Things that Spark Fear in the Night

The Scariest Commercials of my Childhood
October 03, 2016
I woke up in the middle of the night and went downstairs for a glass of water. As I fumbled in the dark for the light switch, it all came back to me: the ominous-sounding music, the crash, the phone booth. A man’s deep voice insists, “When you’ve got a phone, you’ve got a lawyer.” The screen shows the number for Baltimore-area law firm Saiontz & Kirk.

(Broken YouTube Link Removed)

The law firm is still around, but the commercials nowadays are more toned down. I used to think that I was the only one scared by commercials, but after reading the comment threads on Retrojunk, I knew I wasn't the only one. Despite the interest in these commercials, I haven’t seen many articles (at least not in recent years) dedicated to this topic. That made me want to showcase some of the scariest commercials of my childhood.

Smokey the Bear PSAs, 1980s

Does anybody else think the old Smokey the Bear PSAs were disturbing? The main reason for me was the voiceover – “only YOU can prevent forest fires” in a deep booming voice. Other PSAs from the 1980s featured more loveable animal mascots; I always liked McGruff the Crime Dog, for instance, but never bonded with Smokey. This clip is from the late-1970s, but has the trademark scary-Smokey voice I remember from when I was little.

Unidentified Commercial, late-1980s

“It’s a new day in Washington,” the voiceover says, showing a rambler-style house in the dark. The commercial goes on to show a man running on a treadmill with heart monitors (i.e., taking a stress test). I do not remember what the commercial was for – it may have been for a hospital or health-care provider local to the Washington, D.C. area. I’ve posted a couple requests for help in identifying this commercial in the comments on Retrojunk, but haven’t received any leads yet.
Another Unidentified Commercial (Maybe First Alert), late-1980s

Another commercial I asked for assistance in identifying opened with a woman falling down the stairs. She managed to get help by pressing a life-saving device that she had been wearing before the fall. The obvious answer would be that this was a Life Alert commercial, but I remember the device being called First Alert. I also do not recall the woman uttering the classic Life Alert line, “I’ve fallen and cannot get up.” Unfortunately, a search of the Life Alert commercials on YouTube yielded no matches; “First Alert” looks to be a home smoke detector system.

Sexual Harassment PSA, early-1990s

This is another one that freaked me out. It wasn’t because of the shrinking woman, ironically. I didn’t even know what “sexual harassment” meant at the time either. Judging by the seriousness of the woman’s tone, I knew that the PSA was warning against something disgustingly awful. This commercial is from the 1980s, but I remember it airing in the early-1990s.

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Brink’s Home Security, 1990s

One day I was sitting in the family room reading a book, and my father, who was out mowing the lawn, looked through the window and waved at me. He thought it would be funny, but it freaked me out. I was a feisty little kid, and gave him rough time for that. The Brink’s Home Security commercials reminded me of that moment, but took a more sinister turn. They began with a man looking into the windows of the house, but ended with him breaking in. Fortunately, the people in the house had a Brink’s home security system, which called the police. This commercial looks more recent, but follows the same format as the ones I remember from the ‘90s.

When I think back on things that scared me as a child, many of the fears seem irrational now. Yet I find these commercials as disturbing now as I did then. It makes me shiver to watch them on YouTube. Try watching the Saiontz & Kirk clip in the middle of the night and you’ll see what I mean!
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