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Nightmare of the ‘90s, Vol. 2: 3 More Terrifying Pop Culture Touchstones

A while back, I wrote a cathartic post about 5 pop culture products of the ‘90s that absolutely terrified me. It felt good to get those fears out in the open, and at first I thought I could be done discussing my childhood pop culture trauma, but I recently realized that there were way more than 5 things that caused me to lose sleep as a kid. Here are 3 more of them.

The Secret of NIMH

This movie actually came out way back in ‘82, but I’m including it on this list because I’m pretty sure just about every kid who grew up in the ‘90s saw this at one time or another when it aired on every single children’s channel ever. The movie has all the ingredients of a great kid’s movie—a scrappy protagonist, talking animals, a bucolic country setting, an incredibly grating comic relief character…but then the writers and animators apparently decided that it was about time kids learned what fear really meant. To properly scare the bejeezus out of young viewers, they added elements like a rat that chases the protagonist with an electrified trident, another rat who looks like he’s trying out for the role of Possessed Dumbledore, and a demon owl who seems to have clawed and fluttered his way out of Pan’s Labyrinth.

This is the face of an owl that probably eats children in its spare time. Source: donbluth.wikia.com

 

On a side note, I also have negative associations with the book on which this movie is based, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. I read it almost entirely in one night on a summer vacation, after winning a hard-fought battle against my brother to claim the bed closest to the reading lamp in our cabin. I stayed up until the wee hours reading that book while simultaneously being bitten by hundreds of tiny ants who had, unbeknownst to me, called pre-dibs on that bed.

Legends of the Hidden Temple

 

Blurry footage of a temple guard clothes-lining a child who has clearly just seen her life flash before her eyes. Source: gameshows.wikia.com

Like many a child of the ‘90s, I grew up harboring a not-so-secret desire to be on the game show Legends of the Hidden Temple (or, failing that, it’s lesser cousin, Guts). Never mind that the show was no longer in production by the time I would have been old enough to assemble that damn silver monkey statue—I had temple dreams and I had them bad. I believed that I had just the right combination of athleticism and intelligence to breeze through the Moat Challenge and conquer the Steps of Knowledge; I even believed I could stay cool under the no-doubt immense pressure of the two-team Temple Games. The only thing holding me back was the final Temple Run.

For those who have managed to block the Temple Run from their memories, let me remind you: the challenge seemed to involve, at least to my young mind, one singled out, sacrificial child leaving the show’s sound stage in Orlando and traveling into a jungle hellscape, where they would have to clamber around the wreckage of a Mayan temple. The setting itself might not have been so bad, except for the temple guards. These were grown men dressed in Mayan costumes who sprung out of hiding spots (secret revolving doors, potted plants, vents that they passed through in silver liquid form, stuff like that) and “captured” contestants, who could only escape if they handed over a hard-won temple token. If the kid didn’t have a full token, they were removed from the game, presumably either to be taken to their parents or to their death (it was never clear which).

Those temple guards were always my hang-up, my fear of flying, and I’ll never forget how they crushed my dreams of appearing on Legends of the Hidden Temple.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

 

Oh no, these aren’t the kinds of images that will stick in an impressionable young mind for years to come. Source: thetwistgossip.com

I was a pretty avid book connoisseur at my elementary school’s library, and I was a fan of some of the kids’ horror offerings (Goosebumps and Bailey School House Kids for the most part), but Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was the one book in that library I wanted nothing to do with. It might as well have been that satanic book from the Evil Dead movies, emitting tortured groans and stirring up sudden lightning storms whenever a kid walked near it. It was sort of an act of defiant bravery if you were able to open that book and stare at its illustrations—which appear to be the black and white water colors of an artist committed to a Victorian asylum—for more than a couple seconds.

To this day, I’m not actually sure if I was ever able to pick up the book and open it myself, or if I just sort of glanced at it out of the corner of my eye while braver, more desensitized kids who were allowed to watch R-rated movies flipped through it. I did look back at some of the original artwork while I was writing this article, though, and it’s still terrifying. I do, however, disagree with the relatively recent decision to change the book’s artwork to something less nightmare-inducing, because modern kids deserve the same opportunities to have the shit scared out of them that I had when I was growing up.

Hopefully today’s parents will do the right thing and at the very least get their kids to watch timeless traumatizing classics, like Dark Crystal and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

If you have your own ‘90s pop culture moments that haunt you to this day, feel free to share them in the comments!