Backstory Horror

"I remember being dumbfounded when I read the instruction booklet as a kid, and even now I'm still like, 'What?!' whenever I stop to think that all the bricks and rocks in the game are actually the citizens of the Mushroom Kingdom! Makes me want to never break any of the bricks again…"
Clyde Mandelin of "Legends of Localization" on Super Mario Bros. 1

Backstory Horror is when something that seems harmless or is marketed as harmless has something horrible embedded in the backstory, either by Word Of God or All There in the Manual. It's a fully intentional hidden well of Nightmare Fuel on the part of the creators, almost like a creepy Easter Egg for the fans.

Unlike Fridge Horror, which is made up of the audience extrapolating horrible things from given evidence without any confirmation from the creators, in Backstory Horror the creators have said it themselves and the horror is an (at times neglected) part of Canon. This trope is not founded on implications or Fanon and doesn't require any extra thought to "get"; all the horror is right there in black and white via Word Of God.

For example, let's say we have a story about fluffy bunnies, the story sets them out as being cute and cuddly good guys. If the author's website explicitly states that the reason there are no guinea pigs running round is that the bunnies rounded them up and murdered them as a form of "cleansing" - it's this trope. The creators came out and said it, and it's all out in the open for those who feel like reading; no extra thought is needed to figure it out. If, on the other hand, you read the bunny story and later realize (without Word Of God saying so) that the bunnies killed all the guinea pigs, then it is Fridge Logic or Fridge Horror. The creators did not say this happened and the audience may have guessed wrong. It also required extra thought on the part of the audience to figure out.

Backstory Horror can lead to Fridge Horror, but the two are not the same. Related to Surprise Creepy and Cerebus Retcon. Compare and contrast Fridge Horror, as well as Dark and Troubled Past. Can lead to a Crapsaccharine World.

Note: To be this trope, examples must be canon in some way. Fanon and dreams generally don't count! If it's implied but not confirmed canon by any source, it's Fridge Logic instead.

Works that do this very regularly

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  • Cubone's mother was killed by Team Rocket. Cubone (originally named 'Orphan', or more accurately, 'Orphon') is portrayed as pining for its mother and wearing her skull as a helmet and carries her femur as a club.
    "It pines for the mother it will never see again. Seeing a likeness of its mother in the full moon, it cries. The stains on the skull it wears are from its tears. It wears its mother's skull, never revealing its true face."
  • Mewtwo is well known as the victim of "years of horrific gene splicing".
  • Gengar steals the life out of people
    • Gengar's pre-evolved form Haunter's “tongue is made of gas. If licked, its victim starts shaking constantly until death eventually comes.”
  • Lampent swoops in afterwards to steal their soul.
    • It's in the line. Its pre-evolved form Litwick drains people's and Pokémon's life forces, and its evolved form Chandelure burns their souls.
  • Duskull, if "it finds bad children who won't listen to their parents, it will spirit them away—or so it's said, and "loves the crying of children."
  • Drifloon "tugs on the hands of children to steal them away. It is whispered that any child who mistakes Drifloon for a balloon and holds on to it could wind up missing." It also carries souls away to the underworld, sometimes by accident.
  • Shedinja. "It is believed that this Pokémon will steal the spirit of anyone peering into its hollow body from its back." Add to this that in the games, you view your Pokémon from the back...
  • Alakazam "Its brain cells multiply continually until it dies. As a result, it remembers everything." In short, they all die of brain hemorrhages if their heads don't explode. Another way to interpret this, though, is that it continues to produce neurons throughout its lifespan, like a tree continues to grow throughout its lifespan. The cells keep multiplying, but they aren't necessarily the cause of death.
  • Pinsir “grips prey with its pincers until the prey is torn in half. What it can’t tear, it tosses far.”
  • Hypno feeds off of nightmares. He has been known to kidnap children and then feed off the nightmares of the children and their parents. There was an episode on this, and a subplot in HeartGold and SoulSilver. You also help a girl who's being kidnapped by a Hypno as part of the Sevii Islands quest in FireRed and LeafGreen.
  • Banette is an abandoned doll that sprung to life. They are not happy they were abandoned.
  • The reason Farfetch'd is rare is because people are hunting them to the brink of extinction. Apparently they are really good roasted with leeks.
  • Ninetales, while usually gentle, is said to be highly intelligent and vindictive. According to legend, it will place a thousand year curse on anyone who pulls one of its tails as a joke. Another states it can cast a sinister light from its eyes and take control of its foe's mind. The "thousand year curse" kicks off the plot of Pokemon Mystery Dungeon Rescue Team, as well as providing Gengar and Gardevoir's Backstory Horror.
  • Yamask are the spirits of people, who carry masks which once were their human faces. Sometimes they look at the masks and cry. Lampshaded here.

