Three Things That Scared Me When I Was A Kid

Three Things That Scared Me When I Was A Kid

Frame from Tim Burton’s 1996 Mars Attacks!

I’ve written a few articles for Black Gate about the films and novels of my childhood that inspired me to write fiction, and today I’m once again taking a walk down Memory Lane to visit the old Nostalgia Nook.

First, let me say it’s a safe bet that we all grew up with dinosaurs, aliens, mythological creatures, and certainly the film genres of horror, fantasy science fiction, and monster films. I think it’s safe to say that most of us identified with the monsters when we were kids. Who didn’t relate and empathize with Frankenstein and the Wolfman? Who didn’t feel sorry for King Kong? These monsters didn’t scare me. No, they were my friends. I was rarely scared or creeped out by monster and horror flicks when I was a kid, and I was in kindergarten when I first came into contact with Frankenstein, King Kong, the Wolfman, Dracula, the Mummy, and so many others. However, there were three instances where I was frightened by things I had seen and read, things which gave me nightmares and made me wary of things that lurked in the shadows. What’s weird about this, what sticks in my mind is that these three instances all occurred at roughly the same time.

The year was 1962. I was 10 years old. Like most 10-year-old boys, I was pretty fearless. If you dared me to do something stupid and even dangerous, I accepted the challenge. Sometimes I wonder how I ever managed to survive my childhood. Haven’t we all? I had already begun my “journey into the unknown” watching countless horror and science fiction films and TV shows like The Twilight Zone. (The Outer Limits would not make its television debut until1963.) From that point on publications such as Famous Monsters of Filmland and Castle of Frankenstein soon grew into a huge pile on the desk and bedside table in my bedroom, alongside my collection of Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror, Haunt of Horror, Creepy, and Eerie magazines. On the dresser beside my bed were all the Aurora plastic models of Universal Pictures’ Famous Monsters I had so lovingly assembled and painted.

None of these things frightened me, you see. Monsters and aliens, ghosts and zombies . . . I couldn’t get enough of them. What nightmares I did have at the time involved failing grades and facing the wrath of the nuns in my Catholic grade school. But in 1962 three things all came together at the right time and in the same week to put a scare into me that lasted for several weeks, as I recall, and that period in my life is a memory I have never forgotten and never will.

Scare One

First, I had already started collecting the Topps’ bubblegum card series, Mars Attacks! Comic book drawings though they were, they were pretty gruesome and graphic for those days, and made quite an impression on me. Anyway, I loved this grisly set of cards, although they were the first to launch my series of nightmares. Not only were there full-color “scenes” on one side of each card, but the flipsides of every card told the continuing story of an invasion from Mars. (It really saddened me that Tim Burton’s 1996 film was turned into a comedy that spoofed several older movies, including Earth vs the Flying Saucers. What an excellent and terrifying film could have been made, had Burton chose to follow the story already laid out as “storyboards” by Topps and their artists. But his Martians were pretty cool.) Perhaps someone will one day make a television miniseries actually based on the original Mars Attacks! bubblegum cards.

So, as the race to Mars has already begun, and I wonder what we’ll really find there, (Ghosts of Mars, perhaps?), I’ve flashed back to 1962, when Mars and aliens were constantly in my thoughts and dreams.

Scare Two

Which brings me to the second thing that happened in 1962: the first time I saw the original, 1953 film Invaders from Mars on television. As hokey as this film may seem today, it’s considered a classic of the genre. Its effect on me and other kids I knew was almost profound, to say the least. It scared the living daylights out of me. The film is told from the point of view of David, most effectively in the way director William Cameron Menzies set up his shot and camera angles. David is a kid about the same age I was at the time, who witnesses the landing of a flying saucer, which then buries itself in a field behind his house. No one believes him, of course, which is something a lot of kids go through: when adults just won’t listen to us! It takes on a darker tone when David’s father is captured by the Martians and implanted in the back of the neck with a device that allows the aliens to control him. The father becomes a cold, cruel man who in one scene gives David a fairly sound back-hand across the face.

