Inadvertent Nightmare Fuel for '80s Kids

10 Pieces of Inadvertent Nightmare Fuel for ’80s Kids

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Inadvertent Nightmare Fuel for '80s Kids

For kids who grew up in the 1980s, there were plenty of things to be scared of. Horror icons like Freddy, Jason, and Hellraiser were all products of that decade and (appropriately) caused many of us to have sleepless nights. However, that’s not what I’m here to rant about. No, I want to bring attention to those things that were supposed to be “innocent” and “fun,” but nonetheless caused their fair share of frights. They say speaking about the trauma is the first step towards recovery. Here’s ten pieces of inadvertent nightmare fuel for ’80s kids:

McDonaldland Playground

Screaming Kid with Scary McDonald's Playground Equipment
“Welcome to Hell!” Photo credit: Flickr user Sharon Mollerus (Altered). Creative Commons license.

Let me get two cheeseburgers and a side of therapy. You know what’s fun for kids? A playground. You know what isn’t fun? A stiflingly hot child-sized jail in the mouth of a giant hamburger! Look, I appreciate that McDonald’s was trying to capitalize on the popularity of Sid & Marty Crofft’s creations at the time (for which McDonald’s lost a lawsuit), but horrors such as these need to be kept behind a television screen and not brought out into the real world. If one creepy Big Mac jail wasn’t enough, you had a giant purple Grimace to entomb you. Additionally, McDonald’s made sure that even if the equipment wasn’t some form of dungeon, then they ensured the torment would follow you into your dreams by giving each piece of “fun” the creepiest possible face ever. Watch this 16mm footage and tell me it’s not a clip from an art house horror movie.


If you didn’t know, the name “monchhichi” is a combination of “mon-” for “monkey” and “-chhichi” for “Oh, my God! What is that thing? Get it away from my face!” These devil dolls were originally from Japan (of course!), but were licensed by Mattel for the U.S. until 1985. In a decade where Gremlins and Ghoulies were scaring folks on the silver screen, Monchhichi brought the horror home with their questionably cute face and disturbingly furry bodies. The commercials tried to brainwash us kids into thinking these things were gender-specific, but with only a tuft of hair and a bow to tell the girls apart from the boys, we knew that was only a ploy to placate the sheeple until this obviously murderous alien race could take over the world. One was bad enough, but if multiple Mochhichi were at a friends house, you knew it was going to be a sleepless sleepover. (If it’s a school of fish and a gaggle of geese, then I’m going to call it a palpitation of Monchhichi.) Oddly their popularity was large enough back in the day that they had their own cartoon series. While you would think the majority of the planet would now be wise to their sinister plots, Monchhichi are still available to purchase online. Will we never learn?!

The Unsolved Mysteries Theme Song

Ok, I know that this one is questionable since it comes as the preface to a show that is supposed to be somewhat eerie. However, I don’t know if the composer knew just how insanely horrifying his creation would be to kids. It didn’t matter where you were in the house, if that theme song came on the television you only had two options: 1. Bravely dash as fast as you can to grab the remote and change the channel or 2. Quickly hide in your bedroom closet while covering your head under the nearest pillow. (I, naturally, chose the second option). While teens and adults who watched the rest of the show about missing persons, alien encounters, and the like may have found themselves wrestling with unexplained phenomena, the rest of us were simply left trying to replace that chilling music reverberating in our heads over and over again with anything. Well, almost anything…

My Buddy and Kid Sister

If you’ve never been crippled with fear in a room with a sinister doll, then you’ve never been truly alive! I know, I know, My Buddy was probably the first thing that popped into your head when you read the title of this post. Trust me, it was the same for a number of us here at GeekDad. And why wouldn’t it be? Not only was this tiny human despot the inspiration for the entire Child’s Play series in the form of the murderous Chucky doll, its television jingle was such an earworm those listening to it felt like they were in that scene from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Be honest, you’re singing it now, aren’t you? Just in case the female population felt left out of the frightening fun, Hasbro ensured nightmare equality with the release of Kid Sister. While production of the iconic dolls ceased before 1990, the irrational distrust of dolls remains for all eternity.

California Raisins

Try as you may to explain, but future generations will never believe that America was once in the corporate pockets of “Big Raisin” in the late ’80s. Let’s face it, anthropomorphic raisins were creepy enough, we didn’t need them produced in literally every facet of an American kid’s life. There were toys, posters, clothes, mugs, records, and even beach towels. Kids in the late ’80s were lucky if they could go 30 minutes without seeing dried dancing grapes. Seriously, the claymation animated raisins were weird and unsettling, but it was the way that “raisin fever” swept the nation that was truly nefarious. Who decided we needed dancing and singing mascots who looked like animated fecal matter? And why did the populace lap this up? If you’ve never thought the world could be brainwashed, look no further than the California Raisins. Much like the multi-storied M&Ms store in New York City’s Times Square, it makes you wonder why nobody ever stopped to think…”Why?”

