10 Dark Disney Delights

The House of Mouse goes dark with these frightfully fun flicks.

Days Disney

For many kids Disney is a key source of entertainment. With so much Disney content being consumed at a young age the House of Mouse is able to help shape what kids like in the future. I for one, grew up on the Disney Channel and will forever love their Disney Channel Original Movies from the ‘90s. Movies like Brink! and Alley Cat Strike will always be stone cold classics in my mind. While the majority of Disney fare is light-hearted family comedies with the slightest bit of drama, they have occasionally dabbled in the deep dark end of the pool. I watched a number of R-rated horror films at a far too young age, and while I did enjoy them, it could be argued that the horror coming from Disney at the time played a larger role in my love of the genre.

Are Disney horror films scary? Eh, not really. In fact, most Disney horror titles contain the same family friendly tone that has made them the massive success that they are, however, they do so while incorporate enough horror themes and elements to appease the small horror fan in all of us. Read on to see what Disney horrors made the top 10 cut, as decided on by #TheBooCrew (Rob Hunter, Kieran Fisher, Brad Gullickson, Meg Shields, Jacob Trussell, and myself).

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10. Mom’s Got a Date With a Vampire (2000)

My Mom's Got A Date With A Vampire

Disney doesn’t get the credit it deserves for creating effective and thought-provoking horror. On paper, Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire might seem like a silly yarn about two kids that trick their parent into a date with a charming English bloodsucker of Romanian heritage whose ad they find in a newspaper. Underneath the surface, though, is a cautionary tale about stranger danger. The moral of the story: be wary of predators. — Kieran Fisher


9. Frankenweenie (2012)

Frankenweenie

Young Victor Frankenstein barely tolerates his parents and has no time for his classmates and their potential for friendship. His beloved bull terrier, Sparky, provides whatever companionship he may crave. The two understand each other, and they both pursue the sciences with equal measure. Concerned over his son’s isolated nature, Mr. Frankenstein convinces the boy to partake in a Little League baseball game. Victor is reluctant, but once at bat, he slams a home run over the park wall. Proud Sparky chases after the victorious baseball and in the process is struck by a car and dies. Victor is inconsolable, but he takes to the sciences to resurrect his precious pooch. Frankenweenie is prototypical Tim Burton. His obsession with Edward Gorey’s aesthetic gets squished through Walt Disney’s lens and brought to life by delightful, bouncy stop-motion animation. The film is maudlin, but necessarily so. Burton captures the ache of childhood pain better than most, and Frankenweenie celebrates grief as just one of life’s many natural phenomena. — Brad Gullickson


8. Under Wraps (1997)

Under Wraps

In 1997 Disney launched their highly popular Disney Channel Original Movie moniker with a film about three preteens that discover a mummy in the basement of a man that faked his death to avoid paying taxes. Naturally the kids are terrified of the mummy at first, but soon realize he’s a nice enough dude and name him Harold. With the assistance of their Halloween-obsessed friend they discover that they must get Harold back to his coffin before midnight on Halloween or he’ll just be a pile of ashes. I was the same age of the kids when this movie premEARed and I’m convinced it was made for me. A funny movie that takes place on Halloween with a mummy that actually looks really gruesome — I’d argue one of the best mummies in the history of film — and kids like me are the heroes? Sign me up! — Chris Coffel


7. Tower of Terror (1997)

Tower Of Terror

Disney didn’t buy into the scary kids show craze of the mid 90s like Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of The Dark until 1999’s So Weird. But if they had created a spooky fun backdoor pilot for the House of  Mouse five years earlier, it would have looked A LOT like Tower of Terror. More outrageous than a witch casting a spell to rid herself of a bratty child star is that somehow a property the size of the grand Hollywood Tower Hotel is somehow just sitting vacant adjacent to the Hollywood sign. Perhaps the developers knew it was cursed? Or maybe they hadn’t gotten enough hipster coffee shops yet. Either way the tower is filled with ghosts of Hollywood’s past, from the aforementioned child star to headless bellhops with cleavers. There’s even a twist that verges on psycho biddy territory that is truly wild. With the always likable Steve Guttenberg and Kirsten Dunst in an early role, Tower of Terror is a fun entryway for tweens looking to get into the genre. — Jacob Trussell


6. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)

The Advneutres Of Ichabod And Mr Toad

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is one of the all time great tales of horror. My introduction to this wonderful story came via Disney. All of the gorgeous hand drawn animation I had come to love was there but with a macabre twist. If that’s not enough there’s a second story about a self destructive billionaire playtoad that escapes from prison and crashes cars. What’s not to love? —- Chris Coffel


5. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

The Nightmare Before Christmas

When The Nightmare Before Christmas was released in 1993, I was genuinely frightened by it. As a kid with a fresh fear of dolls thanks to the Child’s Play series, the trailer featured a wind up jack-in-the-box that five-year-old me was having none of. But that’s just more proof to the genuine lightning in the bottle moment that is this Henry Selick and Tim Burton joint. Does it have horrifying, spooky imagery? Yes. Is it equally heart warming and endearing? Absolutely. This is what draws so many people into the spirit of Halloween, even if the film is arguably more of a Christmas movie. If you find your kids craving the sights and sounds of Halloweentown, it’s safe to say you have a budding horror fan on your hands. — Jacob Trussell


4. Halloweentown (1998)

Halloweentown

Few decades captured the Halloween season better than the 90’s. At least in my imagination anyway, since that was the last time I believed in ghosts and stuff. I thank the Disney Channel for this festive wonder, as they made their share of contributions to the season of spookery as well (and that isn’t even counting all the kids they probably keep as elf slaves at their theme parks). No, I’m talking about movies like Halloweentown, a movie about a young witch who must save the titular town from the forces of evil. Featuring skeletons, demons, goblins, and an atmosphere that evokes spooky wonder and joy, this is the only movie you really need in your life this time of year. — Kieran Fisher


3. Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Just as Disney is known for family entertainment the great Ray Bradbury is recognized as a writer fond of filling his stories with nostalgia and warmth. Of course, he’s also a master of infusing the familiar with darkness, terror, and a deadly twist of the knife. This coming-of-age novel captures the power of friendship and family up against the forces of evil, and it does so with wonder, emotional pain, and some truly unsettling sequences. Spiders, terrifying figures, and the sight of a father quickly wasting away before his son’s eyes are images I’ve never forgotten across the decades. That’s the power of a fantastic film, and I for one wish more movies for “kids” had the balls to go dark. Kids can take it. — Rob Hunter


2. Hocus Pocus (1993)

Hocus Pocus

Released in July 1993 to critical ire, twenty five years on, Hocus Pocus continues to burn bright in the hearts of millennials. Co-written by Stephen King-adaptation alum Mick Garris and directed by the High School Musical braintrust Kenny Ortega, Hocus Pocus concerns the Samhain shenanigans of three goofy soul-sucking witches terrorizing modern-day Salem. I am all for inducting the youth into the occult and if the vessel must be gleefully corny Disney fare, all the better. Also, for those of you with your brows aloft scoffing at this low art I see you and raise you one phenomenal early Doug Jones performance and one Garry Marshall dressed as the devil. — Meg Shields


1. Return to Oz (1985)

Return To Oz

It’s hard to compete with The Wizard of Oz. Judy Garland pretty much owns our childhood, and any attempt to cross the rainbow seems like an affront to that nostalgia. Still – there is a gargantuan franchise to be had from L. Frank Baum’s classic children adventures, and Return to Oz was the first film to give it a shot. Unfortunately, all you 80s chumps refused to show up. I understand your resistance. No songs. No Toto. All nightmare fuel. Director Walter Murch embraces the bizarre setting and characters and refuses to paint a sunny disposition on it. The Wicked Witch is dead, and in her place stands the rotating heads of Princess Mombi and the screaming rock face known as the Nome King. There was never a real threat in The Wizard of Oz. We knew Dorothy was going to find her way back home. Here, every colorful friend could have been transformed into stone, or torn to shreds by vicious Wheelers. Oz is a wonder, but there is a genuine danger behind every bend in the yellow brick road. — Brad Gullickson

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My name is Chris Coffel and I usually write about Nicolas Cage. When I'm not writing about Nicolas Cage I'm usually thinking about writing about Nicolas Cage.