Later, David’s mother is subjected to the Martian’s control device, and she, too, turns into a cold, uncaring automaton. This device, by the way, can be triggered by the Martians to explode inside the heads of their slaves, which is exactly what happens to a neighbor’s little daughter. Now for me, this was frightening — to see loving parents much like my own turned into heartless, unloving folks. The bulk of the film is about David’s attempts to convince other adults and the authorities that he is not “the boy who cried wolf.” Haven’t we all been in that situation at least once in our childhoods, where grown-ups just brush us aside and don’t pay any attention to what we have to say? Lucky for David, he finds some adults who do listen to him. This film gave me several bad dreams, and for weeks I was afraid of my parents, even though they hadn’t changed. I was always checking the backs of their necks for the red X that marked the spot where the Martians had implanted their control devices.

Scare Three

This brings me to the final part of my personal little trilogy of terror from 1962: the story of Betty and Barney Hill. The Hills claimed they had been abducted by aliens from the “Zeta Reticulli system” between September 19 and September 20, 1961. This was the first widely publicized report of Alien Abduction in the United States.

I read about this in some newspaper or magazine one night while my folks were watching The Jackie Gleason Show. Perhaps it was featured in the original version of the National Enquirer, or in some science fiction periodical. (In 1966 Look magazine did feature an excerpt from John G. Fuller’s book, The Interrupted Journey.) Anyway, the article fascinated and disturbed me. It was the first time I had heard about “alien abductions” and people undergoing all sorts of tests, procedures and invasive probing by said aliens. In fact, it was cited that their “experiences” were closely related to events in Invaders from Mars. As stated above, the Hills’ case was the first close encounter of the third kind to be well documented and investigated, and made public. The Hills drew a star map, talked about missing time, were hypnotized, and given the old third-degree. Betty had a series of dreams about the incident, and from what I remember Barney began having health issues, too. Their story has been well and thoroughly documented, and for all that it’s often been discredited over the years as nothing more than a “psychological aberration,” it’s a story I’ll never forget, and a story I’m convinced really happened. (Just call me Fox Mulder because I, too, “want to believe.” And speaking of Fox Mulder, on The X-Files, details of the Hills’ case were used in the episode Jose Chung’s From Outer Space. And there is somewhat of a connection to the 1964 episode, The Bellero Shield, from the original The Outer Limits series.)

Though the Hills have long since passed away, you can read all about their alien encounter in the 1966 book by John G. Fuller, The Interrupted Journey. In 1975 there was a very good and creepy television film called The UFO Incident, starring James Earl Jones and Estelle Parsons as Betty and Barney Hill. You can also read more about the Hills on the Wikipedia page.

Thus, at the tender age of 10, in the space of 6 or 7 days and nights, I experienced being really scared for the first time in my life as these three things came together and tied into each other so well. It was like this all had been prepared and planned and executed by some alien force, to grab my attention, hold me in thrall and become one of those things that affected my childhood, one of those things I’ll never forget. I mean, not even the threat of nuclear war with Russia scared me as much.

By the way, I had once heard that Betty and Barney Rubble were named for Betty and Barney Hill, but I doubt it. The Flintstones premiered on September 30, 1960, one year before the Hills were abducted.  

So, what scared you when you were a little kid?

Joe Bonadonna is the author of the heroic fantasies Mad Shadows: The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser (winner of the 2017 Golden Book Readers’ Choice Award for Fantasy); Mad Shadows II: Dorgo the Dowser and the Order of the Serpent; Mad Shadows III: Heroes of Echo Gate; the space opera Three Against The Stars; the Sword-and-Planet space adventure, The MechMen of Canis-9; and the Sword & Sorcery adventure, Waters of Darkness, in collaboration with David C. Smith. With co-writer Erika M Szabo, he wrote Three Ghosts in a Black Pumpkin (winner of the 2017 Golden Books Judge’s Choice Award for Children’s Fantasy), and The Power of the Sapphire Wand. He also has stories appearing in: Azieran—Artifacts and Relics,GRIOTS 2: Sisters of the Spear,Heroika: Dragon EatersPoets in Hell, Doctors in Hell,Pirates in HellLovers in Hell, and the upcoming Mystics in Hell; Sinbad: The New Voyages, Volume 4; and most recently, in collaboration with author Shebat Legion, he wrote Samuel Meant Well and the Little Black Cloud of the Apocalypse. In addition to his fiction, he has written a number of articles and book reviews for Black Gate online magazine.

