* The front cover of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
It didn't matter that the content inside was relatively tame, this illustration stuck with me and visited my brain in the wee dark hours for years. What's that movement outside my bedroom window? Could it be a giant disembodied smoking clown head? Of course it could.
* "The Red Shoes" cartoon from Fairy Tale Classics (1983)
I had this cartoon on a Beta tape along with anime versions of "Cinderella" and "The Ugly Duckling." As I recall, the girl's red shoes would force her to dance, and because of them she nearly danced herself to death, or at least to complete exhaustion. When we'd go to Stride Rite, I'd shriek at the mere suggestion of buying red shoes. They would not touch my feet. Later, I'd wonder how Dorothy Gale could be so foolhardy; didn't she know those ruby slippers would propel her into a They Shoot Horses, Don't They?-like nightmare scenario faster than she could say "Auntie Em?"
* Spike Jones
Best of Spike Jones
Not Spike Jonze, the director of Being John Malkovich, but Spike Jones, the bandleader. We had this album in our car for years, and this face would leer at me from the front seat tape deck every morning on my way to preschool. Just look at those wild, red, beady eyes--doesn't he remind you of Judge Doom in psychopathic toon form? Not to mention how catchy his song "Der Fuehrer's Face" was, although it didn't take me too long to learn that a preschool singing ditties (albeit satirical ones) on the playground tire swing about "der führer" attracted the wrong kind of attention. Thanks for nothing, Mr. Jones.
* The "Study" in the board game Clue.
Clue Parker Brothers Detective Game 1972
Surprisingly, I had no problem playing a game predicated on the idea of homicide. Instead, it was the game board itself that gave me the heebie-jeebies. In the version of the game that we owned, the Living Room was represented by a doily, the Hall by an Oriental rug, and the Study--well, looking back I guess it's supposed to be some kind of wood grain, but to my eyes it looked like the Study was on fire. My fear of fire being well-established at this point, I simply couldn't handle the thought of moving my plastic playing piece into that inferno.
* Any "Francis the Talking Mule" movie, but specifically Francis Goes to West Point (1952).
The Adventures of Francis the Talking Mule, Vol. 1
Now I don't really understand the appeal of a whole series of films dedicated to a talking mule, but as a kid, I was always drawn to the talking-animal genre. The Shaggy Dog? Loved it. "Mr. Ed?" Of course, of course. And one of my all-time favorites was a little gem called The Cat From Outer Space. So, at some point I saw Francis Goes to West Point, and there's this scene where Francis the Talking Mule sits on a football during the game and deflates it. I'm not sure exactly why this bothered me so much, but I think I was convinced that, having been to football games and witnessed firsthand how unreceptive most fans are to any interruption in play, the spectators would soon descend upon the hapless Francis all Lord of the Flies-style. I couldn't watch any of the movie after that, so I don't know what actually happens, but it did leave me A) not a fan of football and B) terrified of mules. Luckily, mules are relatively easy to avoid in the suburbs.
* This 1987 commercial for the original NES game The Legend of Zelda.
The Legend of Zelda
This guy started making regular cameo appearances in my nightmares as soon as I saw this commercial. A man with the cadence of Max Headroom, dressed all in black, shouting nonsensical bad guy names into the darkness? What was this supposed to sell? So when my brother received The Legend of Zelda for Christmas that year, I was almost too scared to see what the actual game would be like. Surprisingly, it had nothing to do with this deranged reject from mime school, and I found that I loved the game (although unfortunately I would never be able to play the sequel).
Philip Larkin was right about Mom and Dad, but he should have included all misguided marketing toward kids in there as well.