Hitting stores today from Shout! Factory is a Blu-ray of Ninja III: The Domination, an utterly ridiculous but equally awesome slice of batshittery courtesy of Golan and Globus (who else would produce a movie about a ninja possessing an aerobics instructor?). Much like the Rambo series, the title is a bit confusing if you aren't in the know; there is no Ninja or Ninja 2 to speak of - merely a pair of largely unrelated films called Enter the Ninja (which Menahem Golan directed himself) and Revenge of the Ninja, also helmed by Domination's Sam Firstenberg. I haven't seen the first two, but they are straight up action films - Ninja III was the only one that added horror into the mix.
It was those elements that gave me the most vivid nightmare I've ever had when I was about 6 or 7, having seen the film courtesy of my grandfather (who also introduced me to Chopping Mall!). Not sure if it was that night or later on, but either way I had a dream where the ninja from the film had somehow gotten up to my 2nd floor bedroom window, holding on to the ledge with one hand and using the other to pound on the glass, saying NINJA! over and over, and almost certainly planning to kill me. I was never more convinced that a dream was real; my mother had to assure me the next morning that it didn't actually happen (the dream started with me in bed being woken up, which to this day isn't very common for one of my dreams, and thus of course made it seem that much more realistic).
Revisiting the film on Blu-ray now (for the first time since; 25 years later!), I'm kind of embarrassed to admit that it scared me as a kid - it's not really scary at all, just sort of goofy. It's listed as a horror film on the IMDb, but the possession angle is rarely played for scares, and while there are a couple of gory kills courtesy of some ninja stars, it's still a straight action movie at heart. But it got me thinking about all the other movies that petrified me when I was younger, and how for the most part they're all not exactly the movies you'd think would be name-checked with regards to scaring children out of their minds. I mean, I had already seen Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Alien by the time I saw any of the movies below, and I was OK with those (Poltergeist is the only "classic" that scared me as a kid - goddamn clown toy!). Why did this stuff scare me??
So I'm going to provide the list of the "Scariest Movies Of All Time" according to me when I was about 10 or 11, and I encourage you to add your own shameful, or at least obscure examples. I'm not talking about being scared by The Exorcist or The Shining, those are a given and no one would laugh at you if they gave you nightmares. I'm talking about the movies that would in no way scare you as an adult like those others might. In short - what's YOUR Ninja III?
(Listed in order by my best guess of when I saw it)
Don't Go To Sleep(aged 7 or 8)
I've talked about this movie before, and it's the least embarrassing title to mention - others have chimed in with how scared they were by it as a kid. But it's HOW it scares me that's kind of silly. I was young enough for it to leave an impression that lasts to this day - am I afraid of falling off a roof, like the young son in the film? Or of being immolated in a car? How about being electrocuted in the bathtub? Nope. I'm afraid of pizza cutters, thanks to one being wielded in a menacing way by the film's murderer. She doesn't even kill anyone with it, and most that I've seen are so dull that they seem to have difficulty actually slicing a pizza, but damned if I don't get a little jolt every single time I see one, and refuse to use one when I am tasked with slicing my pie. Instead, I have to use a knife - which I've seen used to kill any number of people over the years but never find myself afraid of one.
Similar to Don't Go To Sleep, this movie forever made me afraid of a rather innocuous object, but at least it was actually used to kill someone in this silly but vastly entertaining (and mildly homoerotic) supernatural thriller from 1986. I'm totally OK with Ouija boards, the source of all the movie's evil, but never get me anywhere a sundial like the one that kills the movie's psychic (Kathleen Wilhoite), because I will freak out, even if it's rather ludicrous. Why was it so sharp? And why did someone who can predict the future need such a clunky way of telling time?
Big Trouble In Little China (8)
A few years before I was aware of who John Carpenter was, he scared me not with one of his classic horror films that would eventually be among my favorites of all time (Halloween, The Thing, etc), but with the closest thing he's ever made to a full blown comedy. However, I didn't know that it wasn't a horror film, as I only caught the final 20 minutes or so on cable when I was 8, and for years thought of Big Trouble as "the movie with that creepy wizard with the long fingernails that made me afraid to go to Chinese restaurants for a while". To be fair, the still somewhat spooky image of Kim Cattrall and Suzee Pai's whitened out eyes didn't help.
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (9 or 10)
This is a weird one - I had actually seen the film before, but in the comfort of my own home in suburban Massachusetts. My attempt to re-watch on a Saturday night one summer up in Maine, at a family campground where I had to sleep in a tent (I was already too big to fit in the bunk beds in the RV)... not successful. I got as far as Jason stalking Teddy in the living room before freaking out and running to my tent to go to sleep. Kid logic is amazing - I was afraid that Jason was outside somewhere, but I *knew* that as long as I could get into my tent, I'd be safe (I should note that I hadn't seen New Blood at this point).
(Also, it didn't scare me when I watched it, and it didn't last like the pizza cutter, but Jason Takes Manhattan had me believing New York was a terrifying place where junkies would kidnap you as soon as you arrived in town and if you got lost in the tunnels you could drown in toxic waste. When I actually went there, many years later, I found it to be pretty nice.)
Halloween 5 (11)
Even my mom made fun of me for this one. It was Halloween night (or at least the night where the parties were) and I had rented the film to enjoy while my parents and my sister went out to celebrate. I wasn't left alone the whole night; there was just an hour or two after my parents left for theirs but before my sister came home from hers that would have been too brief to bother with a sitter. And being an idiot, I opted to spend this, the first time I was alone in the house I think, to watch Halloween 5 for the first time, despite the fact that the other films had also scared me more than the average Freddy or Jason entry even with my parents at home to protect me from masked maniacs that had leapt from the screen. I got as far as the barn sequence before losing my nerve - I put on a comedy and grabbed a souvenir baseball bat (I didn't have a real one!) to protect myself in case Michael Myers inexplicably decided to leave Haddonfield and stalk some dumb kid who was minding his own business.
It's funny, a lot of my friends now have kids that are about the same age I was when my mom started letting me watch horror movies, and I'm amazed at how many of them aren't allowed to even watch the tamer ones like Poltergeist (PG!) just yet. While the occasional jump scare can still provide the intended jolt, I think at a certain point a lot of folks are too old for these movies to truly scare you like the ways I've described above (there are some people who continue to be freaked out by even the tamest stuff well into adulthood - I kind of envy them in an odd way). So I say, as long as they can handle it with you in the room to "protect" them, get em while they're young! You're robbing them of future embarrassment when they start to write their own articles!