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Video Store Memories: Walt Disney’s Scary Tales

As a kid, I had a lot of “quick” trips to the video store. You know the kind – Where your parent gives you 3 minutes before yelling “It’s time to go!” In cases like this, instead of leaving empty handed, I had a selection of go-to tapes that seemed to always be available. One was “The Making of Thriller.” Another was “The Making of Return of the Jedi” (any wonder why I got into visual effects?) and the third was “Walt Disney’s Scary Tales.”


I LIVED for this tape. Generally, I would save it for October, but on occasion it would be my go-to horror rental year round. In the late 90’s I picked up the copy you see above on ebay for a small fortune. I even hooked up a VCR to my computer and digitized the tape so I could watch it without risking damaging the original.


The tape is full of mostly great vintage Disney cartoons, all with an element of terror. I say mostly because the final cartoon “Pluto’s Judgement Day” is kind of a dog, and was only really good for sitting through while trying to extend bedtime by 5 minutes.

I am not going to write about ALL of the cartoons. For one, Matt at already did that, and he is a much better writer than I will ever be. I want to write about one specific segment of this tape. The 1929 cartoon called “The Skeleton Dance.”

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This cartoon may be the first “movie” that absolutely terrified me. I loved AND hated it, always closing my eyes enough to keep most of it out, but peaking just enough to still be paralyzed with fear. The plot is simple – Skeletons in a graveyard come to life at night to dance and play, well, play each other – until the sun comes up and they have to go back into hiding. Sounds pretty tame, right? Let’s look deeper.

First of all, the short is black and white. And grainy. This is before the whole “restore the original for Blu Ray” craze. The picture looks dirty, and dark, and that alone caused my little 6 year old lizard brain to realize something was very wrong. The first two cartoons were colorful Donald Duck numbers – this just didn’t fit.

Did I mention the grave yard? Check this place out:

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Spooky right? It embodies everything that makes graveyards terrifying. If I ever build a haunted graveyard theme park attraction, I am referencing this place.

After the owls, cats, bats and spiders make their appearance, the skeletons show up in maybe the creepiest way possible:

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I should continue by saying that I was a very literal child. I liked my cartoons to adhere to the rules of physics. Sure, Superman could fly – but he was a superhero. Optimus Prime can turn into a truck, but he was a robot. I knew that skeletons were a “human” entity, and I expected them to follow “human” rules. Whatever THAT is above, certainly did not adhere, and it made my little 6 year old body wedge myself deep into the couch corner.

A lot of what the skeletons do is actually pretty funny when viewed through adult eyes. They use each other for pogo sticks, xylophones, and even abuse feral graveyard cats in order to get a strings section going.

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Not too scary right – Ya, even as a kid I was pretty fine with the above… until this happens:


For whatever reason the skeletons defy all laws of physics and gravity, and start swinging from their heads. This part was the end for me. Every time.  I KNEW it was coming, and even thought I had seen the short 20 times, I always got nervous and had to turn away.  Somehow, movements this inhuman just made my skin crawl. The fact that their eyeless faces stay perfectly still staring at you didn’t  (and still isn’t) help either.

In the end, the sun comes up the the skeletons all rush back to their coffins and the short ends. This was my “sigh of relief” point.  I had survived this short one more time. Funny enough, I now have a 3 year old, and while taking screen captures of the short for this essay, she wandered into my office and asked if she could watch the cartoon.  I told her it was kind of scary, but she insisted and I played it for her.

She wasn’t scared at all. In fact, she keeps asking to watch it over again.

What does that say about me as a kid? Was I more sheltered than my daughter? Is she just much braver at 3 that I was at 6? Is she just too young to understand WHY this is scary?

Maybe it is a little of each. Either way, it looks like I have a new partner to share SCARY TALES with this Halloween.

See the full short below! (Turn your lights out)

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