Human Characters

  • Pokémon: James from Team Rocket is an escapee from a Gilded Cage. Becoming a criminal was his only way out.
  • Jessie came from a lower class background where they often time had no money for food... so she and her mom ate snow and pretended like it was delicious...
  • Not a human character, but completing the trifecta: Meowth was a normal, feral Meowth. Falling for a pet Meowth, he decided to impress her by learning to speak Human and walk on his hind legs like a human. Unfortunately, she regarded this unpokemon behavior as freakish and unnatural.
  • Your conversation with Lt. Surge in Pokémon Red and Blue/Yellow reveals there was a war not long ago and that humans used Pokémon in this war. Yes, Pokémon is a post-war recovery story.
  • X and Y have a war in the backstory that factors heavily into the plot. The war led to the creation of the Ultimate Weapon, a machine powered by the life force of Pokemon that can resurrect the dead, make people or Pokemon immortal, or destroy everything. Team Flare wants to use it to wipe out everyone that isn't them and rule as immortal tyrants.

Normal Examples:

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    Animé and Manga 
  • Attack on Titan eventually reveals that the two special Titans who brought down humanity's outer defence walls are not only both human, but close friends of the main protagonists. This is later followed by the revelation that ALL Titans, including the completely mindless ones who gorge themselves on human flesh, were originally human beings. And it is heavily implied that humanity's rulers created them intentionally.
  • Monster Rancher's backstory has humans who grew proud and destructive, creating Monsters for anything that would suit their wants. Eventually they created Moo in an attempt to end the last war, which ended up nearly destroying the entire planet until they created the Phoenix to stop him—and what it took to defeat Moo involved destroying virtually everything. Enough humans were left to rebuild civilization, but far less advanced than it had been before.
  • Kirby of the Stars. Aww, look, it's an Alternate Continuity to those sweet little games that star an adorable hero who looks like a wad of pink chewing gum. Sure, those games had some truly disturbing final bosses, but most of them don't exist in the anime. Then you find out that a massive war took place at some unspecified time before the series began, and the side of good lost. Meta Knight was one of the few survivors. His faithful companions Sword and Blade had to become bandits to keep from starving to death during said war.

    Comic Books 
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: In the original comic they are raised with one purpose: to murder Shredder, which they do in issue one.
  • The Mask: In the original comic, the Mask was a psychotic killing machine similar to The Joker, but with horrific supernatural powers.
  • Casper the Friendly Ghost: Though it is sidestepped by the creators of the original comic and later cartoon, Casper is actually about a dead, lonely and suicidal child. Sidestepped in the movie, where Casper died when he wouldn't come in from sled riding and caught pneumonia and died.
  • My Little Pony: Fiendship Is Magic explored the backstories of many of the show's villains, making them nastier in the process. King Sombra's involves him realising he is an Equinoid Abomination and deciding Then Let Me Be Evil and inflicting a horrible And I Must Scream fate on a benevolent queen, and Tirek's involves kidnap and torture. The origin of Chrysalis and the Changelings may be the worst, being essentially a fusion of insects and pony corpses. Also, those swiss cheese-like holes in their bodies on the show? Those are scars from when Celestia blasted them with magic 1000 years ago.

