First Frights: From Sesame Street to The Shining

Howdy Doody prepares to tear open the jugular of an unsuspecting victim.

I’m a member of the author panel at, and every so often, we’re asked to weigh in on questions about horror, dark literature and the macabre.

Recently, the site compiled a list of First Frights, or the first movies, books or TV shows that terrified us when we were young. It was a fascinating sampling that ranged from the expected classics — “Jaws,” “The Shining” and “Dracula” — to some rather unconventional choices, including “Sesame Street,” “Howdy Doody” and “Harold and the Purple Crayon.”

I ended up coming down on the more expected side, listing Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” as my early scare. The realistic brutality, especially the Bernard Herrmann-charged shower scene, left a deep scar on a young psyche more accustomed to the gothic creepiness of the old Universal monster movies. Norman Bates wasn’t Dracula or the Creature from the Black Lagoon. He was a real-life monster, and his violence flashed across the screen in unrelenting detail.

While it was fun to nod in agreement with those who listed books and movies that also gave me an early jolt, I was ultimately more intrigued to read about the apparently mundane works others found completely horrifying. I hadn’t really thought about “Harold and the Purple Crayon” as a “solipsist hell” until Nancy Etchemendy pointed it out here. Or that, as Will Judy points out, some of the animated bits on “Sesame Street” were rather dark.

And John Shirley was right on target when he called out the nightmarish Howdy Doody: “The puppet was terrifying.”