8 Film Ideas Sparked By The Nightmares of Children

Children might just have the richest, strangest, most ingeniously macabre imaginations in the world. Their singularly dark and sumptuously surreal visions have inspired authors like the Brothers Grimm and Edward Gorey, and kids have provided countless filmmakers with nightmare fuel, as well: any number of bizarre and/or creepy movies have been directly inspired by their flat-out terrifying dreams. 

The below directors have never stopped drawing on the haunted goldmine of ideas that define childhood fears. Read on to find out more, and don't be ashamed if you have to sleep with the lights on tonight.

Photo: Criterion Collection

  • Homicidal Pianos And Blood-Spurting Clocks: "Hausu" (1977)
    Photo: Cracked / via Pinterest

    In 1977, Japanese director Nobuhiko Obayashi set out to make a film inspired by children's subconscious minds (and waking imaginations) gone wild. The result was the dementedly gleeful, merrily blood-spurting Hausu (House), a movie about a home that eats kids. Cinefantastique describes the film as "a mixture of pixelation, animation, and intentionally cheap special effects - including a demonic cat, a carnivorous piano, and killer futons. Severed heads dance in the air; the piano chews up its victim, and a wall clock grinds another into a bloody pulp."

    By all accounts, Obayashi's daughter, who was seven at the time, was the director's main source of inspiration for the movie.

    • Actors: Kimiko Ikegami, Haruko Wanibuchi, Yōko Minamida, Miki Jinbo, Kiyohiko Ozaki
    • Released: 1977
    • Directed by: Nobuhiko Obayashi
  • A Child's Fatal Bad Dream: "A Nightmare on Elm Street" (1984)
    Photo: ILuuuuvMozart / via YouTube

    In the camp classic A Nightmare on Elm Street, the villainous Freddy Krueger stalks and kills his victims in their dreams. But the inspiration for the movie - and its eventual sequels - is tragic.

    According to director Wes Craven, he came up with the film's idea after reading an L.A. Times article about a family that had survived the Killing Fields in Cambodia. "They made it to the United States, but a young boy in the family still found himself haunted by terrible nightmares while he slept," Craven recalled. "He told his parents he was afraid that if he slept, the thing chasing him would get him, so he tried to stay awake for days at a time. When he finally fell asleep, his parents thought this crisis was over. Then they heard screams in the middle of the night. By the time they got to him, he was dead. He died in the middle of a nightmare."

    • Actors: John Saxon, Ronee Blakley, Heather Langenkamp, Amanda Wyss, Johnny Depp
    • Released: 1984
    • Directed by: Wes Craven

    Available On:


  • Bloody ABCs in The Dark: "The Alphabet" (1968)

    Bloody ABCs in The Dark: "The Alphabet" (1968)
    Photo: violaviolet.tumblr.com / via Pinterest

    In 1968, David Lynch made a short film about the nocturnal menace of letters. The Alphabet was directly inspired by a nightmare Lynch's then six-year-old step-niece had one winter night.

    Lynch's ex-wife, Peggy, expounded on the project in 1997's Pretty as a Picture documentary. “I was home for Christmas, and I slept in the same room with my niece. And she had a dream in the middle of the night... a nightmare, that woke me up. She was jumping around in bed, reciting the alphabet, chanting 'ABCDEFG... ABCDEFG.'" She told her husband about it, and "to him, right away, this was material."

    The resulting film features a kabuki-faced girl in a white nightgown, laid out in a white bed in a pitch-back room, who begins to dream of letters that writhe, scream, and intertwine with each other. Eventually, the girl awakens to children loudly and aggressively chanting the alphabet as letters dance all around her. At the end of the song, she starts up from bed, and promptly begins to projectile-vomit blood.

  • The Monster That's Been Stalking You Since Childhood: "It Follows" (2014)
    Photo: flickr / CC0

    2014's It Follows puts a twist on the notion of a sexually-transmitted disease - it's an entity, rather than an illness, that's passed on. In an interview with Wired, director Robert Mitchell described that entity as "a relentless, slow moving [figure] with no definite form. It can be anyone you know. Or anyone you don’t. It can fill a different vessel whenever It wants. It doesn’t speak. It doesn’t run. It just walks right towards you on a deliberate, direct path until It finally has you. And then you die." 

    Mitchell's idea didn't stem from the fallout of a failed relationship, as one might assume. Rather, it came straight from a recurring childhood nightmare of "being followed by some sort of monster."

    • Actors: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Daniel Zovatto, Jake Weary, Olivia Luccardi
    • Released: 2014
    • Directed by: David Robert Mitchell

    Available On:



  • The Watcher In The Woods: "The Witch" (2015)

    Robert Eggers' The Witch, with its sacrifices, demonic possessions, and disturbing figures living in the woods, gained plenty of acclaim on its release. But not many people know that the movie came straight from the director's childhood nightmares. According to this article, shooting the film “was particularly strange because [Eggers] leaned so heavily on drawing from his dreams that it felt like he was reliving certain moments from his childhood.”

    Specifically, a scene showing a child finding a witch's house in the woods struck a cord with the director. "I remember talking to... our director of photography, and saying, 'This is all so odd.' It wasn't just something that I had dreamed as a child, but it was something that I could recall vividly.”

  • The Devil Is A Child: "Spirits Of The Dead" (1968)
    Photo: deeperintomovies.net / via Pinterest

    Federico Fellini's films are firmly grounded in the beauty, darkness, and fascination of childhood dreams. As this article explains, the young Fellini "could not wait for bedtime, when he would close his eyes and see absorbing spectacles. He had named the four corners of his bed after four cinemas in Rimini, his birthplace on the Adriatic coast." 

    Fellini kept dream notebooks and sketchbooks in his youth and throughout his life. In one, he apparently describes "waking up in fright after sensing his father's corpse beside him." He also reportedly "saw himself condemned to be hanged," and "locked in an elevator besieged by sharks." Perhaps that dark sensibility informed his take on the works of Edgar Allan Poe in Spirits of the Dead, which re-imagines ultimate evil as a young girl.

    • Actors: Jane Fonda, Brigitte Bardot, Terence Stamp, Alain Delon, Peter Fonda
    • Released: 1968
    • Directed by: Roger Vadim, Louis Malle, Federico Fellini

    Available On: