The Phantom of the Muppet Show (the ungodly fright puppet I discussed last week) was indeed a phantom who haunted places and people, but he was also surrounded by singing and dancing bundles of adorableness (and also Ethel Merman). My undeveloped brain, dominated by a sense that the world boasted many conspicuous threats, and many things that seemed innocuous and then turned out to be threats, and many children's puppets who wanted to sing and dance and then lie in wait and kill me, was capable of being frightened by Uncle Deadly (understanding the "Deadly" part), but not of correctly receiving and interpreting the very clear "Toddlers! Do not fear! This admittedly terrifying Muppet only draws near because he wants to sing and dance with you!" message (the "Uncle" part).
It's not surprising that I was scared by something like Poltergeist when I was a kid. It's a scary movie. It's more surprising that I was so petrified by the following show-within-a-show that even just hearing the theme song was enough to make me want to retreat under my bed and set up house there.
The show was called 3-2-1 Contact, and it ostensibly taught kids about science, although it taught me mostly about FEAR AND SUFFERING. I don't remember much about the larger show at all (i.e. I've forgotten most of the science-y bits), but I remember the embedded story, which focused on a group called the Bloodhound Gang. The Bloodhound Gang (proving that liberal, science-education-promoting, public-access-television-viewing parents don't truly love their children and so let them run about unsupervised and learn about scientific principles and near-death experiences) are for some reason allowed to moonlight as private investigators and regularly able to foil villains and their villainous plots by way of things like pinhole cameras.
Unfortunately, I managed to forget that a) the soundtrack regularly featured the "wah wah wah waaaaah" sound judiciously used by sitcoms to signify that something silly and unexpected has happened, b) the criminals were silly, and c) the children were never scared. I also managed to forget every bit of resourceful science-y-ness the kids used to get themselves out of danger. (Of course, I just watched this again as a 36-year-old and am still not convinced I know how to build and operate a pinhole camera.)
When I was little, I was able to edit out all the signals that were supposed to reassure me that children's television danger was neither truly dangerous nor likely to last very long. I was, though, able to grasp the fact that in emergencies, I would almost certainly be called upon save myself by drawing on my knowledge of things like the Bronze Age or the multiplication of fractions. If I'd been a member of the Bloodhound Gang, I WOULD HAVE DIED IN THE BACK OF THAT TRUCK.