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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

question of the day: What movies have given you nightmares?

Today’s QOTD comes from reader Paul, who asks:

What movies have given you nightmares?

I’ll refine Paul’s question: Not metaphoric nightmares, not just unpleasant thoughts in the waking world, but actual, genuine, for-real scary dreams as you sleep. Bonus if the nightmares were so bad they actually woke you up.

As an adult no movie has scared me this bad except Threads, which dates from 1984 but which I didn’t see till a few years later, when I would have been in my late teens. A horrifically plausible look at the short- and long-term impact of an all-out nuclear war, it still haunts me to this day… to the point of, sometimes, impinging on my dreams. I watched it again a few years ago, and it’s still completely terrifying. (It’s available on DVD in Region 2, though not Region 1, and you can watch it via a series of YouTube videos, starting here.)


(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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  • Marshall

    The Dawn of the Dead remake didn’t exactly give me nightmares, but it came very close. I remember several very intense, very serious dreams involving zombies closing in.

  • doa766

    transformers 2

  • You can watch Threads in full, without interruption, on Google Video


  • renee

    1408 gave me some nightmares where I didn’t know if I was awake or asleep. Freaky.

  • CoriAnn

    Gremlins. I was a little kid when it came out and it is one of the first movies I even remember seeing in the theater. I had nightmares for over a year about the part where Spike runs down Gizmo in the Barbie car. I know how silly that is, but hey, little kid at the time. I couldn’t stand the thought of Gremlins until well after the second movie came out and I accidentally saw it and laughed my butt off because it was so silly. Once that happened I was finally able to give the first one another shot and ended up liking it quite a bit…

  • Grinebiter

    Ha! It should be the other way round, they should make films out of my nightmares….

  • The Ring. I’m not usually bothered by scary movies, but that one genuinely creeped me the hell out.

  • “Carnival of Souls” still get weird image flashes of the dancing dead in my dreams, and even *seeing* a pond surrounded by woods gives me instant shudders, and disturbed nights.

  • Sandy

    The original “Dawn of the Dead”, which I saw when I was 15, gave me constant nightmares. I still have zombie nightmares.

    When I was very young I saw “Kronos” about a giant asteroid that crashes into the ocean and out comes a gigantic alien robot. It stomped around killing people (off-screen; this was made in 1957) and that gave me some serious nightmares!

    I made the mistake of watching Kronos a few years ago and it turns out to be some serious cheese.


  • The Japanese movie called “Tetsuo” certainly gave me some nightmares the first time I watched it. I think it was actually for the freaky nature of it rather than the actual frightening element which got me.

  • sam

    Voldemort in my nightmares is way scarier than Voldemort in the movies, but he does look the same – does that count?

  • Poltergeist. I didn’t really know what kind of movie it was (I’m terrible with horror movies) but my sister wanted me to take her to go see it so I went without knowing.

    I forgave her…eventually. ;)

  • Jester

    Yep, Poltergeist, specifically the chicken scene and everything around it. Had nightmares about that for years afterward.

    Weirdly, I loved every other part of the movie, and nothing else in the movie bothered me unduly.

  • LaSargenta

    When I was about 12 or 13, I saw a WWII movie with Michael Caine that had a lot of plot twists and was ultimately really nihilistic. I have scrolled through Michael Caine’s IMDb page and can’t figure out which one for certain — it may have been Play Dirty. It was definately not your typical rousing “feel-good” heroic WWII flick.

    Anyhow, horror film it wasn’t. Nor did it have particularly graphic violence. But, the casual nihilism in it and the ending (involving an overlooked or intentionally ignored white flag) kept popping up in my dreams for years.

  • Paul

    I’ve had three nightmares because of “Jaws.” The most recent involved my trying to fight a shark off with the leg of a friend of mine it had eaten the rest of. I also had a nightmare that I was the main character in Predator III, but why a Predator would attack a small Iowan city is beyond me. Maybe it was fooled by our humidity. I spent most of the nightmare either hiding or looking for a gun.

