When I think back on the movies that terrified me as a kid, from the Friday the 13th franchise to A Nightmare on Elm Street to all of Shelley Duvall's scenes in The Shining, there’s a movie that sticks out as being the thing that scared me the most. A movie about obsession and the dangerous things that people will do to get the things they want.
I'm talking about the single scariest movie that Tim Burton has ever made.
I'm talking about Pee-Wee's Big Adventure.
There are two moments in the movie that gave me full-on nightmares as a kid, not counting the anxiety I'd get wandering into any pet shop and wondering if I could save all the animals in a fire. The first is pretty self-explanatory: the creepy nightmare clown bike torture sequence. Yeah, it's creepy clowns torturing a bike and Francis is the devil. Of course that's scary. When I hear that Danny Elfman score, I immediately get that sensation of being home sick from school, watching Pee-Wee's Big Adventure on cable and hiding underneath the afghan my grandmother made.
However, the true regent of my nightmares is the queen herself, Large Marge. Child me legit did not want to watch the movie any more after the Large Marge scene. A date recently told me that Pee-wee's Big Adventure was one of her favorite movies, and even then, with the hope of making out hanging in the air, I felt an icy chill slip down down my spine.
Large Marge inhabits one minute, fifty-seven seconds of screen time, including her headlights and truck horn appearing out of the darkness. In not-quite two minutes she managed to take up residency in the deepest, darkest reaches of my soul for the last 32 years of my life. She's my Shadow King, ready to take over the faces of those I love, until suddenly and without warning they become this:
I don't care how old I get, I don't care how good makeup and practical effects technology or CGI gore gets. This ridiculous stop-motion, eye-bulging ghoulish face is the scariest thing I've ever seen in a movie. Scary because I didn't expect it, scary because it happens and then the movie just keeps right on going, never giving you a chance to catch your breath. Made even more horrifying by Pee-wee's low-key reaction to it, his casually informing her that this is his stop, his cheerful "Have a good night" followed by that eye roll, all building to the slow burn it takes for him to realize that was … HER GHOST.
Large Marge is enough to make an entire diner full of people, grizzled and tough as any long hauler, shudder in fear. So, yeah, if you bring up Large Marge during dinner I too will drop my fork and go silent.
Yes, sir ... worst accident I ever seen.