10 Films That Cause Childhood Trauma

When I was a kid, helicopter parents did not exist. I spent far too many hours left to my own devices to hang out in the woods alone, ride my bike helmetless down busy avenues, and watch movies that I had no business watching until I was older. Recently, I found a few stories I had written in the second grade. One held this fascinating quote: “We are kule kids smokin pot in the school yard.” What kind of stuff was filling my young mind with weirdness and setting me on the path toward neurosis? This stuff.

1. E.T. (1982)

I’m not exactly sure what be-Jesus is, but this film scared it out of me. The scene where Elliot discovers E.T. in the high grass behind his house? Scarred for life.I’m about the same age as Drew Barrymore, and I couldn’t help admire her courage. I’ve been a Drew fan ever since. About three quarters of the way through, E.T. turns white and is on the brink of death. Happier I could not have been. E.T. , go the hell home. You don’t belong here getting entwined in my worst nightmares.

2. The Loneliest Runner (1976)

Bed wetting has got to be one of the top five childhood fears, am I right? Technically not a movie, but a made-for-TV movie, The Loneliest Runner is a semi-autobiographical story written by Michael Landon (Charles Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie). The main character, John Curtis, runs home after school every day to remove the humiliating yellow sheets his mother would hang from his bedroom window. Yes, he develops into a track star and then an Olympic gold medalist. But this guy couldn’t run far or fast enough to erase the effects of his psycho mom.

3. The Amityville Horror (1979)

A child’s imaginary friend is Satan . . . who takes the form of a pig. Sign me up for years of therapy. It didn’t help that my bedroom was off the attic, had small windows, and in the summer I was forced to sleep with the attic door open to allow the fan to ventilate the house. I did not sleep from June to September. Since I’m roughly five feet tall, I’m fairly certain that watching The Amityville Horror stunted my growth.

4. Breathless (1983)

One night my parents went out with a few couples and all of the kids were left together. They rented us a movie and set out chips. That movie was Breathless. To this day, I wonder what about this film’s plot—let alone its title—seemed appropriate to leave for a bunch of parentless kids on a Saturday night. In terms of pre-adolescent education, it had it all: sex, violence, and Richard Gere’s butt. Most of the sixty-plus minutes were spent trying to tear my sister’s hands off my eyes.

5. The Outsiders (1983)

The three words that nearly collapsed my central nervous system: “Stay gold, Ponyboy.” My quest for an angst-ridden Dallas continues.

6. Carrie (1976)

The pig theme from Amityville continues with Carrie, where pig blood is as abundant as long, vaguely ethnic curly hair (thanks to Amy Irving and Piper Laurie). Carrie’s creepy house, and creepier mom, just amplified how creepy Catholicism can be. Case in point: The crucifix that hung over my childhood bed was same one my great grandmother held in her hands . . . in her coffin.

7. The Exorcist (1973)

It occurs to me now that many of the movies on this list are horror flicks. I am hard pressed to name a single horror film in recent memory as terrifying as these. At the risk of sounding like an old coot, the ’70s and ’80s were the golden age of horror. Perhaps it was the cocaine. Do I need to say much about The Exorcist? Maybe just one thing: The cross-in-the-crotch scene is overkill after the 360-degree head rotation.

8. Six Weeks (1982)

Mary Tyler Moore, Dudley Moore, and a kid with leukemia. Not an Academy Award winner, this is true. However, the last scene in which the girl finally succumbs to her disease in the New York City subway (in the 80s no less) as it hurtles through the tunnel were enough to cause me PTSD.

 9. Halloween (1978)

As someone who on more than one occasion wanted to “kill” my sister, I could relate to Michael Myers. Though, admittedly, he took sibling rivalry to the extreme. Still, Myers wasn’t as eery as Halloween’s music. To this day, hearing just a few notes compels me to bolt the door, draw the shades, and make sure I’m not making out with anyone.

10. Mommie Dearest (1981)

My last one is a doozy. For a kid, Christina Crawford’s life was nothing less than hell on earth. Faye Dunaway’s evil eyes, big-screen facial expressions, and red lips were enough to cue the music from Halloween. The fact that Joan Crawford was a conflicted character who you simultaneously abhorred and pitied made it anguishing. In this film, wire hangers replace pig blood and smooth hair replaces curly, but Carrie’s mom makes an encore appearance.

by Allison Contey

Allison Contey is a writer who lives in Brooklyn—imagine that.




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