Television is a ubiquitous part of any child’s young life and helps them to see another window to the world they wouldn’t see otherwise. All of us have those shows from our past that we loved unconditionally as kids and still carry with us into adulthood nostalgia. On the flipside, we also all have those shows that made us feel funny, disturbed, and downright scared and you’d all be pleased to know that tradition of adults frightening children via the use of puppets and psychedelic imagery took place all over the world and is still going strong today. Strap in and I’ll take you on a ride through some of the creepiest and most bizarre television shows ever created for children, a ride you may never recover from.
The best way to describe this show, believe it or not, is that it consists entirely of multi-colored creatures with anime eyes, dancing and floating around in a hyperbaric nightmare dimension full of psychedelic rainbows and sparkles. Any child who doesn’t nervously back away from the television mouthing “…what the hell…” will no doubt suffer an epileptic seizure soon enough. The show does an admirable job of combining the drug fuelled cacophony of the 70s with inherently scary doll heads and warped alien bodies. There’s no story, no sets, no writing, and no voices save for an annoying child who screams “Boobah!” every few minutes and yet, it’s difficult to imagine anything that would cause children watching to question the purpose of their little worlds more. There is nothing creepier and more unsettling than the wanton destruction of one’s own sanity, let alone a child’s.
9. Peppermint Park
Peppermint Park was pretty much the epitome of the art of creepy puppets. Lifeless rolling eyes, rigid plastic bodies with cloth human hands, and voices that sound like they were recorded in an insane asylum all culminate in a perfect storm of childhood trauma. The show featured a couple different sets of puppets, one of which was a perverse rip-off of Bert and Ernie if Bert and Ernie suddenly devolved into autistic ape-men, while the other set were a couple of semi-lobotomized dragons (dinosaurs?) with voices even more odd than the “human” puppets, which is saying something. The show was bargain basement stuff and it looked it, complete with filthy curtains that flank a dingy cellar window, creepy stock footage of random children playing in a playground, and completely pointless Dixieland performances. All the show was lacking was an unpainted van lurking around.
8. Jay Jay The Jet Plane
Something about putting oddly shaped, realistic faces on airplanes and helicopters is very unsettling, especially considering that, in the show, these creatures are completely sentient with minds of their own. It begs the question, in this universe where airplanes are alive, do people ride in them? Are they enslaved to serve man or just another species of animal? How are new planes “born”? Anyway, where Thomas the Tank Engine succeeds in placing a face on an otherwise inanimate object without making kids nervous, Jay Jay does not. The faces dominate the planes they are stuck onto, have bulbously inflated features and are strangely rigid. In fact, the only parts that move are the eyes (barely) and the eyelids. Yeah, eyelids on an airplane. There’s a bunch of other weird imagery that pops up every now and then like naked cartoon monkeys and virtually featureless, rubbery human characters but it’s the airplanes themselves that really take the horror of the uncanny valley and bludgeon our children with it.
7. Rupert The Bear
Starting the tradition of disturbing TV shows designed to freak out many a British child, The Adventures of Rupert Bear was born in the decade few want to remember; the 70s. Those who have good memories of this show probably only remember the animated version that came later which was relatively harmless and most likely aren’t aware of the marionette version that came before. Marionettes are creepy enough by themselves, but when they come in strange shapes vaguely resembling anthropomorphic animals wearing clothing operated by amateurs who clearly forgot how a body is supposed to move, the creepiness factor skyrockets. Besides Rupert, there were a myriad of odd looking characters in the show including a deformed sheep, a floating fireball with legs, and most notorious of all, Raggety, who looked like a gnarled and haunted tree branch crossed with a Snork. Research has shown that many a British nightmare in the early 70s was centered on Raggety. Reportedly all the episodes were lost in a fire, and I like to think it was God’s way of expunging the Earth from the unholiness that was Rupert.
Pipkins was another British TV show in the 70s that featured, you guessed it, puppets. Puppets aren’t inherently scary and can be used to great effect on shows like Sesame Street and Lamb Chop’s Play-A-Long when operated correctly and made with love. You can’t just find a ratty piece of carpet, shove your hand into its ass and call it good children’s fare. Well, Pipkins did just that which led to a rich cast of misfit puppets with regional accents that no one wanted to love. Most famous of the bunch was the character of Hartley Hare. He is one of the skankiest, dirtiest, and spazziest puppets to ever appear on kids TV. Not only did he look like a deceased pet that was dug up and brought back to life after being dead for three weeks, but his repertoire consists mostly of snide comments and innuendos. You know, for kids!