Visit his Amazon Author or his Facebook Author’s page: Bonadonna’s Bookshelf

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Joseph P Bonadonna

Thank you, Seth Lindberg! Thank you, John O’Neil! Once again, a wonderful layout and presentation.


You are welcome, Joe! I enjoy reading about your fears 🙂


I was scared of developing multiple personalities for some reason. I think I got the idea from the Batman franchise. (The Caped Crusader had more than one enemy with this affliction.) Oddly the serial killer who ate peoples hearts from the same franchise didn’t bother me.

I didn’t watch a lot of horror as a kid because I was scared of being scared. What I found as I grew older is that it takes a lot to scare me.

Joseph P Bonadonna

Matthew, I can well understand the psychology fear of that. After all the horror movies I watched as a kid, these three items got to me. The only film that got to me as an adult was Hostel. It didn’t scare me, it just got to me because I’ve heard that rich people hunting humans in foreign countries, just like sex trafficking, is a real thing.


Great topic for a discussion! Hell, what didn’t scare me as a kid? I think there is a lot of truth in Stephen King’s observation that a lot of early childhood terrors are rooted in dawning awareness that the world has teeth—and can bite—hard.

One stand-out moment of media-induced terror for me occurred when I watched an episode of 3rd-season original series Star Trek. (I was around eight-years-old at the time.) A woman died on the bridge of the Enterprise, gasping and gagging for air while a succession of vari-colored lights passed over her bulged-eyed, rictused face: red, green, blue, yellow—red again.

Later that night I woke up screaming in panic. I mean full-throated, I-am-being-murdered-right-now, ceiling-light-fixture rattling screams. My parents raced into the bedroom and flicked on the lights.

Father: “What in god’s name is going on in here?!”

Carl: “The Marog-Brog Lady!”

Father: “What?”

Carl: “The Marog-Brog Lady! She’s under my bed!!!”

Father: “There’s no one under there. You had a nightmare.”

Carl: “She’s there!”

Father: “No, she’s not.” (gets down on hands and knees to show me)

Carl: “Don’t do it, Dad! She’ll kill you!”

Father (wonderingly to mother): “He really thinks someone’s there! He’s freaking me out.” (peers under the bed) “No one there. Look!”

I wouldn’t–couldn’t–bring myself to look.

Father (utilizing old-school parenting techniques) grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and forced me to look under the bed.

Father: “See anything?”

Carl (head swiveling left and right): “She’s gone.”

Father: “Jesus Christ!” (getting to his feet) “3 a.m. I need a drink.”

I lost my Star Trek viewing privileges for the next four years. . . .

Joseph P Bonadonna

Carlreed, that’s a great story – what a nightmares! There was and is so much out there in fiction that scared kids and still scares kids. Not to mention the real world around us. I wake up sometimes from a nightmare like a character in a horror film – gasping and sweating. Feels like I just ran from the Hounds of Hell.


Heh! Indeed. When you’re a child everything hits hard because everything is brand-new and you haven’t become jaded/numb/over-exposed yet. (Though kids bounce right back as well, having greater psychological resiliency than most adults.) As to your experiences of waking from nightmare: Yep; that’s why they call them nightmares! (Lovecraft had a doozy: “nightgaunts” whirling and twirling his tiny body atop their sharp-edged, “detestable tridents”.)

Joseph P Bonadonna

Carl Reed, excellent points you make. While movies didn’t scare me when I was a kid, many other things did. Never was afraid of dogs, but I was scratched by a cat, and for years I was afraid of them,

Joe H.

I’m kind of honestly not sure what sorts of things I was scared of as a child — maybe quicksand? It feels like I was _way_ more worried about getting sucked down by quicksand than I really needed to be.

