There are a lot of things that aren’t scary at all, but that nonetheless can scare kids. Whether it’s because you learn about real dangers as you get older, or because young minds can twist just about anything, childhood just has a way of making the innocuous into the very frightening. Something about the combination of an all-sugar diet, my young imagination, and the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit was just the perfect recipe for one such un-called-for nightmare. But the fact remains, I was more scared by Who Framed Roger Rabbit than by any horror movie I’ve seen in my 25 years.
Let me start by saying I was a remarkably precocious child. I thought I was an adult - 100%. I could not access the idea that there was anyone on earth more mature and well-read than I was at the tender age of 8. I’d seen it all, done it all. So if I walked into a room and the grown-ups were watching a movie, I’d watch it, just to prove I was also a grown up, especially if I did not understand what was happening. Note: this is also why I’ve seen Entrapment, and Carrie.
Allow me next to follow up by saying, for a very long time, I thought that Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and the ensuing nightmares I had, were something I’d completely imagined and something that had actually happened to me somehow, respectively. So not only was WFRR the scariest movie I’d ever seen, it was also the scariest adventure I’d ever been on, and there are things that to this day might be a part of reality that I dismiss as having been a part of my Roger Rabbit fever dream, and vice versa.
But to my limited cognitive abilities and short attention span, the movie was about a very frightened police man, who is simultaneously hunting, and being stalked by, a serial killer made of rubber who had killed his whole family. The rubber man, who had bright green blood and could rip off his face, had bounced around town, playing scary pranks that involved buckets of acid and musical numbers, (8-year-old Gabbie may have conflated The Mask and WFRR slightly) trying to find the cop and eventually hiding out in a warehouse that was ridden with cartoonish traps.
As if none of that is scary enough, which in my opinion, all of it is, I then had to go to bed, in my big girl room, ALONE. After seeing a horror movie like Who Framed Roger Rabbit! What kind of monster allows that? I settle into bed, trying to ignore the humongous, geist-like shadow of the stuffed dog-from-The-Little-Mermaid I had, and the eerie way that things seemed to move whenever cars drove by, and that’s when my harrowing adventure began.
The police detective from the movie burst into my room, gun in hand, eyes wild. He gripped me by the shoulders and told me very seriously that the rubber serial killer had been living in my house for years, maybe centuries, and that he’d kill everyone if we didn’t stop him. This seemed like an awful lot of responsibility to thrust upon a sleepy 4th grader, but I understood the urgency of the situation, and put my game face on before we entered the labyrinth.
Oh, did I not mention the labyrinth? We were in my basement, which was also the warehouse, which was also a labyrinth made of old bars, big wooden crates, and Windows 98 screensaver-style cinderblocks dripping with green ooze. I cocked my gun, because that was a thing I’d seen done in movies, and stealthily moved forward with my detective-partner, who upon introducing me to my quest, had suddenly become incompetent and stooge-ish to a fault. The air was cold, and damp, and every so often, laughs echoed crazily off the labyrinth walls. The toon villain lurked out of sight, but pressed on us with his presence.
Then, without warning, and I will remember the details of this for the rest of my life, Judge Doom slowly rose out of the ground surrounded by green fog, and I panicked and fired at him. The bullet phased into his forehead, and then he squeezed his eyes tight, and popped it right back out. I ducked, because I had dream-armor, but my partner was not so lucky. The green, gloppy bullet hit him in the leg and then Judge Doom absorbed him into his body. That was the last I ever saw of him. He’s probably still absorbed into my Judge Doom nightmare.
Being a good child-cop, I immediately swore vengeance and began searching the creepy maze - now looking more and more like my house - for the murderer. His high-pitched laughter echoed around me, maintaining a Joker-like air of villainy. I became frantic, running through the halls and around turns, knowing that he was near me, hiding, watching. I didn’t want to let him go, but I also didn’t want to be eaten. After all, I was still young, I had so much life left to live.
At this point I understand that I’ve entirely departed from the actual content of the movie. All I managed to parse was that there was a villain - still in my mind’s eye was 100% Christopher Lloyd - who followed cartoon rules, and the idea of green acid or goo, set in the general context of a criminal investigation. It should be clear that, at no point in the comedy movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit does Judge Doom kill or otherwise absorb the film’s main character, an alcoholic private detective, or any small non-fictional children. I cannot stress this enough, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a funny, non-scary, (mostly) non-murdery movie. But the idea of a bad guy who doesn’t obey the rules of the universe I live in must have really gotten to young-me, because my imaginary Judge Doom and his strangely goo-oriented cannibalism, and eerie laugh haunted me for years afterward. For all I know, the ‘rubber serial killer’ is still hiding in my nightmares, ready to strike fear into my heart with his unkillable-ness.
I have since seen Who Framed Roger Rabbit on 35mm, in a theater, as a grown up. It’s hilarious, almost every minute of it is hilarious, and the world in which it’s set is brilliant and perfect for the exact plot of the story. Jessica Rabbit is an icon, and the playful use of kids cartoons in real-life situations marries comedy and nostalgia perfectly. I very rarely have nightmares now, and they’re usually far less creative than this one was, but thematically they are similar. My biggest fear is a problem that I have no idea how to solve. None of my tools work, and there’s nothing I can say or do that will relate to or affect the problem, but it’s my responsibility to save people from its consequences. Firing real bullets at a toon enemy. It’s the same paralyzing fear that the hero of Who Framed Roger Rabbit feels when he has to return to Toon-Town. He has to take himself out of a safer context, and enter a world where the rules are different, and ever-changing. He has to invent new ways to fight.
Back in the labyrinth, where I find myself cornered in a crawl space that looks strangely like the one in my own basement. Judge Doom’s red eyes are staring through the window, and I can neither stand nor hide. I fire my gun repeatedly, but to no avail. The dust around me is disturbed by the gunfire and rises like clouds, and I squirm to the basement window to climb out into freedom, when I feel the bad guy grab my ankle. He’s pulling me with his elastic arms, slowly, out of the crawl space, laughing his evil, squeaky laugh. The dust is in my eyes, and the darkness is closing, and I can feel the concrete scraping against my legs -
And then I wake up.
And that’s why, when someone asks me what the scariest movie I’ve ever seen is, my first reaction is always to say “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”.
Gabbie is a regular contributor to The Think Tank. Her articles about home automation can be found right here on Geekade every month.