  • Kate

    Good call on Carnival of Souls! I LOVE that movie. Such a sense of menace….

    The first time I saw David Cronenberg’s “The Brood” I had nightmares, and even though I’ve seen it several times since, it still gets me.

    And I know it’s a well-worn icon, but EVERY time I see “The Exorcist,” I’m in for a sleepless night. That damn voice gets every time.

    I’m a bit embarressed by my most recent one, though, because I thought the movie itself was ridiculous and poorly written and overwrought and stupid. Like, really stupid. But apparently no-one gave my less intellectual self the memo because I woke up in a cold sweat, heart pounding, ALMOST screaming, twice the night I saw “The Orphan.”

  • Anne-Kari

    Yep I’m with the “Poltergeist” folks, but only once I moved to the suburbs as an adult. I saw it and loved it back in the day but it wasn’t until 2002 that I actually had a nightmare about it. That was the year I moved out of New York and into suburban DC area. Gee, I wonder why.

    Other than that, I had terrible nightmares after seeing the original “The Haunting” (circa 1963).

  • Bill

    Nightmare on Elm Street. Freddy has definitely chased me around my dreams more than any other character.

  • Sephrii

    “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”. I was about five years old when I walked in on my parents watching it on TV, right when the dude turned into a skeleton. It gave me horrible nightmares until college when a friend of mine made me watch it. Unbelievably cheesy.

    Weirdly, Cocoon also freaked me out as a child. Bodies in pods in the pool, and old people….creepy

  • Tony

    The Amityville(?) Horror scared me so bad it gave me nightmares when I was a kid. On a side note I’ve had a lot and I mean a lot of dreams of Jason from Friday the 13th chasing me. And, the wife says there are times it looks like I’m fighting g**damned zombies in my sleep.

  • Guido

    Apocalypse Now. For some reason, that movie left me disturbed for weeks. It doesn’t have that effect on me anymore, but when I first saw it I felt like Vietnam was still too close for comfort.

  • Oliver

    The Excorcist. Either that or the one where Tim Allen turns himself into a dog.

  • Lisa

    Abre Los Ojos – for the same reason that someone picked 1408

    Jaws I saw this too young and had bad dreams about being eaten alive talk about being scared to go back in the water!!!

    Twin Peaks – the movie and the tv series again I saw this too young Bob scared the crap out of me

  • Threads was horrific. I remember going into a blue funk for a couple of days after seeing it.

    Roman Polanski’s Macbeth and Schindler’s List are the films I haven’t been able to shake off, no matter how hard I try. I’ve only seen them once; didn’t need to have a repeat viewing as they seem to have scarred themselves into my retinal wall…

  • hdj

    Nightmare On Elm street: I had a dream equivalent to the scene in the movie where Freddy drives the school bus off the cliff. I literally dreamed of getting on the bus and Freddy being the driver

    Amityville Horror : I had a dream I was near the horror house got attacked by bees and fingers smashed on the window cell ( that happened in the movie right?)

  • Paul

    A friend of mine saw “Heavy Metal” when he was twelve, and the part about the green orb turning the dead bomber crew into skeletons that attack the pilot gave him nightmares.

  • Carrie

    I still have moments in nightmares where blood pours out of elevator doors, ever since seeing The Shining when I was 17. I’m 36! I also get the occasional “axe coming through a door”…lovely.

  • Possum

    Time Bandits- I still love the movie but remember having scary dreams about it as a child. I think it was because the little kid was left alone in the end, plus you have characters you think of as heroes being jerks. John Cleese is no Errol Flynn.

  • Jim Mann

    When I was a kid, seeing the original Invaders from Mars on TV gave me nightmares.


  • The Wizard of Oz. I kid you not. I dreamed I was being chased up and down those stone stairways in the Wicked Witch of the West’s castle.

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