Lists like these usually prove that our scariest moments tend not to come from scary movies or shows, but rather, from media that was never meant to be scary to begin with.
There's a big reason for that.
When you watch something horror-related, you know going in that it's going to be scary. So when the scary moments arrive, they're not as scary considering you were expecting them in the first place.
But when you watch a movie or television show that's not meant to be scary, only to encounter a scary moment halfway in, it jars you more so because you weren't expecting it. The moment clashes with the rest of the film or episode, catches you off guard, and ingrains itself into the darkest reaches of your psyche.
So its comes as no surprise that the scariest moments in our childhood come from the most innocent and innocuous of places, and as far as children's entertainment goes, there's one television show that is the most innocent and innocuous of them all.
Sesame Street is the living incarnation of childhood innocence. It's the show that we all grew up with. It's the first show that most of us ever see. And that's how it was supposed to be. This is the show that introduces us to letters and numbers and colors and other basic concepts while first and foremost entertaining us. It was the first show of its kind to prove that children can have fun while learning at the same time. No other show on television balances education with entertainment as well, and this is the main reason why it’s managed to survive for 40 years and counting.
So how can a television show as wholesome and innocent and child-friendly as this possibly traumatize its young viewers?
Very well actually!
Underneath its bright and colorful facade, Sesame Street has plenty of dark moments, with certain elements, segments, or even characters unintentionally frightening its younger viewers.
One of its characters is a vampire, for Celestia's sake! Just whose bright idea was it to make an animated corpse that feasts upon the blood of the living a main character for a children's show?
And it really comes to no surprise that some of the show's scarier moments originated during its earlier years. To its defense, this was the first children's show of its kind, so the creators had to experiment to see what was appropriate or not appropriate to show children.
But I guess this was so bad that in DVD releases of the earlier seasons, they had to put in a disclaimer explaining that these episodes are not suitable for today's children. Yeah, these Sesame Street DVDs have disclaimers telling us that they're not suitable for children!
You can only guess as to how many of these scary moments managed to make it past the approval of the creators. You could say they were merely experimenting and didn't know whether it would be suitable for children or not. Maybe it was due to the psychedelic drugs used back in the 60s. Or maybe it was due to Jim Henson's own twisted sense of humor.
Either way, many of these moments really scarred us as little kids, to the point where there's even an entire Sesame Street Nightmare Fuel page on TV Tropes.
I could create an entire list about these scary Sesame Street moments. Who knows? Maybe that'll be next year's list? (Hint! Hint!)
But for this list, I'll talk about the moment that scarred me the most as a kid, the moment that always sent me running out of the room screaming with a lingering trail of piss.
And this wasn't just a singular moment that would occasionally. Oh no! It was a recurring sketch—or rather, an element of a sketch. And no matter how many times I was exposed to it as a kid, it never ceased to creep me the freak out. Even as an adult it still creeps me out .
Ladies and gentleman, my scariest Sesame Street moment, and my scariest nostalgic moment is...
#1: The Sesame Street News Flash intro
Before everyone’s favorite frog became the host of the Muppet Show, Kermit began his career on Sesame Street as a roving reporter for breaking news stories, mostly about fairy tale and nursery rhyme characters.
Now these sketches weren’t scary in and of themselves. In fact, most of them were rather humorous, with most of the humor centering on the fairy tale not playing out as originally written and with our green reporter ending up as the butt of the joke.
For example, in one sketch, Kermit reports on Cinderella’s visit from her fairy godmother, who continuously messes up her ball gown until she accidently ends up dressing poor Kermit in drag and forcing him to attend the ball.
However, many of these sketches, while humorous, did have their fair share of disturbing content.
Examples? Two word: Humpty Dumpty.
I’m too chicken to even show you any pictures of that felt abomination, but trust me, when you watch that video and see the character design, after you finishing screaming and pissing yourself, you’ll be wondering what the freaking hell the creators were thinking.
But for me, what continuously scared me about these sketches, regardless of whether or not they were funny, were how they were introduced.
Imagine this: you’re a three-year-old kid watching Sesame Street. Everything about the show is bright and colorful and simply happy and upbeat. Just then the screen turns black with a screeching dissonant tone playing in the background and an ominous disembodied voice telling you that your normal programming has been interrupted.
I kid you not, that intro always freaked me out as a kid, sending me screaming out of the room or simply reaching for the remote to change the channel.
Not matter how many times this intro occurred, no matter how many times I saw it, no matter how much older I became, this three-second moment always managed to scare the ever-loving piss out of me.
Even as an adult I can’t stand to watch it. Even while writing this blog post, I’ve refused to watch any of the sketches in fear that I would come face-to-face with this thing, sending me into a panic attack and forcing me to relive bad childhood memories that I’ve since repressed and kept stowed away into the back reaches of my mind.
Now I know what you’re thinking: how in the world could you possibly be scared by this three-second intro to an otherwise harmless recurring sketch featuring a beloved Muppet character?
Well, I’ve been wondering this all my life, and having become older and wiser and having developed critical thinking skills, I can finally critically assess this moment and explain why it managed to scare me so.
Allow me to break this down for you:
1) The background. The title screen is black. Black is a very dark, foreboding color. This drastically contrasts with the rest of Sesame Street, which is otherwise bright and colorful.
2) The storm cloud logo. The logo is a storm cloud with a very sharp-looking lightning bolt flashing onscreen. (Because as we all know, children just LOVE thunder and lighning!)
3) The music. Oh sweet Celestia, the music--if you can even call it such! It’s really noise. The sound is like what you get if you tossed a box of rusty screws into a blender, set it to puree, then tossed it into a washing machine while a jet plane flies overhead. It’s a harkening dissonant tone that reverberates your very soul.
4) The announcer. And if that weren’t creepy enough, the disembodied, almost foreboding, there's the narrator telling you that your normal programming has been interrupted for a breaking news story. I’d almost imagine this is the voice you hear announcing your entry into purgatory.
5) The unpredictability. What really got me about this intro scene was how it would just pop up when you least expected it. You could be watching Ernie annoy the freak out of Bert or be listening to a calm, soothing song when this pops right the freak out of nowhere. All of a sudden, you are faced with a dark screen, foreboding imagery, dissonant music, and a foreboding narrator.
All of that combined makes this moment the perfect jump scare, and the perfect way to traumatize a child such as myself. Everything about it contrasts with what Sesame Street is supposed to be, which is colorful and friendly.
Add the fact that it can come up at any moment when you least expect it, and you have a jump scare that puts ever screamer video on the internet to shame. And in fact, this is worse that a screamer video. Those things are usually relegated to adults. This is for young children who are easily frightened by anything.
But who knows? Maybe this scared me and only me. Maybe other children weren’t scared by it, but as for me, it will always be my top scariest nostalgic scare, and it will always make the days on the street less than sunny.
How scary is it? Like watching a 12-hour marathon of nothing but screamer videos!