Watership Down's dead bunnies is nothing compared to Daleks
Watership Down on Easter Sunday was too frightening for today's little darlings, if TV viewers' complaints are anything to by, but the genuinely scary territory that was 70s and 80s TV has left a generation scarred for life, writes Leona O'Neill
SOCIAL media was abuzz last week with parents outraged about Channel 5's decision to screen Watership Down on Easter Sunday.
Instead of picking up their remote control and switching the darned thing over, thousands of parents complained that it traumatised their children and put them right off their dinner.
Many called for the channel's programme scheduler to be sacked.
According to them, Easter Sunday was a sacred day reserved only for doe-eyed, fluffy, friendly white rabbits delivering sweet chocolate eggs in baskets, and not an appropriate day to have little children watch animated bunny Armageddon.
Back in good old 1978, the film was rated U. But then again, 1978 was a different era altogether.
Kids were tougher back then; less mollycoddled; they had more mettle.
It's true that 1978 was a grim year, particularly here in Northern Ireland. Us hard northern kids were tougher cookies than most.
We would have laughed in the face of rabbit apocalypses and vicious and bloody turf wars, and the notion of a bunny grim reaper would wash off us lot like water off a duck's back.
After all we were practically brought up by Dr Who's terrifying Daleks.
It got me thinking about television programmes from my own youth that instilled a fear that has lasted through the decades.
I remember by dad watching a BBC programme called The Day of the Triffids when I was maybe nine or 10 years old.
The thought of it still sends shivers down my spine.
The series told the story of a 20th century Britain that had started to farm these strange plants for oil called Triffids, which – and bear with me because it sounds mad – are capable of mobility and communication. They are also carnivorous, handily enough.
So a meteorite shower renders most of humanity blind, except our main character who had coincidentally been hospitalised and had his eyes bandaged at the time of the mass blinding.
Thus starts a terrifying adventure through English urban centres and countryside, being chased by giant man-eating, murderous plants. I remember after watching it not being able to sleep or smile for weeks.
I still can't walk around a garden centre feeling totally at ease. It's a nightmare in the B&Q plant department.
I always feel like there's someone watching me. That programme is the single reason I don't have a single plant in my house.
Not one. I just can't risk them coming up the stairs and killing us in our beds.
I asked my friends if they have similar experiences and the list of petrifying, immobilising scarefests was as long as a Dalek's hideous and malevolent eye stalk.
Martin remembers a programme called Pigeon Street making him feel very uncomfortable as a child.
He wondered why anyone would name a street after pigeons. His young mind conjured up visions of an imminent pigeon uprising on a par with the murderous plant revolution previously mentioned.
Nicole remembers watching her first zombie film at a friend's house aged nine, an event that traumatised her greatly and had a lasting impact on her choice of living accommodation in later years.
For the last 20 years, estate agents the land over have been asked if the house she is currently viewing is within a mile of a cemetery, so as to give her a good head start when the zombie apocalypse inevitably occurs.
Danny is still haunted by the bony handed, greenish-tinged banshee from Darby O'Gill and the terrifying, evil-eyed Vigo from Ghostbusters II left a lasting impression on a young Ryan after he unwittingly thought he was going to Omagh Cinema to view a child-friendly comedy caper.
Dr Who circa 1970s scared the life out of many a child in Northern Ireland. Paul remembers not being able to watch beyond the opening credits with the disembodied head floating through space, but a young John, who bravely soldiered on, remembers feeling more than a little uneasy on the beaches of Donegal after witnessing John Pertwee battled Sea Devils in one episode.
Nicola has vivid and terrifying memories of her parents chasing her 10-year-old self around the house shouting 'Exterminate! Exterminate!!'
David Bowie's character in Labyrinth – with his slinky eye make-up and mullet gone mad – caused many an unsettled night for a young Conor, and Stephen remembers the film Jaws putting him right off swimming baths, rivers and all areas of water, large or small, citing the fact that Jaws did not respect toilet u-bends or indeed shallow Sunday night bath waters.
Deaglan has a life-long phobia of yellow raincoats after inadvertently staying up past his bedtime to watch the Hammer House of Horror episode with the hitch-hiker in the yellow mac.
Eamon remembers the opening titles of Sapphire and Steel being the freakiest, most terrifying and confusing 51 seconds of his childhood week and Cathyann's nights are still haunted by the horrible Willo the Wisp's Evil Edna, who was a witch in the form of a TV who could zap people with her aerials.
Compared to all this madness, mayhem and murder, Watership Down is an absolute walk in the park.