  • In Empath: The Luckiest Smurf, it's amazing how most of the Smurfs under Papa Smurf's care live happy, carefree lives like in the cartoon show, given that the parents who were the Smurfs of Papa Smurf's generation have all died in The Plague that is Only Fatal to Adults back when the Smurfs were just little Smurflings. And of course, there's Papa Smurf subjecting his only begotten son Empath to 150 years of living in Psychelia with a group of xenophobic emotionless telepaths whose leader had Mind Raped him as an infant.

    Film - Animated 
  • Coraline has one that doubles as a Genius Bonus: the medal worn by The Great Bobinski is a Liquidator's Medal, which was given to the clean-up crew of the Chernobyl Disaster. Many of these peoplenote  were left dead or permanently disabled from exposure to radiation, which casts Bobinski's blue skin, odd figure, and eccentricities in a much different light.

    Film - Live Action 
  • One of the more quiet and slow-paced scenes in Gremlins has Kate telling Billy just what happened to make her hate Christmas: Her father tried to enter the house's chimney dressed as Santa when she was a kid, but broke his neck in a fall and got stuck. They thought he was missing for a few days, until they smelled something awful in the fireplace. In a horror comedy that already has plenty of Nightmare Fuel, this scene especially seems to stick with viewers.
  • In Les Misérables (2012), Enjolras and the army officer who ends up executing him are supposed to be childhood friends.

  • Land of Oz:
    • The Tin Man lost all his body parts one by one. They were replaced by metal so he could survive long enough to see his love again. By the time he was whole, she had already fallen in love with a man made out of the Tin Man's lost body parts.
    • To the shock of many, Wicked with its twisted fantasy dystopia is actually a more faithful adaptation of the original book than the 1939 movie.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In her character profile on NBC's website for Community, it is stated that Britta was molested on her eleventh birthday by a man in a dinosaur costume, and her dad didn't believe her when she told him. This incident has been only vaguely alluded to on the show.
  • Doctor Who is fairly dark but still an idealistic children's show. Some parts of it are unexpectedly horrible:
    • The novelisation of "The Time Warrior" initially contained a very detailed and Squickily sexual account of how Sontarans reproduce through probic vent fluids, straight from the mind of their creator Robert Holmes. It got cut by the publisher due to being virtually unprintable, although the new series vaguely alludes to it when Strax mentions being so excited that he clogged his probic vent.
    • According to the novelisation, the Argolins were a race initially so violent that they were forced to develop a ridiculous and incoherent code of manners chivalry just to give themselves an outlet. The greatest act of chivalry in Argolin culture was a duel in which both participants both hacked bits off their own bodies to death in order to even the odds and then both died of shock and blood loss. What we see of the Argolins in "The Leisure Hive" is from many centuries after this in which they are a dying race.
    • The Fifth and Sixth Doctor companion Peri was repeatedly raped by her uncle as a child, who told her it was their secret.
    • The novelisation of "The Twin Dilemma" goes into Body Horror territory about what regeneration actually does to you, through telling the story of a Time Lord who tried to kill himself repeatedly until he regenerated into someone more attractive, with some very unpleasant results.
    • The idea in production was that Ace had lost her virginity to Sabalom Glitz at some point during "Dragonfire", although this is only implied onscreen. The much darker Expanded Universe picks up on this idea and runs with it.
    • Vastra is said in supplemental materials to have met Jenny by eating the Chinese gangsters who were about to gang-rape her.

