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. This backstory is Word of God - it's All There in the Manual in full horror for anyone who bothers to read. 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 Web site 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. 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, who swoops in afterwards to steal their soul.
  • Duskull who 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 who "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, who “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 of 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.
  • Yamask. They 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 Pokemon 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.

Although the series these days still has its dark moments (despite CHILDREN'S CARD GAMES), the original manga Yu-Gi-Oh! was based on was a lot darker.
  • Shadow Games were underground events.
    • The first ever Shadow Game had high stakes and involved the players putting some money on their hand, then stabbing the money with a knife, keeping the money that ended up on the knife but risking stabbing themselves in the hand in the process.
  • Losing was very nasty in the manga.
    • Yami often either killed the loser or drove them insane.
    • There was no "Shadow Realm" in the manga. It was the world of the dead. All those characters died.
  • Kaiba was much nastier, outright trying to kill Yugi and his friends more than once.
    • His men were hired thugs and were armed with guns.
    • He even tormented his brother Mokuba by locking him in a room full of terrifying holographic monsters after he lost to Yugi.
    • Mokuba, who is quite nice in the better-known anime, once tried to poison Yugi and Joey in the manga.

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 in the first episodes are in fact 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. He remembered this happening when Cat was in his old room and he saw his sled.

  • 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.

  • The Wizard of Oz: The directors tried to make the book, which is actually rather dark and disturbing, seem friendly, bubbly, and non-threatening without actually removing many of the dark elements.
    • 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 Film 
  • One of the more quiet and slow-paced scenes in Gremlins has Kate telling Billy just what happened to make her hate Christmas. As it turns out, 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 a horror comedy that already has plenty of Nightmare Fuel, this scene especially seems to stick with viewers.

    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.
    • Vastra is said in supplemental materials to have met Jenny by eating the Chinese gangsters who were about to gang-rape her.

    Video Games 
  • 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 dark 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.
  • 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 once you check out the backstories and worldbuilding you're in for parade of murder, deception, bigotry, and confusing metaphysics. Of particular note since these two elements are roughly equal in size.
  • 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 the Super Mario universe 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).


    Western Animation 
  • Word of God for Adventure Time is that Ooo is After the End, a combination of the "Mushroom War" and the return of magic killing all humans (except for Finn) and transforming the planet into the weird, wondrous and dangerous place it is now. The show itself heavily implies this through numerous background details and references, until the fifth season premiere "Finn the Human"/"Jake The Dog" finally explicitly states it, and it is just as horrifying as you can imagine.
    • The Ice King is a humorous Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain, with one of the most tragic, terrifying cases of Loss of Identity as his origin story. "I Remember You" plays this for all its worth, contrasting his dark backstory with the incompetent clown he has become for full Tear Jerker effect.
    • Marceline is a "radical dame who likes to play games" and one of the most well-adjusted characters, and a good contender for having the worst life out of anyone in the show. This includes a monster (literally) of a father, a Missing Mom, living through the aftermath of aforementioned Mushroom War as a child, losing a Parental Substitute, being abused by a Bastard Boyfriend, and spending 1000 years with almost no friends until Finn came along. Not to mention that she seems to have had a violent falling out with her only other friend/possible lover.
  • The Flintstones. The first thing Fred does in the morning is hit the 'snooze' button on his alarm clock. Since the alarm clock is actually a small talking bird, this means bashing it unconscious. And that's just scratching the surface — various animals and dinosaurs were used in various mundane situations such as terraforming, waste disposal, and housekeeping. And since they're Talking Animals, they often either snark at whoever's using them or make Aside Comments about their situation to the audience. If you even treated normal animals like in the show nowadays, you'd be arrested.
    • Homer Simpson believed this trope and tried to use a pelican to mix cement. He then tells the bird "Come on, say something funny like 'It's a living'." The pelican then falls over dead.
  • The Animated Series of Alf is based on Gordon Shumway's life on Melmac. Which exploded. Which means most everybody we see on that show died - including Alf's family. All those wacky surreal adventures ended with a light in the sky. Word of God has three of the supporting characters from that show survive, and the premise allows for others. But at least a good portion of them met their fate before the Tanners even found Alf.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has shown that the ponies have been on the brink of extinction on numerous occasions. Equestria only exists in the first place because a horde of Eldritch Abominations that feed on hatred devastated the ponies' original home (and almost froze their new home after they followed the ponies). Then Discord arrived to cause an "eternal state of unrest and unhappiness", which only stopped when the princesses arrived to lay the smack down. Then one of said princesses went mad with jealousy and almost froze Equestria again by trying to enact The Night That Never Ends.
  • The original My Little Pony included the Twinkle-Eyed Ponies, ponies with gems for eyes. Their eyes were almost never mentioned in the show, and were mostly there as an interesting visual and to sell the Twinkle-Eyed Pony toy line. The comics associated with the franchise stated that the Twinkle-Eyed Ponies got their gem eyes because they were enslaved in a gem mine by an evil wizard, where they toiled in the dark for so long that their eyes atrophied. When the wizard was defeated by Applejack smashing his gem throne, the gems of his throne were embedded into the ponies' eye sockets, enabling them to see again.

    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.)