10 of the creepiest kids movies from the ’70s that shaped the childhood memories of an entire generation that continues to leave a mark and haunt viewers today.


10 Charlotte’s Web (1973)

Paramount Pictures

Charlotte’s Web (1973) is an animated adaptation of E.B. White’s children’s novel of the same name. While it might not be as popular as the live-action 2006 adaptation, this one will always be remembered for its unsettling nature. The plot follows a pig named Wilbur, who builds an unlikely friendship with a spider called Charlotte. Knowing that he is at risk of being slaughtered, Charlotte begins weaving messages into her web praising Wilbur, in the hopes that it will grant the pig enough fame to save his life. It’s an incredibly important tale that teaches children about the importance of friendship, sacrifice, and the cycle of life.

A Story of Mortality and Death

Although the story has a beautiful message behind it, audiences looking back now find that the 1973 cartoon has an eerie and unsettling atmosphere. Despite being animated, the film definitely amplifies a lot of the darker parts of the story, whether it means to or not. Of course, a story that focuses a lot on mortality and the inevitability of death is always going to be tough for young children, but it isn’t made any easier by the creepy animation style or musical score.

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9 Escape to Witch Mountain (1975)

Tony and Tia in Escape to Witch Mountain
Buena Vista Distribution

Based on the novel of the same name by Alexander Key, Escape to Witch Mountain (1975) follows two mysterious siblings, Tony and Tia, who possess supernatural powers. The pair decides to learn the truth about their origins, though they don’t realize that they are being pursued by a greedy millionaire who wants to expose their powers for more wealth. While on their journey, Tony and Tia meet a kind widower called Jason, who helps them to reach Witch Mountain and evade their pursuers. Escape to Witch Mountain (1975) was the first of five installments in Disney’s Witch Mountain franchise, quickly making their live-action films more popular.

Strange, Horrific Themes

While Escape to Witch Mountain (1975) is generally a family-friendly film, it is also riddled with horror elements that become hard to ignore. For example, the millionaire’s attorney, Lucas Deranian, is arguably the creepiest character in the film. There’s a part where he kidnaps both Tony and Tia, where the two then must evade him to escape his compound. The sequence itself feels like something from a horror movie, and you can see why it might have been unsettling for kids watching at the time.

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8 Tom Sawyer (1973)

Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn in Tom Sawyer
United Artists
 

Tom Sawyer is a musical that is adapted from Mark Twain’s novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The titular character, Tom Sawyer, is an imaginative and adventurous young boy who embarks on a series of escapades with his outcast friend, Huck Finn. This includes treasure hunting, attending their own funerals, and even witnessing a murder. The film does a great job of capturing the spirit of Twain’s characters, while also bringing the fictional town of St. Petersburg.

A Murder Side-Plot

Though at many points Tom Sawyer is a lighthearted film, there are quite a few unsettling aspects within it. Most notably, Kunu Hank’s portrayal of “Injun Joe,” who commits a murder in order to settle a grudge. It’s hard not to feel instantly terrified of him, as he steals every scene that he’s in and is a clear threat to Tom and Huck. If you then combine this with some of the film’s even darker themes, the film becomes increasingly more disturbing to watch. While the nostalgic feel to the film helps to tone it down a bit, it’s hard to ignore a lot of the complexities of the society in which the characters live.

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7 Pete’s Dragon (1977)

Pete's Dragon

Pete’s Dragon

Release Date
November 3, 1977

Director
Don Chaffey

Cast
Helen Reddy , Jim Dale , Mickey Rooney , Red Buttons , Shelley Winters , Sean Marshall

Rating
G

Disney’s Pete’s Dragon (1977) is considered to be one of the most disturbing Disney musicals ever. It tells the heartwarming tale of a young orphan called Pete, who escapes his abusive adoptive family with the help of his animated dragon friend, Elliott. Together, Pete and Elliott visit the seaside town of Passamaquoddy, where they meet lighthouse keeper, Lampie, and his daughter, Nora. As Pete begins to discover what it means to have a true family, he must also protect Elliott from being exploited by the sinister Dr. Terminus for medical gain.

Songs About Hurting Children

The film wastes no time showing its darker side. Within the opening minutes, Pete is already escaping his unhinged adoptive family, who begin to track him down through the woods. The whole sequence is truly harrowing, as the family begins to sing a sinister song about wanting to get Pete back so that they can abuse him even more for running away. Unfortunately, the poor boy’s abuse doesn’t stop there, as throughout the film he is subject to relentless bullying by the townsfolk. At one point, his knuckles were even rapped in school because of Elliott, and while this was the norm for a lot of schools at the time, it still didn’t make it any easier to watch.

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Related: 15 Movies and Shows That Traumatized Gen X Kids

6 Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town

Kris Kringle in Santa Claus is Comin' to Town
AMC

Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town is a stop-motion made-for-TV film that is inspired by the popular Christmas song of the same name. It is centered on a young orphan called Kris Kringle, who eventually grows up to become Santa Claus. Even in his earlier years, Kris was incredibly generous to those around him, and would defy the mayor of Sombertown, Burgermeister Meisterburger, delivering toys to children. Throughout the film, he meets various characters, such as the Winter Warlock and Jessica, who would later go on to become Mrs. Clause and move to the North Pole with him.