I do remember three pieces of childhood media that did genuinely scare me, in no particular order:

Lovecraft’s story The Colour Out of Space — the image of those New England farmers just kind of crumbling into gray dust.

Robert Bloch’s Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper, which I read with an increasing sense of dread until I got to that final line.

The Disney movie The Watcher in the Woods, particularly the scene where the heroine has fallen into a river and is trapped underwater beneath some tree branches.

Joseph P Bonadonna

Joe H – quicksand. Yeah, a very common fear. We saw that in movies and on TV so many times. The Exorcist movie didn’t scare me, but the novel gave me a few nightmares. I was in my 20s wen it was first published.


Ahh… Quicksand. Yes. My mother told me that there was quicksand along the western edge of Mountain Lake (in a small park in San Francisco), presumably to keep me from wandering in that direction while e visited the park. Stuck with me for well over half a century now…

Joseph P Bonadonna

thingmaker . . . Yes, quicksand. A most common fear among our generation.


I’m terrified of insect infestations. I actually enjoy some movies on the topic….like the classic “Them!”

Joseph P Bonadonna

Seth, yes – insect manifestations! I don’t even want to think about that, lol! But as a kid I loved watched swarms of ants crawling over some food or a dead bird. I love putting big bugs in my stories, too. More insects!

Thomas Parker

The tornado in The Wizard of Oz scared the bejeezus out of me. I found the inexorableness of its approach frightening, knowing that there was nothing you could do to slow it, stop it, or divert it.

Joseph P Bonadonna

Thomas, that tornado was SO masterfully done I swear I thought it was real. A force of nature you can’t really run from, can’t stop.


One of the things that scared me as a kid was pictures of strange and creepy deep sea creatures, the kind that always seemed to be published in National Geographic. Turning the page and unexpectedly seeing an anglerfish or something with long teeth or bulging eyes would make me close the magazine up and not go back to it for days.

Another was a book I had that I have never been able to remember the name of or find anything like it again. It probably came from a Scholastic Book Fair or one of those monthly book order forms we got in class. It was about strange and unexplained places, disappearances, hauntings, discoveries, and events. The disappearances and events often, but not always, involved kids. Alien abductions, weird mummies found in a cave in the Andes Mountains of South America, a kid who disappeared while riding his bike on a foggy night and whose voice was heard days later calling for help, those sorts of things. I loved reading those stories, but it would keep me up for hours at night.

I used to think I would be afraid of watching monster or horror movies, but the idea of monsters like Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, etc. was always fascinating to me. I read lots of books about those monsters as a kid, but it wasn’t until I was 16 or 17 that I actually saw the original Universal movies and loved them, which lead me to many more horror movies.

Oh, and the melting face and exploding head at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I was 8 or 9 when it came out in 1981, and I loved everything about the movie except for that part. I did not sleep that night at all.

Joseph P Bonadonna

RJ Miller – You point out some really cool and interesting stuff. I was in my 30s when Raiders of the Lost Ark came out. Those exploding heads were cool, and probably would have frightened me if I was a kid. Weird sea creatures intrigue me, and while I wasn’t afraid of the water when I was a kid, as an adult I won’t go into the ocean past my waist!


Just recalled another movie scene that really creeped me out as a kid. I was at a friends house, and his older brother was watching Lemora on the Sunday afternoon movie. I was probably in 3rd or 4th grade at the time. I wasn’t really paying attention to the movie until the scene where an old woman sings “There Was an Old Woman All Skin and Bones”, which was one of the Halloween songs we sung every year in elementary school music class. Different lyrics, but same tune. The familiarity of the song, combined with the creepy old woman singing it, was mesmerizing. I didn’t watch the rest of the movie that day, but that scene has always stuck with me.