    Video Games 
  • SuperMarioBros, mentioned above, is a surprising subversion. Although the brick blocks are transformed mushroom people, extra material states that breaking the blocks will free the victims. In fact, this is exactly the reason why some blocks contain special items: it is a token of gratitude.
  • Portal. On the surface, it's a puzzle game with the player as a tester of a Cool Gun. Beneath the layers though shows an incredibly twisted place caused by Mad Scientists, the player had her entire life robbed from them, many were murdered For Science! - there's no way of knowing how many people have died in the facility before you, the entire situation with Cave Johnson, and that the A.I. that guides the player through each test area unfolds throughout the first game as rather homicidal with a fatally cavalier approach to human life. (And this is in the same universe as Half-Life, so all of that happened too.) This is made more explicit in Portal 2, balanced by a more wacky view of the Aperture Science backstory, but parts of it are even bleaker than the original. Like the fate of poor Caroline, for an example.
  • Invoked in the multiplayer mode of Assassins Creed III, which is marketed as a This Is Reality version of the Animus Database that allows people to relive the past. As the player levels up, they unlock cheesy, happy-go-lucky meta-commercials promoting it; completing difficult challenges, however, unlocks hacked versions, which contain "Erudito" pointing out true motives, hired actors, careful marketing and blatant lies to hide the truths about it.
  • Touhou. The actual narratives (the games and the manga) rarely get worse than a bit morbid, but the backstories and World Building contain a parade of murder, deception, bigotry, and confusing metaphysics. Of particular note since these two elements are roughly equal in size.
    • Gensokyo was created as a Fantastic Nature Reserve to preserve youkai from humans' waning belief in the supernatural and the impending The Magic Goes Away. Much of the world was once like Gensokyo, but now aside from a few persistent stragglers all those mystical beings are either extinct, or endangered and confined to one small region.
    • Youkai didn't stop eating humans once the barrier went up, they just had more restrictions on it. Anyone caught outside designated safe areas at night are fair game, as are any humans from outside the barrier, with youkai going on not-infrequent trips to abduct and eat people. Most of the human characters are friends with youkai without this ever being brought up.
    • Oni were driven away from the surface and haven't been seen in so long most believe they're extinct. Suika seems like a typical Hard-Drinking Party Girl given her scheme in Immaterial and Missing Power is to force Gensokyo into an endless kegger, but she's doing so in the hopes she can draw her people out from hiding. Fortunately there are some living in the Underground, Suika reuniting with an old friend in Subterranean Animism.
    • Flandre was isolated in her mansion's basement for nearly 500 years due to her sister's fears about her powers, but looking at her you'd never know it.
    • Parsee is a Hashihime, a youkai that is made when her husband left her for another woman, lurking near a bridge and threatening to kill any loving couple that passes if they don't break up immediately (and in some versions of the legend also kills her ex and his new wife). She's treated as a joke by the cast.
    • Even in the Underground, a place were youkai who are despised by other youkai are sent, there are some who are pariahs. One of them, Koishi, was so impacted by the Fantastic Racism inflicted on her because of the fear of her Psychic Powers she permanently closed her third eye, turning her into an Empty Shell with no emotions or thoughts beyond the surface. Again, you wouldn't know it looking at her.
    • The backstory of Byakuren and her followers is that they were protecting youkai from human persecution and trying to find a peace between the two groups, and they ended up persecuted themselves and sealed in Makai for their troubles.
    • The backstory of Miko and her followers is them exacerbating a religious war and manipulating the beliefs of the people so they could install themselves as unquestioned immortal rulers of Japan. It's no wonder that Byakuren and Co. are rather unhappy when they get resurrected.
  • In A Witchs Tale, every kingdom has a horrific backstory.
    • Rem Sacchras was created by Queen Alice to make a seventh kingdom in order to complete the seal on the Eld Witch. But the land was ruled by evil, and to appease the evil being, she chose to sacrifice the younger twin princess from Rem Boreas, and the younger sister's bitterness towards being sacrificed manifested in poison.
    • The Eld Witch's daughters wreaked havoc on Rem Boreas, killing the Ice Queen's two daughters in the process. It's treated as a legend, but the shadow blocking the way to the Shadow Lands in Shadow Town speaks of her home freezing over and how the Ice Rune killed her and her sister.