Terrifying Puppets

Even the heartwarming holiday feel to this flick isn’t enough to hide how creepy it is. First and foremost, the puppets used for the stop-motion animation are absolutely terrifying, especially the one for the Winter Warlock. Additionally, there’s a rather unsettling song in it where children are told to prepare to give Santa Claus a kiss in order to receive their presents. While the intention behind this song wasn’t to be weird and simply to highlight a Christmas tradition, it doesn’t hold up well against today’s standards at all.

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5 The Hobbit (1977)

Prior to Peter Jackson’s epic live-action trilogy, J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic novel, The Hobbit, had already received an animated adaptation in 1977. Those familiar with the story will know that it follows a young Hobbit called Bilbo Baggins, who is swept into a heroic adventure where he must reclaim a treasure guided by the dragon Smaug. On his journey, Bilbo is accompanied by Gandalf and a group of dwarves, where they encounter a range of magical creatures, from goblins to elves.

Scary Character Designs and Scenes

For a lot of young people at the time, it was this animated film that introduced them to the world of the Lord of the Rings. It did well to capture a lot of Tolkien’s world, but with that comes some terrifying character designs. The dangers that Bilbo experiences throughout the film genuinely feel like there are high stakes involved, which can feel quite anxiety-inducing for a cartoon aimed at kids. Additionally, Gollum feels significantly more threatening in this film than he does in any of the Peter Jackson movies, perhaps the closest to Tolkien’s vision for the character.

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4 The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)

Christopher Robbin and the rest of Hundred Acre Wood in The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Buena Vista Distribution

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is an animated film by Disney released in 1977 that combines three previously released featurettes: Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree, Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day and Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too. Extra material was created to bridge the tales together, bringing together the entire gang of the Hundred Acre Wood for a heartwarming story. The film was heavily praised following its release due to its faithfulness to the source material, capturing the true essence of why people loved A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories so much.

Hallucinogenic Sequences

However, while this film has plenty of sweet moments within it, there is one sequence in particular that has traumatized children for generations since. Tigger causes Pooh to have a nightmare about Heffalumps and Woozles, which then plays out as a song. During the oddly hallucinogenic sequence that features creepy Heffalumps without mouths laughing hysterically, while others explode from too much honey. There’s also a part in the film where Rabbit starts to lose his mind after getting lost in the woods, with lots of creepy noises occurring around him, adding more fuel to the paranoia.

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3 Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)

A still of a scene from Bedknobs and Broomsticks
Buena Vista Distribution

Set in England during World War II, Bedknobs and Broomsticks follows a group of three children who are sent to live with Eglantine Price, who is learning witchcraft in the hopes of aiding in the war. All of them embark on a magical journey together in the search for a spell that could help to defend Britain from enemy attacks. A spell is used to enchant a bedknob, turning the entire bed into a magic traveling device that allows them to visit various animated locales, while also introducing them to anthropomorphic animals.

Sex Workers, Cigars, and Violence

This whimsical feature is best known for its catchy songs and charming characters, though it does have moments that aren’t entirely appropriate for children. Particularly, its most unsettling moments are when the group encounters the anthropomorphic animals, who behave in strange ways, such as smoking cigars and evoking a strange sense of uncanniness. Additionally, there are also a few adult elements sprinkled in, such as sex workers on Portobello Road, knife violence and darker themes about war.

Stream on Disney+

Related: 10 Kids Movies That Have a Deeper Meaning

2 Watership Down (1978)

Watership Down is possibly the most traumatic animated film to come out of the ’70s. The film is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Richard Adams, and follows a group of rabbits who live in a warren near Sandleford. One of the rabbits, Fiver, has an apocalyptic premonition, leading his brother Hazel to guide them all away to safety. But their journey isn’t easy, as on the way they encounter various challenges such as predators, humans, and internal conflicts. Though they try their hardest to find peace, they ultimately have to come to terms with the harsh reality of the wild.

Extremely Violent Scenes

The film is known for being incredibly hard to watch, with many generations struggling to sit through the sheer amount of pain that the rabbits go through. Even though it is animated, it doesn’t hold back from showing viewers distressing imagery. The violence and death are very graphic and realistic, completely juxtaposing the idea of cute and vulnerable rabbits that most children have in their heads. Though the film carries some critical messages and themes, a lot of parents even argue today that the film might be too creepy and unsettling for young children.

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1 Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)

Fans of Timothée Chalamet’s Willy Wonka are likely to be completely thrown off guard by Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, with his character turning into an unhinged maniac. Based on Roald Dahl’s novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, this film features the iconic Gene Wilder in the titular role, playing a character that would scar children for life. After Charlie Bucket wins a Golden Ticket to explore the mysterious and magical chocolate factory owned by Willy Wonka, it soon becomes clear that the visit will serve as a test of each of the children’s virtues and vices, leading to some horrific incidents.

One scene in particular that is ingrained in everyone’s memory is the infamous shamanic boat ride, which is considered to be one of the most frightening scenes in the entirety of cinema. During the scene, Wonka begins to recite an unsettling poem while various disturbing psychedelic imagery begins to occur on screen as the families beg to be let off the boat. Even the actors on set were left uneasy after filming the scene, as none of them expected Wilder to be so intense in his delivery of the poem, scaring them all. Though the film has gone on to be celebrated throughout the years, it is easily the creepiest kids film to come out of the ’70s.

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