I was 12 1/2 in the summer of 1963. I’d had my own paper route for about a year, so every once in a while I biked into a local sundries establishment and bought pop and potato chips — if I had anything left over from buying baseball cards and DC Comics — for weekend snacking. I’d be starting 8th grade in the fall, so I got to stay up as late as I wanted on Friday nights. That meant “Chiller Theatre.” The version I saw on Channel 10 out of Columbus, Ohio, wasn’t the nationally broadcast show: no live host, but the show’s title, written in smoke, against a creepy background of ghoulish mist, was perfect atmosphere for the spooky voice that intoned the following: “Out from the swirling mists of the endless unknown, from the dark, forbidden depths of man’s imagination, creep the formless fears and nameless terrors of ages beyond measure, to be transfixed for the moment on the macabre stage of…. CHILLER THEATRE!” Behind all this was music from Henry Mancini’s soundtrack to “Experiment in Terror.” One night, the second film was the 1956 classic, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” which I had not seen nor even heard of. At this point I have to mention that we had a water softener that was scheduled to go through some kind of recycling phase 2-3 times a week, and always after everyone in the house was asleep. Consider, too, that we were still in a Cold War with Russia, and a lot of the monsters and aliens in movies and TV shows were Soviet Reds in disguise, and annihilation by nuclear weaponry was a constant worry. I had a very vivid imagination, and those horrible pods in that movie stayed with me for many years later. The film ended around 2:30, and everyone else had been in bed for hours. As the credits rolled, I got up off the living room couch and crossed over to the black-and-white TV, but before shutting the set off, I flipped the channel. I don’t what station I tuned in, but suddenly I was less than six inches away from a full-screen close-up of Lon Chaney, Jr., as “The Indestructible Man,” whose failed electrocution had disfigured his face. At the same moment, the water softener entered its recycling phase, and a horrible mechanical shrieking howled up from the basement. I switched off the TV, shut off a lamp, sprinted into the hallway, and dove into bed, all faster than it takes to describe, and trembled in fear under the blankets for a good 15 minutes. My heart is pounding now as I recount this!

Joseph P Bonadonna

Smitty59, though I’m from Chicago, I am familiar with Chiller Theater, thanks to friends in Ohio. In the late 50s here we had Shock Theater, then in the 70s Creature Features, and the original Svenghoulie, who was Chicago disc jockey Jerry G. Bishop. Your reply would make for a great blog!

Sean S.

I watched The Exorcist at a very young age. It’s the only move that’s every scared the crapola out of me. For weeks I lay in bed at night thinking I could feel it shaking and moving. I also snuck into Alien when I was a kid. Not as bad as The Exorcist, but it was still pretty chilling. Benny and Barney’s story also did a bit of a number on me.

Edit: just thought of two more. There was a cheesey book of short stories when I was a kid. There was one story titled “The Demon of Detroit” that got me. Also, the movie with the African voodoo doll that comes to life and terroizes Karen Black (?) in an apartment. I can’t remember the name of the movie.

I watched some twisted stuff when I was a child. LOL

Last edited 2 years ago by Sean S.
John Burt

I was 16, and living on the farm in Manitoba…
It was 1981 and I was reading Night of the Living Dead in my bedroom on a Saturday night, it was 2 AM and suddenly our German Shephard started barking, he never barked for no reason, he only barked when there was a problem.
Did I mention I was home alone for the weekend in our 75 year old house, over a mile from out nearest neighbour?
I ended up blocking my bedroom door and “slept” with the rifle up into my bedroom.

Joseph P Bonadonna

John Burt – I don’t blame you. I was have been pooping in my pants!


A memory I have is that my mother pointed out the moment in the film Gog (on TV) when a miniature city was burned up by a solar mirror device–buildings torched, harbor water boiling–, and said that was what was going to happen to us when The H Bomb fell. The confusion is that I think this happened around the Cuban Missile crisis, but I would have been pre-kindergarten then… But I also seem to recall it occurring in a house we didn’t occupy till 1965, by which time we had no TV… Anyway, that’s where my nuclear nightmare arose from.

Joseph P Bonadonna

You’re just slightly younger than I am. I was in 3rd grade during Cuban Missile crisis, and doing those “stick your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye” drills in the hallways, kneeling and lined up against the wall like POWs facing a firing squad.

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