    • The Eld Witch ruined Florin, which was then occupied by the Winged. When they began to suffer, they turned their faces to the moon and cried out for help. The residents of the moon kingdom, who also worshipped the moon, sent down plants to soothe the Winged. The Eld Witch succeeded in wiping the Winged out.
    • Oceria was a surface kingdom, but got submerged when the Eld Witch's third daughter grew jealous of its magic.
    • In Al'Sahra, the Eld Witch's daughters cursed the land to burn forever. The Eld Witch killed Princess Shahrazad the day after she was crowned, and Lyra is tormented with nightmares of what happened.
    • Artis fought in the war without magic at all, using machines. They were all turned into scrap, including Dorothy's dear friends.
  • Luigi from Super Mario Bros. is shown to be a Classical Antihero known for being insecure about his relative anonymity compared to his famous brother, and prone to jealousy, cowardice and attention-seeking. However, he's said in supplemental material to have a very dark secret somewhere in his past (said to be the power behind his incredibly odd Limit Break in Super Smash Bros. Brawl in which he seems to summon a portal to a dark and distorted dimension). Though this may be a case of American Kirby Is Hardcore, since this detail isn't mentioned in the European version.
  • Undertale has several characters who have incredibly dark and often disturbing backstories:
    • Alphys conducted experiments using Determination, a fantastical human power, in an attempt to break the barrier between the underworld and the human world. This resulted in the creation of the Amalgamates, horrific (though surprisingly friendly) chimeras that are under great suffering, the creation of Flowey, and possibly the fate of W.D. Gaster. No wonder Alphys is so screwed up after all of this.
    • Flowey or rather, Asriel, was killed by humans while trying to return his dead friend to their home village. He was then unintentionally resurrected into the body of a flower through Alphys' Determination experiments (due to Asriel's dusty remains being on the flower used for the experiments), but this left him without a soul, leaving him incapable of feeling love or compassion—even from his parents—which eventually lead to him falling into deep enough despair to commit suicide. Realizing moments before death that he didn't actually want to die, he woke up safe and sound at his "save point". He began experimenting with this ability by bringing himself to the brink of death multiple other times, followed by using his newfound saving ability to help those around him, and then proceeding to kill out of sheer curiosity after becoming sufficiently bored, eventually realizing that everyone around him was completely predictable like an actor in a game. His constant resetting of the timeline, coupled with his inability to feel any sort of compassion or empathy and boredom from having exhausted every option he can think of, resulted in his transformation from a kindhearted child to a twisted, insane sociopath by the time the player arrives.
    • Sans is one of the few monsters in the underworld aware of Flowey's time-manipulating shenanigans, but is unable to stop him, only being able to harass him into resetting. Despite Sans' best efforts to fight back, he has never been able to truly stop Flowey, knowing that all his hard work will inevitably be reset. That's why he's so lazy. Oh, and everything above about Flowey (save the suicides, hopefully) applies to you, the player. He knows this too.
    • The mysterious W.D. Gaster fell into the CORE and was scattered across time and space, with nobody being aware of his presence afterwards. Even those who knew about him (except perhaps Sans) were erased. Only data-miners have been able to find out about him in a complicated Alternate Reality Game-like manner.

  • Grace in El Goonish Shive is a Keet squirrel-girl who was created to be a Super Soldier, but grew up under extra-horrifying conditions after most of the scientists involved in her creation were slaughtered by Damien, a chimera bent on world domination who planned to use Grace for breeding purposes. Hugs?
  • Asia Ellis' backstory in morphE. Nowhere in the main comic has the subject of this segment of her personal Ask Blog come up. Those who don't follow it would have no idea to the extent of her troubled past.

    Western Animation 

    Music and Bands 
  • Steam Powered Giraffe, a generally lighthearted act featuring three performing automatons and a steampunk theme, has a shocking amount of this in their history. Even just a cursory glance over their official timeline and backstory reveals Body Horror, fates worse than death, the funny robots experiencing the horrors of war first-hand, and the fact that Rabbit's core was once stolen and misused, resulting in an explosion that killed several people... including the descendant of his creator, Peter Walter II, whom Rabbit seemed to regard as a father figure. It is directly stated that this deeply bothers Rabbit, understandably. (It's later stated in his own bio that he spends his free time feeding the ducks in the Walter family cemetery.)