The 15 Creepiest PSAs Ever Made

August 14, 2018 -

There’s plenty of ways to address public concerns about personal safety, drugs, child abuse, and risky behavior. You can teach it in the classroom. You can build public health centers. You can allocate money to non-profit organizations. Or, you can take to the airwaves, and do your best to scare the bejesus out of people.

A well-made PSA is like a miniature horror film. It opens with a deceptively normal setting. But then, there’s an intrusive plot element, followed by a grotesque visual. And usually, the PSA concludes with a last-minute twist. Sometimes, public service announcements are inadvertently hilarious. But done properly, they linger in people’s minds.

Here are the 15 creepiest public service announcements ever made. These are not PSAs of the “This is your brain on drugs” or the “I learned it from you!” variety. Those are cute by comparison. These are the stuff of nightmares. And if you feel unsettled, that’s precisely the point.

And if you remember any other PSAs from your childhood that kept you up at night, let us know in the comments.

15. A Smokey Surprise

It’s not clear how creepy this 1973 Ad Council PSA was originally intended to be. But the whole thing feels wrong. It was unsettling enough that Joanna Cassidy was purring sexily about fire safety. But when Smokey the Bear reveals that he’s wearing a Joanna Cassidy costume and gives a baritone chuckle? It reaches another level of disturbing.

14. What About Her?

The Montana Meth Project released a wave of visceral, disturbing PSAs in the early ’00s, designed to combat the growing meth epidemic in the state. And although critics are split on the PSAs’ overall effectiveness, they spread to several other states on the strength of their gut impact. This particular one, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel, The Revenant), gets its point across with heavy implications of heinous acts.

13. And This Is What I Said

Here’s one more from the Montana Meth Project. It’s directed by cinematographer Wally Pfister (Memento, The Dark Knight, Inception), and it takes an interesting turn. Rather than focusing on the pain and suffering of the addicts, it turns a critical eye on the bystanders around them. The Montana Meth Project ads could fill an entire list by themselves; if you want to see more–a whole bunch of them are directed by Darren Arrofonsky–you can check out this archive.

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