Dirtgirlworld is a relatively new show that is currently being shown in the UK, US, and Canada and is about a girl who loves to go outside and get dirty. Not a bad idea, but there’s something wrong with this girl though as she can’t decide whether she is a human or a badly animated cartoon. She has a huge cartoon head and barely perceptible nose, but real human eyes and a real human mouth which all top a disproportionately tiny and childlike body. Even worse, the eyes seem to move independently of each other and with her mouth flying all over her face, dirtgirl constantly makes some very disturbing facial expressions. It’s as if Jessica Rabbit hooked up with Eddie Valiant instead of Roger Rabbit and this girl was their half human, half cartoon love child. Alongside her is a male equivalent who is just as messed up, a yellow worm thing with Super Dave Osborne’s face, and a human/cricket hybrid abomination that wears a short bus helmet as if to telegraph the reason to everyone why insects and humans shouldn’t mate. What’s wrong with using just humans or just cartoons? Stop trying to combine them! It’s weird!
This show itself isn’t too bad despite prominently featuring marionettes, otherwise known as “the devil’s toy” which are usually creepy enough in their own right. What puts Terrahawks on this list though is the character of Zelda, who is probably the scariest looking villain to ever appear in a kid’s show, and her equally frightening henchmen. Zelda is scary on a real level as she looks like a mentally unstable grandmother wearing a shrivelled and rotten apple skin on her face. She is the inspiration of old crones everywhere who aspire to achieve her Freddy Krueger claw, scraggly dead hair, and ghostly nightgown. As for her henchmen, one of them looks vaguely like Frankenstein, but with evil eyes and a voice that sounds like he’s gurgling the blood of innocent children with every syllable. The other is a mute that looks like Zelda but with clown makeup, a very fake looking yellow wig, and a stoma. Yea, a stoma; one of those throat holes smokers get after a losing battle with cancer. Charming.
Jigsaw was a British show (good lord, what is it with the British and giving nightmares to children?) in the early 80s that featured a few standard human presenters who come together to solve riddles and puzzles along with the children watching. Pretty normal stuff really, however one specific character from this show, Mr. Noseybonk, has single-handedly placed this program in the hallowed echelon of children’s nightmares that stick with them to adulthood. Any description of this character wouldn’t be half as unsettling as seeing a picture of him, or even worse, watching him grow more demonic noseybonks in his greenhouse. I like to think this show is where the Jigsaw killer from the Saw films got his inspiration from. Instead of using the warped puppet that rides the tricycle though, Mr. Noseybonk would have made a much scarier and foreboding calling card for Jigsaw. In fact, I don’t think there’s anything more terrifying to be alone with in a dark room than that white mask with its big white nose, soul-less eyes and hellish grin. Some messed up person actually thought this was something kids would love to see and be charmed by.
2. EI EI Yoga
Creepiness comes in many different flavors and we’ve covered many of them already; puppets, marionettes, dingy sets, bizarre CGI, etc. However, we’ve neglected one of the major pillars of childhood terror: pedophilia. That is, until we visit that little corner of Hell known as EI EI Yoga. Only existing on VHS tapes, this program was about Yogi Oki Doki and his Rastafarian rooster pal (no, really) teaching children how to do yoga because everyone knows how much rastamen love to do Yoga. It’s one of the most disturbing things a normal human being can see and yet, like any train wreck featuring a big chinned hippy and Jamaican rooster, you can’t take your eyes off it. Yogi Oki Doki prefers a hands-on approach to teaching so throughout the “lesson”, he often hugs and touches all the children as they do various Yoga poses in skin-tight leotards because, why not put them in skin-tight leotards, right? At one point, he even begins moaning and uncontrollably uttering “Mmm mm mm” sounds as he inspects his harem of Yoga youth as if he were admiring a juicy hamburger. You know the old saying, “whenever you see a grown man who is really excited to teach Yoga to children, call the police”? What, that’s not a saying? Well, it damn well should be!
1. Junior Christian Science Bible Lesson
Neither Christian nor scientific, the Junior Christian Science Bible Lesson is an abomination placed on this Earth that may never again be repeated. Completely orchestrated by a borderline schizophrenic named David Hart, the public access show relies on puppets, uncomfortable human accomplices, and horrifically bad religious songs to bring its message to children. The puppets are, as you’d imagine, the freakiest looking figures ever put to screen and could hang with Chucky in terms of scare factor. They literally fall apart as the program goes on, and since Hart controls each one individually, characters which were previously animated suddenly fall lifeless when he switches to a different puppet as if their very soul itself was torn away. Flanking the puppets are human beings in alien masks, someone’s grandfather wearing face paint and Elton John’s glasses who scowls at the camera, and myriad other nightmare fuel. Words just cannot do it justice.
Matthew Hayden currently writes for http://www.thebestcolleges.org