'Scary Stories' and 18 other things that freaked out '90s kids - Omaha.com
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Stephen Gammell's illustration from the "Scary Stories" series.


'Scary Stories' and 18 other things that freaked out '90s kids
By Micah Mertes / World-Herald staff writer


Remember those “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” books? They're now being adapted into a movie by a few of the “Saw” writers.

And if the movie can evoke even one-tenth the dread of the books' illustrations (by the demonically good Stephen Gammell), quite a few millennials are going have some sleepless nights once this hits theaters.

Nineties pop culture actually had a lot of stuff like the “Scary Stories” books, glimpses of terror you wanted (needed) to look away from but couldn't. These are the traumatizing images, sounds and moments from which '90s kids are still trying to recover:

1. “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark”

The three-book series, written by Alvin Schwartz, is probably best recalled for Gammell's illustrations, ghastly, grotesque abominations that made the books seem like they were dying, decaying and going straight to hell. They were awesome.

Because of the macabre subject matter and imagery, the “Scary Stories” books were THE No. 1 most frequently challenged books from 1990-1999, according to the American Library Association.

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2. The “Goosebumps” books

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These were the PG-13 version of “Scary Stories,” though R.L. Stine's tales were often more disturbing than the book covers' bright, sugary pop would suggest. In the 62 “Goosebumps” books, Stine covered everything from zombies to demonic scarecrows to an evil Halloween mask that wouldn't come off to a theme park run by monsters. Even the TV series adaptation was sometimes deeply upsetting. Though not as upsetting as …


3. “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”

Each week, a group of Canadian kids called “The Midnight Society” would get together at a secret location in the woods and tell each other scary stories. If you were an avid SNICK-watcher during the programming block's heyday, probably a lot of half-repressed images will pop out at you from “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” The Ghastly Grinner. Zeebo the Clown. The young Ryan Gosling guest star appearance.

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4. Your parents watching “Tales from the Crypt”

Unless your parents were pretty lenient, you only got to see the HBO series in snippets, by peeking around the corner of the hall/couch/stair banister when you were supposed to be asleep in your room. Only the toughest among us could make it past the Crypt Keeper intro, anyway.

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5. Really ... you sneaking a peek at any of these movies/TV shows that you were probably too young to see:

“Silence of the Lambs,” “Seven,” “Twin Peaks” and any of the implied prison rape sequences in “The Shawshank Redemption.”


6. Treasure Trolls

The Trolls somehow hit another fad spike in the '90s, and those sexless nude freaks beamed at you from every TV commercial block and toy store aisle. Just waiting, scheming. Soon ...

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7. Puppy Surprise

The brutal reality of the birthing process. Brought to you by Hasbro!

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8. “The X Files” opening credits sequence

Even the first few spooky notes could send one running from the room.


9. Macaulay Culkin getting killed by hornets in “My Girl”

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10. Though even more formative was Simba's dad dying. Why on earth did adults think it was OK for us to see this?

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11. There was also this:

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12. And this:

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13. And (shudder) this …

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14. And when you cried over a dead ant

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15. And the werewolf from “The Neverending Story,” which, thank god for fast-forward.

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16. Marilyn Manson music videos

Videos to “Sweet Dreams” and “Tainted Love” were a one-way ticket to the all-night satanic S&M torture club in the worst part of the worst city.




17. Tim Burton

Among the most prolific dealers of kid fear in the '90s, Burton was responsible for a whole slew of tangled, mossy freakshows. Consider his late '80s/'90s oeuvre: “Beetlejuice,” “Edward Scissorhands,” the Keaton “Batman” movies, “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” He eventually became a sort of a parody of himself, but for a while, he was the family-friendly David Lynch.


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18. VHS Covers

We grew up in the video store heyday and spent countless hours perusing the shelves for something to rent (or for Mom or Dad to rent). And we often found some dark stuff.

There's something so singular about the design of the '80s/'90s VHS horror movie covers. So much grime and sin and discomfort mashed into such a small package.

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19. “The Peanut Butter Solution”

That 1985 Canadian movie that you caught on VHS but for all of your adult life just felt like a bad dream you once had. I can assure you, this movie really happened.

The plot is … well, it's ...

A boy investigates a haunted mansion and sees something that scares him so badly he goes bald. A couple of sympathetic ghosts feel sorry for the kid, so they give him a peanut-butter-based formula that will help him grow his hair back. The kid botches the recipe, though, and his hair doesn't just grow back; it grows back rapidly and won't stop. Then the boy's friend decides to use the peanut butter solution on his pubic hair area to, uh, speed up puberty. Then an evil art teacher starts kidnapping children to turn their magical hair into magical paintbrushes that paint whatever the artist imagines.

It's awful. Awful. But it's so transcendentally strange that it's impossible to forget.


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Contact the writer: Micah Mertes

micah.mertes@owh.com    |   402-444-3182    |  

Micah is an online editor for Omaha.com


Contact the Omaha World-Herald newsroom


Copyright ©2014 Omaha World-Herald®. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, displayed or redistributed for any purpose without permission from the Omaha World-Herald.

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