Rock-afire Explosion

You may sense a trend on this list with anything anthropomorphic, and you’d be right. However, what kids these days are frightened by with Five Nights at Freddy’s, we lived in real life with Showbiz Pizza Place’s Rock-afire Explosion. Shifting eyes? Sudden, jerky body movements? Mouths whose movements didn’t align properly with the dialogue? Yep. All of that, and we didn’t have a computer screen to protect us. A trip to Showbiz Pizza should have been a happy time of merriment. Too bad half of us were too distrusting of the animatronic band to have any fun, save the arcade games. Oddly enough it looks like the other half of the world was mesmerized by the robotic animals as there is now a group of devoted collectors who restore the animatronics and program them to perform current songs. You can also check out a full-length documentary about the Rock-afire Explosion…if you dare!

Mac Tonight

The mascot used to advertise late-night dining at McDonald’s restaurants looks less like a lounge singer serenading listeners behind a piano and more like a murderous movie monster waiting under your bed or in your closet for the lights to go out. I mean, how much coke were the folks at McDonald’s ad agency snorting to think this lazy concept would be a good idea? “Hey, the moon comes out at night. Let’s get a talkin’ moon guy!” “Yeah, and Bobby Darin’s ‘Mack the Knife’ can easily be mutilated to become ‘Mac..Tonight!'” “Genius!” Much like the California Raisins, Mac Tonight was everywhere and seemingly inescapable. Triggered by moon man? Better not turn on your television for the entirety of 1987 and 1988. It’s almost a shame that this concept hasn’t already been applied to a horror movie franchise. The “Nighty, night” tagline before he bludgeons somebody practically writes itself. The only thing more nightmarish was the clunky attempt to try to force an obvious night-time Mac Tonight concept to promote breakfastwhat? Since this was actor (and friend of GeekDad) Doug Jones’ first role, we’re almost willing to overlook this one. Almost.

Any Talking Toy With Low Batteries

Look, we don’t necessarily have anything against Teddy Ruxpin or any other talking toy per se. While some would argue that Ruxpin’s dead eyes alone were enough to instill fear into even the bravest of children, as ’80s kids we didn’t run to our mommies until what we expected to be a cheery, upbeat story from our lovable teddy bear turned into what sounded like a demonic beast summoning his devil hounds from the gates of Hell. This phenomenon wasn’t limited to Teddy Ruxpin, but any speaking toy with batteries. The only thing scarier than the slowed, slurred speech from activating these dying electronic toys was when low batteries or battery corrosion caused them to turn on by themselves. What? That never happened to you? Lucky me.

Slim Goodbody

Some people have an aversion to the word “moist.” For me, just thinking about the word “unitard” sends my spine tingling, and there’s only one reason for that. Slim Goodbody was a product of the 1970s, but his message of healthy living extended well into the ’80s. With his white man’s ‘fro and his skinless (gulp) unitard, Slim Goodbody was simply unforgettable, and not in a pleasant way. Sweet dreams, kiddos.

Large Marge

Pee Wee’s Big Adventure sure was a great movie, wasn’t it? Remember his cool bike? How about his cute little dog? Or maybe you remember the laughable tit-for-tat “I know you are, but what am I?” repartee. Oh, you only remember the absolute tonal shift into crazytown with the ghoulishly frightening truck driver Large Marge? Cool, same. We all know now that Tim Burton (Director of Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, The Corpse Bride, etc.) is lovably creepy, but back when we were kids, we all thought we would just be watching a silly, laugh-out-loud comedy. None of us were expecting to be absolutely terrified. You could argue that this scene was supposed to be scary, and therefore doesn’t fit on this list, but I would argue that nobody imagined just how damaging it would be to young viewers. The entire scene with the late actress Alice Nunn lasts less than two minutes, and the claymation jump-scare is only a fraction of a second, but the damage was done and all who bore witness to this will wear our scars to the grave.

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1 thought on “10 Pieces of Inadvertent Nightmare Fuel for ’80s Kids

  1. Great list! My only addition would be the end of Superman 3, when the sister of the villain is turned into a robot by the supercomputer that Richard Pryor built (that was a weird movie.) That scene freaked me out every time I saw it.

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